NEW YORK – Masahiro Tanaka says he chose to play for the New York Yankees because they appreciated him the most among the many teams in the majors who were chasing the prized signature of the star pitcher.
“They gave me the highest evaluation and are a world-famous team.” Tanaka said at a news conference in Sendai on Thursday after agreeing to a $155 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees.
Tanaka said he was “relieved” the deal was done and looked forward to standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium. When asked what his goal will be, Tanaka’s response was direct: “To become world champions.”
In addition to the personal deal with Tanaka, the Yankees must pay a $20 million fee to his team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, under the terms of the posting agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.
Tanaka’s contract calls for $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020, and allows him to terminate the deal after the 2017 season and become a free agent.
Asked to deliver a message to Yankee fans in English, Tanaka said he plans to let his play on the field do the talking.
“I don’t speak English so I’ll just have to win the trust and confidence of the fans with my performance on the field,” the 25-year-old right-hander said.
Big league teams had until Friday to reach an agreement with Tanaka, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year as the Eagles won the Japan Series title.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros all said they were among the failed bidders.
Tanaka said he consulted with 2013 Rakuten teammate Takashi Saito and Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish about life in the major leagues before deciding on the Yankees. “Everything will be new and challenging,” Tanaka said. “But I have to rely on the ability that got me this far.”
Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with the Eagles, striking out 1,238 in 1,315 innings. Yankees officials have tracked him since 2007, scouting 15 of his games.
Going to the majors requires many adjustments for Japanese starters, among them the travel, pitching on four days rest instead of five or six and the slicker major league ball.
“I think I’ll need to control my pitch counts and learn how to deal with that change,” Tanaka said. “And I’ll get it wrong sometimes, but while I repeat the processes I’ll make adjustments. I’m going to have to learn as I go along.”
Tanaka’s growth curve was something Yankees general manager Brian Cashman commented about Wednesday.
“(Tanaka) has gotten better and better,” Cashman said in a conference call, explaining that team scouts had been evaluating the star right-hander since 2007. “Whether it’s the playoffs or the World Baseball Classic, it seemed like the bigger the game, the more he would step up. The bigger the circumstances in an individual game, he would dial it up. He thrives on the biggest stage.
“There is a lot of inner desire for him to prove he can succeed in this environment in Major League Baseball as he has just recently succeeded (in Japan),” Cashman said.
The Tanaka deal caps an offseason in which the Yankees added catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. The four big deals totaled $438 million.
“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win,” Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. “We had to make sure we had enough pitching to go together with our new lineup.”
Tanaka receives the highest contract for an international free agent and the fifth-largest deal for a pitcher, trailing only those of the Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw ($215 million), Detroit’s Justin Verlander ($180 million), Seattle’s Felix Hernandez ($175 million) and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia ($161 million under his original agreement with New York).
He replaces the retired Andy Pettitte in the Yankees rotation, and joins Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova.