The New York Yankees got their man from Japan, agreeing with right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on a seven-year, $155 million contract Wednesday that is the fifth-richest for a pitcher in Major League Baseball. Only Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia (Tanaka's teammate on the Yankees) are paid more.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who reported the deal first, says Tanaka's contract includes an opt-out clause after four seasons. Tanaka turned 25 years old in November after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Coming off a league championship, the Eagles begrudgingly made Tanaka available after posting rules changed this offseason, which limited the fee — $20 million — they'll receive from the Yankees for taking their ace to MLB.
The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly also were in the running for Tanaka, as were the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros. The D-backs were said to have dropped out early Wednesday. Tanaka had until Friday evening to decide, and he did a swell job of trolling the internet earlier this week when he said on Twitter that he just couldn't decide — on which Twitter avatar to use. A sense of humor will help him adjust to life in North America.
The $175 million the Yankees will fork over (if the contract runs its entire length) obviously is a lot of money. But with Tanaka, there's no draft-pick compensation or other hidden fees usually associated with acquiring a pitcher of his repute in free agency.
The Yankees have been burned before signing a big-name pitcher from Japan, notably with Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu, but Tanaka's talent is closer to that of Yu Darvish, who has been an overwhelming success with the Texas Rangers. Darvish, though, is only being paid $56 million. Tanaka's approach also differs from that of Darvish, a Cy Young favorite in the coming season.
Ben Badler of Baseball America has written more and better about Tanaka than anyone else stateside. He says Tanaka is more of a No. 2 frontline starter than a pure ace, like Darvish:
That’s certainly not a knock on Tanaka—compare nearly anyone to Darvish, Verlander, Kershaw or Jose Fernandez and they won’t stack up well either. Tanaka should be one of the best pitchers in the major leagues this season, and there are some scouts who do prefer Tanaka to Darvish.
The Yankees, despite all of their resources and talent in place, desperately needed to add a pitcher of Tanaka's caliber after missing the playoffs — gasp — in an injury plagued 2013 season. The other pitchers remaining on the market — guys such as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez — won't have Tanaka's potential value, or impact, probably.
The Bank of the Bronx has the money to spend and, even though it's possible Tanaka won't be worth $175 million literally, it's a chance the Yankees should — and did — take. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that, if you include the posting fee for Tanaka, the Yankees have added $491 million in player costs this offseason. Spending doesn't guarantee them a championship, but they weren't getting closer to first place without committing the bucks.
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