Yankees: Projecting a new contract for Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees likely need to re-sign Masahiro Tanaka. Here’s what a new deal might look like.

For as under-appreciated Masahiro Tanaka has been during the course of his tenure with the New York Yankees (at least among the average fan), the fact of the matter is that he’s been a steady force in the starting rotation, accomplishing more than most pitchers have in the Bronx in recent memory.

Long story short, the Yankees can’t let that type of continuity leave in free agency, and they also cannot afford to bring aboard a guy like Trevor Bauer, unless the front office decides to laugh off the luxury tax and spend like it’s 2008. But after the global pandemic has apparently put these billion-dollar organizations in a “bad position,” we’re not going to count on that.

So Brian Cashman needs to bring back Tanaka and ensure stability in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole, because James Paxton probably won’t be returning and the Bombers will be relying on Deivi Garcia, Jordan Montgomery and perhaps Clarke Schmidt to give them a lot of outings in 2021 as they wait for Luis Severino (and maybe Domingo German) to return.

According to George A. King III of the New York Post, evaluators have been all over the place when it comes to determining Tanaka’s value for 2021 and beyond.

“One voice said Tanaka could do better than the $23 million he made this past season when he went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts,” King wrote. “It was a year in which Tanaka got drilled in the head by a spring-training 2.0 liner off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat that caused a concussion.

“Another believed a two-year deal for $26 million was in line. A third voice wondered: Would the Yankees make him an $18.9 million qualifying offer and would Tanaka accept it? Finally, another evaluator said Tanaka could get three years for $36 million.”

The good news here is that Tanaka is still young (he’ll be 32 on Nov. 1), and his pitching style profiles well for somebody who’s on the wrong side of 30. Additionally, these two have a good relationship ever since he came over from Japan. The Yankees paid him handsomely back in 2014 and then Tanaka opted into his contract before the 2018 season, which followed his unreal run in the 2017 postseason. He could’ve easily opted out and fetched a bigger deal.

Let’s throw all the previous projections out the window and put this healthy relationship into the spotlight. How can both sides benefit from a contract? We’ve got it. A four-year, $52 million deal. That’ll pay Tanaka $13 million per season from ages 32-36, keep familiarity and stability in the rotation, and prevent the Yankees from having to spend bigger one someone who will probably be less effective on the big stage in New York.

Yes, there are concerns surrounding Tanaka. He’s not consistent from year to year (but overall his numbers suggest his overall body of work is), he’s never thrown 200 innings or more in a single season, and he’s still working with an elbow that suffered a partial UCL tear back in his first season with the team.

But guess what? You’re not going to do much better than 3.74 ERA in 174 regular-season games (173 starts) and a 3.33 ERA in 10 postseason starts for that price. Yes, the Yankees need another top-end starter in their rotation, but this is not the offseason to find one. This offseason is for keeping the important impending free agents in town.