At some point this morning the news came along that in all likelihood, for the next seven years Masahiro Tanaka will not be a Seattle Mariner. The chances after that remain poor. This is bad news if you really wanted the Mariners to sign Tanaka specifically, or if you’re Hisashi Iwakuma, who is supposed to be friends with Tanaka. You’re probably not Hisashi Iwakuma.
Tanaka signed for seven years, $155 million, meaning that including the posting fee the Yankees are in on Tanaka for $175 million. That’s a total average of $25 million per year. That’s barely $5 million less annually than what Clayton Kershaw will make over the next seven years. Tanaka is less than eight months younger than Kershaw, and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues.
That doesn’t mean that the pitches Tanaka throws in the big leagues will be bad. In reality, we have more data, and immeasurably more valid data on foreign pitchers than we’ve ever had. For the Mariners, at least from what my palate can handle, the increase in relaiable data doesn’t do enough to mitigate the risk of spending huge dollars on a guy without big league experience.
Another wrinkle in this deal is that it has an opt-out after the fourth year, functionally removing any discount – however large a discount can be in a transaction that costs $175 million – that the Yankees may have received, as Tanaka’s team control is largely in his own control.
The Mariners may still make a rotation upgrade, though depending on how hungry the market is for pitching, the likes of Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez (please not Ervin Santana) may consider themselves more valuable after finding out what Tanaka is worth. Prior estimates had Garza receiving less than $60 million, and Jimenez less than $50 million this offseason.
A common reaction when teams add large chunks of salary attached to good players is for fans of other teams to be upset that their favorite team wasn’t in the fold. This makes sense, because another team got better, and your team didn’t get better. If you’re any kind of rational baseball fan (which coming to this website probably disqualifies you from), or any kind of baseball nerd (which coming to this website guarantees you are), you understand that every outcome has a probability, and every outcome has a breakeven point.
There is a significant chance that Masahiro Tanaka won’t be worth $175 million.