SPANISH HARLEM – One of the stories circulating around here is about the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka. More specifically, it’s about his contract opt-out clause for next season. As with every issue, there are pros and cons, like the pundits here at MeetTheMatts.com.
Let’s go back to the year 2014; Masahiro Tanaka decided to take his talents from Japan to the United States. He was one of the most coveted international players ever and at the time, signed the 5th highest deal of any pitcher in baseball. The year before in Japan, Tanaka posted a record of 24-0 with an ERA of 1.27; great numbers to say the least, but now the Yankees were banking on him to lead a staff that needed some youth and possibly, a future Ace.
As a Yankee, Tanaka has a record of 39-16, with an ERA of 3.12. Those are solid numbers for any pitcher and considerable for someone who left his country and changed leagues. At the beginning of his career, many fans and scouts were surprised with the success he had early on. No group was happier than the Yankee Brass. They were paying big bucks and Tanaka was producing big results… that is until July 2014 rolled around and Tanaka was shut down. The diagnosis was a UCL tear that many thought would require Tommy John surgery. As you would expect, most fans thought the worst. This wasn’t just a regular injury, this was THE INJURY.
After much discussion, all agreed Tanaka sould rest the arm, strengthen the muscles around the tear and see what he could provide before making any future decisions. Much to the surprise of everyone involved, Tanaka came back and contributed to that 2014 season. More surprising, has pitched the past 2 season with said injury. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. There have been relatively good moments sprinkled with the occasional gem, and that’s as much as you can ask for from someone pitching with a torn ligament.
But… here we are in 2017 and Tanaka has an opt-out clause following the end of the season; one that most pundits think he will exercise. The Yankees are expecting as much – if the *bastard has a great year. The debate will continue throughout the season if that situation plays out to Tanaka’s favor. The “Ace” holds all the cards.
The good news is that if Tanaka can pitch close to what he did last season, the Yankees would be in a good position to contend. The bad news, however, is that if he pitches great, he most certainly will see what he is worth in the free agent market. That will put the Yankees in an uncomfortable position of re-upping a player they know full well could tear that UCL ligament at any time.
Worst-case scenario: Tanaka requires TJ surgery at some point in the season and opts-in for the reminder of the contract, meaning the Yankees will wait a full year before he can pitch again. This would hurt the Bombers financially, as they would be paying a diminished pitcher for 3 more seasons.
What to do? What to do?
The Yanks have stated that they will not discuss an extension with Tanaka, as he is still under contract, and will deal with the situation if/when it arises. That’s a smart move if you ask me. On one hand, you don’t want to offend your best pitcher by saying you won’t resign him and you keep any leverage you have by not discussing his value, in the event he opts-out. The “we’ll get back to you” approach has worked well for the Yankees in the past, even if it meant over-paying to get what they want.
The Bronx Bombers are a young team and have been hamstrung by paying big money to extend players that were getting old and more prone to injury (See C.C. Sebathia). It’s hard to see Tanaka getting another 22 million/per from another team with that injury lingering over his head. That should favor New York.
It’s a real possibility that he comes back for less than what he getting now, but there is also the possibility he could be pitching for another team this time next year. That’s the price you pay when you gamble, but it’s a gamble they should risk!
*Just seeing if you were paying attention.