COMMENTARY | If the New York Yankees want to compete long-term, it's time to set aside short-term luxury tax implications and do what it takes to sign Masahiro Tanaka.
The Yankees' pitching staff is old, its minor league system has no major league-ready pitching prospects outside of Michael Pineda, and the free agent market for the next few years got slimmer this past season when Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez signed long-term extensions.
The posting period for Tanaka ends at 5pm ET on January 24th, according to Anthony McCarron, and the Yankees need to do what they can to sign the right-hander by then.
With Hiroki Kuroda expected to hang up his cleats at season's end and C.C. Sabathia no longer the fireballer he once was, Tanaka would add youth and stability to a pitching staff still filled with question marks. Tanaka, who turned 25 in November, is younger than both Ivan Nova and David Phelps, two pitchers expected to compete for a spot in the Yankees' rotation. As for the team's future, only two pitchers appeared on Baseball America's list of New York's top 10 prospects, published earlier this month, and neither has played above Class-A.
Besides his youth, Tanaka has seven years of professional experience under his belt and pitched for one Olympic team (2008) and two World Baseball Classic teams (2009 and 2013). Scouts say he's ready to complete in the United States and, as I wrote last week, the Yankees are one of the few teams that can afford to overpay him, as the team would be in line to attract Japanese sponsors, as it did when Hideki Matsui signed with the club in 2003.
The question is how much the Yankees are willing to offer, especially since they won't be the only bidders for Tanaka's services. According to MLB.com, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, and Arizona Diamondbacks have also expressed interest in signing the right-hander.
With so many clubs competing, Tanaka should easily get offers of more than $10 million per season, especially since teams won't pay more than a $20 million posting fee.
In 2007, Daisuke Matsuzaka signed with the Boston Red Sox for $8.67 million per year; however, Boston paid the Seibu Lions $51.1 million for the rights to make the deal. Yu Darvish, considered a better pitcher than Tanaka, signed a six-year deal with Texas Rangers worth about $9.3 million per year, but the Rangers also paid the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters a $51.7 posting fee.
Looking to next offseason, the Yankees' salaries for Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5 million) and Kuroda ($16 million) will come off the books. Derek Jeter, who signed a one-year, $12 million contract this offseason, is also eligible to be a free agent. It's feasible that the team can sign Tanaka for $12-$14 million per year and stay under the luxury cap next season while strengthening the club's short- and long-term pitching needs.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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