Staying true to their business model, the Yankees do not intend to offer staff ace Masahiro Tanaka a contract extension at this time.
As we’ve seen over the past few seasons, the Yankees are not afraid to play it fast and loose with their impending free agents. And although Tanaka isn’t technically a free agent at the conclusion of the 2017 season, should he complete the upcoming campaign without doing any further damage to the already partially torn UCL in his right throwing elbow — let alone match or exceed last season’s numbers (when he finished eighth in the AL Cy Young vote), he’ll most certainly opt out of his current contract.
On Tuesday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman had this to say about the 28-year-old right-hander:
“Hopefully he has a great year and he’ll have a decision to make. If he doesn’t, then he won’t.”
Basically, if Tanaka gets injured or stinks, the Yankees are on the hook for $67M through 2020. At the current market price of starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, Tanaka has been a wonderful investment. I mean, Rich Hill just got $48M for three years.
Since signing his initial 7yr/$155M deal back in 2014, Tanaka has gone 39-16 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.045 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9. Without the presence of that ticking time bomb for an elbow, Tanaka would be looking at a $200M contract.
It’s a calculated risk by Cashman and company to let this season play out. But it’s a smart one, because even if Tanaka were to win 20 games and lead the Yankees to the promised land, re-signing him after he opts out, comes with significant risk. You just never know when one wrong pitch will knock him out for 14-18 months (the usual recovery period for Tommy John surgery).
I know that the consensus among those in baseball is that most pitchers come back stronger after Tommy John, but locking up hundreds of millions of dollars in a player sidelined for a full season or more would severely hamper the Yankees’ chances of quickly rebuilding a championship contender — not to mention potentially signing Jake Arrieta, Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper .
At the opening of Orangetheory Fitness’ location in Manhattan, Cashman reiterated his club’s stance on Tanaka.
“We made a significant investment and he was a Cy Young award candidate last season and we certainly hope he does again. But at this stage, we’ve had no discussions internally to pursue any type of extension.”
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This isn’t a Robinson Cano-type situation. Or like Alex Rodriguez when he opted out in 2007. The ball is in the Yankees’ court. If Tanaka wasn’t the team’s best pitcher, many would already be calling for the Yankees to trade him — especially in the midst of a rebuild. But he is, so we will all have to sit back and wait to see what the 2017 season brings with it.