MADISON, January 22, 2014 — The Masahiro Tanaka signing has finally occurred. The New York Yankees have inked Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract. This will likely cause the remainder of the free agent pitching class, including the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, to begin signing.
The Yankees have had an extremely busy offseason inking the likes of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. The Tanaka deal and $20 million posting fee now brings the Yankees offseason tab to $491 million for nine players. The $22.14 million in AAV that the Yankees will pay Tanaka will put the $189 million luxury tax threshold in the rear view mirror and may mean that they are not done. With the luxury tax repercussions factored into the equation this deal more closely resembles a seven year $240 million deal.
Tanaka is the most highly regarded Japanese player since Yu Darvish, who most believe is a superior pitcher. Tanaka posted some amazing statistics in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league last year. The NPB is considered to be the equivalent of something superior to AAA baseball. Tanaka posted a 1.27 ERA last year with a 24-0 record and 0.94 WHIP, while striking out 7.8 batters per nine innings. While those are astounding stats, Tanaka is 25 years old, the same age as Clayton Kershaw, and was pitching against competition inferior to what he will face in the AL East.
The Tanaka deal is the fifth largest for a pitcher in MLB history behind Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and CC Sabathia. The seven year deal has an opt out clause after four years, similar to many recent pitching signings like Sabathia, Zack Greinke and Kershaw. This could potentially allow Tanaka to test free agency again before he turns 30. With fewer and fewer places, due to restrictions in the draft and the Latin American market, for big market teams being able to utilize their financial advantage, the Yankees splurging on Tanaka should come has no surprise. Nor should the fact that the Dodgers and Cubs were the runners up in bidding for Tanaka’s services.
The top of the pitching market has been frozen waiting for Tanaka to sign, and now that he has, there could be a rash of signings. Although pitchers like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez all have their flaws, they are the best remaining free agent pitchers.
The Dodgers and Cubs being the runners up for Tanaka does not mean they will be in the mix for the other pitchers. Tanaka presented a unique opportunity to acquire a prospect in his prime without sacrificing a draft pick, but teams like the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Indians, and Angels may be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days to see where these final dominos fall.
The last time the Yankees spent this type of money was the 2008 offseason when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. The team went onto win the 2009 World Series. Yankees fans will be hoping for a similar result after this spending spree.