Phillies smart enough to pass on Tanaka

Posted: January 24, 2014

I KNOW WHAT some fans are thinking - the Phillies are in one of the top five media markets in the country, Citizens Bank Park has been filled to near-capacity since it opened; the team just signed a new 25-year, $2.5 billion television rights deal with Comcast.

So if the Yankees can sign Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka to a 7-year, $155 million contract after giving the Rakuten Golden Eagles a $20 million posting fee just for the rights to negotiate, why couldn't the Phillies have jumped in on that action?

Well, because no matter how much the Phillies' finances have improved, they are still not the Yankees.

No teams beside the Yankees and Dodgers have the kind of financial clout to run this high-risk/high-reward gamble on a player who has never thrown a major league pitch. The Dodgers gave Clayton Kershaw a 7-year, $215 million deal, but, as a two-time NL Cy Young winner at 25, he's arguably the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. The Yankees are betting a guaranteed $177 million, $22.1 million a year that Tanaka, 25, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the Japanese League last season, can duplicate that kind of success while avoiding the type of injury that has cut short the careers of many phenoms before him.

There was no sane way the Phillies could have gone down that road. There is no sane way the Yankees should have gone down that road, except they are the Yankees, with an incredible financial umbrella that allows them to chalk it up to experience if it fails.

You can question whether the Phillies get the best bang for their bucks, but they aren't cheap. They had the third-highest payroll in 2013 at $159 million. That was still $57 million less than the Dodgers and $70 million less than the Yankees.

Considering the Boston Red Sox won the World Series with a $158 million payroll and the St. Louis Cardinals made the World Series with a $116.7 million one, it's not always about how much money you spend, but how you spend it.

The Phillies and Yankees both missed the playoffs in 2013.

The Yankees did what the Phillies could not – make a deal that makes little sense financially or conceptually. Tanaka has not pitched a game in the majors. His only experience against a team of full major league hitters was in the semifinals of the 2009 World Baseball Classic when he came in as a relief pitcher against the United States.

The numbers for his 7-year career in Japan are 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in 172 starts.

How that translates to MLB is the great mystery. We've seen mixed results with the last two Japanese pitching stars, and none that confirmed that it is a slam-dunk move.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was the golden arm from the Far East in 2007. He had posted a 108-60 record with the Seibu Lions when the Red Sox paid $51.1 million for the negotiating rights. They signed him to a 6-year, $52 million deal.

Matsuzaka went 33-15 his first two seasons in Boston and became the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a World Series game as the Red Sox won the 2007 championship.

But in 2009, Matsuzaka pitched with an injured hip during the World Baseball Classic and was never the same.

He made 12 starts in 2009 and went 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA and in 2010 went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA before having Tommy John surgery. He made only 18 starts and won four games over the final 2 years of his contract.

Boston, if you count the negotiating fee, paid a little more than a $2 million for each of Matsuzaka's 50 victories.

Yu Darvish was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in seven seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters when the Texas Rangers bid $51.7 million to negotiate and then signed him to a 6-year, $60 million contract in 2012.

In two seasons, Darvish is a two-time MLB All-Star with a record of 29-18 and a 3.34 ERA.

The Yankees' negotiating fee is smaller, but the contract they gave Tanaka dwarfs those given to Matsuzaka and Darvish, who were both about the same age and with the same credentials in the Japanese League when they came to MLB.

Maybe at the end of the 7 years, he'll be a seven-time All-Star who helps pitch the Yankees to two World Series titles. I guess that will make him worth it in New York.

The Phillies could not win a bidding war with the Yankees, and, even if they did, they could not justify paying Tanaka more than Cole Hamels, who will make $22.5 million in 2014.

Hamels, who came up through the Phillies' minor league system, is 99-74 in his 8-year major league career and was the MVP of their 2008 NL and World Series championships.

The Yankees don't concern themselves with such things.

They simply took the $29 million they'll save this season while Alex Rodriguez sits out his 162-game drug suspension and given most of it to Tanaka.

We'll see how that plays next season when Rodriguez doesn't leave the $60 million he is still owed on the table.

The Yankees have $147 million locked into nine players in 2014, without Rodriguez, so payroll isn't that big of a deal to them.

The Phillies weren't cheap in getting outbid for Tanaka. They simply were not insane.


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