Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka announced this morning that he will not sign with a Major League team this winter and will instead return to Nippon Professional Baseball’s Rakuten Eagles. The Eagles, Tanaka’s initial club in professional ball, formally announced a new deal and offered a warm message: “WELCOME HOME our HERO!” It’s a two-year contract, according to the Kyodo News. Tanaka, meanwhile, offered a heartfelt thank you to his fans in MLB:
To my beloved fans,
I hope everybody is keeping safe during these challenging times. I wanted to reach out to you because I have made a decision on where I will play this coming season. I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season. I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons. I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. It has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!
Tanaka initially hinted at a return to Japan in an interview earlier this month, and there’s been increasing levels of speculation that he’d do so as the month wore on. When the Yankees re-signed DJ LeMahieu and quickly followed with a deal to sign Corey Kluber for an $11MM guarantee, it immediately became clear that Tanaka wouldn’t be returning to the Bronx; the Kluber deal pushed the Yankees right up against the luxury tax threshold — which ownership is unwilling to cross this winter — and even after dumping most of Adam Ottavino’s salary the Yankees were still less than $10MM from the barrier. There simply wasn’t much of a way for Tanaka to fit into the payroll and for the front office to stick to that apparent luxury tax mandate.
Tanaka’s comment about returning to Japan “for the 2021 season” will certainly lead to some speculation about a future MLB return. It’s certainly possible, despite the reported two-year nature of the contract. Opt-out provisions were put into Tomoyuki Sugano’s four-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants and could certainly be a part of Tanaka’s deal with the Eagles. It’s worth emphasizing, too, that terms of contracts in Japan are deliberately obfuscated and kept close to the vest. The aforementioned Kyodo News report suggests Tanaka will earn roughly $8.6MM per season, although NPB expert Jim Allen noted in looking at the signing that even that reported sum is “subject to speculation” because of the near impossibility of verifying NPB contracts.
Whether Tanaka plays out the remainder of his career in Japan or again eyes a return to the Major Leagues, there’s little denying that his initial seven-year run with the Yankees was a success. Tanaka appeared in 174 games with New York, all but one of them starts, and pitched to a combined 3.74 ERA and 3.62 SIERA while striking out 23.1 percent of his opponents against a tidy 4.8 percent walk rate.
Tanaka sustained a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament early in his Yankees tenure and opted for rehab rather than surgery, which proved to be a wise move. While many fans continued to expect Tanaka’s elbow to give out due to that injury, Tanaka not only avoided surgery but never again landed on the injured list due to an elbow issue. He had brief IL stints for a hamstring strain, wrist tendinitis, a concussion and a 10-day stint due to shoulder tightness, but Tanaka was a veritable workhorse for the Yankees. From 2016-19, he averaged 30 games per year and six innings per start.
The 2020 season may have seen Tanaka run into some struggles in the postseason, but prior to that he was a lights-out October performer. From 2015-19, Tanaka posted a 1.76 ERA and held opponents to a .216/.258/.474 batting line in 46 playoff innings. Even after being tagged for 11 runs in eight frames in 2020, his overall postseason ERA sits at a strong 3.33.
Tanaka may not have been the ace that some Yankees fans hoped for when he was initially signed to a seven-year, $155MM contract, but he was a durable workhorse who regularly pitched deep into games, rarely was blown out of a start and put together an impressive postseason record in one of the game’s toughest divisions. He’ll surely receive a hero’s welcome in his return to the Eagles — be it virtually or in person — and MLB clubs will keep close tabs on the right-hander in case he ultimately seeks a return to North American ball.
Loved him on the Yankees. All the best in Japan, Masa.
Can’t say i blame him!
When an American player says they are going to sign somewhere- it’s typically a ploy to get another team to bid higher A la Brantley and many other examples. Never for Japanese players though. Story broke and played out. Good to see some of these guys value more than money.
Or maybe they see the writing on the wall
They are saying that he will receive 8.6 million per year. Happ got 8 million. I don’t think we should assume that Tanaka took less money to go home.
You’re really throwing Brantley and Americans in general under the bus over one non-deal that got misreported, when you don’t have any idea what even led to that mistake?
And you must have quite the impressive knowledge of the history of Japanese baseball signings to claim a Japanese player has never once used other teams as leverage.
FredMcGriff for the HOF
I think the Yankees made a mistake not resigning Tanaka. Their rotation could be one big mess outside of Cole.
Too bad Masa can’t perform in the playoffs.
Japan > USA for reopening faster and not having to miss games because of covid. Smart. Come back in 2022 when things might not be so grim around here! All the best, Masahiro!
