Yankees Splurge as Usual, But to What End?

Hear the chuckles, the guffaws throughout baseball, the rival humor in how the Yankees haven’t changed in the least. After vowing to stay under the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, here come the Sons of George, STILL trying to cure ills with torrid spending sprees after the smarter Red Sox spent far less last winter to trigger their third World Series title in 10 years.

In the end, the Bronx bill this offseason is a half-billion dollars.

And not a soul can say with definitive faith that it will work, though George Steinbrenner must be proud in pinstripe heaven that his boys have tossed $175 million in salary and posting fees at one Masahiro Tanaka, who likely won’t turn out to be a “fat toad” as The Boss once called Hideki Irabu.

“This is an exclamation point … that our work was not complete or finished in terms of trying to put in a team that people could at least talk about having a shot to take a run at qualifying for the playoffs and playing into October,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at a media briefing.

Read that over. People can “at least talk about having a shot to take a run at qualifying for the playoffs.” Is that what the man said? Such is the uncertain condition of the Yankees, who, even with their splurge, rank behind the Tigers, A’s, Rangers, Red Sox and Rays as we study the American League. Of course, this mighty franchise should be investing most of its massive revenues into the baseball product. It’s just comical that Hal and Hank Steinbrenner ever uttered “tax” and “threshold” in the same breath.

“There has been criticism of myself and my brother the last couple years that, gee, if our dad was still in charge, we’d be spending this and spending that and doing whatever it takes to win,” said Hank, the less visible of the two, whining to the Associated Press after the Tanaka signing. “He didn’t have revenue sharing, at least for most of his time. That’s what these people in the sports media don’t seem to get. If it wasn’t for revenue sharing, we’d have a payroll of $300 million a year if we wanted to. So we’re doing this despite having to pay all that revenue sharing.”

True, Hammerin’ Hank’s monolith rakes in the money and feeds the poor based on Bud Selig’s economic system, which allows small-fry Tampa Bay to outperform the Yankees while funded, in part, by the likes of the Yankees. Not that anyone feels sorry for them, given their arrogance through the years. We “people in the sports media” realize the Steinbrenners had no choice but to outbid the competition for Tanaka, given the feeble state of their pitching rotation. Of their four major acquisitions, the Japanese phenom has the best chance of paying the most dividends, assuming his 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA last year means he’s more Yu Darvish and less Kei Igawa. You’re not going to like his theme music when he walks to the mound — “Ato Hitotsu” from the Funky Monkey Babies, boy band stuff, won’t remind anyone of “Enter Sandman” at Yankee Stadium — but you will like his control, his 93-mph fastball command, his age (25), his split-finger, his incredible durability and his gumption. By gumption, I mean that he chose the more pressurized challenge of assuming the ace role with the Yankees, where the media attention and expectations will be scalding, when he could have had a breezier career in Los Angeles, where he’d have slid into the Dodgers rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke and pitched in sunshine and warmth April to October.

His wife, a Japanese pop-music star named Mai Satoda, reportedly preferred southern California. So Tanaka already has shown he can deliver against intimidating competition, surely impressed by an all-out recruiting blitz that, according to Cashman, included “a video about our ballpark, kind of an MTV Cribs-type situation.”

The best perk was the $155 million, beiieve me, which one-upped the always-runnerup-in-these-situations Cubs, the not-serious-about-winning White Sox and even the blank-check Dodgers.

It wouldn’t be wise to project a 20-win season and Cy Young Award. The Yankees have been aware of Tanaka for a while and have scouted him extensively in recent seasons, but there is no rhyme or reason to Japanese pitching tea leaves. Darvish is an elite starter. Koji Uehara secured a Boston championship as a vice-grip closer. Hiroki Kuroda, who joins the free-falling CC Sabathia as starters behind Tanaka, has been a solid veteran. Hideo Nomo was the first Japanese pitcher to make it big in America. But Irabu and Igawa have failed in pinstripes, and Daisuke Matsuzaka was a big-money disappointment in Boston. Among the diferences between MLB and the Japan version: the baseballs are different sizes and pitchers throw on seven days’ rest over there. Also, is anyone concerned about some of Tanaka’s insane pitch totals? They hailed him as a hero for closing out Game 7 of the Japan Series for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, ignoring that he’d thrown 160 pitches the day before in a complete-game loss.

Here, we would call that arm abuse.

But at least the Yankees have created some buzz that deflects attention from the Alex Rodriguez mess, which will spill into spring training when he shows up in Tampa for an intended media circus. After A-Rod is banished to the minor-league fields and told to sit and watch, everyone will scope out Tanaka, who needs a nickname. They also will examine the $153-million Jacoby Ellsbury, the $100-million Brian McCann and the $45-million Carlos Beltran, all productive players who could be outstanding pickups … or not. All will open the season in their 30s, having battled injuries in recent seasons.

The all-encompassing debate, which will start Opening Day and extend for years, is whether the Yankees were better off re-signing the durable, consistently dynamic Robinson Cano. Before they were certain Rodriguez’s $25 million salary would be available to them for 2014, plus a $6-million clause budgeted if he hit six more home runs and tied Willie Mays at 660, the execs decided they were better off dividing up Cano’s money in more pieces. Turns out they spent $253 million for Ellsbury and McCann, $13 million more than Seattle spent for Cano. What if Cano has a typically electric offensive season? What if Ellsbury gets hurt? Will the Yankees regret it?

Time was when this franchise spent big money for sure things. Now the Yankees are spending big money for crapshoots.

Which is why the industry is laughing.

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