When Masahiro Tanaka was 18 years old, the Yankees began scouting him in Japan. The Yankees were already scouting Yu Darvish in Japan in 2007, but they were also intrigued enough with Tanaka's talents that they monitored him, too. By 2009, the Yankees were drooling over Tanaka and imagining what it would be like to have him in their rotation.
What the Yankees imagined about Tanaka has become a reality after they signed the pitcher to a 7-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday. Since the Yankees also must pay a $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka's former team, they have now invested $175 million in someone that has never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues. But the Yankees believe the 25-year-old will be a linchpin in their rotation for years to come.
Across the last few seasons, the Yankees have studied Tanaka's impressive exploits on the mound and have seen a fierce competitor, someone that reminds them of CC Sabathia. The Yankees interviewed Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee and Darrell Rasner, former Yankees who all were teammates with Tanaka, and heard superb reports about his demeanor and toughness. By the time the Yankees made their offer to Tanaka, they had 11 different scouting evaluations from members of their organization.
What those 22 experienced baseball eyes saw was enough evidence for the Yankees to invest heavily in Tanaka. And, as much as the Yankees were chasing Tanaka, he was chasing the Major League dream. Between starts in Japan, Tanaka used a Major League baseball, which is considered slicker than the ball that is used in Japan, to help him get acclimated for 2014. The Yankees had scouts at 15 of Tanaka's starts in 2013, a season in which he was 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average, 183 strikeouts and 32 walks in 212 innings.
By signing Tanaka, the Yankees culminated a frenetic offseason shopping spree. After not reaching the postseason in 2013, the Yankees have invested over a half billion dollars by reaching agreements with Tanaka ($175 million, including the posting fee), Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million), Brian McCann ($85 million), Carlos Beltran ($45 million), Hiroki Kuroda ($16 million), Derek Jeter ($12 million), Matt Thornton ($7 million), Brendan Ryan ($5 million), Kelly Johnson ($3 million) and Brian Roberts ($2 million). For those without calculators, that's a cool $503 million.
As the Yankees prepared for 2014, Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner, repeatedly said that it was a goal, not a mandate, to have a payroll under $189 million. If the Yankees accomplished that feat, they would have reaped some major financial rewards. But Tanaka's addition validated Steinbrenner's remarks about $189 million being a goal because Tanaka's deal, which averages $22.1 million per season, will catapult the Yankees over that threshold. Tanaka's contract includes an opt out after the fourth year and was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
If Tanaka is as talented and effective as the Yankees think he can be, he will give them another elite pitcher to join Sabathia at the top of the rotation. As expensive as young pitching can be (see Kershaw, Clayton and $215 million) and with no obvious prospects to slide into the rotation, the Yankees felt it was essential to secure Tanaka. With Tanaka, Sabathia, Kuroda and Ivan Nova, the Yankees have a solid front four in their rotation. Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno will be in the hunt for the fifth spot. The losers in that battle could land in the bullpen and add depth, meaning Tanaka's signing should have a trickle down effect.
For the Yankees, this pursuit stretched back several years. After seeing Tanaka pitch in relief in the 2009 World Baseball Classic with a Major League ball, against Major League hitters and in Major League Stadiums, the Yankees were sold. Even though it was a small sample size, the Yankees were smitten with Tanaka. In 2014, the Yankees don't have to imagine what it's like to have Tanaka in their rotation. It's a reality. The Yankees have their man.
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA - It's not supposed to unfold like this, not in baseball. A man is not supposed to experience his greatest job triumphs after his 55th birthday. Baseball doesn't work that way. But that's what happened with Joe Torre, who was hired as Yankees manager by George Steinbrenner and watched his career skyrocket into an unfathomable place, into the Hall of Fame.
When Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa were unanimously voted into the Hall by the 16-member Expansion Era committee on Monday, the managers were naturally emotional. Torre said the delirious news, which he knew had a strong possibility of happening, "hits you like a sledgehammer." Torre cut his acceptance speech short because he was worried about crying.
