How the Yankees Could Sign Masahiro Tanaka and Still Get Under $189 Million

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterDecember 19, 2013

With regards to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees, two things are clear: Tanaka wants to play Major League Baseball, and the Yankees want Tanaka.

According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, Tanaka made it known earlier in the week that he very much wants to play in Major League Baseball next season. That means there's still a possibility that his Japanese team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, could post him in the near future now that a new agreement for that process is in place.

While a dozen or more teams likely will be in the mix should Tanaka, 25, be made available this winter, one of the front-runners for his services will be the New York Yankees, given their need for a top starting pitcher and their ability to spend to acquire said pitcher.

But about that last part. In their expected pursuit of Tanaka, the Yankees are dealing with three different factors on the financial front.

The first is ownership's oft-stated attempt to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, which seems even more pressing given the recent news that the club will once again pay out a huge sum—$28 million, per multiple reports—for exceeding last year's mark. (Then again, they did offer Shin-Soo Choo $140 million over seven years even after their two big moves already had happened, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.)

The second is that the Yankees have spent an enormous amount of money this very offseason, adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda, among others, for a total of about $328 million.

And the final factor? Well, that would be the guy who is set to earn at least $25 million next year while also facing a potential 211-game suspension—and whose fate for 2014 is still very much up in the air.

As Ken Davidoff, George A. King and Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote on the topic of Tanaka and the Yankees:

Even though the revamped posting system hurts the Yankees — they would have preferred to pay more on the posting fee and less on the player’s salary, because the former isn’t subject to the luxury tax and the latter is — they remain highly interested in Tanaka, so much so they intend to compete for his services despite the reality that landing him would destroy the remote chance they currently have of getting their 2014 payroll under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.

All that considered, let's take a shot at fitting Tanaka into the Yankees' payroll for next season and still coming in under $189 million.

First, here's a look at the team's projected payroll, with the individual player salaries determined based on the average annual values (AAV) of their contracts, which is how this is calculated for luxury-tax purposes.

New York Yankees' Projected 2014 Payroll (25-Man Roster)
Alex Rodriguez$27.5 million
CC Sabathia$24.4 million
Mark Teixeira$22.5 million
Jacoby Ellsbury$21.9 million
Brian McCann$17 million
Hiroki Kuroda$16 million
Carlos Beltran$15 million
Derek Jeter$12 million
Ichiro Suzuki$6.5 million
David Robertson$5.5 million
Alfonso Soriano$5.0 million
Brett Gardner$4.0 million
Matt Thornton$3.5 million
Kelly Johnson$3.0 million
Ivan Nova$2.8 million
Vernon Wells$2.4 million
Brendan Ryan$2.5 million
Brian Roberts$2.0 million
Shawn Kelley$1.5 million
Francisco Cervelli$1.0 million
Eduardo Nunez$0.6 million
David Phelps$0.6 million
Michael Pineda$0.6 million
Adam Warren$0.6 million
Preson Claiborne$0.5 million
Cots Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors

(Note: The estimates for players who are eligible for arbitration come from Matt Swartz's work at MLB Trade Rumors.)

Now, these numbers may not be exact, but they should provide a pretty good indication of what the Yankees are working with going forward for the rest of this winter.

Obviously, Rodriguez's $27 million salary is the big question mark, as it may or may not be entirely or partially eliminated from the payroll, depending on the outcome of his appeal of the suspension. That decision will come from arbitrator Fredric Horowitz some time between now and January.

That's a major chunk of change, the kind that must be off the books entirely for the Yankees to land Tanaka and stay south of $189 million.

Remember, there are other elements beside player salaries on the 25-man roster that go into a team's budget. The full 40-man roster counts, as do earned bonuses and escalators and even team benefits, which typically adds around $10 to $12 million.

Tacking that onto the $171.4 million—sans Rodriguez—brings the total into the $180-$185 million range, which is just about all the Yankees can squeeze into their roster and stay shy of the $189 million (minus a cheap replacement for Rodriguez, like Mark Reynolds or Jeff Baker, two names that have been floated).

The good news, though, is that it seems the 25-man roster is just about settled at this stage, minus one or two small moves. On the position player side, the club has starters and backups pretty much taken care of, aside from that low-cost Rodriguez replacement, if needed; and the pitching staff, while not great or deep, is at least in shape.

Let's assume the only other non-Tanaka move would be to add either Reynolds or Baker for something like $3 million. Well, that's going to make it nigh impossible for Cashman to sign Tanaka, who is likely to command a $100 million contract under the new posting agreement in which multiple teams can negotiate with him.

That estimate came from a general manager, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:

A nine-figure deal in total is almost guaranteed to put Tanaka's AAV in the $15-$18 million range, depending on the number of years. That kind of figure simply cannot fit into the Yankees' budget for 2014 and keep them under $189 million.

In that case, if the Yankees are going to make a run at Tanaka and avoid pushing into the penalty yet again, general manager Brian Cashman may have to make some more maneuvers to free up some cash.

By the looks of it, the Yankees would need to clear roughly $10 million, at least, in order to do the trick. That's right—the New York Yankees would be forced to go the route of the salary dump.

The problem? They don't exactly have any contracts that are simultaneously tradeable and large enough to really unload sufficient salary. For a reminder, just take another look at that table above with the projected payroll.

The two likeliest candidates to be moved are Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner, who've been named in all sorts of rumors in recent weeks after the acquisitions of fellow outfielders Ellsbury and Beltran. Between the two of them, Suzuki and Gardner are projected to earn a little north of $10 million.

The trick then becomes not taking on much salary in return while also not simply giving away Gardner, who is arguably the Yankees' most coveted asset at this point, given his low cost and high value of production on both offense and defense.

Because they would be trading away two outfielders, the Yankees probably would want one back. But they also could use a youngster like Zoilo Almonte as a backup, which would save even more money. 

To be clear, Ichiro isn't sought after by any means and won't garner much of a return at all. The best the Yankees could hope for would be a cheap middle reliever the other party wouldn't mind parting with.

The goal in dealing Gardner, however, would be to get cheaper and recoup a valuable piece or two at the same time. More or less, that would restrict Cashman to targeting intriguing young players with one or two years of service time and/or prospects.

There are plenty of teams that could use Gardner—a free agent after 2014—as a leadoff hitter and center fielder, including the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies. But finding the right package of players in exchange—well, that would be where Cashman would need to earn his money.

Some names that could work from each of those clubs: hard-throwing righty prospect J.R. Graham (Braves), 2013 rookie southpaw Tony Cingrani (Reds), displaced second baseman Nick Franklin (Mariners) and young third baseman Cody Asche (Phillies), among others.

While it would hurt to lose Gardner, outfield is one area from which the Yankees can afford to subtract. And given that he's due to hit the open market in 10 months, perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to see what he could bring back in a trade sooner than later.

Besides, if moving one year of Gardner can help get Tanaka for five or six years, wouldn't the Yankees do it?

Of course, it's much easier to throw out names and propose possibilities than it is for Cashman to actually carry out the necessary moves in such a way that could fit the roster's needs while also save the requisite money.

In the end, about the only way for the Yankees to feasibly fit Tanaka into their budget for 2014 and still stay south of $189 million would be to pull off a trade or two that saves them in the neighborhood of $10 million.

And for a certain lightning rod third baseman to be officially suspended for all of next season.


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