New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka becomes a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, but what does the future hold for the hurler?
In 2014, Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka had come off an historic season with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. In 28 games, Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 183 strikeouts and 32 walks.
Altogether, Masa went 99-35 with a 2.51 ERA, 200 walks and 947 strikeouts overseas. He was the best of the best, and in the eyes of the Yankees, a must sign.
In 2017, Tanaka inked a seven year $155 million contact with the Yanks. At the time, it was the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history in terms of total value. Yet, it seemed like a steal. Now, six years later, we have approached his contract season with underwhelming results.
A partially torn UCL has been bothering the hurler since his rookie season when he opted to forgo Tommy John surgery. Since then, we have not seen much improvement. The wins remain around 12-13 a season, his ERA increases almost every year and he continues to struggle giving up the long ball. Nothing has changed.
The one thing that has been consistent about Tanaka’s game is his performance in the postseason. In eight starts, he is 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA and a 0.783 WHIP, pretty sensational.
For the Yankees, Tanaka’s future should be based on much more than his playoff prowess. During the Baby Bomber era, the teams Achilles heel has been it’s starting pitching. And with injuries to the recently extended Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, this team needs their investments to perform on the field, not in physical therapy.
A long-term deal with Tanaka would come with a lot of question marks. Will that UCL require Tommy John? Will he ever get over his long ball issue? Will he learn how to win without his splitter? These are all questions that need to be answered, and if the Brian Cashman doesn’t see some change in Masa’s approach on the mound and results in the box score, 2020 may be the end of Tanaka time on River Avenue.