New York Yankees Extensions: Tanaka vs. Paxton

New York Yankees, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, New York Yankees

With Gerrit Cole leading the rotation, you might be able to say that the Yankees have the best starting unit in all of baseball. The top two spots, assuming everyone is healthy, are set in stone, but the third spot in the rotation has caused a little debate.

Some people believe building off the second-half success, that the third spot belongs to James Paxton. Others think it should belong to last year’s Opening Day starter, Masahiro Tanaka. What first world Yankee problems having to debate which one of those two should be their third starter in the rotation.

However, another debate needs to be had featuring these two pitchers. Which pitcher should the Yankees try to extend before they hit free agency next year? With many players coming up that will be receiving big raises like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, etc. there very well might not be room on the books for both pitchers. Let’s breakdown each choice and see what we come up with.

The case for Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka is the been there, done that Yankees pitcher. Tanaka has been in New York for six seasons, which has seen him go 75-43 with a 3.75 ERA (Baseball-Reference). Tanaka has also anchored the Yankees in the postseason where he has a remarkable 1.76 ERA in eight postseason starts. Going into next offseason, Tanaka will be 32 years old. Tanaka is not going to cost as much money as it would be to extend a guy like James Paxton.

The two-time all-star has been pitching the last several seasons with a partial tear in his UCL, and he just had surgery on his elbow to remove bone spurs in October. Because of these factors, you’re likely to see him on the less expensive end for a starter after next season. Could see him get a deal similar to the one that Madison Bumgarner just received from the Diamondbacks at five years with a salary of around $85 million. Of course, a significant benefit for Tanaka is the fact that he’s not a fastball pitcher, which bodes well for him as his career progresses. Nobody should be upset if the Yankees bring back Masahiro Tanaka after next season to be their third starter moving forward.

The Case for James Paxton

After a bit of a rough start with the Yankees, you could make the argument that James Paxton was one of the best pitchers in the American League during the second half of last season. Overall, Paxton pitched to a 15-6 record with a 3.82 ERA in his first year with the Yankees (Baseball-Reference). Like Tanaka, James Paxton will be turning 32 years old going into next offseason. When he is on his game, the guy is lights out. Last year he had his second consecutive year where his strikeouts per nine were over 11.

On top of that, he’s a left-handed starter, and we all know how much the Yankees loved lefty starters. Now Paxton, who is represented by Scott Boras, is likely to command more money than Masahiro Tanaka. Like Tanaka, Paxton will probably be looking for a five or six-year deal. However, the total salary number is probably going to be north of $100 million. Paxton has ace stuff pitching from the left side and, because of his injury issues in the past, has 300 fewer innings on his arm. While Tanaka is more proven on the big stage, James Paxton very well might have a higher ceiling for the Yankees.

The Verdict

In the end, I would throw the money towards James Paxton. Like I said above, I think he has the higher ceiling, and I think it would help balance the rotation out with Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, both being right-handed. A 1-2-3 or Cole, Severino, and Paxton for the foreseeable future is one that gets me excited as a Yankee fan.

Now, in an ideal world, maybe they could bring both of them back, although unlikely. I know Yankee fans would love to see the four-man rotation they will see next year more over the next few years, but the Yankees will be watching their payroll closely. We all know that guys like Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres are going to get considerable paydays to be lifelong Yankees. I don’t think in this debate there’s a wrong choice which makes the discussion fun. I’d go with James Paxton, but it’ll be interesting to see how GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees play this over the next 12 months.