Yankees: A Stitched Together Staff Is Incomplete Without Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka Yankees Mr. Consistency (Photo: Forbes)

The Yankees get points for recent additions to the starting staff. Still, no one added comes close to Tanaka as a #2 behind Cole. Try again.

The Yankees recently awoke from their self-imposed hibernation to add Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to their starting staff at the cost of $13 million, a significant dent in a 2021 payroll that keeps them below the luxury tax threshold, but just barely.

Jameson Taillon: Yankees wish and a prayer 2021
Jameson Taillon: Yankees wish and a prayer 2021

These types of player additions in baseball are usually called “flyers.” A team looks at a player who has had previous success at the major league level – with the keyword being previous – and they say, why the hell not?

Kluber was an instant qualifier as a two-time Cy Young winner when he was with the Cleveland Indians, and Taillon earns his pedigree as a fourteen game-winner when he pitched for the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018.

In this case, there is a caveat as wide as the strike zone of the long-time umpire, Angel Hernandez.

Yankees: Don’t Bang The Drum Yet

Would you be surprised to learn then that between Kluber and Taillon, they combined to pitch one-inning in all of last season and that Taillon has had not one but two Tommy John surgeries, plus a bout with pancreatic cancer?

Those two alone will give Eric Cressey, a celebrity in the performance world, who the Yankees hired to oversee their training and conditioning.

Cressey co-founded Cressey Sports Performance, which has facilities in Massachusetts and Florida. He has worked with star pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard.

Eric Cressey: The Yankees Most Valuable? 2021Most Valuable
Eric Cressey: The Yankees Most Valuable? 2021 “Person”

However, when you add to the Yankees’ risk and Cressey’s workload Luis Severino, who did not pitch at all last season and is expected back mid-season from arm surgery and will require discreet monitoring by Cressey and his staff, the cloud gets thicker.

Ditto Domingo German, who was in the midst of a Cy Young season in 2019 for the Yankees until he wandered off the reservation as a wife-beater, exiling him from MLB for all of 2020.

It’s not likely he can step in to pick up where he left, leaving Cressey with another project to babysit and cultivate in the early months of 2021. Plus, it is unknown if German has satisfied Hal Steinbrenner’s contrition to allow him back to the team officially.

Yankees Point To Depth As The Answer

It doesn’t get any easier or predictable with Jordan Montgomery, a lefty the Yankees are heavily counting on, despite this being his second season since his Tommy John.

The Kids are there, but if the Yankees have their wits, they would just as soon have them pitch in Double or Triple-A, as they all need a chance to build up arm strength after last year’s COVID impacted short-season with no minor league activity.

Pitchers like Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King have all gotten their feet wet last year in limited chances, and if any of the above blow up, the Yankees see them as depth to put a finger in the dyke.

So May I Introduce To You…

All of this brings us to the main thrust (and thank you for your patience).

But, with all these question marks, doesn’t it behoove the Yankees to bring back Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees most consistent and successful pitcher over the last six years, to fortify the staff as the one-two punch behind Gerrit Cole?

I know, easier said than done. But, consider this. According to a story from Bleacher Report, Tanaka is looking for a one-year deal worth $15-20 million.

This is well beyond not necessarily where the Yankees would like to go to have Tanaka, but well beyond their luxury tax limitations, assuming Hal Steinbrenner is sticking to his guns.

Consider this, though. With all the creativeness Brian Cashman has shown to add Kluber and Taillon, is there not space to accelerate the same line of thinking to add Tanaka.

Yankees And Tanaka: A Plan To Pay It Forward

Would it not be fair to say:

  • Tanaka is a pro’s pro, and all he is looking to do is continue to work and improve in the profession he chose since he was eighteen.
  • If he elects to remain in America to continue his career, he’d just as soon stay with the Yankees.
  • It’s safe to assume that Tanaka has most or all of the $155 million he has earned on his now-closed Yankees contract. This is truly one of those rare situations where money doesn’t matter.
  • Tanaka is not sure how long he will want or be able to pitch at this level. And therefore, a wide field is left open for both the Yankees and Tanaka to engage in productive talks that lead to him wearing the pinstripes, at least for 2021.

Yankees/Tanaka: Structuring A Deal To Re-Marry

That being said, I challenge anyone to name a player the Yankees have awarded a contract to of five years or more (okay, maybe I’ll give you Derek Jeter), who has not earned every penny of the money due to him.

Only 32, Tanaka is a man in charge of his body. He knows what he can and cannot do, as witnessed by his avoidance of surgery for the past two seasons, relative to a touch-and-go situation in which he gave the okay to “let er rip,” and it hasn’t.

I’m not Brian Cashman or Masahiro Tanaka, and neither are you, but let’s take a moment to consider this scenario moving forward:

Given the above stipulations, what would happen if the Yankees offered Tanaka (say) five years for $30 million, spread out at $6 million per season, with the following clauses:

  1. The Yankees will have the option of a buyout after two years (2023), and if they decline, they owe Tanaka $18 million.
  2. After the third season, when some of the dust has settled, Tanaka can opt-out of the contract, collecting a $10 million bonus. Predicated on his willingness to retire, as opposed to pitching for another team the Yankees compete with.
  3. Given that Tanaka has the mindset and arm to pitch well beyond the age of many of his peers – the Yankees – who have already successfully kicked the (luxury tax) can forward – can make the deal equal to what Tanaka (by then) has proven to be the full value of what he is worth.

Brian Cashman: The Yankees Are “Not Done,” But…

I like everything the Yankees have accomplished in the last week or so. They’ve shown some balls in reaching out to two promising pitchers whose future is stuck in that word promise. So be it.

Forgive me, but this cliche is in order. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

At the moment, the Yankees have as many as five birds in the bush, not counting those scheduled for the minor league.

Brian Cashman, Yankees GM (Photo: Charles Wenzelberg)
Brian Cashman, Yankees GM (Photo: Charles Wenzelberg)

Are the Yankees waiting for the wannabe, yet very serious, Toronto Blue Jays to swoop down to pick Tanaka off the board,?

Something he may very well accept if only to pitch in the major leagues again? Or, the Mets?

In any case, enough with the creativity and looking for lightning in a bottle – and don’t think for a minute that’s not what this is with the Yankees and Brian Cashman of late.

Yankees, buckle up, go for the fruit of the vine, and one that’s aged to perfection – Masahiro Tanaka. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.