With the Yankees reportedly focusing much of their attention on DJ LeMahieu’s free agency, there hasn’t been much buzz about the possibility of a reunion between Masahiro Tanaka and the Bronx Bombers. Tanaka has made some recent comments about his future, most recently a tweet earlier today stating that he and his representatives haven’t put any sort of limit on what teams Tanaka might be considering playing for in 2021 and beyond.
This tweet came on the heels of reports suggesting Tanaka was only considering a return to the Yankees or a return to Nippon Professional Baseball, rather than signing with another MLB club. As it happened, Tanaka left the door open to pitching in Japan in an interview on the “All Night Nippon” radio show (hat tip to Nikkan Sports), saying the chances of returning to his home country are “not zero.” Tanaka implied that pitching for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, his original NPB team, would be his ideal choice in the event of a homecoming, but he also said he’d consider the Yomiuri Giants.
During the radio interview, Tanaka also implied that he had yet to receive a contract offer from a Major League team, which doesn’t seem implausible given the slow-moving nature of this offseason’s free agent market. More teams than just the Yankees seem to be playing the waiting game, whether it’s for a particular player or for a broader view of the market as a whole — in terms of pitching, clubs could be waiting to see where Trevor Bauer signs, or waiting to see where trade targets land. By that token, business could pick up now that Yu Darvish and Blake Snell have both been moved, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tanaka begins to receive more serious attention from MLB clubs.
Rejoining the Golden Eagles or signing with another NPB team would certainly count as a surprise, since Tanaka still represents a solid investment for seemingly any Major League team looking for rotation help. (MLB Trade Rumors ranked him 10th on our list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents.) Tanaka posted a 3.56 ERA, 8.3 K/9, and 5.50 K/BB rate in 2020, with that 48-inning sample size pretty closely matching his career totals over seven Major League seasons with the Yankees. One would imagine this type of production would be welcome in a New York rotation that is lacking in proven big league experience, though given the speculation that the Yankees are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold, re-signing Tanaka doesn’t appear to be a priority for the team unless LeMahieu signs elsewhere.