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Shi: Masahiro Tanaka and the end of the feast

It is the night of January 22, 2014. I finally have time to relax and think, and the first thought that comes to mind is that the Los Angeles Dodgers have finally been outbid for a player.

Japanese ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, formerly of Rakuten, signed with the New York Yankees for a total outlay of $175 million. It’s trite at this point to compare sports salaries to other nations’ GDPs, so I will pass over the fact that the figure is as large as the annual economic output of Kiribati. Let it simply be known that Tanaka will be paid very well to throw balls very hard, and that since he will be throwing the majority of his balls in New York, we will never hear the end of it.

This announcement came on the heels of Clayton Kershaw’s $215 million deal to stay in Los Angeles, and it is a testament to the largesse of the Dodgers that an act so utterly typifying the New York Yankees was nevertheless completely unexpected.

The Yankees didn’t just spend $175 million on a pitcher; they spent $175 million on a pitcher who has already thrown 1,315 innings. 1,315 innings by age 24! $175 million for a pitcher from a league where Tanaka threw 160 pitches in a 4-2 complete game loss — a loss in which Rakuten never led after the fifth inning — and then closed out the season the very next day. $175 million for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues. It’s a contract that makes those of Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka look beggarly in comparison.

The Yankees, who spent the entire fall talking about how they wanted to avoid the luxury tax, have decided to go supernova. After the signings of Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, it’s clear that baseball’s biggest team has glanced at Bud Selig’s tiny little speed bump and driven over it with a steam train. In a life that has been spent watching the Yankees spend large amounts of money whenever they felt like it, Tanaka’s signing might have been the most “New York Yankees thing” ever.

Order, it seems, has finally been restored.

As I said, it’s a testament to Dodger owner Mark Walter’s pocketbook that I never expected this to happen.

If you really think about it, the Dodgers never even needed Tanaka’s services at all. The Dodgers have arguably the best pitching staff in the league. Their bullpen, normally the domain of a closer and some league-minimum relief pitchers, is one of the most expensive. And yet, even after the Yankees spent $214 million to move Ichiro Suzuki to the bench, I never expected that Tanaka would put on pinstripes.

We have been lulled into a sense of security in which the Dodgers would simply buy any target supposedly worth getting. When the Walter era was getting into swing, I made a joke that the Dodgers would sign Michael Vick to play left field. It didn’t seem that ludicrous in the moment, since the Dodgers seemed ready to sign anyone for any price. It was fun and it was delightful.

Am I now climbing to the light, chastened by the Yankees and ready to start screaming about big-spending teams again? Certainly not. I enjoy teams with competitive resources more than I enjoy teams without them. It’s strange that I loathed Frank McCourt for running the Dodgers as a business, even though it was within his rights to siphon money from the team that he owned. But sports are more than that: They are a sacred trust, and if a team needs to act as a nonprofit in order to win, I certainly think they should do so.

Here we are, though, in a land where the Lakers’ season is dead in the water and the Dodgers are not buying everyone in sight. The Dodgers, powered by their absurd new TV deal, will keep on spending money, and the Lakers will probably end up getting a top-five draft pick and reload for a new generation of basketball success. But the Dodgers’ dreams are now clearly constrained by reality, and the Yankees are back to normal. Somehow it feels comforting. Somehow it feels natural. I might regret that feeling later on, but for now, I at least don’t feel like a hog let loose in the buffet at the Ritz.

Winston Shi is moving to Japan in order to become the next superstar baseball sensation. Tell Winston that MLB franchises generally don’t sign columnists to $200 million contracts at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu and suggest some alternate career options.

About Winston Shi

Winston Shi is an opinions columnist and senior staff writer for The Stanford Daily and was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also sits on The Daily's Editorial Board. Previously, he worked at The Daily as a staff writer for the sports section. He is a junior from Thousand Oaks, California and majors in history. In his free time, he likes to read, travel and write about himself in the third person. Contact him at wshi94@stanford.edu.
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