The Yankees have done what they were determined to do by dropping $86 million on Aroldis Chapman for the next five years. It hardly seems worth it to spend that kind of money on a reliever, especially when they still have a few years to go before they are true competitors. It also seems like a poor allocation of resources when what they really should be doing is ensuring that Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t go anywhere after the 2017 season.
Signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract before the 2014 season, Tanaka has proven to be worth every penny the Yankees shelled out for him. Even with the partial tear in his pitching elbow, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, despite little recognition—and he’s done it while regularly being younger than his peers.
As happy as the Yankees and their fans should be with this deal, there’s one upcoming wrinkle that needs to be ironed out. Tanaka has an opt out clause after the 2017 season, and he’s likely to use it. The Yankees need to do whatever it takes to ensure that he sticks around for the next few years.
To make this matter far more urgent than it ever should have been, the team’s entire rotation will be gone be the end of the season. Tanaka will opt out, while CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents. That’s also really the end of the rotation at the moment, since Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova are gone, and Luis Severino proved that nothing will be given to him this year.
The free agent market will certainly be better than it is this winter, but it will still lack readily available game-changing talent. The top of this list includes Clayton Kershaw, who can opt out of his remaining contract, but you have to assume the Dodgers will do whatever it takes to keep him. Then there’s also Dallas Keuchel, who is certainly good, but is older than Tanaka.
The only way to get him to stay would be to extend his contract and offer him more money. The Yankees did something similar with CC Sabathia, convincing him to stay with the team if they added another guaranteed year and a vesting year onto the end of his deal. Now obviously, the CC contract extension isn’t exactly the poster child of successful extensions, but it should be noted that Tanaka’s case is different than Sabathia’s was.
In 2011, when CC had the choice to opt out, he was already 30 years old, moving his contract into his age-35 and age-36 seasons. Tanaka, meanwhile, will only be entering his age-28 season this year. He has another three years on his current deal and will be 31 by the end of it.
If the Yankees are actually willing to spend some of that money they have sitting around, they can afford to expand Tanaka’s contract over several years without having to worry about how old he will be by the end of it. They could even add a few million to his yearly salary if need be because $22 million a year in this day and age is kind of a steal.
It’s clear that the Yankees are trying to get younger and cheaper, but if they are signing the likes of Aroldis Chapman to record-setting contracts, they should also be able to afford a little bit extra if it means keeping one of the best starting pitchers in the league.
The Yankees have certainly added their fair share of prospects over the last six months, but they have struggled to produce viable starting pitchers for years. They need some talented veterans to anchor down the roster before looking at young players to save the day. Tanaka is the kind of player you build a team around. Hopefully, the Yankees will see that and set things right before things get out of hand.