Yankees Tanaka: Seattle, Here He Comes Ready or Not

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees best starting pitcher and legitimate Cy Young candidate of last season, Masahiro Tanaka, will probably be pitching his final season in pinstripes in 2017.

That is because his contract contains an opt-out clause following the 2017 season. It would follow then that the Yankees would attempt to trade him before that to at least get something in in return for losing him. Here’s how it could play out.

Barring injury, and you always have to put that little proviso in there, the Yankees will lose Masahiro Tanaka at the end of the 2017 season when he exercises his contractual right to opt-out and leaves New York.

He will do this for the simple reason that it makes no sense for him to be 3,000 miles and six hours further away from his homeland in Japan. Usually, this would put all West Coast teams in play for his services. Except that he also has a full no-trade clause in his contract as well, meaning in practical terms, the Yankees only have minimal control as to what happens during the season.

The Yankees also will be making another sensible decision before they would even attempt to trade Tanaka. And that would be the level of impact on the standings at the time by trading away their best starting pitcher. Are they in the race, or not. And even if they are in the race, would it make practical sense to trade him anyway, getting a starter of equal or slightly lesser value in return. Tough choices, but they’re ones that the team is obligated to make.

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So with Tanaka mainly in the driver’s seat, it would behoove the Yankees to at least begin the process of feeling him out through his agent Casey Close, who also represented Derek Jeter during his playing days. But at the same time, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that only the West Coast teams and possibly Arizona would be in play.

Tanaka plays in the American League so it would follow that the Angels, A’s, and Mariners are in play more than the unfamiliar National League teams. And from there, you make the next leap to the Mariners because the A’s can’t afford him and the Angels don’t have anyone the Yankees would want.

So, it’s narrowed down to the Yankees and Seattle. Fair enough? Now, when you look at the Mariner’s roster, doesn’t one name sort of pop out at you. A name that the Mariner’s might be willing to trade straight up for Tanaka. Because after all, the Mariners have not been able to win anything with him, so it’s logical they could continue to do the same without him, and what would be the real loss.


Felix Hernadez, of course, is the name we’re referring to. He costs about $5 million more than Tanaka at about $27 million per year and the savings for Seattle might be appealing. Like Tanaka, his contract also expires in 2020 when he would become a free agent at the age of 34.

While Tanaka flourished last season, Hernandez struggled mightily with his command and his ERA soared to a high (for him) of 3.82. Reports are also out there that he is continuing to have issues while playing Winter Ball. But like Tanka, he is a bona fide major league pitcher and an All-Star to boot.

For both players, the deal would seem to be amenable to their needs. Fernandez gets the chance to hit the reset button and pitch for a team that is virtually guaranteed to be competing for a spot in the playoffs as soon as this year and a World Series title is also within sight. And Tanaka gets his wish to be closer to home.

For the Yankees and the Mariners, though, it’s a wash, and that could put a damper on the trade. Because when you look at the remainder of the Mariner roster, they have nothing the Yankees want or need. And beyond that, when you check team prospects rankings, all the major players in that field rank the Mariners fourth in their Division, so they can’t tempt the Yankees that way either.

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Nevertheless, a straight up Tanaka-Hernandez deal is an interesting idea and certainly not outside the realm of possibility.