The Yankees had a busy month in January and they managed to fill most of the most obvious gaps on their roster.
Their biggest signing was free agent RHP Masahiro Tanaka, who joined the Bronx Bombers from Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball‘s Pacific League. He completed a 24-0 record in the 2013 season. He has signed a seven year contract with the Yankees which is worth $155m over that period. He will receive $22m a year for the period 2014 to 2019 and $23m for 2020.
Tanaka has an opt out clause in his contract which applies after 2017.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman caused some controversy when he referred to Tanaka as being a potential number three starter for the Yankees simply because the size of the contract and his 2013 record would lead to greater expectations. However, it would seem that this is exactly Cashman’s intention. After the difficult signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa from Japan, it is important that the Yankees don’t allow hopes to become too high. Figures on a contract are one thing, pitching statistics are another and they will only begin to be revealed when April arrives.
The other big piece of news in January was the move of Alex Rodriguez from the 40-man roster to the restricted list as an arbitration hearing reduced his suspension from 211 to 162 games which still means he is ineligible to play at all in 2014. His suspension also applies to any post-season games that the Yankees qualify for.
Without getting involved in describing all the antics that Rodriguez engaged in whilst trying to escape this suspension, it is easy to see that the Yankees are better off without him and it is especially good that he has dropped his lawsuit against Major League Baseball and his own union. It does however leave a gaping hole at third base which the Yankees must fill during Spring Training as unlike last year there is no ace-in-the-hole hot corner man on the disabled list.
The Yankees answered a couple of questions which were unanswered at the time of my end of the year survey. Brian Roberts finally signed on a one year contract worth $2m and added incentive performance bonuses. He automatically stepped to first place in the queue to fill the second base slot left vacant by Robby Cano’s departure but he is faraway from being the Yankees only option.
Matt Thornton, who we mentioned in our end of year review, also completed his deal and will be paid $7m over the two seasons of his contract. He will replace Boone Logan as the guy to go to when a left-handed reliever is needed.
The day that Thornton was signed was the day when Vernon Wells was designated for assignment, slimming the contest for an outfield place. Wells has slipped from the peak of baseball stardom very quickly and nobody showed interest in him when he was designated and this led to the Yankees releasing him.
On the 22nd of January when the Yankees found out that they had won the contest to sign Tanaka, they had to make the difficult decision of who to release from their 40-man roster to make room for him. Having surveyed their options, they decided to designate David Huff for assignment. This was a somewhat surprising move given the value that Huff had proved for the Yankees’ bullpen in the final weeks of the 2013 season. Unsurprisingly then, he was quickly claimed by the San Francisco Giants in exchange for cash considerations.
In addition to these moves there were the usual mix of young players and aging vets who were invited to spring training and in some cases signed to minor league contracts. The most notable of these is probably 2B Scott Sizemore who will be part of the group of players who could be part of the infield mix.
So surveying all this before training begins, it seems that the main questions remaining to be answered are the identities of the third baseman and the 5th starter in the pitching rotation. Those decisions will probably go right down to the wire. Nothing else is as solid as you’d like it to be (because of age and returns from injury) but all of the remaining questions should begin to firm up in the next few weeks.