The Yankees probably aren’t the best money-making opportunity for Masahiro Tanaka.
But, despite MLB’s doldrums, the dependable righty does have one last chance for a big-time contract ahead of him this offseason — as long as he’s willing to call it a big-league career after seven seasons.
As depressing as it could be to consider, Tanaka’s current contract demand of $15 million annually will not be met by these Yankees, who are far more likely to fill out their rotation with trade targets, either over the course of the next month or at the deadline. As things stand, the team has between $5 and $10 million of wiggle room before they hit the initial luxury tax threshold, with a varied list of needs (lefty bat, relievers, starters who don’t cost $15 million).
We’re not sure who else would invest in Tanaka at this price, either. The Padres have been big spenders all offseason, but the 32-year-old would be their fourth or fifth starter; are they willing to pay such a premium?
It’s likely difficult for Tanaka to reconcile with, but if he maintains dreams of a multi-year bidding war, heading back to Japan is his probable best option.
It’s unfair to call Tanaka a “ticking time bomb” because of his partially-torn UCL; after all, every big-league pitcher, at this point in time, is a Tommy John risk. But it remains the unfortunate truth about the righty’s seven-year tenure in the Bronx, which the Yankees were surely excited to escape unscathed.
The “Playoff Tanaka” reputation might be slightly overblown, too. In 2017, Tanaka was a playoff assassin, his stuff slightly diminished from his 2014 levels, but still dominant at a lower velocity. By the time 2018, ’19, and ’20 rolled around, it was equally likely you’d see a diminished Tanaka living in the zone on any given day, rather than the assassin with the diving splitter.
The end of his 2019 season against the Twins and Astros was more of an aberration than the norm.
We miss the Tanaka that gave his heart and soul to this team, as well as the explosive pitcher who debuted back in ’14 in the clip above. At a certain cost, we’d welcome him back to our rotation’s back end.
But if he’s still aiming for $15 million during an offseason in which nobody’s shopping, inciting a bidding war in Japan is probably his best option.
If Tanaka changes his mind, though, we’ll be here.