A look at international players’ value, or “Might as well give Tanaka his Yankee jersey now” (Updated Jan. 14)

Let’s avoid all talk about who’s right or wrong in the Alex Rodriguez debacle, spectacle, three-ring circus, what-have-you. I liked the White Sox as sleepers to win Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka‘s services this winter. Now that A-Rod is suspended for 162 games, though, the New York Yankees will have something like $24 million in payroll freed up for 2014.

Although the Yankees were allegedly among two or three frontrunners in the bidding war for Tanaka, it appeared to me their payroll would pose a huge obstacle if they truly wanted to obey the luxury tax threshold. But Rodriguez’s suspension blows everything wide open, upgrading the Bronx Bombers’ status from Possible to Probable.

Updated Jan. 14, 2014: The Angels are a distant third to the Yankees and Dodgers, and with Los Angeles looking to extend pitcher Clayton Kershaw… well, the deal is as good as done. Although, in defense of the L.A. teams, Tanaka has mentioned he wants to play on the west coast.

As for the White Sox… get ’em next time, boys. Keep looking for those good deals. I tell you what, every high-profile international signing in the past three years has been a winner.

It is commonly accepted that each win a player provides in value (a “win above replacement,” for those just piecing two and two together) has a market value of about $5 million, although Lewie Pollis at SB Nation argues it is closer to $7 million. Even using the quick-and-easy (and lower) $5 million as a benchmark, the value (by means of WAR) of the 2013 performance of every notable international player in MLB exceeded the average annual value (AAV) of his contract:

Yu Darvish: 5.0 WAR ~ $25 million (AAV: $18.62 million)
Hisashi Iwakuma: 4.2 WAR ~ $21 million (AAV: $7 million)
Yasiel Puig: 4.0 WAR ~ $20 million (AAV: $6 million)
Hyun-jin Ryu: 3.1 WAR ~ $15.5 million (AAV: $6 million)
Leonys Martin: 2.7 WAR ~ $13.5 million (AAV: $4.1 million)
Yoenis Cespedes: 2.3 WAR ~ $11.5 million (AAV: $9 million)
Norichika Aoki: 1.7 WAR ~ $8.5 million (AAV: $1.65 million)

Let’s note here that the AAV for all the players listed above exceeded their actual 2013 salaries. For example, Martin made $3.25 million last year, and Ryu made $3.33 million. Thus, even Cespedes, with his disappointing production compared to 2012, still managed to be a boon for his team, and he should only improve from last year.

It’s a small sample size, but hey, the results seem pretty substantial so far in the post-Dice-K era. Don’t be surprised when my fantasy team has Jose Abreu, Alexander Guerrero and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez on it.

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