Yankees take huge risk signing Masahiro Tanaka

I consider it an exceptional idea that a completely unknown commodity who’s never thrown a pitch in MLB could command a 7-year, $155 million contract. But it. It happened.

At the same rate, it really shows just how much extra capital is circulating through baseball, whether through revenue sharing or local/national television rights; it’s amazing. When two Januaries ago Yu Darvish signed with the Rangers for 5 years (plus a player option in 2017 that kicks in if he breaks certain Cy Young Award thresholds), some people felt that was a lot of money (adding in the $51 million Rangers ownership dropped for the right to even negotiate with the Japanese star).

547408_425320790824386_778325_nThe Rangers signed Darvish for six years and $56 million, or five years and $45 million if he opts out of his contract in 2017. Steal. He will be paid $10 million exactly in all of 2014, ’15 and ’16. For perspective, the Brewers recently signed ex-Ranger-who-no-one-really-wanted-back-anyway starting pitcher Matt Garza for four years and $52 million. Right now would you rather have Darvish for three and $30 million (or four and $41 million) or Garza for four and $52 million? Nah, that’s too easy.

Texas is paying a legitimate top of the rotation starter as much money as the Astros signed Scott Feldman for last month. I need to write that again so I can wrap my brain around it: Darvish is going to make the same amount of money as Scott fucking Feldman through 2016, which is especially true since they both pitch in the same state, a state with no tax. Holy shit.

But back to the original point: There’s a lot of money in baseball right now, and the noteworthy financial investment the Yankees are putting into Masahiro Tanaka’s right arm is only the newest illustration in a continuous line of illustrations of this phenomenon. Adding on the $20 million posting fee, that’s $175 million over seven seasons. $25 million AAV.

dhdfhdfThe Yankees have an aging, declining rotation as is, so Tanaka will certainly help them. But while Yu Darvish was a bonafide ace essentially since he entered the league in 2012 (Keith Law predicted before his 2012 rookie season that Yu was going to win the Cy Young, so his success wasn’t unexpected), Masahiro Tanaka has, by most of the scouts I give credibility to, been given a #2 label.

That’s not a bad thing at all, but in relation to other contracts that have been given this offseason, the signing feels more irresponsible than shrewd, and a little desperate, too. But for the evil empire, they should be desperate. Because they aren’t that spectacular, Tanaka or no Tanaka.

Based on Wins Above Replacement, it’s fair to say the Yankees overachieved in 2013 by winning 85 games. By FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), their offense produced +10.4 wins and pitching staff +18.5 wins;

If we add that 29 wins (10.4 + 18.5) to the theoretical 47-win “replacement-level” team, that would suggest the Yankees should have won 76 games last year, which is excessively closer to 75 wins than the 85 they finished the season with. With the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years, $153 million), Brian McCann (5 years, $85 million), Carlos Beltran (3 years, $45 million) and now Masahiro Tanaka (7 years, $155 million), on paper the Yankees added enough wins to probably make them roughly a .500 team in 2014.

They could win 90 games and surprise me, but the addition of Masahiro Tanaka really only kicked 2-3 wins onto a 79-win team. The Yankees aren’t all that good, and they should continue being not-all-that-good so long as they don’t develop their own pitching through the farm system. And, of course, not being able to lock up a #1 starter through free agency (mostly because nowadays organizations are locking up their aces while they’re young), though they could more realistically use two #1 starters if they plan on competing for a division title this year.

With how relatively strong the American League East is compared to the rest of baseball, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Yankees finish in last place. Off the top of my head, the Red Sox and Rays are without doubt better than the Yankees, the Orioles and Blue Jays should be competitive… I just don’t see where New York will get its wins with a rotation featuring Kuroda, Sabathia, Tanaka, and little-to-nothing else. Ivan Nova? Maybe? The bullpen shouldn’t be a particular strength aside David Robertson (who is awesome); the offense should be better than league average, but it has its holes, too.

The Yankees have an expensive Stars And Scrubs roster; it’s top-heavy; it’s thin at the bottom of the major league team and most levels of the minor league system. They just don’t have the reinforcements to help them at the moment, which helps explain the apparently dire need to acquire Tanaka. That also goes for Ellsbury and McCann, and Beltran.

It surprises me, but then I think about it and it really doesn’t surprise me that much. Projections are only projections; the season has to play itself out. There’s a beauty in that, and there’s also a beauty in what is guaranteed. Like a contract.

We won’t know who Masahiro Tanaka is until he is ready to show us who he is. He could be better than people expect and be a #1 starter, or he could be a good-but-nothing-special mid-rotation starting pitcher. I wish him health and success in the states, but the Yankees are exercising extreme faith in a pitcher who may be a false promise.

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