What Would Yankees Ace Masahiro Tanaka Fetch in a Trade This Winter?
With Masahiro Tanaka expected to opt out of his contract following the 2017 season, it’s worth asking what the New York Yankees could get for their ace on the trade market this winter.
When the New York Yankees finally committed to rebuilding this summer, their first order of business was trading away almost all of their impending free agents. The contracts of Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova were all set to expire following the 2016 season, so it made sense to get some long-term assets in return for their veterans. The only exception to this was Mark Teixeira, who not only had a no-trade clause, but was so bad that no one would want him anyway.
Entering the offseason, it isn’t yet clear how far the Yankees are willing to go with this rebuild. Will more veterans get dealt this winter? Rumors have already begun swirling that Brian McCann and Brett Gardner may be on the way out to make room for the team’s top prospects.
What about the players whose contracts expire following the 2017 season? If the front office don’t think the team will be ready to truly contend until 2018-2019, doesn’t it make sense to once again cash in these short term assets for prospects?
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Probably the Yankees biggest veteran trade chip if they wanted to go full-rebuild is ace Masahiro Tanaka, who can opt out of the three years and $67 million remaining on his deal after 2017 to become a free agent. The 27-year-old is coming off his best full season in pinstripes, pitching to a 3.07 ERA and 3.51 FIP in a career-high 199.2 IP (31 GS), a performance that should get him at least a few Cy Young votes.
So why would the Yankees want to trade him? Well, Tanaka’s right elbow is a ticking time bomb for one thing. If they want to re-sign him after 2017 (assuming he makes it through next season unscathed), it would take something in the vicinity of the seven years $175 million the Washington Nationals gave Stephen Strasburg last season. As awesome as Tanaka is, do they want to make that kind of investment in his right arm?
They could wait until the trade deadline, but again, there is no guarantee that Tanaka is healthy. We saw at the end of the year how quickly a minor issue can crop up and remind everyone how frail pitchers really are. A forearm strain at the wrong time and Tanaka’s trade value would completely evaporate.
If the Yankees did make Tanaka available this winter, they could basically name their price because of the complete lack of free agent pitchers available. Tanaka may be a notch below Chris Sale, but if the White Sox are asking for a team’s top five prospects, could the Yankees ask for three quality blue-chippers? It wouldn’t be hard to ignite a bidding war this winter as basically every MLB club would be interested in Tanaka as a rental.
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How realistic is this idea? Not very. This year’s trade deadline may very well have been an isolated incident in the scheme of things. Ownership has preached the idea of getting younger while remaining contenders, and I think that’s probably the route they will go. This team has no chance of even being in the playoff mix without Tanaka next year, so ultimately he probably has to stay.