Alex Rodriguez ruling opens door for Yankees to pursue Masahiro Tanaka

Alex Rodriguez looks on from the dugout during

Alex Rodriguez looks on from the dugout during the third inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 25, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Alex Rodriguez's suspension and appeal have hung over the Yankees' offseason plans since the final out was recorded in the 2013 season.

Now, unless A-Rod is successful in getting a federal judge to intervene in the suspension that was modified from 211 to 162 games by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz and announced Saturday, the Yankees can move forward with pursuing Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka while trying to stay under the $189-million luxury-tax ceiling.

With A-Rod's $25-million salary for 2014 off the books, it will be possible for the Yankees to sign Tanaka and squeak under $189 million, according to a person familiar with their thinking. The person also said there's little doubt that the club will be under $189 million if it doesn't sign Tanaka.

The Yankees are believed to have engaged in discussions with Tanaka and his agent, Casey Close, this past week in Los Angeles. Yankees officials have not commented on where, when or how they are going to meet with (or have met with) Tanaka, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Tanaka could command a contract in the area of $100 million, plus a $20-million posting fee to Rakuten, his Japanese team. The posting fee does not count toward the luxury tax.

The Japan Times reported Saturday that Tanaka was back in Japan after spending three days in Los Angeles taking a physical and meeting with teams. Along with the Yankees, interested teams are believed to be the Dodgers, White Sox, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Mariners, and perhaps others.

Tanaka, 25, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, must sign with an MLB club by Jan. 24 or his rights will revert back to Rakuten.

With only CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova certain for their 2014 rotation, the Yankees are desperate for starting pitching.

According to a baseball source, the Yankees "are in it'' for Tanaka's services, but it is too early in the process to get a handle on which team, if any, has the best shot.

The Yankees used to be able to blow teams away with money, but Tanaka has many big-market suitors. Plus, the Mariners could be a dark-horse contender because they already have shelled out $240 million for Robinson Cano, have Japanese ownership and are looking to energize their fan base.

Unless A-Rod gets an injunction in federal court, the Yankees can take him off their books for 2014 because he is a suspended player with no other avenue to challenge the suspension under baseball's collective-bargaining agreement. (The Players Association said Saturday it is done with the matter.)

Rodriguez was due $25 million in salary. That's gone. But it's even better for the Yankees' bottom line: A-Rod would have counted as $27.5 million for luxury-tax purposes.

Also off the books is the potential for a $6-million bonus A-Rod would have received if he had hit six home runs and tied Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list with 660. That bonus would have counted toward the luxury-tax total, and the Yankees had to account for it in their planning.

The Yankees are trying to stay under $189 million to reap potentially tens of millions of dollars in savings under baseball's revenue-sharing plan. It is a self-imposed goal; owner Hal Steinbrenner has consistently said he will ignore it if necessary to field a championship-caliber squad.

The Yankees already have added catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, infielders Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts and lefthanded reliever Matt Thornton in free agency.

Still, they are without a reliable regular at second base and -- now -- third base. They could bring back Mark Reynolds to play third; he finished the 2013 season with the Yankees. Veteran infielder Michael Young also is available as a free agent.

Most likely, the Yankees will go all-out to sign Tanaka and then rehash what's left to do once that sweepstakes is over.

The good news for A-Rod? He still has three years and $61 million left on his contract beginning in 2015 -- when he will be eligible to return to the Yankees -- plus $30 million in possible home-run bonuses.

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