He signed a two year deal. No word if he can opt out after year one.
I will add that his wording about making a decision on where he will play in 2021 makes it sound like there could be an opt out.
Thanks, my comment came before that 2 year deal update. 2023 he will still be old enough to be a solid MLB SP, if he wants. He also might just prefer to live in Japan and we’ve seen the last of him.
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…….Rakuten
Thanks for the ear worm.
IMO, he’s one of the most underrated pitchers to serve the Bronx. I was really hoping to see him wear the old English D. Best of luck Masahiro
Crazy that no MLB teams want to sign him. From what i read from Japanese newspaper couple days earlier, Tanaka agent asked contract from Rakuten about 1B Yen/10M USD per year while Rakuten offering him about 6-7M USD. I mean, for about 10-11M USD per year, IMHO thats not really hefty price for a decent SP
Lets Go DBacks
I think we might underestimate the Japanese market for Tanaka. He is a really big guy in Japan. He can now pitch in the Olympics for Japan which is a real big issue over there and maybe he also get some real big money with commercials, image rights, etc. across the pacific. Perhaps he is financially better off in Japan than in the USA.
What I am trying to say is that in this case we probably don’t know even 1% of the whole story.
I will add that you go where they pay you, period.
I don’t think that is exactly true. Someone else already pointed out tha COVID has to be a consideration. And, he probably wants to be closer to his family. Families in Japan are much more important to the individual than families in American culture. Plus, there has been reported difficulty adjusting to American life the whole time he has been here, mainly because of a language barrier. There’s so much more to this decision than money.
Definitely not always the case, especially for someone who has made north of 150 mil. At some point you do what makes you happiest and stop chasing maximum money
He said very early on it’s the Yankees or Japan. He was in a very unique position. People born in the States select teams for factors other than money, he’s completely isolated from family, childhood friends, his home country, and he speaks predominantly Japanese.
This was not about the money.
It’s kind of refreshing to see players choose teams based on factors other than money. Ohtani chose the Angels when most people believed he’d be a Yankee. He also came over before he would have gotten a much bigger contract, just because he wanted to play in MLB.
Very true, I agree. Something intrinsically good about choosing a team for other factors.
Old User Name
Don’t discount the relationship Ohtani has with Billy Eppler. When the Yankees ere scouting Ohtani, Eppler was the person doing it. It was natural for him to wind up with the Angels.
I did forget about that, and Eppler. Great point.
Supposedly it’s a two year, $17M deal. I doubt he would have had an issue getting more than $8.5M for 2021. My guess is his preference was to pitch for the Yankees, didn’t like the fallback options on where he might have to pitch in MLB, and opted to return to Japan where he remains the most popular player in his country. This will only enhance his reputation…and endorsement deals.
I would think a 1 year deal in the mlb would of netted him that 17 million. Crazy
Word was he wanted 15 million from Yankees. Kluber and Taillon combined 13 million. Team against luxury tax and needs a reset. If you add the lefty reliever they signed yesterday that was three for one. I believe one other current Yankees player will be dumped to create tax room before the season starts.
Yeah, but 2 ? for a sure thing. No one knows if Kluber’s body will fail after a few starts as it did last year in one.
Sure thing? Tanaka’s splitter hasn’t been the same for several year know and his elbow is being held together with duct tape. Played with house money for a while and did well – time to move on.
FredMcGriff for the HOF
13 million plus whatever the prospects the Yankees traded to the Pirates are eventually worth. I like Kluber as much as most people but it’s been 2 years since he was special and he will be 35 years old when the season starts.
I know he likely wouldn’t have gotten in, but it’s a shame he won’t show up on a Hall of Fame ballot now. He’s certainly one of those guys at the bottom who might get a vote or two. Glad he’s staying safe and going back home in these tough times
All due respect to him, but he was never HOF-worthy and likely wouldn’t have been even if his whole career had been stateside. He was a solid #2 and a consummate professional, but never dominant.
My guess is the OP meant it as an honor to see his name on a HOF ballot, not that he thought he’d be elected as a HOFer.
I still don’t believe Tanaka is done pitching in MLB.
I think we’ve seen the last of him, unfortunately. I have a hard time believing no other team offered him a suitable contract, given the needs of so many contenders and would-be contenders. If he had been down to Yankees or Japan in his mind, regardless of the contract, then I doubt the Yankees pivot back to him. He had a good career here and gets to go back to being a superstar in Japan.
Good luck to Masahiro! I wish the Jays signed him for two years instead of trading for Steven Matz.
