Tanaka nearing return to Japan?

January 26th, 2021

continued to prove his worth as a durable, middle-of-the-rotation arm by posting a 3.56 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 48 innings (10 starts) in the shortened 2020 campaign. While Tanaka's performance has fluctuated over his career to some degree based on his hit and homer rates, his dependability will make him a candidate for a multiyear contract as teams seek pitchers capable of taking their turn in the rotation and providing quality innings.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 32-year-old right-hander.

Report: Tanaka nearing return to Japan

Jan. 25: Veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka could be closing in on a deal to return to his former Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, according to a report from Sankei Sports in Tokyo.

The report said that Tanaka was in the later stages of negotiations with the club, while adding that an official offer could come as soon as this week.

Tanaka has spent his entire seven-year big league career with the Yankees, though a return to the Bronx in 2021 had become increasingly unlikely in recent weeks after the Yanks signed Corey Kluber and acquired Jameson Taillon from the Pirates. The 32-year-old right-hander has a 3.74 ERA over seven career seasons while earning a pair of All-Star selections. He also received a share of votes for the American League Cy Young Award in 2016, when he went 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA over 31 starts.

Tanaka spent the first seven years of his professional career with the Golden Eagles, making his debut at just 18 years old in 2007. He posted a sub-2.00 ERA in each of his final three seasons with the club, including going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in '13 before making the jump to Major League Baseball.

Tanaka remains in contact with Yanks, but 'good chance he pitches elsewhere'

Jan. 18: There’s a "good chance" Tanaka will pitch elsewhere in 2021, although the Yankees are still in contact with the right-hander, reports MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

For Tanaka, elsewhere might include Japan, as Heyman hears the pitcher is receiving "strong interest" from his native country, potentially giving him the chance to earn a bigger deal than he would in MLB.

We recently saw Tomoyuki Sugano head back to Japan after failing to reach an agreement with a Major League club by his posting deadline on Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. ET. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, Sugano re-signed with the Yomiuri Giants for $40 million over four years, including three opt-outs.

The Yankees’ one-year, $11 million deal with right-hander Corey Kluber has made it unlikely that Tanaka will be back with the club. New York is also finalizing a six-year, $90 million contract with DJ LeMahieu, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Jon Paul Morosi. According to FanGraphs' Roster Resource, the two deals will give New York an estimated Competitive Balance Tax figure of roughly $207 million, just shy of the first CBT threshold of $210 million.

Does Yanks’ deal with Kluber close door on Tanaka’s return?

Jan. 15: The Yankees have reached a one-year, $11 million deal with two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The deal gives New York a much needed starting pitcher and may close the book on Tanaka’s tenure in the Bronx.

The Yankees lost three-fifths of their 2020 rotation to free agency in November, with Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ all hitting the open market. However, the Yankees might be done adding starters after Kluber.

With Luis Severino due back from Tommy John surgery at some point, Domingo Germán set to return from a suspension and youngsters Deivi García, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt ready for a bigger opportunity, the Yanks have a number of in-house options to fill their final two rotation spots after Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery and Kluber.

The club is also closing in on a six-year, $90 million contract with DJ LeMahieu, sources told Feinsand and MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

The two contracts will put the Bronx Bombers roughly $10 million away from the first Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $210 million, according to projections from Cot's Contracts. After exceeding the threshold in 2019 and '20, New York is looking to stay below it in '21.

Padres looking into Tanaka

Jan. 13: The Padres aren't done looking at starting pitchers even after trading for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, and Tanaka is one of those starters.

According to a report from MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic on Wednesday (subscription required), San Diego is doing background work on Tanaka and other free agents.

But Tanaka stands out because of his connection to two members of the Padres organization on the pitching side: Darvish and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Darvish is friends with Tanaka, who worked with Rothschild as his pitching coach for most of his career with the Yankees.

In his six seasons with Rothschild as his pitching coach from 2014-19, Tanaka went 75-43 with a 3.75 ERA for the Yankees and averaged 27 starts, 168 innings and 158 strikeouts a season.

Rosenthal notes that the Padres might be looking at free-agent starters due to lingering concern over the health of Dinelson Lamet, who was unable to pitch in the postseason because of right biceps tendinitis.

Tanaka considering return to Japan?

Jan. 2: According to a report from Randy Miller of nj.com published Thursday, Tanaka would consider returning to Japan if he doesn’t re-sign with the Yankees.

Per Miller’s source, Tanaka isn’t interested in signing with a non-contender, regardless of the money, and he has long planned to finish his career with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his team from 2007-13.

But Tanaka clarified that report Friday night, stating that he is not yet limiting his options when it comes to Major League clubs beyond the Yankees.

If Tanaka does go back to Japan, he might not be leaving much money on the table. Based on the contracts signed by starters Mike Minor (two years, $18 million), Charlie Morton (one year, $15 million), Drew Smyly (one year, $11 million), Robbie Ray (one year, $8 million) and Anthony DeSclafani (one year, $6 million) this offseason, Tanaka is likely looking at an average annual value in the $12 million range.

Veteran first baseman Justin Smoak, who posted a .611 OPS in 2020 and was released by the Giants in September, is reportedly finalizing a deal with the Yomiuri Giants that will guarantee him $6-7 million.

Tanaka, 32, made 10 starts for the Yankees in 2020, posting a 3.56 ERA (120 ERA+) with a 1.17 WHIP. During his seven-year, $155 million contract with New York, Tanaka recorded a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+) with a 1.13 WHIP in 174 games (173 starts).

Tanaka could head west

Dec. 26: MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince sums up the best fits for each remaining free agent from the top 25, doling out only one free agent per team. He focuses on the Angels as Tanaka's best fit -- given that LeMahieu has already been deemed the Yankees' best fit. For the second straight offseason, the Angels are expected to be competitive in the starting pitching market, especially since they struck out in that arena last offseason.