Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with the Golden Eagles, striking out 1,238 in 1315 innings. Yankees official has tracked him since 2007, scouting 15 of his games. They sent an eight-person delegation to meet with him Jan. 8 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“He’s got an assortment of quality pitches. He’s fastball, slider, split. Throws a cutter, too,” said pitcher coach Larry Rothschild, who attended the session. “He’s showed tenacity on the mound. When he got in tougher situations, you could see he dialed it up.”
Tanaka’s agreement calls for $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020, and it allows the pitcher to terminate the deal after the 2017 season and become a free agent. He also gets a full no-trade provision.
Tanaka receives a $35,000 moving allowance, an annual $100,000 housing allowance to be used in New York or near the team’s spring training facility in Tampa, Fla., and an interpreter of the pitcher’s choice at an $85,000 yearly salary. In addition to his own flight to the U.S., Tanaka annually will be provided four first-class round trip tickets between New York and Japan.
Tanaka’s deal is the highest for an international free agent and the fifth-largest for a pitcher, trailing only the seven-years deals of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Clayton Kershaw ($215 million), Detroit’s Justin Verlander ($180 million), Seattle’s Felix Hernandez ($175 million) and CC Sabathia ($161 million under his original agreement with New York).
His contract boosts the Yankees’ payroll for purposes of the luxury tax over $203 million for 20 players with agreements. Barring trades, there is little chance New York will get under the $189 million tax threshold.
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner had been saying for two years that getting below the tax threshold in 2014 was a goal, but wouldn’t get in the way of fielding a contending team.
New York had great success in the Japanese market when it signed outfielder Hideki Matsui, a star from 2003-09 who was the World Series MVP in his final season in pinstripes. But the Yankees had failures with Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, pitchers who never lived up to their potential.
Matsui was part of a video the Yankees created and showed to Tanana at their pitch meeting.
Tanaka was the first player available under the new agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, which caps posting fees at $20 million and allows multiple big league teams to negotiate. Under the previous system, in place from December 1998 through last offseason, there was no limit on the bid for negotiating rights and only the team with the top bid could try to sign the player.
“It turned everything in reverse of where it was in the past,” Cashman said, “where the posting numbers were extremely high, like players’ soccer transfer fees, to obviously a more traditional free-agent circumstance with a much lower transfer fee.”