1/22/2014 11:08 A.M. ET
Yankees are back in business with Tanaka addition
Seven-year, $155 million deal makes New York's offseason spectacularly successful
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
The Yankees are back. Didn't take long, did it? Go ahead and admit you missed them. Hey, we all did. Seems like forever since the Bombers made the playoffs. Was it really only 2012? Anyway, welcome back, boys.
Look, baseball is better when the Yankees are really good, when they're competing for championships and all that. I'm guessing if you pressed the Boston Red Sox, they'd agree.
Yes, that's what signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka for $155 million over seven years means to the Yanks. He makes their offseason spectacularly successful. It's really not any more complicated than that.
Even after a spending spree approaching $475 million, the Yankees absolutely had to have Tanaka. OK, that's a little bit of a stretch. Had New York not landed him, it would have pursued one of the remaining free-agent pitchers. The Yanks would have said all the right things, and maybe they could have won the American League East in 2014.
But Tanaka was the guy they wanted, the guy they envisioned somewhere near the top of their rotation. He represented a rare opportunity to upgrade an entire franchise.
That's because guys of this caliber don't reach the free-agent market very often. Tanaka is just 25 years old. Yes, he has thrown some innings -- 1,315 in seven seasons. If you're doing the math, that's 188 per season.
So there's some risk. Guess what? There are no perfect free agents. Every single one, especially every single free-agent pitcher, comes with risks.
If you think seven years is way too long, you may be right. Let's have this conversation in 2019 and revisit it. If the Yankees have thrown a couple more championships on the wall, what will you say then?
Besides, what were they supposed to do? Shake Tanaka's hand and wish him well with the Dodgers or D-backs?
Forget all that stuff. That's just nitpicking. The Yankees went out this offseason and made their team better. These past few months would have made The Boss proud. George Steinbrenner's photo is prominently displayed in the Yanks' offices, and today he would have understood.
Yankees fans are going to love Tanaka. It's not just his 94-mph fastball or his two secondary pitches -- a splitter and a slider -- that are above average. Tanaka's real gift is that he believes in his stuff, that he has the confidence to challenge hitters and command the strike zone. In the end, the best pitch in baseball is still a first-pitch strike.
In 212 innings in Japan last season, Tanaka had 32 walks and 183 strikeouts. No, it's not the same thing as doing it in the AL East. But pitching translates. A 94-mph heater on the inside corner at the knees is a great weapon on every continent.
Tanaka's presence gives the Yanks' rotation a totally different look. Jacoby Ellsbury made them better. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann made them better, too. So did Matt Thornton, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Hiroki Kuroda absolutely had to be re-signed. Still, even with all those additions, the Yankees weren't going to pass the Red Sox without adding to the rotation. There simply were too many questions.
Can CC Sabathia adjust to diminished velocity? Here's betting he will, but it's no certainty. Can Ivan Nova be a productive take-the-ball-every-fifth-day starter? Nova was tremendous last season, but he made only 20 starts.
The Yanks hope Michael Pineda can return to the big leagues for the first time since 2011, but there are no guarantees.
So, obviously, there are still questions. But manager Joe Girardi can pencil Tanaka in there with Kuroda, Sabathia and Nova, and while there are no sure things, the Yankees believe they've got enough options to win the AL East again.
These are not the old days. Going back to the postseason is not guaranteed. No one knows what Derek Jeter is still capable of. Or Mark Teixeira. These are things we may not know for months, until the season unfolds and we see what they're capable of in the grind of a long season.
To lose Robinson Cano in free agency was a stinging blow, because it left a huge hole in the middle of the lineup. But general manager Brian Cashman has done terrific work as usual.
Cashman hasn't just added talent. He has added players like Beltran and McCann with great reputations for being solid clubhouse guys and quiet leaders, players who contribute in ways that can't be measured.
The Yankees had hoped to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. Unless Brett Gardner and others are dealt, that appears to be a long shot. When it came down to it, the Yanks did what they had to do to win, and they will worry about the fine print later. That's how they've be operated for a long time. That's what their fans expect.
So if you love the Yankees, this is a day to celebrate, not only the addition of Tanaka, but the commitment by the men and women in charge to do everything in their power to put a championship team on the field.
Tanaka had all sorts of options, none of them bad. He decided to give pinstripes a try and to see if pitching in Yankee Stadium is all they say it is. Tanaka may find that pitching in that stadium and in that division is everything he could have imagined and then some. Yep, the Yankees are back in business.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.