The New York Yankees face a rather large free-agent class for them in terms of impact players hitting the market. With the Yankees no longer just throwing money at anything that moves, it leaves people wondering how much the Yankees will spend to retain their key players knowing that most of them are guys in their early 30s. One of these key players is a long time Yankee starter Masahiro Tanaka, the longest-tenured starter in the Bronx. With his last few regular seasons being less than stellar, how much should the Yankees pay the Japanese right-hander?
How Replaceable is Tanaka?
The Yankees are entering a free-agent class that’s a lot less talented in the starting pitcher market than the last one. There’s no Gerrit Cole but there are a plethora of quality arms on the market. The top guys are names like James Paxton (who the Yankees should retain), Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber. The Yankees don’t need to overpay for Tanaka, there are many starters on this market that are as good in the regular season if not better. If Tanaka asks for $17 million a year for 3 years, then I’d look at some other pitchers asking for that price before I start writing Tanaka a check.
Understanding Tanaka’s Value
Masahiro Tanaka is a solid pitcher, but he isn’t a superstar starter anymore. He has below-average strikeout stuff, gets hit very hard in terms of hard hit% and exit velocity, and his pitches don’t generate much spin. He doesn’t project well based on his peripherals either, with a 4.21 FIP and 4.29 xFIP. His postseason numbers, however, are pretty darn good on the surface, until you see that his postseason FIP is 3.47 and his xFIP is 3.97. He’s not bad by any stretch in the postseason, and if he came back at around $15 a year for 2-3 years I would be okay with that contract, but he could be looking for Dallas Keuchel money (which is fair because he’s definitely better than Keuchel), but the Yankees shouldn’t cough up $55.5 million for 3 years when you need to re-sign Paxton and DJ along with locking up Judge and Sanchez in 2023.
Other Options That Could Be Better
Tanaka in 2019 had a 4.45 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and 4.29 xFIP along with a 3.3 fWAR. Those aren’t bad numbers by any stretch and over 180+ innings that’s pretty solid but I could argue that for $18 million a year there are better options. Here’s what we’re looking for: A pitcher who is able to produce Tanaka’s numbers in the regular season and produce in the postseason.
With those criteria in mind let’s look at FA target #1, Robbie Ray. The LHP had a 2.4 fWAR in 2019 over 171 innings with a 4.34 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and most importantly 3.76 xFIP. He has better pitches in terms of spin and velocity than Tanaka, but the issue? He has a pretty inconsistent track record, and only one October start, which went very wrong. He’s probably not who I’d feel okay replacing Tanaka with. How about our second target?
Let’s look at Dodgers’ lefty Alex Wood, who was injured for most of 2019, so we will look at his 2018 numbers. Over 151 innings he had a 3.68 ERA, 3.53 FIP, and 3.72 xFIP. He also had a 2.4 fWAR and 3.90 SIERA. These numbers are actually pretty good, and he served both a reliever and starter role, and he has a 3.40 ERA and 3.53 FIP in his career. He has a major flaw which is his injury history, which has eaten away at his career a little. This doesn’t deter me from him though, as he is an excellent pitcher. His postseason ERA is 4.10 which is pretty bad but his xFIP is 3.79 and his SIERA is 3.35, both metrics better than Tanaka. I think if Tanaka asks for too much Wood is a great option, and has arguably been the better pitcher.
Does This Mean the Yankees Should Let Tanaka Go?
If you read this far, you’ll come to see that no, I don’t think the Yankees should let Tanaka go unless he starts asking for money that’s out of bounds. If he comes into 2020 dealing and shows he’s the 3.75 ERA and 3.42 xFIP type of guy he was in 2018 and not the 4.00+ ERA and peripherals he was in 2019, then there’s no one in my eyes on the market who could replace him. His value depends on his 2020 campaign and I wouldn’t give him more than $17-18 million for 3 years, and even at that price, I’d do my due diligence with other starters before I start signing checks.
How much do you think Tanaka is worth? How much will Tanaka earn in his walk year and will he stay in pinstripes?