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Yankees improve with Tanaka, but is it enough?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 22, 2014 10:59 AM

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The Yankees have spent $483 million so far this winter to sign or retain Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, Hiroki Kuroda, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Thornton.

So much for fiscal responsibility and staying under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. The Yankees are back in Evil Empire form.

But the Yankees are far from being favored to win the AL East. The Red Sox and Rays still have deeper rosters, less age and better farm systems. You could argue that the Yankees have no better than the third-best rotation in the division even with Tanaka.

But the Yankees are undoubtedly better than the team that finished tied for third last season.

Now that the financial incentives of staying under the cap have vanished for the Yankees, they could decide to keep on spending.

The Yankees have a rotation of Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. Their No. 5 starter is uncertain. Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Bronson Arroyo remain on the market. They also could pursue bullpen depth.

Long gone are the days when the Red Sox will feel pressure to react to the Yankees making a big move. Ben Cherington doesn't work that way and there are no prominent free agents that would fill a need for the Red Sox outside of Stephen Drew.

But the Tanaka signing should spur the free-agent starter market into action and perhaps that will lead to the Red Sox finding a trade market for one of their extra starters now instead of later.

The other offshoot of the Tanaka signing is to what degree it affects the market for Jon Lester. Tanaka was a free agent in a unique situation, so there is not a direct comparison. But with every prominent starter that signs, the value of starting pitching goes up and Lester benefits peripherally from that.

If the Red Sox pursue an extension with Lester, the average annual value seems sure to be in the $20 million neighborhood. The number seems to edge up every week.

Theo Epstein's Cubs were avid pursuers of Tanaka, as were the Dodgers. That the Red Sox were not speaks to their faith in both their 2014 rotation and prospects like Matt Barnes, Henry Owens and Anthony Ranaudo.

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