The Yankees tried a season of budgetary restraint in 2013 that resulted in multiple positions being filled inadequately in order to position the team for a chance to stay under $189 million in payroll in 2014 that would allow them to avoid high penalties in luxury tax. You all know how that worked out. The 2013 season was one of misery in which a hot dog vendor might have been able to stick at third base and you or I would have likely been a better answer at catcher, ultimately resulting in the Yankees missed the playoffs for the second time since 2007. Was sticking to Plan 189 really worth it to the richest team in MLB?
After letting Robinson Cano leave for the Mariners on a ten-year deal, it looked like Plan 189 was still in play for 2014. Alex Rodriguez getting suspended for an entire season only helped that cause a little more. Fortunately, the Yankees don't seem to be in the business of losing any more than they have to. Making quick strikes in the offseason to bring in a huge upgrade at catcher in Brian McCann, signing Jacoby Ellsbury for the next seven years, and bringing in a man that has done nothing but hit in the postseason in Carlos Beltran, the Yankees seemed ready to blow the roof off Plan 189 in a hurry.
Bargain signings weren't far behind those big splashes. The Yankees bypassed the big names that might have served as their 2014 second baseman in favor of Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts. Eduardo Nunez may very well end up starting at third base on Opening Day against the Astros. Despite those concerns, the Yankees managed to take a risk that would completely put an end to the Plan 189 talk for the time being. For all the criticism that we lob the way of the Steinbrenners at times, this time they got it right.
Masahiro Tanaka coming to the United States in 2014 provided the team with a rare opportunity to land a 25-year-old pitcher that they didn't have to develop themselves. After watching pitching prospect after pitching prospect within their farm system fail, the Yankees had little choice but to pay the premium price of the open market in order to land a guy with Tanaka's upside. Having been burned by a Japanese pitcher once or twice already, the Yankees seemed a bit gun shy when it came to Yu Darvish's switch to the United States and it was reasonable to assume they might take the same position with Tanaka. The glaring holes in the rotation might have been enough to tip the scales in favor of taking the chance and abandoning Plan 189 altogether.
So, the Yankees landed their man. Any free agent, especially those who have yet to pitch in the United States, carries the risk of not living up to their contract. A new posting system in 2014 made obtaining Tanaka a little harder with more of the money going toward his contract, rather than his Japanese team. The posting fee in years past wasn't subject to the luxury tax the way Tanaka's seven-year, $155 million contract will be. Even with that change, the Yankees needed to supplement their rotation and were clearly uncomfortable with paying Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez the money they'd require to do it.
Tanaka comes with plenty of risk but the upside he carries is enough to hope, at least for today. Imagine if he's as good as he was in Japan. Imagine if he's even mostly as good as he was. The Yankees outbid everyone for the best pitcher available this offseason. After a year of pinching pennies, that feels pretty good. We'll all have time to worry about the x's and o's of Tanaka's adjustment to MLB and whether or not he'll live up to a massive contract that the Yankees had to dish out to get him. For today, it's time to be at least a little excited for what this means for our favorite baseball team and official say goodbye to Plan 189. May we never hear of it again.