Letting Go of Masahiro Tanaka Was a Big Mistake for the Yankees

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Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was a reliable work horse for the New York Yankees in his seven seasons in The Bronx.

He was also beloved by his coaches, teammates and the Yankees fan base, who were all sad to see him go.

While the Yankees kept in contact with Tanaka this past offseason, they were never truly serious about bringing the 32-year-old starter back for another go-around in pinstripes.

The Toronto Blue Jays were an additional club that showed interest in Tanaka, but after looking at his medicals, decided against signing the right-hander.

Tanaka partially tore his UCL during his first season with the Yankees back in 2014, but did not require surgery. Since this injury, the right-hander showed no issues, making at least 24 starts each season for the remainder of his time in New York.

Since the offers were not right in the states, this ultimately led to Tanaka going back to where it all started, signing a one-year deal worth $7.5 million with his original team in the NPB, The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Along the MLB free agency market, Tanaka was said to be looking for a one-year deal, around $15 million, which teams did not bite on. Especially after the coronavirus-shortened season where clubs were hit hard by financial losses due to lower revenue without fans in the stadiums.

The Yankees have sorely missed Tanaka in their starting rotation, a unit that has stumbled out of the gate behind ace Gerrit Cole. When general manager Brian Cashman spoke about his free agency moves last winter, the logic behind letting go of Tanaka was quantity over quality, adding veteran starters Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon instead.

It was the hope that this duo—whose careers have been riddled by injuries the last few seasons—would regain their previous form or replicate something close to the production they endured when fully healthy.

That was a big if.

Entering play on Friday, it certainly hasn’t worked out so far. Both pitchers have failed to reach the five-inning mark in their first few starts. The lack of length that the Yankees have received from their starters, even beyond Kluber and Taillon, has created a cause for concern given the wear and tear it will have on the bullpen in the long run if this trend persists.

Tanaka posted a 78-46 record with an ERA of 3.74 during his time with the Yankees. He also came up clutch in October, going 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 postseason starts. When “playoff Tanaka” took the ball, New York knew the right-hander would give them a good chance to win.

The Yankees are going to need to do some tinkering to their rotation, both internally and externally, if they wish to fix their starting pitching issues. Instead of having two big question marks, who haven't been able to go deep into games, the Yankees could’ve filled one of these holes by bringing back Tanaka.

Now, they are stuck with Cashman’s risky investments, at least in the short-term before they call up Deivi García or acquire outside help via trade. 

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