Monday, February 3, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Did the Yankees Overpay?

by: Bennett Schiff

Throughout the baseball offseason, fans and general mangers alike were on the edge of their seat waiting for the news of whether or not the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League would allow pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka to become available to Major League teams. The news broke on December 26, 2013, that Tanaka was going to be allowed to come to America to pitch, and that gave many GMs a very special late Christmas gift.

Per Major League Baseball’s agreement with the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), if a Japanese club wishes to make of its players available to the MLB, it must notify the Office of the Commissioner between the dates of November 1st and February 1st. The team is also allowed to make a “posting fee”, which cannot exceed $20 million. This fee is what allows a MLB team to negotiate with the Japanese player.  Most NBP clubs ask for the $20 million right away, and it is paid by at least a handful of MLB teams every time.

Masahiro Tanaka is just the latest big name pitcher to come out of Japan. The fad started with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007. AT this time, there was a different agreement between the MLB and the NPB, which allowed the Seibu Lions to ask for a $51.1 million posting fee. The Boston Red Sox paid this fee, and then signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract, and totaling $103.11 million to get Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform. The Texas Rangers would pay the largest posting fee in history in 2012, paying $51.7 million to negotiate with Yu Darvish, who they would then sign to a six-year, $60 million contract.

Tanaka had unheard of numbers in 2013 season in Japan, posting a 24-0 record, along with a stunning 1.27 ERA, and thus warranted himself a major payday. His posting fee was $20 million, which made negotiations easier for teams who do not have as deep of pockets as big market teams such as the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, or Angels. In the end however, the New York Yankees were able to write the check to Tanaka, if the form of a seven-year, $155 million contract, and totaling $175 million spent on bringing Tanaka into pinstripes.

Is this too much? Tanaka will be making $22 million in the first six years, and then $23 million in the final and seventh year of the contract. In comparison, Yu Darvish, 13-7 record with 277 strikeouts in 2013, Hisashi Iwakuma, 14-6 record with a 2.66, and Koji Euhara, 0.57 WHIP and a 101-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, combined will be making less than Tanaka. For a team like the Yankees, who already spent just under $300 million on the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, another $175 million put them clearly over the luxury tax threshold, which means that they will be taxed at a rate of 50% in the future.

Masahiro Tanaka has never thrown off a pitcher’s mound in America. He has never had to face the likes of players such as Mike Trout, David Ortiz, Chris Davis, or Miguel Cabrera. The adjustment period may be short-lived, or it could take a year or two, which could result in the loss of close to $50 million.

Regardless what the outcome is, the Yankees needed to put Masahiro Tanaka into pinstripes. Faced with an aging roster, especially in the pitching department, the Yankees needed an all-star caliber pitcher to give the Yankees their “swagger” back. CC Sabathia, their number one starter in 2013, is coming off arguably his worst season ever, and Hiroki Kuroda, their number two starter, is 38 years old.  Many fans of baseball believe the Yankees are trying their old method of “buying championships”, and that may be true, but baseball just is not the same without hearing the Bronx Bombers in the playoff picture, and I believe that is exactly what Masahiro Tanaka will do for them.
Bennett Schiff is a freshman in the Drexel Sport Management program, and one of the few members of the major from the powerful state of Rhode Island. He has volunteered for the U.S. Open of Squash held at Drexel as well as becoming a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity. Prior to arriving on Drexel's campus, Schiff was very active in his local community with his synagogue.

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