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Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka makes for a rosy future

This offseason, the Yankees were like the Yankees of lore, signing pretty much whoever they pleased. With the addition of Masahiro Tanaka for 7 years and $155 million, their spending spree presumably finished, will it be enough to turn them into postseason contenders?

Junko Kimura

Before the offseason, Hank Steinbrenner made a lot of noise about getting under the $189 luxury tax threshold, which, after watching how the offseason played out, was either a) a baldfaced lie or b) he woke up one day and realized he just did not care, recognizing that there was so much money pouring into the most popular baseball team in the known universe, it really didn't matter.

Seriously, look at the signings this offseason:

  • Brian McCann: 5 years, $85 million
  • Jacoby Ellsbury: 7 years, $153 million
  • Carlos Beltran: 3 years, $45 million
  • Brian Roberts: 1 year, $2 million
  • Hiroki Kuroda: 1 year, $16 million
  • Kelly Johnson: 1 year, $3 million
  • Matt Thornton: 2 years, $ 7 million
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7 years, $155 million
  • Todd, the new clubhouse attendant: 4 years, $180,000

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that adds up to 40,000 years and 20 trillion dollars.

Obviously, signing Tanaka provides a huge boost to the aging rotation. While his seven year, $155 million deal (more like $175 million when you factor in the $20 million paid to the Rakuten Golden Eagles), represents an enormous risk, Tanaka will only be 32 years-old when the contract ends, and that's assuming he doesn't opt out after the fourth season. But it also gives the Yankees rotation a young pitcher to build around, something they desperately needed.

CC Sabathia is coming off of the worst season of his career and will be 33. Hiroki Kuroda just had another solid season (3.31 ERA in 201.1 innings), but will be 39 years old. Ivan Nova will only be 27 and arguably had the best season among Yankees pitchers last year, but has yet to top 170 innings in a season. Add Tanaka into the mix, who could be a very solid #2 in the rotation in 2014, hopefully even better in the future.

The Yankees are clearly better with Tanaka than without. That's pretty obvious. But is it enough to make up for the holes in the infield?

First, obviously, everyone's favorite centaur, Alex Rodriguez, will be suspended for 2014. Say what you want about the man and how much he has left in the tank, but even during an injury-decimated 2013, he still hit .244/.348/.423, good for a 111 OPS+. The last time Kelly Johnson, the de facto third baseman for next season, had an OPS+ that high was in 2010 with Arizona.

The larger problem is the loss, or if you prefer, strategic non-retention of Robinson Cano. The Yankees, unwilling to top an offer of approximately $210 million, saw Cano sign with the Mariners for ten years and $240 million. It makes sense, the Yankees, who still have three years and $61 million being paid out to Rodriguez after he returns, did not want to be on the hook for a contract that would see Cano being under their employ until he was 40 years of age.

Still, over the last three years, Cano has hit .309/.371/.533 with 88 home runs. In that time span, he's been the fourth best player in baseball as measured by fWAR, averaging 6.3 per season, all the while playing above average defense.

And that's the big problem for the Yankees: infield defense. Tanaka and Kuroda are not big strikeout pitchers, relying more on weak contact induced from their splitters, and the Yankees infield defense will only be weaker next season.

Kelly Johnson's not a third baseman, playing only 118 innings there for his career, his best features his ability to play anywhere on the field.

Brian Roberts, signed to replace Cano, was once upon a time a solid defensive second baseman, but he'll be 36 years old and hasn't topped 300 plate appearances in a season since 2009. Every time he moves to field a ground ball, there's reason to worry that he'll tear a hamstring, strain a back muscle, or have his arm literally torn from socket, ending up in the third row behind first base after Roberts tries to turn a double play.

Derek Jeter, returning to the field after ankle and leg injuries limited him to only 73 plate appearances in 2013, will be back at shortstop next year. While Jeter has improved his positioning in recent seasons, stemming the tide of defensive criticism unfortunately he's 39 years old and his range is only shrinking. (Really, the Yankees' secret weapon is Brendan Ryan, champion of defense and protector of the realm. Ben Lindbergh's piece comparing Jeter to Ryan from over the summer is required reading.)

But this wasn't a zero sum game, Tanaka was not traded for Robinson Cano, nor was he the lone move of the ofseason. While Cano is gone, the Yankees upgraded in the outfield, trading in Vernon Wells and the ghost of Ichiro Suzuki for Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.

They even took Chris Stewart and magically transformed him into Brian McCann.

Look at the list of 2015 free agents. Who would you rather sign than Tanaka or Ellsbury or McCann? Yes, the Yankees may miss Cano, but they used those funds to strengthen the team all over the field. And while the Yankees are still not locks to reach the postseason this year, their crop of signings, spearheaded by Tanaka, will not only be better for 2014, but for 2015 and beyond, too.

The Yankees needed some young talent and, without giving up draft picks or their limited prospects, that's what they got. Sure, it was expensive, but after all, it's only money.