But, eventually, Torre sat at the end of a stage and talked about the incredible baseball journey he has experienced. Before Steinbrenner called Torre, it was a journey that seemed to have ended for Torre. He had an excellent career as a player, a career that he said wasn't worthy of the Hall, and then managed the Mets, the Braves and the Cardinals to an 894-1003 record. In November of 1995, Torre thought his expiration date as a manager had passed. That's when Steinbrenner called and offered the job
"George Steinbrenner changed my life," Torre said.
With Derek Jeter and Torre both assuming full-time roles in 1996, the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years. Before Torre joined the Yankees, he had managed or played in 4,722 games without making it to the World Series. Once Torre made it to that hallowed place with the Yankees, he helped make it habitual to return there as the Yankees won titles in four of his first five seasons.
While voters were instructed to judge candidates on the totality of their careers, Torre stressed that he wouldn't have been voted into the Hall if he hadn't managed the Yankees. Although Torre is proud of what he accomplished as a player, he catapulted himself into contention for the Hall based on what he did in the dugout. Torre guided the Yankees to 12 straight post-season appearances and finished with a record of 1,173-767. He had a soothing style, always projecting to his players that he believed in them and that the Yankees were only an inning away from another comeback.
"On behalf of the Steinbrenner family and our entire organization, I'd like to congratulate Joe Torre on his induction into the Hall of Fame," said Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, in a statement. "Joe led our team during one of the most successful runs in our storied history, and he did it with a quiet dignity that was true to the Yankee way. Joe's place in history has been secure for quite some time and it is appropriate that he now gets to take his place among the greats in Cooperstown."
When Torre became the Yankees' manager, I wrote in The New York Times that he was a "respectable, but hardly overwhelming choice." That wasn't as damning as the "Clueless Joe" headline that ran in The New York Daily News, but there was a definite curiosity about why Steinbrenner hired a manager who had failed in three other places. In Torre's first year, he helped proved why Steinbrenner had made the right decision.
Besides Torre, LaRussa and Cox, no candidates, which included Marvin Miller and Steinbrenner, received the 12 votes that were necessary to be elected into the Hall. In fact, none received more than six votes. Torre lamented that Miller, the former head of the player's union, had been snubbed again. It's ludicrous that Miller isn't in the Hall. Eight of the 16 voters are former players. How did Miller not at least get eight votes?
And Torre also spoke about Steinbrenner, the man who had changed his life when Torre was 55. Torre said that his old boss deserves to be in the Hall, too.
Prominent members of the Yankees' organization agree with Torre. Randy Levine, the Yankees' president, congratulated Torre, LaRussa and Cox and said they were superb candidate who deserve to be in the Hall. But Levine added that Steinbrenner should be in there, too.
I think they made a mistake," Levine said. "There's no one that impacted the game more than George Steinbrenner. He deserves to be in the Hall."
Two years ago, Robinson Cano stood on the rooftop of a hotel in Taiwan and described how meaningful it was for him to be a superstar. He wanted to be celebrated for his abilities, he wanted to be recognized for his talents and he wanted to be lionized for being the next great Yankee. He seemed to have a script in mind for making this unfold.
While Cano was in Taiwan for a Major League Baseball exhibition tour, he was adored. And he loved it. Cano embraced every aspect of the attention, even happily marching through the streets with over a hundred people trailing him like a Pied Piper. He was a Yankee and marveled about how fans that lived 8,000 miles from Yankee Stadium were so interested in him.
As Cano's free agency has evolved, I've thought about what he said at the hotel and the scenes I witnessed in Taiwan. Cano admitted that the love he received in Taiwan was, in part, because he played in New York and because the Yankees' brand traveled around the world. He stressed that he loved being linked with one of the most famous teams in professional sports.
"When you play in New York," Cano said, "you have fans all over."
