January 26

Kevin Thomas: Yankees try to buy their way back to World Series

There’s desperation in Tanaka’s signing.

Did you catch the two big signings announced last Wednesday?

The New York Yankees spent $175 million for a pitcher who has never thrown a ball in the major leagues

The Boston Red Sox committed $750,000 for an outfielder named to the All-Star Game three times.

For New York, the staggering investment (before taxes) in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was a must for a franchise that has been slipping. New York has no depth and not much promise in its minor league system. The Yankees had to resort to a familiar theme of spending their way back to contention.

The Red Sox are enjoying depth and a minor league system that currently is among the best in baseball. Adding a player like Grady Sizemore, once a star but out of the game the past two years because of injuries, simply adds to the depth.

Boston did not have to sign Sizemore.

The Yankees absolutely had to have Tanaka.

New York did not make the playoffs last year – and rival Boston winning the World Series only added insult. TV revenues were down and attendance dropped to a 12-year low.

So the Yankees are hoping for a makeover like 2009, when they spent $423.5 million on the contracts of three players (C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett).

The need for big-spending back then was obvious. New York missed the playoffs in 2008 (while the thrifty Rays reached the World Series, following a 2007 season when Boston won it all).

The big money paid off. The new players, along with a solid core group, produced a World Series title in 2009.

Since then, the Yankees have lost in the ALCS twice and the divisional series once, before sitting out last year – an applaudable achievement, for sure. But aging players were declining in production and health. New York needed a fix.

The Yankees also wanted to stop paying luxury taxes on their payroll, which meant it had to get under $189 million. The suspension of Alex Rodriguez and his $25 million salary helped (but just a reminder that New York is still on the hook with A-Rod, for $61 million for seasons 2015 through 2017).

That $189 million goal is now a dream. The Yankees look headed toward a $200 million payroll.

But New York had to spend if it wanted to compete in 2014. How else could the Yankees improve? A thin minor league system (few decent prospects above the lower levels) means no homegrown players and no bargaining chips for trades.

Time to open the checkbook: $153 million for Jacoby Ellsbury, $85 million for Brian McCann, $45 million for Carlos Beltran and now $175 million (which includes the $20 million posting fee) to Tanaka.

That’s $458 million – more than the pre-2009 spending spree (but for four players; what a deal!).

And the farm system continues to take a hit. The signing of free agents Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran cost the Yankees three draft picks.

So what does New York get for its money: Star power and question marks.

A rotation that begins with Sabathia, Hiroki Kiroda and Tanaka looks decent. But Sabathia, 33, is coming off his worst year (4.78 ERA) and Kiroda, who faded last season, turns 39 in two weeks.

Then there is the question of Tanaka and how his stuff will translate. Red Sox fans know all about those questions, watching the decline of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Pitching depth will remain a concern in the rotation and bullpen.

And New York’s infield is an injury (or two) from imploding. A-Rod and Robinson Cano are gone. Teixeira played 15 games and Derek Jeter 17 games last year because of injury.

(Continued on page 2)

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