Free-agent righty Masahiro Tanaka could be nearing a return to his native Japan, as a report from Sankei Sports — and translated here by Jim Allen — indicates that the Rakuten Eagles are preparing to make an offer. Tanaka does not appear to have closed off the possibility of returning to MLB entirely, but Allen suggests that the Eagles “appear to be the leading contender” to sign the longtime Yankees righty. Tanaka played for the Eagles from 2007 to 2013.
Tanaka’s stay in New York was an unmitigated success. Over seven years, he posted a 3.74 ERA/3.91 ERA with a 47.5 percent groundball rate, 23.1 percent strikeout rate, and 4.8 percent walk rate over 1,054 1/3 innings. He made two All-Stars teams and had been nails in the postseason before two rough playoff starts in 2020. Many assumed that he would just return to the Yankees this winter, but New York has thus far moved in a different direction with the additions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. Meanwhile, there has been very little buzz regarding a return to pinstripes for Tanaka.
That said, if Tanaka desires to stay in the States, he should have no trouble finding a home. The 32-year-old’s track record makes him one of the top starters left on the market. Our free agent predictions had Tanaka as the No. 10 free agent on the market – the top starting option remaining after NL Cy Young Trevor Bauer. Teams have been slow to dole out money this winter, however, which could certainly play a role in Tanaka looking elsewhere for a place to pitch in 2021.