I still had a pipe dream that Reinsdorf would get a cranial-rectumectomy and sign him. Still, I wish Tanaka the best in Japan.
On the plus side, I just read that Bob Nightengale reports the White Sox have no interest in Cruz and haven’t even had internal discussions about adding him. With his level of accuracy, that means he’s their top target and there’s still hope for them to make a big splash.
A true professional. No doubt that his UCL effected his stuff but he still managed to adjust his game and find success. Best of luck going forward!
Maybe you will come back for a Yankee reunion down the road. Congrats Tanaka, you were a true Yankee!
A real grinder who should continue to be successful for a few more years. Thanks for the memories
Dumpster Divin Theo
He’s turning to Japan , turning Japanese. I really think so.
Dumpster Divin Theo
Domo Arigato. Mister Tanaka.
Dumpster Divin Theo
The current MLB teams and FA system, which cannot conclude a contract with a player like Tanaka, must be strange.
As a longtime Yankees fan, I’m grateful for his seven years in pinstripes & I wish him nothing but success with Rakuten. He pitched and behaved “like a Yankee”, as they say. I’ll keep an eye on his performances in Japan, as I did 8-9 years ago.
That said, last season I was suspicious his talent level was slipping and that’s probably why the Yankees decided this was the time to move on.
There’s a couple ways to look at this. One, the Yankees know his arm and his pitching better than anyone, and they let him leave. Second, the Yankees may very well have wanted him back, but just can’t fit his $15M+ salary on their current roster. as they are hellbent on getting under the luxury tax. My guess is it’s more the latter.
Have to give credit to Tanaka the pitcher. The quality of his pitches diminished slightly with the elbow tear, but he adjusted. Then, he basically lost command of his best pitch–the splitter–with the different baseballs MLB used in 2019 and never quite got it back. He substituted a new grip on the splitter and then went more to his slider, and made it work. He still kept adjusting and doing it effectively. Some games he’d go out there and not have anything working but he’d battle through and still give five or six innings. He was a pitcher, not a thrower. That style seems to be a dying breed.
Rob, if it’s the latter, especially with Otto now gone, they could have very well signed him for 15M and he probably would’ve taken a bit less (very presumptuous on my part, but jeez, look at DJ!).
The more I think about it, I’m inclined to believe it’s either your first option, or he wanted years. I could be way off though – I usually am.
Fly like an eagle.
He would have been the 2nd best pitcher on the Yanks. Still blows my mind.
Supposedly, Tanaka will have a press conference today or tomorrow to discuss why he decided to return to Japan. We’ll probably have a bit more insight then.
I lived in Japan for 18 months on a work assignment. I don’t know how to adequately convey this in words, but Tanaka had and has rock star status in Japan, with his legend going back to when he was in high school and then only growing based on what he did as a professional, and then was closely followed when he went to pitch for the New York Yankees. Returning home is a huge event. His wife is a pop star and significant celebrity herself in Japan. My point is I don’t know if he had any interest in pitching for another MLB club outside of the Yankees, Maybe the Dodgers? The Tanaka’s have a brand in Japan. The New York Yankees fit that brand. He also seems quite loyal, evidence by he maintained a connection to the Eagles after he left for MLB and now he returns to the Eagles. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this deal was signed once the Yankees cleared payroll space only to direct the money elsewhere. Once he was sure they were moving on, so did he.
I suspect there’s an optout in his deal and we probably haven’t seen the last of Tanaka in MLB, but it will be on his terms and the team that he believes fits his brand.
think it thru
Wondering if Tanaka’s deal comes with a 5% Ebate from Rakuten
Good riddance we hardly knew thee
Trolls will troll.
This hurts. Being able to pitch meaningful innings / quality starts is something the Yanks are gonna miss him big time! Hal doesn’t want to spend past the luxury tax and his elbow are reasons I guess! Thanks Masa for everything you did. You will be missed!!!
A bit of a tangent, but the Yankees’ pitching moves this off-season have been very risky. If both Kluber and Taillon come back strong, Cashman looks like a genius. If one or both are injured or suck, people will be wondering why they didn’t just sign back the consistently good Tanaka. Serious question, not being a Yankees fan, is there any additional insight you all might have from reading more Yankees articles about what their thought process was? I know he has had the UCL issue for some time, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.
