The long and grueling process that defined the past 25 days in the ongoing saga of the free agency status of Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka is now over.
According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, Casey Close, the agent representing Tanaka, confirmed that the Yankees and his client agreed to a seven-year, $155 contract. The deal contains an opt-out clause after the fourth year of the deal.
In addition, the Yankees will pay a total of $20 million to Tanaka’s former, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, as part of the new posting fee agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball.
With the addition of Tanaka, the Yankees have now committed a total of $491 million to free agents. Catcher Brian McCann ($100 million), Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million), Carlos Beltran ($45 million) were all signed to free-agent deals by the Yankees as well.
Signing Tanaka became a priority for the Yankees this offseason. Ace CC Sabathia struggled through much of last season, posting a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts, by far the highest earned-run average in his five years in pinstripes. Hiroki Kuroda was signed for one more year, and he too saw struggles in the second half of last season.
Ivan Nova had two stints on the disabled list but pitched well, posting a 9-6 record and 3.10 ERA, but he’ll need to show he can stay healthy and remain consistent through an entire season. The No. 5 spot in the rotation will likely be a battle between David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and Michael Pineda.
It was clear that an elite arm was needed in New York, and Tanaka certainly provides that. He posted a 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA last year for Rakuten, and compiled a 99-35 record and 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with the Golden Eagles.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner made clear his intentions with the signing of Tanaka.
Steinbrenner had previously stated his desire to stay under the $189 million tax threshold entering the 2014 season, with the hope that the Yankees could avoid paying out exorbitant fees in the coming years. But with his team missing the playoffs in 2013 for only the second time since 1995, it was clear that a spending spree would be in order.
As ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out, it’s a heavy investment for a player who has yet to throw a single pitch in MLB.
Still, it was clear that just about every team in baseball viewed Tanaka as an elite pitcher. The Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels were known to be aggressively pursuing Tanaka, and other teams likely bid for his services as well.
But in the end, Tanaka chose the Yankees, and Steinbrenner told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he was well worth the investment.
“I have been saying for well over a year now that it makes sense to meet [the $189 million threshold], but not at the expense of a championship-caliber team,” Steinbrenner said. “I felt we needed another starter. We were not where we needed to be, in my opinion. So this should not be a surprise because [Tanaka] was the best free-agent pitcher available. He is one of the greatest players Japan has ever produced. He is tough. He has thrived under pressure. He will fit in well to New York.
Tanaka could be aided in his transition by fellow Japanese teammate Kuroda, who can help mentor Tanaka and make the adjustment a bit easier.
While Tanaka has yet to throw a single inning in MLB, he gives the Yankees support for the rotation that was desperately needed. In addition, the Yankees have clearly sent a message to the rest of the league that they’re a team to be reckoned with once again.