By Ross Newhan
The pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka was ultimately ruled by desperation, prompting the Yankees to blow out the limited competition, blow over the tax threshold that had been their oft-stated, off-season cap and blow fuel on the festering antagonism between the smaller and larger markets.
Having already invested heavily in the attempt to reestablish their AL East swagger, the Yankees simply had the biggest combination of rotation need and available resources (augmented by the A-Rod savings).
At 25, coming off that 24-0 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka was clearly the most attractive and intriguing proposition among remaining free agent pitchers, and the Yankees bit for far more than either the Dodgers or Chicago Cubs were believed willing to spend, though Tanaka may have coveted New York from the start.
The bottom line of $155 million for seven years (Tanaka has an out after four) and another $20 million to cover the posting fee for a pitcher who has yet to start a game in the major leagues tends to make the seven year, $215 million agreement that the Dodgers reached with their two time Cy Young award winner, Clayton Kershaw, look like a bargain, and the Dodgers--who have seldom if never been outbid under the Guggenheim ownership--didn't come within $55 million of the Yankee offer, sources insist.
With a front three of Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu (with Dan Haren and Josh Beckett possibly in the fourth and fifth spots) and contract work beginning on Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers need for another $20 million a year starting pitcher didn't match the Yankees eagerness to add a mid- to top of the rotation arm to C.C. Sabathia, Hideki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and possibly David Phelps.
The restructured posting process, lowering the fee for any club to negotiate with Tanaka to $20 million, was expected to create a wide open market, and while Houston and Seattle are known to have investigated, among possibly other smaller market teams, it is believed that only the biggest of the big, the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs, were involved toward the end, with long suffering Cub fans absorbing another dose of false hope after trying to tell themselves there was a chance.
In an offseason that has seen major league clubs commit approximately $1.8 billion on the signing of free agents, the Yankees--with Tanaka parlayed to Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Kuroda among some smaller signings, have guaranteed more than $460 million. They have rebuilt the outfield, strengthened their catching, filled gaps in their rotation and, at this point, are free of the Alex Rodriguez distraction. Yet, with all of that, somebody has to replace Mariano Rivera, and the infield could be a day to day proposition with Derek Jeter, 39 and Mark Teixeira, 33, no sure things as they come off injuries, and both second and third base problematic.
If the Yankees, with all of their spending and acquisitions, remain a question, so is Tanaka, of course. Despite glittering statistics, he has put in a lot of work at a young age. As pointed out by ESPN's Jayson Stark, only three major league pitchers in the last 50 years--Frank Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven--had thrown as many innings (1,315) as Tanaka by 24. However, no Asian pitcher, including Yu Darvish and Ryu, has arrived amid as much fanfare and scout praise.
His agreement with the Yankees should also finally unlock the market for free agent pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo, among others. Several potential buyers were either involved with Tanaka or chose to wait out that side of the market. Only Garza, in that group, comes without draft compensation, making him more attractive to a club like the Angels, who are determined to stay under the tax threshold and avoid giving up a draft pick. The Angels only kicked the tires on Tanaka despite the need, their billion dollar-plus TV contract and the sense that, with no certainty of a longrange payback on their big money investments in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, they have to make a run now in a vastly improved division that has seen them fall short of the playoffs for four years.
Financial times have changed in Anaheim, and while several smaller market teams, including Oakland, Minnesota, Houston, Seattle and Kansas City, were active in the free agent inflation of the winter, there is also considerable unrest among the smaller markets involving a widening revenue gap with the big markets and the perceived need for changes in the overall financial process. Twenty one years of labor peace could be at stake when the current bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season.