In the wake of the New York Yankees winning the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, signing the top pitcher in Japan to a seven-year, $155 million contract, the Chicago Cubs saw their entire offseason plans go up in flames. At the recent Cubs Convention in Chicago, Theo Epstein intimated that part of the reason the Cubs had not spent much, if any, money this winter was due to the fact that the team was reserving resources for one major acquisition — which in this case was their pursuit of the recently posted Japanese ace.
After thoroughly dominating Nippon Professional Baseball throughout his young career, the 25-year-old Tanaka was poised to break the bank given the recent changes to the posting system which allowed any team the opportunity to bid on his services as long as they paid a $20 million contingent posting fee. Cubs fans knew that the Yankees signing Tanaka was the most likely outcome, but there was still hope in Chicago that the Cubs could finally land an impact free agent and may not be stuck in the mud of mediocrity again in 2014. Those dreams predictably fell apart Wednesday morning after Tanaka agreed to his deal with the Yankees which includes an opt-out clause after four years with a full no-trade clause.
With a pitching staff led by deteriorating C.C. Sabathia and aging Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees had little choice but to go all out for Tanaka. Including the $20 million posting fee, the Yankees will be paying a total of $175 million for seven years of Tanaka. So the Yankees are back to their old Evil Empire ways; should fans have expected anything less? But even with Tanaka’s glowing scouting report, his 24-0 record last year and his sparkling 1.27 ERA, I still think this is an overpay by the Yankees.
Tanaka has not thrown a single pitch in the most competitive league in the world, yet he is being paid as though he is an established ace in MLB. Tanaka is a prospect, one that has a high likelihood of succeeding, but right now he is nothing more than an elite prospect. His contract, though, rivals recent extensions signed by Cy Young winners Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million) and Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million). No matter how long the Cubs had scouted Tanaka or how much they desperately wanted him to be part of the next competitive Cubs team, the price the Yankees paid simply is not a responsible allocation of resources.
That’s why the New York Yankees are the New York Yankees. In total, the Yankees have now spent $451 million on contracts this offseason. This was a move the Yankees had to make and they paid dearly to make it happen. The Cubs, on the other hand, now have more resources to use on next year’s crop of free agent starting pitchers which includes Homer Bailey, Jon Lester and Justin Masterson. This is not what Chicago fans want to hear right now as the Cubs enter the 2014 season with largely the same team that went 66-96 a year ago, but the Cubs are building a team that they hope will be perennial contenders; the payoff should be worth it for those who stick around to watch.