Masahiro Tanaka Rumors | MLB.com (theathletic.com)

Masahiro Tanaka continued to prove his worth as a durable, middle-of-the-rotation arm by posting a 3.56 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 48 innings (10 starts) in the shortened 2020 campaign. While Tanaka’s performance has fluctuated over his career to some degree based on his hit and homer rates, his dependability will make him a candidate for a multiyear contract as teams seek pitchers capable of taking their turn in the rotation and providing quality innings.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 32-year-old right-hander.

Padres looking into Tanaka

Jan. 13: The Padres aren’t done looking at starting pitchers even after trading for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, and Tanaka is one of those starters.

According to a

in The Athletic on Wednesday (subscription required), San Diego is doing background work on Tanaka and other free agents.

But Tanaka stands out because of his connection to two members of the Padres organization on the pitching side: Darvish and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Darvish is friends with Tanaka and worked with Rothschild as his pitching coach for most of his career with the Yankees.

In his six seasons with Rothschild as his pitching coach from 2014-19, Tanaka went 75-43 with a 3.75 ERA for the Yankees and averaged 27 starts, 168 innings and 158 strikeouts a season.

Rosenthal notes that the Padres might be looking at free-agent starters due to lingering concern over the health of Dinelson Lamet, who was unable to pitch in the postseason because of right biceps tendinitis.

Tanaka considering return to Japan?

Jan. 2: According to a report from Randy Miller of nj.com published Thursday, Tanaka would consider returning to Japan if he doesn’t re-sign with the Yankees.

Per Miller’s source, Tanaka isn’t interested in signing with a non-contender, regardless of the money, and he has long planned to finish his career with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his team from 2007-13.

But Tanaka clarified that report Friday night, stating that he is not yet limiting his options when it comes to Major League clubs beyond the Yankees.

If Tanaka does go back to Japan, he might not be leaving much money on the table. Based on the contracts signed by starters Mike Minor (two years, $18 million), Charlie Morton (one year, $15 million), Drew Smyly (one year, $11 million), Robbie Ray (one year, $8 million) and Anthony DeSclafani (one year, $6 million) this offseason, Tanaka is likely looking at an average annual value in the $12 million range.

Veteran first baseman Justin Smoak, who posted a .611 OPS in 2020 and was released by the Giants in September, is reportedly finalizing a deal with the Yomiuri Giants that will guarantee him $6-7 million.

Tanaka, 32, made 10 starts for the Yankees in 2020, posting a 3.56 ERA (120 ERA+) with a 1.17 WHIP. During his seven-year, $155 million contract with New York, Tanaka recorded a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+) with a 1.13 WHIP in 174 games (173 starts).

Tanaka could head west

Dec. 26: MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince sums up the best fits for each remaining free agent from the top 25, doling out only one free agent per team. He focuses on the Angels as Tanaka’s best fit — given that LeMahieu has already been deemed the Yankees’ best fit. For the second straight offseason, the Angels are expected to be competitive in the starting pitching market, especially since they struck out in that arena last offseason.

Cashman: Yanks need ‘certain innings’; could Tanaka help?

Dec. 20: It’s not quite clear how much Tanaka and the Yankees have communicated up until this point of the offseason, but it sure sounds like the veteran could help his old club with a glaring hole.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman came on MLB Network Radio on Sunday and talked through the Bronx Bombers’ starting rotation. That unit doesn’t appear to have any sure things behind ace Gerrit Cole after the departure of both Tanaka and James Paxton, something Cashman acknowledged.

“I think we have a framework at the very least to fall back on,” Cashman said of the Yanks’ promising but untested young starters including Luis Severino, Domingo Germán and Deivi García, “but I definitely feel like we need to try to address more certain innings. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re scrambling. … No one ever wants to be in a scrambling mode, because then it dominoes into your bullpen and can have an adverse negative effect on you.”

Though he has pitched with a partial ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow through virtually his entire Major League career, Tanaka has been durable and dependable, averaging 27 starts and 168 innings per season for New York from 2014-19. If he wants to return to the Bronx, Tanaka could cite Cashman’s own words to explain to the Yankees why they should sign him again.

Could Tanaka help Yanks solve rotation issues?

Dec. 8: Could the news of Lance Lynn’s reported blockbuster trade to the White Sox late Monday night make a Tanaka-Yankees reunion more likely?