I’ll take a shot. It’s all about the luxury tax. Hal Steinbrenner directed Cashman to get back under the first tier this offseason, so he’s faced with rebuilding the rotation on a short budget, so he’s opted for high upside. The problem is there’s also a high bust potential. All goes well, and the Yankees enter the next postseason with Cole, Kluber, Taillon and Severino. That’s a rotation that few if any could match. Domingo German and/or Jordan Montgomery is your 5th/6th starter, although 4th and 5th to start the season as Severino won’t be back until midseason. This allows them to push back Garcia and Schmidt into AAA as fallbacks for inevitable injuries. So there’s high injury potential, but there’s also a high ceiling and depth built in a couple fail.
If they had brought back Tanaka, he’d still have cost them somewhere in the $13-18M range. He’d only be one starter, where they were able to get two. Next, Boone had lost faith in Ottavino, who they needed to trade anyway for payroll space even if Boone hadn’t lost faith in him. They still needed to add in another reliever as a replacement and they still need to either bring Gardner back or find a replacement. Would love Pederson, but he’s not going to fit their budget either. I suspect they also may have another additional smaller move, so I believe Cashman sacrificed the stable innings of Tanaka to have additional payroll flexibility to build out the rest of the roster underneath the luxury tax tier. He’s betting big and taking risk, figuring that will increase the chances for a World Series title if it works. He’s not playing it safe, likely figuring that if multiple arms fail, the team can still slug its way into the postseason, and then they get pivot at midseason to try and find another arm.
11 mil, though, is too much risk for a 34 year old with 2 major injuries in 2 years. Would have made more sense to sign Tanaka.
Excellent Analysis @RobM
@RobM Can’t argue with any of this.
A thank you to him too. I saw him pitch two really good games in person, and he never backed down from a real battle. Good luck to him.
All the love for Tanaka. He’ll always be welcome in the Bronx
Major opportunity missed here. I liked him at the projected 3/39.
Tanaka was a consummate pro while with the Yankees taking the ball every chance given and his heart was with the Yankees as evident by him going back to Japan it was either the Yankees or go back home.
Now Cashman is to blame here as he rather put together a Rotation full of potential but with the most DL Stints he continues to make mistake after mistake. He should have gone hard for Lindor & Carrasco and admit to the colossal mistake of signing Hicks to that contract and trading for Stanton he will do the same mistake in eventually giving Judge a big contract soon as well when up for free agency.
He should have found a way to try and trade Hicks eating most of the contract or plugging in Hicks with say a Gio or Voit included.
Still the Outfield is a mess you cant count on them much like the Starting Rotation with the exception of Cole & yes Carrasco has had his issues but it would have netted Lindor then with DJ they should have explored to move him to 1B as whom are we kidding Torres is not a Shortstop and DJ in his latter years will have to be moved over anyways they could have sold high on either Gio or Luke
Now they let go of a Pitcher in Tanaka that gave his heart and soul to the team pitching with an elbow that even skeptics still marveled that he has never landed back on the d.l.
Still the Yankees need Outfield depth along with an innings eater and a Lefty Bat not named Gardner. This team is getting way too old due to Cashman and he continues to sign potential over realism.
So get rid of Hicks and don’t bring back Gardner.
Roster construction is not your strength.
I had a good laugh with his “realism”.
Tanaka returns where he won the Japan Series.
I feel like there was a missed opportunity here for teams like the Angels and Mariners that both could have used Tanaka as a veteran starter/innings eater and mentor to Ohtani/Kikuchi. Not going to miss the Sox having to face him though.
I would the one team he had consistent difficulty with the last couple of seasons was the Red Sox, although early on he pitched quite well against them.
It’s possible he may simply have wanted to return home if the Yankees weren’t interested.
Thank you for 7 years of awesome baseball, Tanaka-san. This was quite the journey and we were glad to experience all the joys and frustrations with you. I’m so sorry the team never got a World Series championship while you were here in the States. Best of luck to you back in Japan
I would not be surprised if he can make more money in Japan between contracts and endorsements. Japan is crazy about baseball and guys like Tanaka are rock stars. I heard pretty early that it was either the Yankees or Japan, and it seems to have been the case. Sounds like he wasn’t looking to acclimate to a new city in the US. he was comfortable in NY, but if it wasn’t NY than his preference was to be go home. Can’t blame him.
What a class act!! I’m happy for him, he’ll head back home a hero. Do what makes you happy, masahero!
He got 2 year 17 Million. That’s much cheaper than I thought he would get. Looking better than Kluber one year 11 Million. Maybe Yankees concerned about his elbow.
Bc NPB doesn’t pay as much as MLB and Tanaka wanted to play in Japan again. He could’ve easily topped that salary stateside if Happ is going for $8M.
Will will be missed, Tanaka!