COMMENTARY | The worst-case scenario may have just been dropped in the New York Yankees' lap.
Early Thursday morning, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal tweeted that several sources report pitching star Masahiro Tanaka will not be posted by the Rakuten Eagles. Instead, Rakuten will make him a substantial offer to become the highest-paid baseball player in Nippon Professional Baseball, according to Sports Hochi in Japan. There is no official word yet from the team.
If Rakuten indeed refuses to post Tanaka, it creates a bit of havoc for the Yankees. They would have to decide if they want to enter the skirmish for the services of the remaining "top" free-agent starting pitchers -- Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana -- or if they'll build their 2014 rotation from within.
Ever since Major League Baseball and NPB hashed out the terms for a new posting agreement, Rakuten's administration began to send a vibe that the new maximum $20 million bid was not going to sway them into posting the talented 25-year-old righty. Rakuten would have been in line for a posting fee that may have tripled what they can receive now under the old posting rules. Tanaka has to wait two years before being eligible to leave NPB as a free agent.
Of course, Tanaka does not have to accept their offer, and Rakuten has until Feb. 1, 2014, to post him. Rakuten has the option of giving him the offer now and seeing if he'll accept. If he doesn't, they could still decide to post him this offseason, or wait until next year, which is essentially his walk year.
So, what do the Yankees do? I suggest they sit back and let the other teams fight it out for the free agents mentioned above, considering the contracts they are seeking. Maybe Rakuten will realize Tanaka will not sign a long-term agreement and they'll post him before Feb. 1. If the Yankees immediately run to Garza, Jimenez or Santana, they could lose their chance at Tanaka.
If Tanaka is not posted this season, the Bombers may still be able to get below the 2014 luxury-tax threshold, as I wrote here yesterday. Why not give a full season to David Phelps as a starter, or see exactly what they have in Michael Pineda, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren?
The Yankees will not have the potential benefit of Alex Rodriguez's full salary being taken off the books in 2015 (it's not assured this coming season, either). At most he would miss 49 games in 2015, so in all likelihood they'll go beyond the $189 million threshold then but at a lower tax rate, should they manage to stay below this season.
There are a handful of free agents in the 2015 starting pitcher free-agent class the Yankees could be interested in if the current arms do not produce, including, in alphabetical order: Homer Bailey, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer, Jake Peavy and James Shields. The following offseason a pitcher you may have heard of named David Price will hit the market.
The Yankees could also delve into other areas of next season's free-agent market for position players with Asdrubal Cabrera, Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval all becoming available.
The Yankees claimed early on in this offseason's process that signing Garza, Jimenez or Santana was not enticing, and hopefully they will stick with that belief despite possibly losing the opportunity with Tanaka.
The Yanks will either get another chance next season if Rakuten cannot sign Tanaka long-term, or there is the possibility he holds out long enough to become a free agent after the 2015 season should Rakuten completely avoid posting him. The Yankees should not make a knee-jerk reaction signing when the benefit of avoiding any of the free-agent trio and potentially resetting the luxury tax rate is within their grasp. The idea of going over the threshold now and being stuck with an overpriced arm in a few years is even less appealing.
It is time for the Yankees to stick to a plan, one which makes absolute sense in the face of an inflated market and avoid it from here out with an eye toward entering the fray next season. Or maybe they'll strike gold with one of their own pitchers at a much lower cost? Wouldn't that be something? They'll never know if they don't try.
Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work as a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports, Chris created and maintains his own blog site, The Baseball Stance, which provides commentary about all of Major League Baseball. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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