Today marks the end of a memorable era in Yankees history, as steady starter Masahiro Tanaka has officially left Major League Baseball. The 32-year-old is returning to his original NPB team, the Rakuten Eagles; the club announced the deal early this morning. The Kyodo News reports that it’s a two-year contract, though specific terms are not known at this time.
All offseason long, it has felt like this was the likely outcome of Tanaka’s return to free agency. The Yankees just never seemed fully interested in bringing him back, and unless he got a great offer from another MLB team, the odds were good that he would sign with Rakuten. As the Yankees acquired Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to add to their rotation, it was clear that they weren’t going to drop more money to bring Tanaka back, too (even though he’s been much healthier than either starter over the past couple seasons). He got an offer earlier this week from Rakuten, and took it.
Tanaka posted a statement to Twitter confirming the news and thanking Yankees fans:
It’s a sad day, as I still fondly remember the Yankees’ pursuit of Tanaka when Rakuten posted him during the 2013-14 offseason. We all wanted him to add some legitimacy to the rotation, and it was a thrill to see the Yankees sign him. The fact that he had such a goofy and fun personality just made it better.
Incredibly, his partially torn UCL in July 2014 did not force Tanaka to eventual Tommy John surgery. He was pretty much always healthy and productive throughout his seven years in New York, pitching to a 3.74 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 19.0 fWAR in 174 outings and 1,054.1 innings. The only Yankees starters with a higher fWAR this century are Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, and Roger Clemens. That’s pretty damn good company.
Tanaka was twice an All-Star and shined brightest when the pressure was on in October. In 10 playoff starts, he had a 3.33 ERA and a stellar 0.981 WHIP. Yes, 2020 was rocky, but he was absolutely stellar before then. The Yankees don’t come within a game or two of the World Series in 2017 and 2019 without his dominant outings; they faced elimination without him. That they wouldn’t step up to keep him and add some stability for 2021 is a damn shame.
Thank you for everything, Masahiro Tanaka, and best of luck with Rakuten. We’ll miss you.