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Masahiro Tanaka should be a part of the Yankees’ future plans

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It’s no longer a question of if he opts out, but when he does, the Yankees should do what they can to bring Tanaka back in pinstripes.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

These New York Yankees sure are something, right? They’re in the middle of an incredible playoff run and sit just one game away from reaching the World Series. They haven’t just lucked their way this far either, they’re actually good. The most surprising part of this run has been the team’s rotation.

Everyone knew about Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and the Yankee offense. It’s as powerful as they come. Everyone knew about David Robertson, Aroldis Chapman, and the Yankees bullpen. It’s as strong as they come. What people didn’t know about, though, was the Yankees rotation and how it would be leading this deep playoff run.

Since Luis Severino’s clunker in the Wild Card game, Yankees starters have owned a 2.29 ERA—and look no further than Masahiro Tanaka to see why. As Tyler Norton pointed out earlier in the week, Tanaka’s been anchoring this dynamic group of starters that the Yankees have.

Going into spring training, it was a sure thing that Tanaka would exercise his opt-out clause after this season and become a free agent. After all, Tanaka was coming off a great year in which he finished seventh in Cy Young voting. This would be his chance at a huge payday. Then the 2017 season happened.

We went from debating whether or not the Yankees would bring Tanaka back when he opted out to debating whether or not he even would opt out at all. At one point, Tanaka’s ERA reached as high as 6.55. There was reason to believe he would opt in and just take the $67 million he had guaranteed over the next three years. Though he likely would’ve gotten paid even if he opted out, the question was whether or not he’d take the risk.

Tanaka’s overall second half had already erased those questions, even with a couple of really ugly September starts. His performance in the second half showed a resurgence to the Tanaka of old, especially his last start of the regular season; a seven-inning, 15-strikeout, scoreless gem against the Blue Jays. Then came the playoffs and that’s been a whole other story.

In three starts this postseason, Tanaka has just given up two runs in 20 innings, good for a 0.90 ERA. With his second half and his postseason, there’s pretty much no question now that Tanaka will opt out. He will absolutely get a deal better than what he currently has, and he should. When he does sign a new deal, it should be with the Yankees.

The Yankees 2018 rotation isn’t looking as bleak as it once did. Right now Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery are all slated to be 3/5 of that rotation. As long as he’s willing to play on a one-year deal, CC Sabathia could very well take that fourth spot. While a lot of us are dreaming of Shohei Otani, that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from bringing Tanaka back.

These Yankees are built to not just contend now, but they’re going to be good for a long time. In order to stay good, they’re going to need to keep their talent together, and Tanaka’s a big part of that talent. The Yankees have publicly stated their goal to get under the luxury tax but pursuing Tanaka wouldn’t stop them from doing that.

After this season is over, Alex Rodriguez’s salary comes off the books, as does CC Sabathia’s. Even if Sabathia re-signs, it’ll be nowhere near what he’s currently making. The only big money contracts on the books for next year are Jacoby Ellsbury (sigh) and Aroldis Chapman. They can afford to take on another investment in Tanaka.

The other “concern” with Tanaka is his infamous elbow. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that turned everyone on the internet into a doctor and the one that gave birth to “shoulda got Tommy John Surgery,” because we all know better than real doctors. This is now two consecutive years Tanaka has started more than 30 games. The elbow and partially-torn UCL that should never have been a concern are definitely no longer a concern. Although he #SGTJS.

Pitchers like Tanaka don’t come around that often. Yes he had a bad year overall, but has rebounded quite significantly. I could very well be wrong, but it seems like this was just a one-time thing for him. His overall career results, along with what we’re seeing from him now, give us reason to believe. Tanaka’s good again and he should be here for the long run with this Yankees team.

We’ve said this many times throughout this season, at least I know I have, but the future is now for these Yankees. They’ve arrived earlier than they were supposed to and now it’s the front office’s job to make sure they stay. Tanaka is part of the now but he should be part of their future plans as well. Plus he’s just adorable:

If for no other reason, re-sign him for the puppy. Just make sure he doesn’t need Tommy John Surgery.