Going into Wednesday, the Yankees had spent nearly $300 million on free agents this offseason. But they thought they were not yet good enough to compete for a World Series title.
So they waited very anxiously for Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, the top pitcher on the market, to decide if he wanted to bring his prized right arm to Yankee Stadium. So did fans in two countries and five other major-league teams.
Finally, on Tuesday, general manager Brian Cashman got the late-night call he had been hoping for but wasn't sure was coming: Tanaka was ready to sign with the Yankees. And the Yankees were more than ready to give the 25-year-old seven years and $155 million to don the pinstripes.
"I think that our fans can recognize that Hal Steinbrenner and Hank Steinbrenner mean what they say when they intend to put a team on the field that can compete on a yearly basis," Cashman said on a conference call to announce the signing.
In Tanaka, the Yankees get a star pitcher in his prime -- something they have been lacking for years. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013, after which he requested to be allowed to sign with an American team under the leagues' posting system. The Yankees said they have been scouting Tanaka since 2007.
In addition to the money that goes to Tanaka, the Yankees must pay Rakuten a $20-million posting fee. Tanaka's contract includes an opt-out clause after four seasons and a full no-trade clause.
The Yankees also get an international drawing card after a season in which they missed the playoffs and saw their attendance and television ratings drop.
They also get something to take attention away from Alex Rodriguez. Coincidentally or not, Tanaka's average annual contract value is $22,142,857. The Yankees are saving $22,131,150 in salary this season with Rodriguez suspended for 162 games because of his involvement with the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
Tanaka's deal is the fifth- largest ever for a pitcher. The Dodgers recently gave two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw a seven-year, $215-million extension, the highest contract for a pitcher in MLB history.
The Dodgers were one of six teams believed to have been finalists for Tanaka in a process that was incredibly secretive under orders from Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, who also represents Kershaw and Derek Jeter, Tanaka's new teammate.
"I had no sense until [Tuesday] night that we actually were in the finals to close something out with him," Cashman said. "We were hopeful throughout the process. But I got no indications, no inkling."
The other interested clubs were the Cubs, White Sox, Diamondbacks and Astros. Houston, a surprise participant, brought former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens to a meeting in Los Angeles this month in an attempt to lure Tanaka to Texas.
But the Yankees had a few tricks up their own negotiating sleeves. They met with Tanaka Jan. 8 with an eight-person contingent: Cashman, team president Randy Levine, manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, team executives Jean Afterman, Billy Eppler and Trey Hillman, and interpreter George Rose.
In the 21/2-hour meeting, the Yankees tried to sell Tanaka on the team, its history and New York. They showed him what Cashman called an "MTV Cribs" video about Yankee Stadium. They played a video that included a pitch from former Yankees star Hideki Matsui.
Whether any of that had any influence on Tanaka is not yet known. What is known, via Cashman, is that the Yankees were told they offered Tanaka the most years and the most money.
In doing so, the Yankees agreed to blow past their self-imposed goal of a payroll of less than the $189-million luxury-tax threshold. Hal Steinbrenner had been saying for more than a year that he would go over $189 million and pass up the potential for millions of dollars in revenue-sharing savings if he believed the Yankees couldn't field a top-notch team for 2014.
"I felt we needed another starter," Steinbrenner told the New York Post Wednesday. "We were not where we needed to be, in my opinion. So this should not be a surprise because [Tanaka] was the best free-agent pitcher available. He is one of the greatest players Japan has ever produced. He is tough. He has thrived under pressure. He will fit in well to New York . . . I do think we now have a championship-caliber team."