The annoying thing about Masahiro Tanaka’s signing window was that we knew nothing would happen until the very end of it. The convenient thing about Masahiro Tanaka’s signing window was that we knew there was a designated, set-in-stone end of it, so it’s not like things could drag on forever. This put Tanaka in a unique position, and in the end, he didn’t wait until the very last minute to make a choice — with a few days to spare, Tanaka’s elected to sign with the Yankees, for seven years and $155 million.
Also, there is an opt-out clause after the fourth year. Also, there is the matter of the $20 million posting fee. Put the numbers together and it’s a commitment similar to the one the Tigers made to Justin Verlander and that the Mariners made to Felix Hernandez, and while you can’t just add the posting fee to the salary total like that, and while the opt-out clause has its own value, and while some extra time has passed, and while this is the Yankees, and while those other guys weren’t free agents, it’s clear that Tanaka isn’t expected to contribute a serviceable 33 starts. Regardless of the fact that this is Yankees money, the expectation is that Tanaka will pitch like an ace. At least, like he’ll pitch like a good No. 2.
On multiple occasions, there were rumors that the Cubs would out-bid everybody else, in both money and years. Though the Cubs aren’t quite ready to win yet, the argument was that the front office loved the idea of signing a young potential superstar. The Dodgers were also in the mix, as the only team that can really compete with the Yankees’ finances, and there was talk that Tanaka would prefer to land out west. But the Yankees always seemed like the predictable destination, once they accepted that $189 million was unrealistic. They openly talked about their need for another 200 innings, they’re expected to be good every season, and they sure do have a lot of money to play with. Throw in the success of Hiroki Kuroda and nothing about today’s events is surprising. Maybe you didn’t expect Tanaka to decide until Thursday or Friday, but one way or another, it seemed pretty likely he’d end up with the Yankees by the end of the week.
The opt-out clause is important — Tanaka could, conceivably, enter actual free agency right before he turns 29. That would put him in line for another major payday if he manages to stay healthy and pitch well enough. At that point, he’d have three years remaining with the Yankees, at a total of $67 million. He’d simply have to project to beat those numbers as a free agent, and when you think about that, remember to account for multiple years of inflation. If Tanaka’s as good as the Yankees expect, he’ll opt out. If he’s a little worse, he might still opt out. In a sense this is only really a seven-year contract if things for New York go somewhat poorly.
We’ll go into greater depth a little bit later. For now, the Yankees have their man, which most people should’ve been expecting. They probably still aren’t good enough to catch the Red Sox, but they’re a pretty certain Wild Card contender, which they might not have been with a worse starter in Tanaka’s place. And with Tanaka having made a decision, at last, the remaining offseason dominoes ought to begin toppling with spring training right around the corner. Bid farewell to the quiet period — February came early this time around, and now we should have activity of interest leading right into pitchers and catchers. And thank damned goodness for that.
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