Baseball season has just started, but it already sounds like the Yankees are making decisions about Masahiro Tanaka’s future with the team. According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees are unlikely to pursue a “long-term, costly extension” with Tanaka if he opts out of his contract at the end of the 2017 season.
"I just don't see Hal (Steinbrenner) going there," one team source told the News. "He's still smarting from the (CC) Sabathia and (Mark) Teixeira deals."
There is a lot to unpack here. First, does this mean the Yankees will never give out an expensive contract again? They just handed Aroldis Chapman a deal worth $86 million that includes an opt-out after the third year. That is not the same amount of money that they gave to Sabathia or Tex, but it was the largest contract that a free agent reliever has ever signed. Not to mention the fact that the Yankees did not critically need Chapman, especially when the team isn’t expected to compete this year.
Furthermore, there are differences between the Yankees possibly extending Tanaka’s contract and the Yankees’ decision to extend Sabathia’s contract. Tanaka is 28 now, and will be 31 when his contract is set to expire after the 2020 season. Sabathia was two years older when he had the choice to opt out, and would have been in his age-35 season when his original contract was supposed to end in 2015. The Yankees could tack on a few years to Tanaka’s contract and he still wouldn’t be old old when it ended.
The NYDN article also says that the Yankees apparently aren’t convinced that Tanaka can stay healthy through the remainder of his current contract. It is true that Tanaka has a partially torn UCL, however, that injury happened in 2014 and Tanaka has pitched very well since then. Technically, the ligament could go at any moment, but this applies to pretty much every pitcher out there. Position players aren’t safe either. There is nothing to indicate that the condition of Tanaka’s elbow has worsened in any way.
In addition to being concerned about the state of Tanaka’s elbow, the Yankees are also worried that the opt-out could be putting “more pressure” on him. Talk about small sample size. Despite having a terrific spring (0.38 ERA through 23 2⁄3 IP), Tanaka pitched poorly on Opening Day, giving up seven earned runs without making it through the third inning. Prior to that start, Tanaka had never allowed more than six earned runs as a Yankee, but this doesn’t mean anything. It is ridiculous to speculate about the meaning behind one start. Give Tanaka a break.
At the end of the day, Tanaka is currently the Yankees’ best starting pitcher, and he has been for years. Without Tanaka, the 2018 rotation consists of a bunch of question marks since Sabathia and Michael Pineda will become free agents after this season ends. The Yankees won’t have much of a choice but to bring in additional starting pitchers if Tanaka does leave. The alternative is a rotation featuring Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Adam Warren. The team ultimately needs to decide if it would be better in the long run to keep Tanaka, or to sign other expensive free agent pitchers and/or trade away the farm to acquire starting pitchers.
All of this talk could very well just be posturing on the part of the Yankees, or the reports could be false, but who knows anymore. If the Yankees don’t plan to pursue Tanaka in the event that he opts out, then they better start looking for a trade partner immediately. After all, it is very likely that he will opt out unless he has a miserable season or suffers a major injury. In their defense, the Yankees are claiming that the NYDN report is not true as of this morning.
Do you think the Yankees should extend Tanaka or would you let him go if he decides to opt out?