On Wednesday, the Bronx Bombers signed the Japanese ace Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal. The Yanks' rotation needed an upgrade, and they had the resources to land the one pitcher who could make that kind of difference.
Tanaka's price kept going up. The more that price rose, the more likely it became that the Yankees would prevail.
That bout of fiscal conservatism, in which the primary organizational goal seemed to be staying under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold? That was a temporary condition. It became a truly secondary concern when the Yanks had a chance to transform their rotation through the addition of Tanaka, regarded as by far the best starting pitcher on the market this offseason.
The Yankees made this a no-doubter. The contract awarded to Tanaka is the fifth-largest contract ever given to a starting pitcher. And it contains an opt-out clause after the fourth season, meaning that if Tanaka flourishes with the Yanks, he could be in for an even bigger payday, at a point when he should still be in the prime of his career.
The Yankees have committed $438 million to four free-agent signings this winter. They had wrapped up some of the game's most valued free agents even before the Tanaka derby was run. Outfielders Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury were major additions, as was catcher Brian McCann.
It is true that the Yankees did not re-sign Robinson Cano. And it is true that they have had $25 million come off with books for 2014 with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez. But on balance, these are the Yanks spending whatever it takes to get the talent they need.
That has been business as usual in the Bronx. This is not particularly good news for roughly 28 other clubs.
The Dodgers are the one club that figures to be in roughly the same payroll bracket as the Yankees this season. The Dodgers belong in this neighborhood. Their payroll rose substantially last season, but that increase could be seen as the result of the artificially low player payroll the Dodgers had during the declining years of the McCourt ownership. It's Los Angeles. They're the Dodgers. Money can be spent.
What can the small-market, mid-market franchises do against the combination of wealth and the willingness to spend money?
They can grow their own pitching. If they need an example of how this is done, they can look directly at the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals were forced to go with rookie after rookie on the pitching staff in 2013. They would call up a pitcher. The pitcher would come up throwing strikes at 97 mph.
Then they would need another pitcher. This pitcher would come up throwing strikes at 98 mph. The Cards seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of kid pitchers who combined power arms with a maturity that far exceeded their years. The name Michael Wacha comes most readily to mind for his postseason run of excellence, but he was no lone Cardinal in the category of outstanding young pitcher.
The Cardinals, of course, had on paper one of the largest free-agent losses of recent memory -- Albert Pujols after the 2011 season. After Pujols went to the Angels for $240 million over 10 years, the Cards finished one victory away from the World Series in 2012. The next year, they led the National League in victories and went to the World Series. The Angels, meanwhile, finished third two years in a row.
The Cardinals, with their remarkable depth of young pitching, ptiching that was both powerful and poised, were ready to overcome any obstacle the NL could offer last season. Their triumph was an organizational victory, a tribute to not only the Major League operation, but to the quality of scouting and player development throughout the St. Louis organization.
These are the time-tested traits of a successful baseball franchise. None of this is as flashy as spending $155 million on a Japanese pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. But it is the one sure way to be able to compete against that kind of expenditure.
The Yankees are back in business on the free-agent market, outbidding the competition whenever they deem that course of action necessary. For franchises with lesser fiscal clout, that means going back to the basics in order to compete.