New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is likely going to the Rakuten Eagles, his old team in the Nippon Professional League in Japan. Tanaka during 2020 went 3-3 with an ERA of 3.56 but miserably failed in his two games in the postseason against the Indians and Rays. He posted an ERA of 12.375, giving up eleven runs in just eight innings.
Tanaka is coming off a seven-year $155 million contract with the Yankees. He was reliable in five of those seven years, but he was diminished as he basically lost his four-seam fastball in the last two seasons. Now a free agent, he hoped to return to the Yankees but saw the writing on the wall when the Yankees hired Corey Kluber and traded for Jameson Taillon, who will probably be the number three starter behind Kluber and his old teammate Gerrit Cole.
The free-agent market for the 32-year-old Tanaka never developed as he had hoped to add insult to injury. According to a translated report from Japan, Tanaka and the Rakuten Eagles are close to finalizing a deal that will see Tanaka finish his career in Japan. According to a report Monday from Sankei Sports out of Tokyo, a deal could be struck as early as this week, although any terms of the deal were not released.
A fire has been lit under Jameson Taillon
The New York Yankees traded a foursome of prospects headed by pitcher Miguel Yajure to the Pittsburgh Pirates for starter Jameson Taillon on Sunday. Taillon has mixed feelings about leaving a team that also has lost Joe Musgrove and Josh Bell. But at the same time, he is excited and looking forward to going to New York, meeting the fans, and playing for a team that can win.
“Ever since I got the news I was going to New York, I haven’t felt nervous (or) overwhelmed. Just extremely excited for the opportunity,’’ Taillon said a day after being dealt to the Yankees. “Overnight, I went from a rebuilding team to a team like the Yankees… where the only thing they care about is to win. That kind of lit a fire under me.’’
Taillon going to New York will be a reunion of sorts. New York Yankee ace Gerrit Cole and he played in the minors together and during the 2016 and 2017 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates before Cole was traded to the Houston Astros. Taillon, like the other Yankee addition, Corey Kluber did not pitch last season. Halfway through the 2019 season, he required Tommy John surgery. Now recovered, he will be ready to start the 2021 season. In 2018 Taillon was 14-10 with an ERA of 3.20 in 32 starts for the Pirates.
New York Yankees assuming quite a bit of risk
The Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman are hoping for a high reward while accepting the risk of obtaining two starting pitchers coming off injuries and didn’t pitch last season. The Yankees are coming off a season that had seen Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ pitch poorly and reach free agency when the Yankees did not issue them qualifying offers.
With the loss of those pitchers, it basically left the Yankees with their 2019 acquisition of Gerrit Cole and another pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, Jordan Montgomery, and a bevy of untested, inexperienced arms. Although the Yankees may not have exited the postseason early because of poor pitching, it did do them in the in the division that they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Yankees waited to make any moves until they knew the DJ LeMahieu negotiation’s outcome to bring him back to the Yankees. When they re-signed LeMahieu, they immediately got to work rebuilding the starting rotation by signing two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber who hadn’t pitched in a year and a half. A few days after that, they sent four Yankee prospects to Pittsburgh in exchange for another pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, Jameson Taillon.
The Yankees are betting their season on these two pitchers, along with the returning Domingo German and Luis Severino. These two did not pitch last season either, German from suspension, and Severino also returned from Tommy John surgery. If these four pitchers can all return to their former form, the Yankees could have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. If not, they will still contend but have accepted substantial risk while hoping for the best.