New York Yankees: Tanaka’s Opt-Out Looms Over this Offseason

Masahiro Tanaka is the New York Yankees bonafide ace entering the 2017 season, but there is a clause in his contract that could complicate matters for the Bronx Bombers this winter.

Many expect the New York Yankees to be in the market for some big names this winter. Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Aroldis Chapman are just some of the upper-tier free agents being connected to the team. However, New York has somewhat of a cloud over their offseason.

Masahiro Tanaka is the clear-cut ace of the Yankees pitching staff even though he’s dealt with multiple injuries over the first three years in the majors. Still, while the team has invested in relief pitching recently, Tanaka has been Brian Cashman’s only big splurge in his starting rotation since the team signed C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett many years ago.

Outside of Tanaka, there are some major questions in the Yankees starting rotation. Sabathia is on the last year of his deal, and while he was a serviceable starter, the 36 year-old is far from what he was when he signed with the ballclub prior to the 2009 season. Michael Pineda has a load of potential, but has been inconsistent since he was traded to the Yankees for what was a former top prospect in Jesus Montero. The last two spots in the starting staff are a little shaky with unproven commodities like Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell looking to get a shot to become mainstays.

In addition, Tanaka is not guaranteed to stay in New York long-term even though his contract runs through 2020. Back in 2013, when the club inked the Japanese star, his deal included an opt-out after the 2017 season. This may have seemed far away at the time, but now that he has just one year remaining before having to make that decision, it clouds what the Yankees might do this offseason.

With all of this uncertainty, one may think that the Yankees are likely to add to their starting rotation in the coming months. However, the lack of quality starting pitching options on the free agent market has been pretty well documented.

Former journeyman Rich Hill is currently the top option available. He was spectacular when he was on the mound last season, but he suffered through a chronic blister that held him out for two extended time periods during the regular season. Hill will also be 37 on Opening Day so there are some questions about how well his body will hold up over a three-year deal, which is what it will probably take to sign him. Still, the Yankees remain interested, according to Kevin Davidoff and Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The team is less likely to look at Ivan Nova, after shipping him to the Pirates on trade deadline day.

This could lead the Yankees to try and make a trade, and their farm system that could fetch a high quality starter. Chris Sale is a frequently mentioned target even though the competition would be fierce if the White Sox decide to move on. Brian Cashman could also explore whether the Athletics have softened their stance on keeping Sonny Gray. Other realistic targets such as Jake Odorizzi, Junior Guerra and Gio Gonzalez would provide much-needed relief as well.

The Yankees have other needs, but the starting rotation is the biggest question mark for 2017 and beyond, especially when taking into account Tanaka’s option. The pressure is on to strike now because with many teams willing to meet high price tags for front-of-the-rotation starters, it may be wise to see how the 28 year-old could do on the open market. His contract is and will continue to pay him well if he opts in for the last three years as Tanaka is the 11th highest paid starting pitcher as of now. But after seeing Zack Greinke topple the $200 million mark, Casey Close may be foaming at the mouth for his client to enter free agency.

He comes with injury risks, but a combined ERA of 3.12 from 2014-16 will draw a sea of suitors if he were to opt-out. It must be noted that the free agent starting pitching class is much more loaded with dominant hurlers like Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish becoming available to name of a few.

Tanaka’s opt-out will certainly be a factor with how the Yankees approach this winter as it gives the club added urgency to bring some stability to a rotation that could potentially have a lot of moving pieces in the year to come.

What will the Yankees do to improve their starting rotation this offseason? Let us know in the comments below.

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