(Reuters) - Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has signed a seven-year, $155 million deal to join the New York Yankees, the team reported on Wednesday, making the Japanese ace the fifth highest paid pitcher in all of Major League Baseball.
Tanaka, who Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said had been on the team’s radar for eight years, was a perfect 24-0 with the Japanese Series champion Rakuten Golden Eagles last season and regarded as one of the prize catches of the off-season.
He was reportedly pursued by a dozen major league teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.
But it was the big-spending Yankees, looking to return to the World Series after missing out on the post-season last year, who got his signature.
”We started evaluating him back in 2007, so clearly we have been scouting him over in Japan for quite some time,“ Cashman told a conference call, adding that negotiations were extremely private, ”Certainly we paid close attention to him in the 2009 WBC (World Baseball Classic) where we were first able to evaluate him against major league hitters.
”He’s just gotten better-and-better and it seems like the bigger the game, the more he would step up.
“In an individual game he would dial it up. The one thing that resonated consistently is the competitive side of this particular player.”
The total cost of the deal was a $175 million with the Yankees also paying out a $20 million posting fee to his former-Japanese league club and includes an opt-out clause that Tanaka can exercise after the fourth year.
Tanaka will receive an annual salary of just over $22 million making him the highest paid Japanese import of all-time in MLB.
Dodgers Cy Young winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw tops the list having agreed to a massive seven-year $215 million contract last week.
”I was told, we were the highest and it was very competitive and the other teams were in the vicinity of our team,“ said Cashman. ”It’s the cost of doing business.
”When you want to acquire some of the best talent in the world, whether it is coming from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the United States or Japan, the highest talent costs a lot of money.
“The efforts of clubs to try to improve themselves creates that bidding environment that produces large contracts for rare talent.”
A two-time winner of the prestigious Sawamura Award as Nippon Professional Baseball’s best pitcher, Tanaka went 99-35 with 1,238 strikeouts in 175 career games over seven seasons with the Golden Eagles. His resume also includes 53 complete games and 18 shutouts.
Tanaka, an eye-catching 53-9 over the last three seasons, joins a Yankees starting rotation that includes his compatriot Hiroki Kuroda as well as CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
With Kuroda and Tanaka, the Yankees become the first major league team since the 2004 Dodgers to have two Japanese pitchers in their starting rotation.
”There are risks with pitchers from Japan,“ admitted Cashman. ”The work load for starters is different, strike zones are different, lineups are different. So there is a lot of risk working through those variables.
”At some point you have to make a call.
“We obviously believe in that talent...those risks will be answered here shortly.”
Tanaka played for Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as two World Baseball Classics, winning the title in 2009.
The 25-year-old becomes the seventh player born in Japan to wear the famed Yankee pinstripes, joining Hideki Irabu (1997-99), Hideki Matsui (2003-09), Kei Igawa (2007-08), Hiroki Kuroda (2012-13), Ryota Igarashi (2012) and Ichiro Suzuki (2012-13).
The signing is the latest in another Yankees off-season spending spree that has seen the club splurge on free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Julian Linden