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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Masahiro Tanaka

The former Yankee’s future in Japan is unclear; would a reunion be a possibility?

United States v Japan - Baseball - Olympics: Day 10 Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images

During the 2021 campaign, there were several times when I thought to myself that the Yankees could really use Masahiro Tanaka in their rotation. Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees pitching was fabulous this season, ranking fifth in the AL in ERA. Even so, that manifested in an unexpected way. Just about 100 of those innings came from Nestor Cortes Jr. and Luis Gil. Together, they delivered an ERA around 3.00. Despite Corey Kluber’s short sample of innings, he was still quite effective with an ERA lower than the team average as well.

However, Kluber is gone, and the pair of Gil and Cortes do not have glowing projections. This is not to say that their outcomes were lucky, because those pitchers executed their plans much more often than not. Rather, those trends could have easily blown up at any time. Realistically, that patch-up rotation was a ticking time bomb. Today, the outlook for the back end of the Yankees’ rotation is suspect. A pitcher like Tanaka is a phenomenal candidate to give the club more certainty.

The 32-year-old was stellar in Japan this season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He threw 155.2 innings across 23 games and had a 3.01 ERA, managing over six frames per start. He struck out 126 batters while finished third in the league with a 1.7 BB/9 and sixth with a 1.028 WHIP. Only five Pacific League pitchers topped Tanaka’s innings total. In short, he returned to being a horse in Japan in 2021 and there is no denying the value that he could bring back to the Bronx. I’m not saying that this is a dream scenario, but it would be wonderful to have Tanaka, who has proven his ability to play in New York, back with the club.

It’s entirely unclear whether Tanaka is an option though. At the GM meetings, Cashman alluded to the idea of Tanaka’s availability.

This was in response to a question regarding Tanaka’s potential return. He was so vague because of tampering issues that come from discussing players on different teams and/or leagues. NPB contract details are usually private, and only one writer has reported an opt-out in his two-year deal. Not even Cashman is sure if Tanaka is truly available this offseason. While it hasn’t been ruled out whether or not Tanaka has some sort of option which could make him a free agent, we won’t know until we know.

Tanaka has been quoted several times that he intends to return to MLB, and you’d have to imagine the Yankees are at the top of the list of any suitors. It’s the type of reunion that would be perfect for both sides if Tanaka is interested in it. The idea of six-man rotation is constantly flirted with for any team. For the Yankees, it could be beneficial to keep some arms like Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino fresh as they ramp up their innings in the beginning of 2022. As long as the ace, Gerrit Cole, continues on his own schedule, it could certainly work for both parties, even if it is used in spots and not throughout the entire season. It’s something that has always proven effective for Tanaka, too.

Beyond that, there’s not much convincing I need to do for the case of Tanaka back in the BX. He’s one of the fan favorites of the past 15 years or so. In the most recent era of Yankees, no pitcher has been more reliable in the playoffs than Tanaka. While it hasn’t necessarily led to a ring, his playoff success has put him near the top of the Yankees postseason pedestal. It’d be a perfect ending to a great story if Tanaka returned and help deliver a World Series title.


Alas. Tanaka will remain in Japan next year, as he declined to exercise his contract opt-out.