Expect Yankees Masahiro Tanaka to excel in walk-year

Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Following successful offseason elbow surgery, Masahiro Tanaka will be pitching for a new contract, which is good news for the Yankees, even if they opt not to re-sign him in 2021.

Because of James Paxton’s lower back injury, that’ll likely keep him out until June, Masahiro Tanaka will be bumped up a spot in the Yankees starting rotation. And while his 2019 regular season stats would give some pause for concern, two significant factors are working in Masa’s behalf.

First, Tanaka underwent offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. Following the 2015 season, Masa had the same procedure done and pitched the following campaign brilliantly: 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, 3.51 FIP, and 165:41 K:BB ratio across 199.2 innings. Tanaka finished seventh in voting for the AL Cy Young Award in 2016.

Through a translator, Tanaka told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News that he is set to open Spring Training with no limitations.

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"“I have no restriction at all because we did the surgery right after the season (was) over, and then we had a whole month of rehab,” Tanaka said Monday through interpreter Shingo Horie. “After the rehab, and after I went back to Japan, I was pretty much on the same program as I had been in the past. So, you know, there’s no restriction at all as far as throwing work out.”"

Secondly, Masa is entering the final year of the original seven-year, $155 million contract he signed with the Yankees after leaving Japan. At the time, it was the second-largest free agent deal ever handed to a pitcher — teammate C.C. Sabathia was first.

Despite pitching the majority of major league career with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (the one that often leads to Tommy John surgery), Tanaka has averaged 168 innings over the past six seasons.

Should Masa once again prove that he can be an effective cog in the Yankees rotation, it’ll be interesting to see how much general manager Brian Cashman believes Tanaka is worth at the age of 31. However, there’s little doubt Tanaka will leave it all out on the field in this, his free-agent season.

Though his UCL could be looked at as a ticking time bomb, through four years worth of Postseason appearances (six series), there’s no one else the Yanks would want on the mound. Across 46 playoff innings, Tanaka is 5-3 with a minuscule 1.76 ERA, 0.783 WHIP, and 37:11 K:BB ratio.

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Under the watchful eye of Eric Cressey, the Yankees’ recently hired Director of Player Health and Performance — and new pitching coach Matt Blake, Tanaka could very well see a resurgence in his regular-season stats that carry over to the Postseason and eventually land him a rich new contract.

Whether or not that deal is with the Yanks remains to be seen.