The Yankees contract with their most consistent starting pitcher expires at the end of 2020. Masahiro Tanaka has earned an extension…
Six years have sped by since the Yankees brought Masahiro Tanaka to the United States from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League.
Only 24 at the time, Tanaka had just completed the 2013 season with a record of 24-0 and an ERA of 1.27. That’s not a misprint.
The Yankees were criticized for their foolishness in signing Tanaka, who had entered Japan’s major leagues at the tender age of 18, pitching 180 innings in his very first season.
The workload didn’t stop, and for the next six seasons, Tanaka averaged well over 185 innings pitched.
The money was big. Tanaka earned $22 million per season for the next six years in a Yankees uniform. He’ll get a modest $1 million raise to pitch for the team in 2020, after which Tanaka will become a free agent.
The Yankees get a bang for their buck
With the offseason winding down and Spring Training six weeks away, this is a convenient time for the Yankees to reward Tanaka, as well as themselves, with an extension of his contract.
Following the Japanese culture, Masahiro Tanaka takes his responsibility to himself and his teammates seriously. He knows more English than he lets on, but Tanaka prefers to remain in the background, except for the 30 or so days he is scheduled to pitch.
To fully appreciate what Tanaka has meant to the Yankees over the last six years, consider the following. His won-loss record of 75-43 is thirty-two games over .500. He’s averaged almost 170 innings pitched over 27 starts each year.
More significantly, those starts equate to an average of 6.1 innings pitched each outing. How many starting pitchers not named Cole do that anymore?
Are you wondering about the postseason? No problem, Tanaka has won five of his seven starts with a minuscule 1.32 ERA. (See table below)
Mr. Consistency. The Yankees 21st Century version of Tommy Heinrich – “Ole Reliable.”
No need to wait – strike now
The chances of Tanaka jumping ship as a free agent next year are probably not high. Again, consistent with his Japanese culture, change is not something sought after.
Still, the lure of being 3,000 miles closer to his homeland with a West Coast team is something Tanaka will likely consider.
Tanaka is an excellent fit for the Yankees, and that includes the clubhouse. Behind the quiet veneer, teammates say, is a gregarious person.
His former manager, Joe Girardi, said of Tanaka, “He likes to have fun. He’s a funny guy. He’s always smiling and laughing. He’s good to have in the clubhouse.”
Tanaka – Framework of a deal
Extending Tanaka is advantageous to the Yankees for multiple reasons. One, the team can know in advance the portion of their payroll Tanaka will consume over the next few years.
Second, it ensures Tanaka will be a Yankee, not a Dodger, Mariner, or God forbid a Red Sox.
And finally, an extension gives closure and recognition for what Tanaka has achieved both on and off the mound.
What would the extension look like? Speculating a four-year $100 million extension, with a team option for the fifth year in 2026 at $27 million, probably is in the ballpark.
The Yankees, like most teams, do not like to talk contracts once the season is underway. But the ring of Cole and Tanaka back to back for the next few years sure sounds good, and one the team has a chance to lock up…