Peter Gammons: Three thoughts on Tanaka deal with Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka celebrates as the Rakuten Eagles win the Japan Series.

Masahiro Tanaka celebrates as the Rakuten Eagles win the Japan Series.

The Masahiro Tanaka seven year, $155M deal with the Yankees isn’t stunning in terms of the team that signed him, but the deal caused one general manager to say, “I am flabbergasted by the structure of the deal.”

The Dodgers already have arguably the best starting rotation in the National League West, with some other good young arms like Zach Lee coming, which allows them to sign a Bronson Arroyo. The Cubs simply didn’t have the cash to finish it, and knew they were not seriously in it. The Yankees reportedly saw a $60M drop in ticket revenues in 2013, their television ratings waned, and Hal Steinbrenner knows New York does not tolerate his family’s team finishing tied with the Orioles for third place.

Three thoughts:

1.  Casey Close of Excel Management did a masterful job with the contracts of Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Tanaka because of the opt-outs. If Greinke wishes to opt out after his four years, he can go back on the market at the age of 33 after those four seasons in the National League West ballparks. Kershaw’s deal is really five years, $150 with two player options, and if he continues at his current Mozartian pace, he will pitch his first game on a new deal a couple of weeks past his 31st birthday. Tanaka’s deal is four years, $88M with three player options, and can be back on the market at 30.

Do their dollars impact future free agents David Price, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields? Of course. Price and Scherzer will be going out at 30, Lester at 31, Shields at 33, but there is a big difference in going onto the market at 25 or 26 and a team paying a five year guarantee at ages 31-35 or 33-37.

2.  Baseball’s obsession with holding down the dollars paid to players coming out of the draft and preventing big market teams from giving $2M deals to “unsignable” high school kids who fall to later rounds has inflated the free agent market and made it nearly impossible for a small market to retain its star level players, particularly pitchers.

Small market teams like the Pirates pushed hard to change the posting system for Japanese players, so that rather than Rakuten getting, say, $70M posting fee and Tanaka getting a $60M deal, Rakuten owner Hiroshi Mikitani got $20M after building that franchise, seeing it wrecked in 2011 by the tsunami and earthquake and restoring it to Japan’s champion. The other Japanese owners allowed the Japanese League to be an intern program for MLB.

3.  One GM Wednesday said “I think the two worst contracts this winter are Tanaka and (Jacoby) Ellsbury.” We understand that Tanaka brings the Yankees the star factor. Ellsbury may surprise people. He isn’t going to be distracted by New York; he walks through his own tunnel. He isn’t going to be afraid. Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will be a major defensive weapon in Yankee Stadium.

  • Joe Don

    I’m confused by the anonymous GM’s comment that Ellsbury is one of the two worst contracts of the winter, then says Ellsbury is going to outplay our expectations. If you get the performance you paid for – or more – how is that a bad contract? What am I missing?

    • Kevin Clark

      You’re missing the closing of the quotation mark. The Ellsbury performance part was the author’s response

      • Joe Don

        D’oh! Thanks.

  • Jeff

    The first thing that comes to mind is Frank Costanza yelling at George Steinbrenner that he paid $12m for Hideki Irabu. Given the NY market, retirements, departures, an aging team and a thin farm system, it seems like the only option they had was to, again, open the vault.

  • Tony Serra

    Hey Peter, your views are as outdated as print media and the rag you write for. There comes a point in every one’s career when it’s time to call it a day. Your day arrived a while ago.