Pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training next week, which makes this all the more upsetting for New York Yankees fans.
Masahiro Tanaka was supposed to be one of those gearing up for the 2021 season, but instead he returned to his native Japan and former team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, after the Yankees opted to bring in Corey Kluber and Jameson Tallion to join the starting rotation.
It was tough for Yankees fans to watch the offseason unfold and feel, with each passing day, that the team re-signing Tanaka was less and less of a reality given the self-imposed financial restrictions. Then, we finally saw him go when the Golden Eagles officially announced the deal.
Now? We legitimately have to watch him pitching while wearing another uniform. This simply cannot be real life.
Former Yankee Masahiro Tanaka is already suited up in Golden Eagles gear.
That fastball still has zip! Why isn’t he still our No. 3 starter?! Why did the cost-effective additions of Kluber and Taillon come with the caveat that Tanaka had to leave?
At least we can take solace in the fact that Tanaka claimed he had unfinished business in Major League Baseball and could potentially return to the Yankees in 2022. That might’ve been better for him anyway with a new CBA expected to be negotiated next offseason. Imagine if he had signed a multi-year deal with someone like the Blue Jays? That would have been insufferable.
Plus, Japan is doing a lot better than the United States on the COVID-19 front. It’s not crazy to think Tanaka figured he could return home to a much more fluid situation if he wasn’t going to re-sign with the Yankees. Go back for a year, play in front of fans, and return to New York when it’s all systems go.
The familiarity should help him, too. Across seven seasons with the Golden Eagles, Tanaka is 99-35 with a 2.29 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 1,244 strikeouts in 176 games (1,319 innings). Though we love Tanaka, his last full year of baseball wasn’t very good. He was an All-Star in 2019, but the wheels came off during the second half of the season and he just wasn’t all that great in 2020.
Maybe a quick trip home can bring us the rebirth of Playoff Tanaka in 2022.