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Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka: Notes from the conference call

Koji Watanabe

Brian Cashman took the time to answer questions from the media just after the signing of Masahiro Tanaka was announced and quickly made official. I had the awesome privilege to be on the call, so here are my notes for the Q&A:

  • When asked about when the Yankees decided to go over the 189 budget, Cashman reiterated that the plan was never to prevent the construction of a championship-caliber team. They felt the job wasn't done until they got Tanaka.
  • While he couldn't officially comment on the Yankees' plans for the rest of the offseason, he hinted that there would be no heavy lifting being done to improve the rotation from here. Probably meaning that they're out on Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. If they do bring anyone in they will be focusing on cheaper options.
  • Tanaka has been on the Yankees' radar as far back as 2007. They have scouted him since then, first seeing him against MLB hitters in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. They sent scouts to 15 different games in 2013 and scouted him throughout Rakuten's playoff run.
  • Cashman said that negotiations were far too private to know what he preferred when asked whether he got a sense that Tanaka wanted to be a Yankee. He said that they had no sense that they were even in the finals until sometime last night. You should all be aware that he referred to the entire process as TANAKATHON!
  • He confirmed that the Yankees certainly have concern over the considerable mileage on Tanaka's arm, but he reminded everyone there there are always concerns with big contracts like this. Given his level of performance, his age, and the current state of the market, they were willing to take a chance on him.
  • Cashman believes that the new posting system created the environment that resulted in the highest guaranteed contract given to an NPB player. The teams used to have all the control, but the players, with the ability to negotiate, have turned the system upside down.
  • He was asked what has changed since Yu Darvish, but it was apparently nothing. They were very interested in Darvish, scouted him extensively, but the financial considerations were what led to them not getting him. Whatever that means. He reiterated that the ball, strike zone, talent level and pitching schedules are very different in Japan, so the Yankees wanted to be there as much as possible with Tanaka.
  • When asked how they evaluated his makeup, Cashman said they paid close attention to how he interacted with his teammates and the way he carried himself on the mound. They spoke with ex-MLB players who played with Tanaka in Japan (likely Andruw Jones and Darrell Rasner) and just tried to collect as much information on his as they could.
  • When asked whether the Yankees viewed Tanaka as an ace or as another part in the rotation, Cashman confirmed the latter. That said, they know he wants to prove he can be successful, so he could show ace-like abilities.
  • Asked how much better has the team gotten this offseason, Cashman said that they tried to address as many needs as possible. They had a lot of areas that needed improvement, but Hal opened the resources to make sure 2014 was better than 2013. With all the good teams in the American League, it really becomes a question of how much better.
  • The Yankees were told that they had the highest bid, but the other offers were very competitive and not very far off.
  • When asked if he was comfortable signing a player to a $155 million contract, Cashman stated that it's simply the cost of doing business. The highest talent costs a lot of money. #analysis.
  • He stated that he expects David Robertson to be the closer and remain the closer all season, but at the same time he will still have to come to spring training and earn the role. He couldn't confirm whether or not they plan to bring any more talent in to compete against him.
  • Brian Cashman believes that the bullpen and the infield are their two main concerns at this point. They have to hope that Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira can contribute consistently in 2014, so it's tough to determine whether they have a net gain this offseason. Their plan this year was to try and secure as much impact talent as they could fit and he wished that included Robinson Cano. In the end, they need everyone to maximize their potential and stay healthy to ensure that the gains outweigh the losses. So basically a lot of finger crossing.
  • The Yankees were invited to meet with Tanaka in Los Angeles for two hours and had to use that time to make their pitch to him. They told him the club's direction and brought in everyone they could that could help answer any questions he had and inform him what the Yankees are all about. Randy Levine, of all people, was there. So were Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild, among others. They put a video together with a message from Hideki Matsui and had an "MTV Cribs-style" walkthrough tour of Yankee Stadium. This was a one-time meeting, so Cashman said they wanted to make sure they got their message across.
  • Right now he has no idea when Tanaka will come to New York. They had just finalized the contract on Tuesday night and still need MLB and the union to approve while also getting a work visa.
  • When asked about the opt-out clause in the final contract, Cashman made sure to tell everyone that it wasn't his idea. It was not in their initial offer, but Casey Close told him that it was an important component and was present in a lot of the other pitches. To him, it seemed like it was mandatory to have it included if they still wanted a chance to sign him.
  • The last question was about what the message to the fans was, with Cashman replying that they're always trying to make a Word Series winner. The Steinbrenners want to continue George's legacy of always trying to field a championship team, so the effort is always consistent.