The Yankees and most everyone living on planet earth were not surprised by Masahiro Tanaka‘s decision to keep $67 million in his pockets instead of theirs. But the good news is this opens things up quite a bit for Brian Cashman’s offseason maneuverings.
Yankees starting pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka is no dummy. The calls placed by his agent, Casey Close, were coming back with disappointing news from potential suitors should he opt for free agency. And following an inconsistent and overall down season in which Tanaka went 13-12 with a bloated 4.74 ERA, the proverbial writing on the wall was staring Tanaka in the face. Opt-in and collect your money while the gettin’s good.
Yankees fans can be buoyed by Tanaka’s almost perfect performance in the ALCS with hopes that the worst is over and he’ll be back as a top-flight pitcher in the major leagues in 2018. Somewhere in-between would also be workable since the Yankees have what should be an above average starting staff coming into the new season.
With Tanaka now included, the Yankees now have Sonny Gray, who is expected to rise to his ability, Luis Severino, who already has, Jordan Montgomery, and CC Sabathia. Although Sabathia is being quoted by multiple sources saying he “wouldn’t be upset” if he doesn’t return for an encore season with the Yankees, the organization would need to do a lot of explaining if they don’t re-sign him to a one-year contract in the neighborhood of $12-13 million.
Tanaka takes the pressure off Cashman
For Brian Cashman, this relieves some of the pressure to deal for a front-line starter and having to enter the high-priced market of free agents like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Lance Lynn. With Hal Steinbrenner vocally committed to keeping the payroll under the $197 million threshold before the luxury tax kicks in, Cashman can now turn his attention to the offense, which turned out to be the real culprit in the playoffs.
As backups, the Yankees have Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, (right) and Albert Abreu, who at 22 is being noticed in the Arizona Fall League. There is also some talk about converting Chad Green to a starter, but that would mean tilting the bullpen, which does not presently need any repairs.
For now, the Yankees are a one-man show with Cashman holding all the cards to the team’s composition of players for next season. He doesn’t seem to in any hurry to hire a new manager to replace Joe Girardi, nor is he in a position of having to strike first when it comes to juggling the current roster with free-agent additions and trade subtractions.
But at some point, Cashman needs to make personnel changes only because the Yankees have too much a good thing – talent. Gleyber Torres, after a brief stint at Triple-A Scranton, will find a spot in the lineup either at third or second base. Second base means Cashman has to part with Starlin Castro. Third base means either Chase Headley gets traded and Todd Frazier is not pursued as a free agent.
The outfield remains as crowded as ever with Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney pushing up on Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Following a decent second half, there has been talk of being able to find a suitor for Ellsbury, possible with the Seattle Mariners if the Yankees are willing to eat some of the money due Ellsbury.
Gardner and Headley are both in the final year of their contract. It’s difficult to imagine the Yankees doing what they did in 2017 without them, and both carry those intangibles that matter so much in the clubhouse and the way they go about their business on and off the field.
Or, the Yankees could do nothing
Oddly, it’s conceivable the Yankees could do nothing this winter and still have a formidable team, capable of winning their 28th Championship. If Cashman holds back and keeps the payroll where Steinbrenner wants it, the gates open up next year when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the free agent market.
For certain, though, Masahiro Tanaka’s decision to remain with the Yankees ties up $23 million this season, but it also clears the deck for Cashman in being able to focus more on his position players rather than the starting staff, which should fall nicely into place.