The New York Yankees were not trying to flex their marketplace muscles before their town was taken over by Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman (Or is it Richard Sherman and Peyton Manning?). Giving $155 million to Masahiro Tanaka was not the Yankees' idea of a parting shot, or a statement on the magnitude of their brand before the Broncos and Seahawks barreled into Dodge and made them feel as small as the coin used for the opening Super Bowl toss.
The Yankees had no choice here. They had to get their man. Their whole being is built around their oft-quoted mission statement of fielding a championship-grade team every season, and they knew that sticking with their pitching staff in April would've represented a mission unaccomplished.
You can't tell your fan base that all you care about is winning the whole thing, and then trot out a diminished CC Sabathia as your Opening Day ace.
So the Yankees sent a recruiting party to Los Angeles to court Tanaka, a party nearly big enough to fill the bleachers in the Bronx. Team president Randy Levine, general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and interpreter George Rose were among those in the meeting, as were special assistant Trey Hillman, who managed in Japan, and executive Jean Afterman, who was instrumental in the recruitment of Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP. Matsui put in a call to Tanaka, too, and was part of a video presentation about Yankee Stadium that Cashman likened to a tour on "MTV Cribs."
It didn't hurt that the pitcher's agent, Casey Close, understood how much the Yankees' brand meant to his signature client, Derek Jeter.
Cashman said the Yankees had been scouting their man since 2007, and that Tanaka kept getting better and kept performing when the stakes were high. "He would dial it up," Cashman said.
During two hours and change in their pitch meeting, the Yankees loved what they heard from Tanaka. "He's a remarkable kid," one team source familiar with the meeting said. "He's very confident and focused and determined, but quiet, like Matsui. He wants to be the best on the biggest stage. He's not afraid of New York at all.
"There's nobody like Tanaka in the system, a 25-year-old ace, and there's nobody like that on the free-agent market. So you had to go for it."
Yes, the Yankees did. Are they sure that Tanaka, 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in Japan, is strong enough to lead their starting rotation to the American League East title, never mind Ring No. 28? No, of course not. The Yankees realize there's a chance Tanaka is little more than a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy with a top-of-the-rotation paycheck.
"We were willing to take the risk," Cashman said.
They were willing to pay for the rewards, too. Including the $20 million posting fee, their gamble adds up to seven years and $175 million, or the same amount of years and money they offered Robinson Cano before Jay Z altered his Empire State of mind. Cano was a safer bet, even for the $240 million Seattle paid him, because he'd already done something Tanaka had not:
Proved he can play at a very high level in the big leagues.