Yankees: Tanaka opt out a blessing, but don’t count on it

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees and many fans, prior to the current baseball season, were worried that Yankees ace starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka would take advantage of an opt-out clause in his contract at the end of 2017. Now, maybe not so much.

After all, Tanaka had been the Yankees most consistent starting pitcher since he arrived before the 2014 season. Most recently, he came in seventh in the Cy Young Award voting in 2016.

Yankee fans certainly don’t have to worry about Tanaka opting out now. In fact, due to his early season numbers, 5-5 with an era of 6.34, he’d be smart to stay put at the end of this season. It’s early June, and the Yankees ace has given up 43 earned runs in 61 innings to go with 14 home runs.

Nobody knows for sure what happened to Tanaka or why he has fallen so far, so fast. The team says that he’s healthy, despite the fact that he has a slightly torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. The UCL tear occurred during his first season in pinstripes, but he avoided having Tommy John surgery. The tear, however, never seemed to affect his pitching.

Video courtesy of the YES Network

Perhaps the tear has nothing to do with it. Tanaka has been a workhorse since his days in Japan, starting when he was 18 years old. At 28, he could be suffering from a dead arm. There also is the theory that Tanaka pitches better with an extra days rest, as he was accustomed to having five days between starts back in Japan.

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This season, however, it doesn’t seem to matter how much rest Tanaka gets between starts. Minus the shutout pitched against the Red Sox at Fenway back in April, and a recent no-decision against the last-place Oakland Athletics, his starts have been pretty ugly.

From the opening day drubbing by the Tampa Bay Rays, to his most recent start against the Rays when he couldn’t get out of the second inning, he has consistently been outright awful.

So, what do the Yankees do now?

So what do we do now? As fans, not much can be done except root for Tanaka to turn it around. First for the Yankees, and then for himself. This is essentially his walk year, due to the opt-out, but no one is going to offer him anywhere near what his current deal pays him. For him to even have that option, he’d have to turn it around really quickly.

If Tanaka were to have a lights out the second half, that would be a big boost for a team with other question marks in it’s starting rotation. It also might make him decide to test the free agent waters.

If he were to do that, the Yankees should wish him good luck elsewhere and thank him for doing so. After all, do you think he can pitch three more years with a tear in his elbow?

That question on its own should make you happy at the thought of Tanaka pitching elsewhere.