After taking a hard line drive to the head off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton during “Spring Training 2.0”, Masahiro Tanaka came back to have a respectable 2020 season. He made 10 starts during the regular season and two in the postseason. The Japanese-born right-hander has had an up-and-down seven big league seasons with the New York Yankees. He now looks to earn a new contract in an uncertain offseason. Let’s take a look at what his market may look like.
Tanaka had a remarkable seven-year career in the NPB for the Rakuten Golden Eagles after making his debut at the age of 18 in 2007. The Yankees then signed him to a massive seven-year, $155 million contract in 2014 at the age of 25. In his seven years in the NPB, he had a 99-35 record, 2.30 ERA, and 1,238 strikeouts. His best season there was 2013 when he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, and a 183/32 K/BB rate.
Tanaka never really turned into the consistent ace the Yankees hoped for when they signed him, but he was still solid. He went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and 991 strikeouts in 173 starts over 1,054.1 innings pitched. In his rookie season, Tanaka became the first Yankees’ rookie to win 12 games by the All-Star break and was selected to the All-Star Game as a reserve. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw from the midsummer classic after feeling discomfort in his right arm. An MRI revealed that he had a partially torn UCL. Instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery, Tanaka received a PRP shot and rested his elbow for six weeks.
He was named the Yankees’ Opening Day starter for three straight seasons from 2015-17 and then again in 2019. 2016 was the first season that Tanaka avoided the disabled list. He missed time with forearm and wrist tightness in 2015. Outside of a couple of blowup starts in this past postseason, Tanaka turned on a whole other gear in the playoffs. Before 2020, he went 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA and 37 strikeouts in eight starts over 46 innings.
In 2020, Tanaka went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts over 48 innings. His best season was 2016 when he made a career-high 31 starts and went 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA and 165 strikeouts. His 3.07 ERA was the third-best in the American League and finished tied for seventh in Cy Young Voting.
Tanaka will likely look for a multi-year deal worth around $15 million per season. Entering his age-32 season, he could earn up to a four-year contract and would likely love to return to the Bronx. The Yankees really need starting pitching, so they would welcome a reunion. The crosstown Mets could be a possible landing spot as well, who will be in the market for the top starters, including Trevor Bauer. Another team to consider is the Los Angeles Angels who desperately need to add pitching to their team to surround Mike Trout with more talent.
Top Landing Spots
New York Yankees
With a lot of question marks surrounding their rotation, the Yankees could use anything they can get their hands on. They will likely be involved in the Bauer sweepstakes. But bringing back the steady and familiar Tanaka would be huge to keep as their second or third starter. Luis Severino will be recovering from Tommy John surgery and the rest of the rotation is very uncertain.
New York Mets
The Mets certainly have the money now to pry Tanaka from the Bronx. He won’t sign anywhere near the contract he received in 2014. Marcus Stroman accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer but could still use some more pitching depth and Tanaka would be a great fit as their third or even fourth starter.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have some promising arms in their rotation like the young Griffin Canning and Dylan Bundy. The two-way status on Shohei Ohtani is up in the air after suffering injuries the last couple of years and Tanaka would provide some stability to their unproven rotation. They would finally have the proven veteran arm they have been chasing for years.