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Masahiro Tanaka’s decision to opt-in worked in his favor

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The right-hander went with his heart so he can focus on his craft and avoided the worst offseason in history.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As disappointing as Masahiro Tanaka’s 2017 season was, I had convinced myself that he was going to opt-out and the Yankees were going to “Robinson Cano” him. They’d make him look like the bad guy for leaving, when they wouldn’t even try to keep him. Sure that report was later refuted, but I still believed it to be true. I was so sure this was going to happen, I’d have put money on it — if I was a betting man.

Fortunately for my wallet, I don’t gamble. Fortunately for his wallet, neither does Tanaka apparently. He announced in early November that he would opt-in to his remaining three years, and forego free agency for the time being.

This news was met with mostly positive reactions, but also some confusion. Tanaka’s past history combined with how he ended the season should’ve been enough to convince potential suitors that his early season struggles were just that. He’d surely be able to lock up more than the $67 million the Yankees owed him. Yet, he chose to stay.

At the time, he said he enjoyed his time in New York thus far and he wanted to see this thing through. The Yankees future was looking great and he wasn’t about to just walk away from that. He reiterated those feelings on Wednesday.

“My thought was, ‘I want to go out in battle with these guys again and try to really get to where we want to go,’” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “I really prioritized what I felt inside. I’m sure there were possibilities, but the important thing for me was to follow what my heart was saying and that’s what I did.”

He also added that it made preparing for this upcoming season easier because he knew exactly where he was going to be early on.

“You want to be here and get ready for the season,” Tanaka said. “On that note, I think it was good for me to know where I was going earlier and then be able to be here and start on my work. You never know that [free agency] was going to turn out something like this.”

This just makes me like him even more. That he was willing to forego literally millions of dollars because he wanted to play for this team and is determined to put in the effort to improve is just nice to hear as a fan. Obviously, it’s not like he’s going to be struggling financially by any means, but almost anyone else would’ve pursued the opportunity for more financial security and stability.

It was a nice, warming gesture, but ultimately a questionable one. Then, the offseason “happened.”

It’s still going on, technically, but the biggest news of the offseason remains Shohei Ohtani choosing the Angels and the Yankees acquiring Giancarlo Stanton. Lorenzo Cain finally signed with the Brewers and Todd Frazier gave a thumbs up to the Mets, but most of the premier free agents like Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez remain without jobs.

Cain and Frazier signed for less than what was originally projected. Who knows what the other guys are going to get. The one thing I know is that Tanaka probably saved himself a lot of heartache and disappointment by avoiding this offseason completely. If he hadn’t, he’d probably be preparing to attend the spring training camp for unsigned free agents.

Instead, he has known where he’ll be playing for the next three years and he was able to get to work to prepare for the upcoming season. He can focus on proving that his down year was just a fluke and the Tanaka we saw in the playoffs is the true Tanaka. Luckily, it seems he was able to identify the problem.

“Not going into too much detail, but I did kind of understand why that happened,” Tanaka said. “You go in you make the necessary adjustments so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Now, let’s just see if Tanaka can carry that over. For now though, he has to be happy he avoided free agency this offseason. Tanaka may have listened to his heart, but his brain and wallet are certainly thanking him now.