|It's Tanaka or Bust|
The Rakuten Golden Eagles are reportedly doing their best to talk star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka into staying one more year in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league. Rakuten would then use the year to try to sway Tanaka to stay a lot longer than that by making him a big money offer of their own. Even if he leaves after another year, the team will make some additional money off of him in the meantime.
The Yankees are among the teams that are counting on Tanaka getting posted to bolster their starting pitching staff. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and others are all expected to bid the max $20MM posting fee to the opportunity to negotiate with Tanaka in the 30 day window of opportunity. (The Golden Eagles CEO Hiroshi Mikitani was said to be furious at the league's owners for approving the new, much lower $20MM fee.)
Tanaka would then get in the middle of a bidding war that could crazier than when the Yankees and Red Sox went after Jose Contreras back in the 2002-2003 off-season.
Rakuten would have been much more willing to post Tanaka had the fee agreement not changed from a free for all to a low (by their standards) ceiling. The Red Sox bid over $51MM for Daisuke Matsuzaka prior to the 2007 season and the Texas Rangers bid slightly more than that to get the rights to the last young star pitcher from Japan, Yu Darvish, before the 2012 season.
Should Tanaka stay in Japan, the Yankees rotation will have a huge hole to fill behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. While the front office may be fine, for now, with Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, etc., battling for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, they realize that the rest of their rotation is not guaranteed to be successul.
Sabathia struggled mightily in 2013, Nova was back to his 2011 form, but the Yankees need him to maintain that consistency, and Kuroda will be 39-years old when the season starts.
The free agent market on pitching is slim pickings. The Yankees reportedly spoke with Bronson Arroyo, but he made over $16MM last season and the soon-to-be 37-year old (February) will be looking for one more big score.
Matt Garza has never impressed me over a full season and was paid in excess of $10MM last year. He'll be looking for 3-4 years in excess of $45MM. No thanks. The Diamondbacks and Angels are said to be the front-runners for his services. (The only benefit of the Yankees getting Garza would be to make him shave that ugly excuse of a goat beard - yes, goat not goatee.)
Ubaldo Jimenez was fantastic in the second half of the 2013 season for Cleveland, but it was the best he'd pitched by far since 2010. He's 29, but he's looking for way too many years and too many dollars. Let some other team take that gamble based on a half season.
Paul Maholm is a decent back end of the rotation starter and he comes relatively cheaply, but he's not good enough for what the Yankees need.
Ervin Santana is another pitcher looking for a huge windfall, but is exremely inconsistent. If you've noticed, teams aren't exactly banging down his door.
Barry Zito? If that were to happen the men from Bellevue should take Cashman away in a straight jacket.
If Tanaka stays, the Yankees will have to swing a deal. They could revisit Homer Bailey, though he's more likely to be dealt at the trade deadline (if he's dealt at all) with free agency waiting in the wings after the season. He would also come at a heavy price in prospects...yes, the Yankees do have good ones despite what you have heard.
I still like the idea of Justin Masterson. who will also be a free agent after the season. He made a little under $6MM in 2013. He's still arbitration eligible and should get a big raise after he made his first All-Star team this past season.
James Shields is the ace of the Royals staff and is set to make $13.5MM this season, his final before he is a free agent. If the Royals were to deal Shields it would be at the trade deadline as well.
Yovani Gallardo would be an interesting acquisition. There were a number of rumors during the last trade deadline, but Milwaukee hung on to the right-hander. Gallardo has 10 team no-trade clause that includes the Yankees, but since the Brewers have only made the playoffs twice in the last 30 years, maybe he would be willing to waive it.
Gallardo is in the fourth year of a possible five year deal that could net him $42.5MM when all is said and done. He'll earn $11.25MM in 2014 and there is a team option of $13MM in 2015, but it's accompanied by a mere $600,000 buyout.
Gallardo had the opportunity to void the option had he finished in the top three in NL Cy Young voting on more than one occassion. (Six points based accumulated based on five pts for winning the Cy Young, three pts for a second place finish, and one point for a third place finish) Gallardo received votes on just one occasion when he finished seventh in the 2011 voting, so that's not a concern.
What is a concern is Gallardo demanding the option be picked up in order to waive his no-trade clause. A twist would be to waive the no-trade clause if the option year was bought out ahead of time. Gallardo would likely rather hit the free agent market again than get tied up for one more year in a place he may not want to play.
So there you have it. It's pretty much Tanaka or bust for the Yankees...at least until the July trade deadline.