The Rakuten Eagles held a press conference to introduce their most recent signing, one that is actually an old friend: Masahiro Tanaka. The right-hander pitched there for years before migrating to the United States to sign with the New York Yankees in 2014. After seven brilliant seasons in the Bronx, the Japanese hurler is saying goodbye to pitch home, at least for the next two seasons.
It is quite clear that the Yankees’ decision to bring cheaper alternatives (although not necessarily worse) had to do with Tanaka’s decision to sign in Japan.
“When I became a free agent, honestly, I wanted to sign another contract with (the) Yankees and play there,” Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo, per Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times. “Then, as I heard different things, I thought I might have to take a different road and considered various things.”
For years, Tanaka was the Rakuten Eagles’ ace. He was posted to MLB teams and the Yankees ended up on top, securing his services with a seven-year contract that was a resounding success: he had a 3.74 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 991 strikeouts in the regular season, and a 3.33 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 10 postseason outings.
The Yankees went cheaper
Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman implied that he replaced Tanaka with two similarly talented arms at the projected cost that it would have taken to bring him back. Luxury tax concerns (the Bombers have made it clear they want to stay under the $210 million threshold) prevented the team from bringing all three.
Other MLB teams were interested in the 32-year-old. The San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, and Toronto Blue Jays were some of them. But it appears it was Yankees or Japan for the pitcher.
“I played over there for seven years, was told how highly I was valued, and received really good offers,” Tanaka said, according to Kyodo News. “But for me, there was also this chance to play for the Eagles again, to pitch once more in front of my fellow Japanese. In the end, no offer in the States surpassed that.”
He added: “For me, No. 1 was what kind of baseball do you want to play, what kind of environment do you want to be in.”
Tanaka inked a two-year deal with the Eagles, but after it’s up, in 2022, he may return to the States. He said Rakuten has agreed to let him “keep those options open” next winter, according to Kyodo.
The Score explains that if Tanaka does try to return to the U.S., the Yankees might be more receptive to a reunion in 2022.
“There’s no door closed, let’s put it that way from my perspective,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Pete Caldera of NorthJersey.com on Friday.