Yankees Rumors: Masahiro Tanaka Most Likely Starter to Return in 2021

A New York Yankees insider speculates Masahiro Tanaka will be the pitcher most likely to return.

The 2020 offseason will be a crucial one for the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman, especially when you consider the current state of baseball. New York has a number of impending free agents, especially in the starting rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ are all slated for the open market (assuming none of them forgo the 2020 campaign), which is going to put Cashman in a tough spot.

One the one hand, you don’t want to lose that many starting pitchers, but how much can you realistically invest in aging arms (they’re all going to be 32 or older when the 2021 season rolls around) when you have other important pieces to take care of now and in the not-so-distant future (Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, etc.)?

But if this Yankees’ insider were to bet, he’d say Tanaka is the one most likely to be back in pinstripes.

“I would say the favorite to return is Tanaka, but you can make a case for Paxton and Happ coming back, too,” George A King III of the New York Post wrote.

“Tanaka has been comfortable in The Bronx since joining the Yankees in 2014 and decided against opting out following the 2017 season. What the free-agent market for a 32-year-old pitcher will be is unknown. Tanaka thrives because of his strict routine, preparation and drama-free personality, all of which is appreciated by Yankees decision makers.”

Yankees fans would probably be most comfortable with Tanaka coming back, too. After all, everyone was ready to run Happ out of the Bronx during his awful 2019 campaign (4.91 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 31 games) that followed his impressive post-trade deadline performance in 2018 and the two-year, $34 million deal he signed (which also has a $17 million vesting option for 2021).

As for Paxton, the track record of success and ability to stay healthy just isn’t there, so it’s hardly a foregone conclusion he’ll be prioritized when the time comes. He’s never made 30 starts or pitched more than 160.1 innings in a season.

This doesn’t come as a surprise, but it does provide a bit of guidance for fans who are trying to figure out the Yankees’ plan of action with the offseason approaching faster than we’re all expecting.

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