Caveat Emptor- Part Seven
The Off-Season: Caveat Emptor- Part Seven
By Tim Kabel
February 24, 2022
So far, I have written six articles in this series that I am calling Caveat Emptor, which is about free agent signings the Yankees made that for one reason or another, went awry. In some cases, it was due to injury. In others it was simply a bad fit. Some of the signings are hard to second guess, even many years later. Others are not. The point is that whenever a team signs a free agent, there is an uncertainty to the deal. Nothing is guaranteed. However, there have been occasional signings that were unmitigated disasters. Today, we will discuss one of those.
In 2003, Kei Igawa, pitching for the Hanshin Tigers, had a record of 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA and was third in the league with 179 strikeouts. He won the MVP in the Central League, and the Eiji Sawamura award, which is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award. Igawa’s performance declined in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, he was briefly exiled to the minor leagues. It was a harbinger of things to come.
In 2006, Igawa announced his intention to play in North America. On November 16th, 2006, The Hanshin Tigers posted him. Later that month, the Yankees were announced as the highest bidders at $26,000,194. The 194 represented his strikeout total for the 2006 season. Now, that was just the posting fee. That was how much the Yankees paid for the opportunity to sign him. It gets better. The Yankees signed Igawa to a five-year, $20 million contract on December 27th. 2006. Talk about receiving a lump of coal in your stocking. I am not referring to Gerrit Cole, either. The Yankees had one of their typically extravagant press conferences to welcome him to the team.
On April 7th, 2007, he made his Major League debut, allowing seven earned runs in five innings. He earned a no decision, because Alex Rodriguez hit a walk off grand slam. Igawa subsequently earned wins in relief against the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. In the game against the Red Sox, on April 28th, he replaced Jeff Karstens, who suffered a broken leg on a liner back to the mound in the first inning. Igawa pitched six scoreless innings of relief, allowing only two hits and striking out six batters. He received a standing ovation on his way to the dugout at the end of his outing. That was the highlight of his Yankees’ career. Essentially, that was his Yankees’ career. If you blinked, you missed it.
The Yankees subsequently noticed flaws in his mechanics and optioned him to the Florida State League’s Tampa Yankees to work with Nardi Contreras and Billy Connors. That is like hiring a chef for your restaurant and then sending him to culinary school. Igawa did so well in his private tutoring that he eventually made it to Triple A. He returned to the Yankees to pitch against the San Francisco Giants on June 22nd. 2007. He gave up two runs in 4.2 innings. He was returned to the minors. He was claimed on waivers by the San Diego Padres in August of 2007 but, the Yankees inexplicably pulled him back without making a trade. Think about that one. They had an opportunity to trade him. They declined that opportunity. They chose to keep him. He returned to the major leagues when the rosters expanded in September.
In 2008, Igawa failed to make the team out of spring training and started the year at Scranton Wilkes-Barre. In his first major league start of the 2008 season, replacing Ian Kennedy, he gave up eleven hits and six runs in three innings. He returned to the minors. He was promoted again in June for one appearance before being optioned back to Scranton Wilkes-Barre the next day. On July 26th, 2008, Igawa cleared waivers and was removed from the 40-man roster. The man in whom they invested over $46 million was removed from the Major League roster in the second year of his of his five-year contract. He never pitched in the major leagues again. However, he did set the franchise record for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team for most career wins.
During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Brian Cashman twice attempted to sell Igawa to a Japanese team but, Igawa refused to return to Japan both times. He spent 2010 at AAA and in 2011, he was actually demoted to AA to play for the Trenton Thunder. He did return to Scranton Wilkes-Barre that year, where he went 1-0 with a 2.78 ERA. He became a free agent after the 2011 season and returned to Japan where he was troubled by injuries and only made 29 starts from 2012 to 2014.
Kei Igawa’s career major league record was 2-4 with a 6.66 ERA. He pitched a grand total of 71.2 innings and his WHIP was 1.758. The Yankees paid over $46 million for that. It averages out to 23 million dollars a win. He has to rank among the worst signings ever. I don’t just mean the worst signings by the Yankees; I mean the worst signings by anyone. Even Andrew Heaney, the current bannerman for bad pitching, won two games for the Yankees but, in only half a season.
I think the worst part of the Igawa signing was the fact that in the middle of his first season, it dawned on the Yankees that his mechanics weren’t very good. They sent him down to the minors to work with their pitching gurus to well, learn how to pitch. Now, if they signed him out of a high school or college, and decided to retool his mechanics, that would have been one thing. However, this man won an MVP and the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award. It really makes you wonder who from the Yankees organization actually saw him pitch and decided he would be a good fit for the team. Not only did they think he was a good fit for the team, but they also thought he was someone worthy of a 46-million-dollar investment.
There should be a statue of Igawa in Monument Park with the words Caveat Emptor carved into the marble base of the statue. As Yogi Berra might have said, “When it comes to the worst signings, he was the best.”