Will these new Yankees make a big difference?

Scott Halleran

Remember when the Yankees had an actual budget? Yeah. That was fun while it lasted. For the rest of the American League, anyway. Now they've committed another $177 million to lock up Masahiro Tanaka, and the fun (for the rest of the American League) might be over for a while. David Waldstein in the Times:

The deal takes the Yankees payroll soaring over the $189 million luxury tax threshold, meaning they will continue to pay 50 percent extra in tax on every dollar over $189 million, and forfeit millions more in rebates that were offered should they go under the $189 million mark. But Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, always said that luxury tax relief was more of a goal than a mandate, and would not interfere with the objective of putting a championship-caliber team on the field.

--snip--

Several other teams, including the Dodgers, the Cubs, the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, were also making bids for Tanaka, but the Yankees were committed to outspending them all because starting pitching was a noted weakness on the team. Now the Yankees’ rotation includes C. C. Sabathia, Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, giving the Yankees a better chance at returning to the playoffs in 2014 than they had just 24 hours earlier.

That's true. They also would have a better chance if they'd signed Matt Garza. The Yankees had three reasonably accomplished starting pitchers, and now they've got four. Which gives them a better chance.

Tuesday, someone suggested that if an American League team signed Tanaka, it would change the balance of power. Which seems hyperbolic. In the two years before the Rangers signed Yu Darvish, they won 18 postseason games. In the two years since, the Rangers have won zero postseason games.

Which is terribly simplistic analysis, I know. But Tanaka's just one pitcher, and he's probably not quite as good as Yu Darvish (or half a dozen other American League starters). He helps the Yankees, but they needed a lot of help. As I wrote last month, last year the Yankees were significantly worse than their record.

It's obviously been a TREMENDOUS winter for the Yankees, who have also added Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury to the roster. The Yankees will be significantly worse at second base, in the absence of Robinson Cano. But they'll be significantly better at two or three outfield spots, DH, and catcher. Along with probably shortstop and third base, depending on Jeter's ankle and Cashman's acumen. But for the Yankees to win (say) 95 games, they still need CC Sabathia to bounce back, and Ivan Nova to pitch well for more than half the season.

Before Tanaka (B.T.) we would have predicted a third-place fight for the Yankees. After Tanaka (A.T.) it's easier to imagine them in a second-place fight. And even if they lose that fight, of course they can still make the playoffs. But it's funny how quickly we can forget. Just one year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had a great winter. Anybody remember how they finished the season?

Screen_shot_2014-01-22_at_8

Will the Yankees finish last this year? Probably not. Five years ago, the Yankees had a big winter and all they did the next fall was win another World Series. But if the Red Sox could finish last in 2012 and the Blue Jays could finish last in 2013, just about anything must be possible.

Unlikely, though. After their year in the wilderness, the Yankees should be better, and someday the historians will tease out ownership's motivation for worrying about the luxury tax for exactly one year and not a single day more. Maybe third place was just a lot harder to stomach than the Steinbrothers expected?

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