Masahiro Tanaka Signing Doesn’t Fill All Of New York Yankees’ Holes

Masahiro TanakaThe New York Yankees looked in the mirror and said, “Screw it.” The Yankees have signed Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract, blowing past the $189 million luxury tax threshold in the process.

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner previously stated that staying under the $189 million threshold was a goal, as New York might have saved about $100 million over a three-year period if it dropped below the threshold in 2014. Steinbrenner decided that fielding a legitimate World Series contender was more important than pinching pennies, though, and the Yankees should keep their foot on the gas now that they’ve sped past the $189 million mark.

“I do think we now have a championship-caliber team,” Steinbrenner said regarding the Tanaka deal, according to the New York Post. “I think we have a good starting rotation that I am comfortable with, and we have done a lot to improve the offense and add leadership, too. I think we have added clutch players who can play on the big stage.”

The Yankees have improved. They’ve spent nearly a half a billion dollars on free agents this offseason, with Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million), Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million) joining Tanaka as the headliners. But the Yankees still have holes, and additional free-agent expenditures should be considered to ensure that Steinbrenner really does have a “championship-caliber team.” Otherwise, this whole spending spree could be fruitless.

The Yankees’ 2014 rotation is expected to be comprised of Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, with Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno vying for the fifth spot. It isn’t the worst group that you’ll find in the American League, especially if Tanaka lives up to the hype, but the unit certainly is riddled with question marks.

Sabathia was a shell of his former self in 2013, Kuroda will turn 39 before Opening Day, Nova was inconsistent last season despite a strong finish and no one really knows what to expect from any of the potential No. 5 starters. The Yankees could stand to add another starting pitcher, and Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo remain on the open market. Perhaps they’ll become considerations now that the Yankees appear willing to put all of their chips on the table for the upcoming season.

The Yankees’ infield also looks shaky with spring training approaching. New York signed Brendan Ryan (two years, $5 million), Kelly Johnson (one year, $3 million) and Brian Roberts (one year, $2 million) to replace Robinson Cano and serve as protection for an aging Derek Jeter, but it’s unreasonable to think that the trio suddenly will become a group of world beaters. The Yankees should consider a strong push for Stephen Drew, who — while not a world beater, either – would help stabilize New York’s rickety infield corps. Plus, Jeter can’t play forever, so signing Drew to a multiyear deal to eventually become the captain’s successor at shortstop makes sense if money no longer is an issue.

Oh yeah, the Yankees have that whole closer thing to figure out, too. David Robertston has great late-inning stuff, but let’s keep in mind that New York is trying to withstand the loss of the greatest closer of all time. Some late-inning insurance, perhaps in the form of Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney, shouldn’t be ruled out.

The Yankees’ decision to sign Tanaka to a monster contract further shows the front office’s commitment to winning in 2014. But adding Tanaka to a group of other risky free-agent signings hardly guarantees that New York will be playing well into October. It’s time to keep the checkbooks open, if the Yankees truly are willing to live on the edge.

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