Now Cano's connection with the Yankees has ended. According to ESPN, Cano has agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners haven't officially announced the deal, but that should happen after Cano's physical next week. One of Cano's former teammates told me he was "stunned" by Cano's decision. A part of me is surprised that Cano left the Yankees, where he was building a potential Hall of Fame career, for Seattle. The Mariners have averaged 68 wins in the last four seasons. But, of course, the most important number to note is that Seattle's offer was $70 million more than Cano's next best offer.
I'm not being naïve about Cano's situation. Players wait six years for free agency and they are free to sign with any team they want and for any amount. It's the player's decision, not anyone else's. Last month, general manager Brian Cashman said Cano "loves the money" as he talked about whether the Yankees would sign Cano. Cashman said the Yankees would make a substantial offer, which they did at seven years for about $170 million, but added that another team might outbid them. That's exactly what happened.
Cano was the best player on the Yankees, a durable second baseman who provided power and who offered Gold Glove caliber defense. From his sweet swing to his stylish plays, Cano will be missed in many ways. But the Yankees were adamant about not giving Cano a 10-year deal or even an eight-year deal. The Yankees were very comfortable giving Cano a seven-year contract with an average annual value of almost $25 million. After the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million that they ended up regretting, they refused to extend that lengthy an offer to Cano.
As difficult as it was for the Yankees to lose a talent like Cano, they have an offseason plan for improving their club and they are executing that plan. They have invested over a quarter billion dollars to sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan and to re-sign Derek Jeter. Cano could have remained in New York, but he would have had to accept the Yankees' terms. He didn't. That's his prerogative. The Mariners offered the most money, by far. So the player that loved being a Yankee must learn to love being a Mariner.
When the 2013 season ended without a postseason spot for the Yankees, they had internal discussions about being aggressive shoppers in the offseason. The Yankees wanted to move smartly and quickly to address the issues that loomed over them. So far, they are following that plan.
By signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year, $153 million contract, the Yankees continued to show that they don't want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. The agreement with the former Red Sox center fielder came a few hours after the official announcement that the Yankees had signed catcher Brian McCann to a 5-year, $85 million deal.
So the Yankees signed two marquee players for $238 million in contracts and they aren't done adding players. The Yankees believe they can still sign Robinson Cano, although they are firm about not stretching their offer beyond the 7-year, $170 million range. If Cano wants to bolt to Seattle because the Mariners make a superior offer, the Yankees have told him they won't engage in a bidding war.
As the Cano situation evolves, the Yankees will stay busy. The Yankees are close to signing Kelly Johnson, a second baseman and left fielder, to a one-year deal for about $3 million. While Johnson isn't a solid defensive player, he gives the Yankees some insurance if Cano signs elsewhere. Again, the Yankees would love to have Cano in their lineup. But they want to do that at their number, something they have said again and again.
If the Yankees sign Cano, they could field a lineup of Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Cano, Mark Teixeira, McCann, Alfonso Soriano, a third baseman to be determined, Johnson or Brendan Ryan (depending on whether Jeter is the designated hitter that day) and Brett Gardner. That is a vast improvement from the team that managed 650 runs last season, a season in which the bottom three in the order were often black holes.
But, as impressive as that lineup would be, the Yankees also need to strengthen their starting rotation. Manager Joe Girardi has said his only certainties in the rotation are CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. The Yankees have made a one-year offer to Hiroki Kuroda and are optimistic that he will return. If Major League Baseball officials and Japanese baseball officials agree on revamping the posting system, the Yankees would be major players for Masuhiro Tanaka, too. Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren will likely compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
In an offseason that has featured discussions about Alex Rodriguez's arbitration case and more chatter about how the Yankees will keep their payroll under $189 million, the attention switched to Ellsbury on Tuesday. The Yankees have raved about Ellsbury's speed, defense and ability to get on base and they also think he will hit more homers at Yankee Stadium. Ellsbury was an important name on the Yankees' shopping list, a player they feel will help make sure 2014 ends differently than 2013.
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