Yankees And Masahiro Tanaka: Creative Minds Can Get It Done

The Yankees, it would be fair to say, would rather see Masahiro Tanaka stay rather than leave by opting out of his contract at the end of the 2017 season. Tanaka, it would also be fair to say, is remaining non-committal as to what his choice will be, but he is apparently not ruling out a return to the team either. Creative minds on the part of the Yankees are needed to keep him in Pinstripes beyond this season. And the Bautista deal could set a precedent as to how they can ensure a deal is reachable with Tanaka.

The Yankees might want to take a serious look at the at the details contained in the contract just agreed to between the Toronto Blue Jays and Jose Bautista. And the reason why is that the contract is something that just might work for them regarding keeping Tanaka with the team beyond 2017.

Creative minds got together when the two sides drew up the Bautista deal. Essentially, it’s a one-year deal for 2017 that pays Bautista $18 million for the upcoming season. That figure represents a face-saving extra one million dollars above the qualifying offer Bautista turned down before setting his sights on entering the free agent market. But after that, the deal gets interesting.

Yankees Need To Get Creative With Tanaka

And this is where the Yankees need to begin paying attention. The second and third years of the contract are both mutual option years.  In which both the team and Bautista can opt out at either juncture of the contract. An agreement of this type is unique and creative because most contracts of the past only provide for either a player or team opt out, not a mutual one.

The mutual opt-out is desirable because it gives both sides another opportunity to go to the altar to say, “I do,” all over again. With Tanaka, who is only 28 with at least four more years in what is commonly termed “his prime,” he just might buy into pitching for the Yankees for one more year in 2018, while still having the option of bailing out for the following season. Conversely, for the Yankees, one year, instead of four or five years that Tanaka might be looking for as a free agent is appealing because it would give the team the opportunity to ensure that Tanaka’s health issues are a thing of past.

The Bautista deal, if taken as a whole over three years, is worth $60 million, which is about the same as the deal Edwin Encarnacion just signed with the Cleveland Indians. Similar money will be needed for the Yankees to keep Tanaka’s attention beyond 2017. But breaking the contract up into little pieces is a novel idea and one that the Yankees can explore, not only with Tanaka but with other players as well in the future.

The key factor in the Bautista deal is freedom. Which is exactly what Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith were fighting for in the 1970’s and early Eighties when they put themselves out there in the fight to rid baseball of the reserve clause, which enslaved (my choice of words) players to a team. No one wants to be tied down with no escape possible. Not the player, and not the team.

Teams, the Yankees included, have been looking for a way to avoid giving players long term guaranteed contracts that eat away at the team’s flexibility at the back end. The Yankees have had their share of them with Alex Rodriguez, C C Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira headlining the list of recent notables. Ditto the California Angels who will be paying Josh Hamilton eight figures to play for the Texas Rangers under a minor league contract.

Yankees: What’s Wrong With One Year At A Time

It still seems to me, as I’ve previously written, that at some point in his career, Masahiro Tanaka will want to be playing on the West Coast to be at least six hours closer to his homeland in Japan. Mutual options in a contract he signs can leave the choice to him as to when that day will come.

Baseball contracts, when you think about it, should be based on the premise of a player’s previous year’s performance. An MVP season deserves MVP money. And if you stink up the joint that season, you get a pay cut from that. The Player’s Association will never go that far in their thinking, but it’s worth considering the idea on its merits, at least within the scope of future mutual opt-out deals.

The Yankees face a tough battle with Tanaka no matter what. He had an (underrated) CY Young year in 2016, and he is likely to have another one as long as his health holds up. For the most part, Tanaka is in the driver’s seat. But that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from getting creative to find a way to keep him in the Bronx beyond 2017.

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