The one silver lining about the New York Yankees not winning the 2021 World Series? We didn’t have to watch it all happen without Masahiro Tanaka, who’s been among the team’s fan favorites ever since he signed on back in 2014.
We still kind of don’t know why he didn’t return for 2021, either. There were rumors about him dealing with racism — which sadly stemmed from the pandemic — but they were refuted.
Did the Yankees want to go in a different direction? Did Tanaka want to go back and pitch in Japan one final time while he was still somewhat in his prime rather than as an over-the-hill veteran? Was he demanding too much in free agency? Were the Yankees being cheap?
The explanations are plentiful. But what we do know is 2022 is a completely different year for all parties involved.
The Rakuten Golden Eagles were eliminated from the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization playoffs in the first round. No championship for Tanaka. No World Series for the Bombers.
Plus, New York needs another starter. Could we see a reunion hear after Tanaka’s one-year hiatus to kick it in his native Japan?
Yankees rumors: Is a Masahiro Tanaka reunion going to happen?
"I could. Masahiro Tanaka decided to return to Japan after the 2020 season, a decision spurred at least in part by off-field concerns, but I don’t sense that any of those issues revolved around playing for the Yankees or in New York. By all accounts, Tanaka genuinely enjoyed his time with the Yanks — had there been no pandemic, I suspect he might still be on the roster. If Tanaka is ready to return to the Majors, the Yankees should be the first team he speaks with."
At the very least, this is something to monitor, considering Corey Kluber’s likely departure coupled with the Yankees resetting the luxury tax after they remained under the threshold for 2021 (which was one of the main reasons Tanaka departed).
If we look at the Yankees’ rotation, there’s a clear need for April and the long haul in 2022. Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery can be penciled in as the two rock-steady guys. Jameson Taillon will likely miss the start of the year after undergoing ankle surgery. Nestor Cortes will probably be in the rotation, but his career-high innings total is just 93, making it unclear how long he’ll be able to last (just look at what happened to Walker Buehler and Julio Urías with the Dodgers this year). We have no idea what the plan for Domingo Germán is. Deivi Garcia might be broken. Any of Luis Gil, Clarke Schmidt and other top prospects could very well be traded this offseason … plus we’re not going to rely on a rookie to make 20-30 starts, are we?
And don’t forget, Tanaka is at his best when he has an extra day of rest. Perhaps manager Aaron Boone caters to the right-hander’s strengths and the Yanks figure out a way to fit him in and maximize his efficiency? With all of the injury/longevity concerns on this rotation, it might be best to roll with some sort of a six-man rotation with Gerrit Cole going every fifth day.
But more importantly, Tanaka’s calming presence returning to the Bronx, when stability and positive energy has never been needed more, could be an ingredient for the antidote this team needs.