BOSTON -- When the Yankees begin their organizational meetings Monday at the Stadium, one name is likely to dominate discussion.
That would be Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka, who has emerged as their top free- agent target this offseason.
The meetings, which will be overseen by owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, are expected to last through Wednesday.
There is plenty to discuss in an offseason of uncertainty, primarily how to re-sign Robinson Cano and make a significant splash in free agency -- Braves catcher Brian McCann and Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew are targets -- while cutting the payroll to $189 million to avoid significant luxury-tax penalties.
The 24-year-old Tanaka, 24-0 with a 1.24 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles of the Pacific League in 2013, would be quite a splash. The starting-pitching-desperate Yankees will be poised to make a bid when he is posted. It's just a question of how much.
The Yankees, who have been skeptical about Japanese pitchers since wasting $46 million on Kei Igawa, scouted Tanaka extensively, with assistant general manager Billy Eppler among those in the organization who have traveled to see him. Japanese media suggest the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Red Sox also have seen the phenom quite a bit.
The Rangers paid the Nippon Ham Fighters a record $51.7-million posting fee in January 2012 for Yu Darvish before signing him to a six-year, $60-million contract. No one believes Tanaka is as good as Darvish, but one talent evaluator called him potentially a "solid No. 3 and maybe a No. 2.'' Scouts rave about his splitter, and one scout described his slider as "excellent.''
"Very good body control and mechanics,'' the scout added.
The money spent on a posting fee -- which gives the winning team the chance to negotiate with the player -- doesn't count against a team's payroll, but an agreed-upon contract does.
The first major international signing occurred this past week when the White Sox signed Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68-million deal. Some scoff at the idea that Tanaka can be had for $10 million a year. As one talent evaluator said, "Abreu got $68 [million]; what's a pitcher going to get? There's no pitching [out there].''
It won't be easy for the Yankees to make an impact via free agency and bring the payroll to $189 million, but they believe it can be done.
First, there's the money coming off the books. That doesn't take a source to figure out, just a calculator. Andy Pettitte ($12 million) and Mariano Rivera ($10 million) have retired and free agents Hiroki Kuroda ($15 million), Curtis Granderson ($13 million) and Phil Hughes ($7.15 million) might not be back, though in the case of Kuroda and Granderson, there is interest from the Yankees' end. All of those players total $57.15 million.
Add the $25 million the Yankees hope to save should enough of Alex Rodriguez's 211-game suspension be upheld to wipe him out for 2014, and the figure is $82.15 million. Boone Logan ($3.15 million) and Joba Chamberlain ($1.875 million) also are free agents unlikely to return.
Much has been made about pursuing Carlos Beltran, but some in the organization are wary about the outfielder, who turns 37 in April and is looking for a three-year deal. If Beltran, who made $13 million in 2013, falls into their lap for, say, a one-year deal worth $10 million to $15 million, they might jump. But Beltran, who is enjoying a big postseason after hitting .296 with a .339 OBP, 24 homers and 84 RBIs, has leverage for a multiyear deal.
As a club insider said, even while praising Beltran, "We already have enough bad old-people contracts.''