After missing the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons, the New York Yankees are doing just about everything they can this winter to avoid what in New York is considered the unfathomable—consecutive Octobers spent on the couch.
To prevent the "empire" from appearing vulnerable, especially at a time when the archrival Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions, the Yankees have done what they do best this offseason: spend money.
Following the additions of free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees' latest splurge has them importing star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports:
Despite the fact that Tanaka has never thrown a single pitch in Major League Baseball, the Yankees essentially just paid him the same amount they handed to CC Sabathia five winters ago, which was $161 million over seven years.
In fact, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, this is the fifth-largest contract for a pitcher. Ever.
|The Top Five Largest Pitcher Contracts Ever|
|Clayton Kershaw||Dodgers||7 years, $215 M|
|Justin Verlander||Tigers||7 years, $180 M|
|Felix Hernandez||Mariners||7 years, $175 M|
|CC Sabathia||Yankees||7 years, $161 M|
|Masahiro Tanaka||Yankees||7 years, $155 M*|
|*Not counting $20 M release fee|
|Cot's Baseball Contracts|
Fresh off a season in which he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA to lead the Rakuten Golden Eagles to their first Japan series title, the 25-year-old Tanaka was considered the top target among arms on the free-agent market and seen as a legitimate No. 2 starter.
That automatically and instantly upgrades a shaky Yankees rotation to a pretty sound one, as Tanaka should slot in rather well with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, leaving the final spot to a spring training competition between David Phelps, Michael Pineda and a couple other candidates.
"We had to make sure we had enough pitching to go together with our new lineup," Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN).
Without a doubt, the desperate Yankees were able to swing this massive deal in large part because Alex Rodriguez's Biogenesis-related suspension of 162 games (down from the original 211-game ban) freed up about $22 million, per Paul Hagen of MLB.com.
The goal of staying under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, though, is now kaput. Not that the Yankees seemed all that interested in achieving that objective once the offseason began, anyway.
From the get-go, the Yankees made the first major signing by giving McCann $85 million. Shortly thereafter, they doled out $153 million for Ellsbury and then $45 million more for Beltran.
Add in Tanaka's $155 million, and this spending spree is reminiscent of the one after the 2008 season—the last time New York missed the playoffs—when the Yankees dropped $423 million on Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. That worked out rather well, in the form of a title in 2009.
The official Twitter feed of ESPN's Numbers Never Lie has the estimated expenditures on the Yankees' ledger this offseason compared to that previous one:
Already, then, New York has spent more money this time around—and there's still a month to go before spring training, as well as holes for the team to fill, potentially including help at third base and in the bullpen.
|The Yankees Big Signings This Offseason|
|Masahiro Tanaka||7 years, $155 M|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||7 years, $153 M|
|Brian McCann||5 years, $85 M|
|Carlos Beltran||3 years, $45 M|
|Hiroki Kuroda||1 year, $16 M|
|Derek Jeter||1 year, $12 M|
|MLB Trade Rumors|
*This year, the Yankees also have signed Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan to smaller deals.
Even with those areas still in need of being addressed, the Yankees now appear to be in good shape heading into the 2014 season.
The defending-champion Sox have had a quiet offseason, and the cash-strapped Tampa Bay Rays may be trading David Price at some point between now and July, which opens the door for the Yankees to return to the top of the AL East.
Unquestionably, they are a better team on paper than they were at any point last season, even sans the emigrant Robinson Cano. And yes, the Yankees are once again built to win immediately—just like that—thanks to their checkbook.
But a deep-rooted, underlying concern remains: While this approach can work—and has as recently as four years ago—the Yankees' utter reliance on their finances is causing them to ignore the fact that their farm system has deteriorated and their ability to build within by developing young talent is disappearing.
This offseason, then, has been the equivalent of a $400-plus million Band-Aid.
To be sure, teams can be successful in any number of ways. Some are good at finding hidden gems or castoffs, some are focused on locking up young talent early on and still others pay to acquire the talent they cannot grow themselves.
The Yankees are firmly entrenched in that last batch. And that's fine, for them, because they can afford to go that route. But the free-agent market is becoming both more expensive and more competitive, because teams have more money these days—television deals can be thanked for that—and fewer and fewer elite players are hitting the open market while still at or near their peak.
That's the sort of combination that can spell trouble for a team like the Yankees, who have been forced in recent years to bring in players from the outside rather than nurture talent from within the organization. It's fitting, in some ways, that Cano, their last great homegrown star, departed this winter, leaving for a bigger contract with the Seattle Mariners.
So, is the signing of Masahiro Tanaka, in addition to those of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, among others, enough to start another run of postseasons in New York? More than likely, yes.
But clearly, this pay-for-play approach is more of a short-term fix than a long-term solution, one that may not be able to sustain another Yankees "empire."
New York's money, though, should be enough to put the club in position to return to October and cover up immediate concerns. For now.
All thanks to a very, very pricey Band-Aid.
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