The American League got a little more loaded this morning when the Yankees and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka agreed on a seven year contract worth $155 million. The deal, first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, has an opt-out clause after year four. Including the $20 million posting fee, the Yankees have committed $175 million to Tanaka. The Yankees have now committed nearly $500 million to free agents this offseason, laying waste to the idea that they were looking to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Despite having never thrown a pitch in the major leagues, Tanaka is now the fifth-highest paid pitcher in baseball. Only Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, and our own Justin Verlander -- all four of whom have won Cy Young awards -- have larger contracts. Fellow Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish signed a six year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $56 million before the 2012 season. Darvish's posting fee was much higher than Tanaka's, however, leaving the Rangers with a nine-figure price tag.
While there are concerns about Tanaka and the Yankees -- including their entire infield -- the signing has created another contender in an already loaded American League. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were both 90 game winners in the AL East, the Oakland Athletics proved that 2012 was no fluke, and the Texas Rangers have done their best to match New York's arms race with a couple high-priced moves of their own. Add in the possibility of an upstart from an also-ran -- Cleveland, Kansas City, and Seattle are all possibilities -- or a resurgence from another inflated payroll in Los Angeles, and you are left with a laundry list of teams that could make noise in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Tigers look to be slightly worse than their 2013 club, at least on paper. We have written ad nauseum about how the moves made this offseason have changed the team's philosophy (and likely will continue to do so throughout the spring), but the truth is that no one knows how good or bad this Tigers team will be in 2014. Even if they are just as good as the club that won 93 games and their third consecutive AL Central crown last year, the improved competition around the league makes the Tigers' road back to the playoffs and World Series more difficult in 2014.
Additionally, the Tanaka signing could affect the Tigers in 2015 and beyond. With Tanaka getting paid just over $22 million per year before he even sets foot on American soil, it all but guarantees that Max Scherzer will see the type of money I projected earlier this week, if not more. It could also have an effect on the pending free agent contract of Rick Porcello, depending on how he and Tanaka fare in the next two seasons.
Is Tanaka's deal going to change the entire landscape of baseball? Probably not, but it further proves that salaries are only going up, and that there is no shortage of money in the game today. We can't be sure what this means for the Tigers yet, but I wouldn't expect them to waltz their way to another deep playoff run just yet.