02 Nov Masahiro Tanaka: To Opt Out Or Not Opt Out? … That Is The Question
By: Lou Landers – @realSportsCrew
When the Yankees brought Tanaka over from Japan prior to the 2014 season, they believed they were getting a top of the rotation caliber starting pitcher who would help them win their 28th World Series Championship. In his first 3 seasons. Tanaka was one of the American Leagues top starting pitchers and was even named as an AL all-star in his first season in MLB. The 2017 season did not go as well for Tanaka; he posted a career worst ERA, WHIP, HR/9 and BB/9, however he did post his highest strikeout total.
Needless to say, it was a very disappointing 2017 season for Tanaka, yet oddly enough, it was the best season the Yankees have had as an organization since he arrived. Despite Tanaka’s struggles, the Yankees were one of baseball’s most dangerous teams during the season and ended up losing out on an AL East title by one game. This of course begs the question, will Tanaka use the opt out clause in his contract, and if he does, are the Yankees really in that much trouble? As a fan of both the Yankees and Tanaka, I hope he stays, unfortunately the decision is not up to me. I do believe the Yankees will sorely miss Tanaka is he opts out, especially because there is no one within the organization who can do what he can and the team has made it clear that they wont be big spenders in free agency.
Reason To Opt Out:
Although Tanaka is still owed $67 million over the next 3 seasons on his current deal, the free agent market has been a gold mine for starting pitchers lately. If he did indeed opt out, there is no reason that Tanaka would not be able to get the same amount of money annually while also getting 5 or 6 years rather than the 3 he has remaining. Teams are starving for starters and besides Jake Arrieta, Tanaka would be the top option on the market. Even with his struggles in the 2017 season, Tanaka may have earned himself a raise based solely on his terrific 2017 post season.
When it mattered most, Tanaka was at the top of his game, pitching better than we have ever seen him pitch. One can also make the argument that if Tanaka went to a more pitcher friendly ball park, his stock would rise even more. He allowed 35 home runs this season and there is no doubt that pitching in Yankee Stadium and the American League East had something to do with it. If Masahiro does in fact opt out of his deal with the Yankees, I expect him to receive a contract of around $110 million over 5 years.
Reason To Stay:
There is no secret surrounding Tanaka’s health issues in his elbow which of course could be a major deterrent for teams who have interest in signing him. Although it hasn’t happened yet, Tanaka is still one pitch away from needing Tommy Jon surgery which would keep him off a big league mound for over 12 months. With that being said, will a team really be willing to give him a 5 or 6 year contract worth over $100 million just to have him end up on the DL? Would he ever be the same pitcher again if he did in fact have to get the surgery? The uncertainty of what could be may be enough for Tanaka to stay put in New York.
Let’s not forget that Tanaka chose the Yankees prior to 2014 with the hopes of following in Hideki Matsui’s footsteps; coming to America to win a World Series. Outside of maybe the Dodgers, Astros and Cubs, what team has a better chance than the Yankees of winning a championship in the next 3 seasons? The Yankees showed this season that they are back to being a top contender and are a year or 2 away from getting back to the World Series and winning it all. Tanaka was of course a huge part of that come playoff time and leaving the Yankees now may be the reason for him never winning a championship.
If He Opts Out, Who Can Afford Him?
As I mentioned above, if Tanaka wants to win a championship, his best bet would be with the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros or Yankees. The Cubs are about to let Jake Arrieta walk as a free agent due to financial reasons and the Astros just took on the huge salary of Justin Verlander to help them win their first ever World Series. So with that being said, that is already 2 of the 4 teams on this list who cannot afford him.
The Dodgers of course can seemingly afford anyone, however they have their own Japanese born player to make a decision on. One who they already know much more about and who helped them reach their first World Series since 1988. Although Darvish did struggle in the fall classic, he is still a top of the line caliber starter and it would make sense for the Dodgers to retain him. Darvish would not cost them a draft pick and it is rumored that he purchased a multi million dollar home in the Los Angeles area.
If the Dodgers do in fact re-sign Darvish, where does that leave Tanaka? He will have the Yankees to choose from or a number of other teams that either cannot pay him what he wants or who likely can’t deliver him a championship. In my humble opinion, Tanaka’s best option is to stay with the Yankees.