Out of respect, the Yankees didn’t intervene when Masahiro Tanaka fled the U.S. for safety reasons. But that was then, and this is now…
Tanaka’s 78-46, .629 W-L%, and 3.74 ERA were unmatched during his tenure with the Yankees. In the postseason, he kicked it up a notch, lowering his E.R.A. to 3.33 while allowing six hits per nine innings, with an under 1.0 (.981) WHIP.
Tanaka fled the United States and the Yankees with his family, returning to his native Japan when COVID was in its threatening infancy in early 2020.
Later, we would learn the disturbing details of a secondary reason he left the Yankees, one that surrounded the brutal attacks of the day aimed at Asian-Americans and Tanaka’s ensuing concern for his family’s safety.
At 32 but still pitching like he’s 22, Tanaka pitched for his former team in the Japan Pacific League in 2021.
For a look at Tanaka in action this year, here’s a video (in Japanese):
Over 21 starts and 143 innings, Tanaka recorded four wins against seven losses, but that was overshadowed by a 2.90 ERA, a 4.3 W.A.R., and a 5:1 strikeout to walks ratio.
The man can still pitch, and the Yankees still need a bonafide number two behind Gerritt Cole.
Add Tanaka to go with Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, and Nestor Cortes Jr. – and viola – you have a starting five or six that can compete or even surpass any group in the league.
Asked Masahiro Tanaka yesterday if he's been keeping tabs on the Yankees, and he said he has.
"They are not doing well but they have the ability to change that," he said via interpreter.
— Jake Seiner (@Jake_Seiner) July 28, 2021
Yankees: Nothing Ventured Equals Nothing Gained
When the Yankees were courting Gerrit Cole, they made it a point to have a contingent fly to meet with Cole and his family at his home.
The Yankees did their research before making the trip, even to the point of bringing along a case of Cole and his wife’s favorite wine.
Later, Cole admitted the visit had some bearing on his decision to sign with the Yankees.
With Tanaka, the same gesture would fall directly in line with the signature trait of the Japanese culture – respect.
If Tanaka has been following the Yankees, it can naturally be assumed he is making himself aware of news in the U.S. He has noted the availability and usage of the COVID vaccines and the lessening of tension and violence towards Asian-Americans.
Proud as ever, the main pitch by the Yankees to Tanaka could be something along the lines of: “You left something behind in America, and we’re here to ask for your help in getting us what we both dearly want – a World Championship.”
A two-year $50 million offer by the Yankees would be in line with his last salary of $23 million with the team.
But if he asks for more, give it to him because, as mentioned before, Tanaka, with his faultless mechanics, repetitive delivery, and economy of pitches thrown, can pitch until he’s 40 if that is his choice.
Moreover, to sweeten the deal, the Yankees should include an opt-out with no penalty after each year, just in case Tanaka gets squeezy about being in America again.
Masahiro Tanaka: A Known Commodity
It’s no secret the Yankees will be looking for a proven starter to add to their staff this offseason, and while there is no shortage out there in the 2022 Class of Free-Agent Starting Pitchers, Tanaka is a known commodity to the Yankees and New York.
Again, out of respect to Tanaka and his folk-hero status in Japan, the Yankees need to ensure that it is done quietly and with no fanfare, if they make the trip.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, the adage says – and it behooves me why the Yankees would not want to (at least) appeal to Masahiro Tanaka as a means to complement their starting staff for 2022.