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The Yankees say they won’t pursue Masahiro Tanaka, and that’s okay

Don’t expect the Yankees to get into the bidding if the right-hander opts out.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With September baseball underway, there are only four weeks left on the regular season. The Yankees will spend the next month chasing a spot in the playoffs. The front office, however, figures to look towards the future. Brian Cashman already has 2018 on his mind, having attended a scouting trip to see Shohei Otani. He could have another decision to make once the season ends, and that’s if Masahiro Tanaka opts out.

After a rough start to the season, Tanaka rounded into form during the second half.

Masahiro Tanaka’s 2017 Splits

Dates IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
Dates IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
April 2 - July 9 102 9.09 2.38 2.03 5.47 5.01
July 16 - August 27 45.2 10.25 1.38 1.18 2.96 3.09

He has improved across the board. His strikeout rate is up while his walk percentage is down. He still gives up a few too many home runs, but the 1.18 HR/9 sits right in line with his career average mark of 1.28. Tanaka also saw a rebound in his ability to generate swings-and-misses.

Credit: Brooks Baseball

After cratering in May, Tanaka steadily regained the bite on his offerings. The signature diving movement returned and batters lost the ability to square his pitches up. The whiff rates have more or less leveled off in the second half. In short, the Tanaka of old reappeared once the All-Star break ended.

With each successful outing, it becomes more and more likely that Tanaka exercises his opt-out clause following the season’s end. According to Jon Heyman, early reports indicate the Bombers don’t seem too interested in pursuing the right-hander should he elect free agency.

“The Yankees won’t ‘chase’ Masahiro Tanaka, sources close to the situation say. Of course, if Tanaka should actually opt out, things could change. But for now, someone in the know insisted that they wouldn’t bid above what’s left on Tanaka’s deal — $67 million, three years.”

The club could extend him the qualifying offer, which sits at $18.1 million, but that likely will be the extent of their involvement. If he continues to pitch well down the stretch, he will almost certainly exceed the $67 million remaining on his contract. After all, lesser pitchers like Jeff Samardzija and Mike Leake scored deals running $90 million and $80 million, respectively. Tanaka should clear that with ease.

As things stand, letting Tanaka walk makes sense. The Yankees essentially got their money’s worth over his first four seasons. He consistently ranked among the American League’s top pitchers, posing as a legitimate Cy Young candidate last season. At the same time, he flashed some glaring red flags earlier in the year. Factor in the Sword of Damocles that is his right elbow’s UCL, and one can see why the Yankees wouldn’t aggressively pursue him. It’s better to lose him a year early than several years too late.

The Bombers are also in a better position to replace Tanaka than in years past. The emergence of Luis Severino as an ace-caliber starter, plus the addition of Sonny Gray, gives the Yankees some breathing room. Shedding Tanaka’s salary would also give the team some financial flexibility as well. It’s never a good time to lose that talent, but the Yankees are in a better position to absorb such a blow.

It would be great if Tanaka decided to stay in pinstripes at a below-market rate. That’s not realistic though. After demonstrating he could right the ship on a rough campaign, he’s likely looking forward to a nice payday. Right now the Yankees say they’re comfortable letting him go. It would hurt to see Tanaka walk, but that’s probably the right call.