Until Gerrit Cole’s signing last offseason, Masahiro Tanaka was the most recent massively high profile pitching acquisition the Yankees made. That’s not to say the James Paxton trade wasn’t exciting when it was made, but Tanaka was arguably the big pitching name on the market when the Yankees inked him in January 2014.
Since then, Tanaka’s had some good seasons, some excellent ones, and a bad one or two. He defeated the concept of Tommy John surgery and produced some memorable playoff moments. He’s also been one of the most lovable Yankees on and off the field.
I say all of that because of the fact that he’s now a free agent, and his Yankee career could be over. If it is, let’s take a look at how he went out.
2020 Statistics: 10 games, 48 IP, 3.56 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 8.3 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 0.8 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Free agent
The beginning of Masahiro Tanaka’s 2020 had two different disappointing starting points for entirely different reasons.
He was absolutely crushing in spring training. In 8.2 innings across three spring training games, he had put up a 2.08 ERA, a 0.346 WHIP, and was holding opponents to just a .329 OPS. Then the pandemic hit, wiping out the rest of spring training and preventing him from going into the regular season on the roll he was on.
Just as the season was finally going to return, he was hit in the head by a liner in a simulated game. Thankfully, he wasn’t seriously injured and only ended up missing the first time through the rotation.
Tanaka made his 2020 debut in the seventh game of the season. Six days later, he had probably his best start of the season, shutting out the Rays over five innings, as he was still getting ramped up post-injury.
Overall, his season was up and down, although there were more ups. The 120 ERA+ that Tanaka put up in 2020 was the third best of his career. However, there was one fairly big negative that went against him.
In the playoffs over his career, Tanaka has been close to automatic. He had never allowed more than three runs in any postseason appearance, and had allowed one or no runs on five different occasions, all of which he went at least five innings. With a rotation hampered by injuries, the Yankees were really hoping that he could continue that and be a really good number two starter behind Cole in the playoff rotation.
In Game Two of the Wild Card Series, he allowed six runs in four innings, but was bailed out by the offense in a crazy game. That one could somewhat be written off due to MLB’s poor planning, with rain wreaking havoc on his first inning and then nearly knocking him out of the game due to a delay.
Tanaka came back for Game Three of the ALDS, but he wasn’t great then either. He gave up five runs in four innings, as the Yankees fell behind 2-1 in the series. The Yankees forced Game Five, but lost, meaning Tanaka wouldn’t get another chance in the ALCS.
After all that postseason success, it seems somewhat wrong that him getting knocked out early in Game Three could be the end of his Yankee career. He is now a free agent, and it’s far from a guarantee that he’ll be back. However, the Yankees do need probably need at lest one pitcher, so maybe he’ll still be in the Bronx by April. If he’s not, 2020 will have been a sad end to a mostly fun Yankees career for Masahiro Tanaka.