Yankees: Predicting Which Free Agents Return in 2021

New York Yankees pitcher James Paxton (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
New York Yankees pitcher James Paxton (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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2021 Free Agent Rumors: Masahiro Tanaka vs. James Paxton

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Will Masahiro Tanaka or James Paxton return as Yankees free agents in 2021?

Well, dang. This is one way to thin out a rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are near-identical in age; both men will be 32 this November, and seeking their final big free agency money of their careers. It’s disastrous for them, any way you spin it. We have no idea what this dead market will look like, and their bounties could be halved. If you thought ownership was loathe to pay big bucks for a 32-year-old pitcher last offseason, then what about in this climate?

Rumor has it that Tanaka is New York’s most likely starter to return in 2021, and we…tend to agree.

Which is a shame. Paxton, oft-injured, carved his place in Yankee history with a season-saving Game 5 ALCS performance last season. He even had an iconic moment to ride momentum-wise into 2020, rocking on the mound self-assured, barking back at Aaron Boone that he had things under control (exactly the way Boone wanted him to). Then, his back wrenched again. Surprise surgery for Paxton. More of the same.

The injury concerns are not going away. Meanwhile, Tanaka’s best trait has become reliability these past several years, as well as absolute postseason dominance. We didn’t see either one coming, necessarily, after his UCL problem in 2014 and his worsening gopher ball problem in regular season play.

We expect Tanaka will come cheaper, and the Yankees also know exactly what they’d be getting from a Tanaka deal. If Paxton wants to take a one-year discount, New York will welcome him back with open arms. After all, there isn’t a Clarke Schmidt for every rotation hole.

But if he plays the field and has a chance at a major payday, he’ll be gone. Tanaka will stay. Hopefully, we haven’t already seen Paxton in pinstripes for the final time. Empty stadium or packed October sky, we’d still love another shot to give him the appreciation he earned.