The Bronx Bombers were never in the mix to trade for Lynn, reports MLB Network insider Joel Sherman for the New York Post. And you can probably rule out a reunion with Sonny Gray, the other prominent starter on this winter’s trade market, after his rocky first go-around in pinstripes. But, as Sherman notes, there is lots of uncertainty in the Yankees’ projected 2021 rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole. Young pitchers Luis Severino, Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, Deivi García, Michael King and others all hold high upside, but (aside from Severino) they are far from proven.

The Yankees are unlikely to spend big on top free-agent starter Trevor Bauer when their first priority is still to re-sign DJ LeMahieu, Sherman notes. But their apparent need for veteran arms behind Cole could make a reunion with Tanaka or James Paxton even more likely. The last year of Lynn’s contract might have cost less than a new deal for either of those two familiar names, but Lynn is now reportedly off the table.

On the other hand, SNY’s Andy Martino reports that the Yankees are also unlikely to bring Tanaka back if they sign LeMahieu, as the team is operating with a stricter budget this offseason.

Starting-pitcher market has been active

Dec. 1: While Trevor Bauer remains a free agent, the starting-pitcher market as a whole has been far more active than any other position this offseason, and the deals that have been signed so far could help forecast what Tanaka’s contract might look like.

Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman both accepted the $18.9 million qualifying offer from their respective teams, and Charlie Morton ($15 million), Drew Smyly ($11 million) and Robbie Ray ($8 million) all signed one-year contracts. Mike Minor, meanwhile, inked a two-year, $18 million deal with a $13 million club option ($1 million buyout) for 2023.

Based on those contracts, it’s reasonable to expect a pitcher of Tanaka’s caliber to get between $10 million and $15 million per year.

Over seven big league seasons, Tanaka has recorded a 3.74 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP and an 8.5 K/9 mark. While he dealt with elbow troubles as a rookie in 2014, the righty has proven to be relatively durable in the six years since that time.

Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, Corey Kluber, Taijuan Walker and José Quintana are among the comparable starters left on the market.

Tanaka’s value gets bump with QO decisions

Nov. 11: Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepted one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offers from the Mets and Giants, respectively, on Wednesday, taking two starters off the free-agent market and elevating Tanaka.

A case can be made that the 32-year-old is now the second-best free-agent starting pitcher after Trevor Bauer. With Stroman and Gausman out of the picture, Tanaka is ranked as such by MLB Trade Rumors. Comparable free-agent options include Charlie Morton, Jake Odorizzi and James Paxton, each of whom dealt with injuries in 2020.

Tanaka enters free agency with a lifetime 3.74 ERA over seven seasons, including a 3.56 mark last season. He also has pitched to a 3.33 ERA over 10 career starts in the postseason.

Tanaka missed time due to a partially torn UCL in his right elbow as a rookie in 2014, but after avoiding Tommy John surgery, he hasn’t dealt with additional elbow-related problems.

No QO for Tanaka

Nov. 1: The Yankees, as expected, tendered an $18.9 million qualifying offer to MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu, but did not do so in Tanaka’s case. The veteran right-hander has been good for New York over the last seven seasons after coming to the Majors from Japan, posting a 3.74 ERA across 1,054 1/3 innings. That includes a 3.56 ERA over 10 starts in 2020. The Yankees may very well try to re-sign Tanaka for less than the amount of a qualifying offer to keep him in the Bronx for an eighth season. More >

Would Tanaka fit with Mets?

Oct. 21: Tanaka could be a free-agent target for the New York team not named the Yankees, writes SNY’s Danny Abriano.

In an article addressing the Mets’ options to improve their starting rotation behind ace Jacob deGrom, Abriano suggests Tanaka as one of the top external candidates, along with Trevor Bauer and James Paxton (as well as listing re-signing Marcus Stroman as an option).

The SNY article cites Tanaka’s postseason track record and overall durability over the last five seasons as reasons for the Mets to pursue the veteran right-hander.

Cashman, Tanaka talk future with Yanks

Oct. 8: After the Yankees’ season ended with a five-game postseason loss to the Rays in the American League Division Series, general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged Tanaka’s value to the club.

“Tanaka has been fantastic for us,” Cashman said. “He has really impacted us in a positive way.”

Cashman is considering how the Yankees will handle their approach to free agency this offseason. Their most prominent free agents like Tanaka and DJ LeMahieu will be strong candidates to receive a qualifying offer for 2021.

Following his last start of 2020 — a postseason loss to the Rays in ALDS Game 3 — Tanaka also reflected on his tenure with the Yankees and considered his future with the team, including discussing his continued desire to help bring the Yankees their 28th World Series championship.



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