While Tanaka was originally supposed to make $23 Million in his last year of his contract, due to the negotiation between the MLB owners and MLBPA, his salary got reduced to just over $8.5 Million. It’s unlikely Tanaka will touch $20M AAV again given the weak market and his age, but he is a hot target across the league.
The New York Mets:
One of the key points I had in my DJ LeMahieu article earlier this week was that the Mets could be serious suitors encourage on by a desire to take a great player from the Yankees. However, while they lost Robinson Cano to a PED suspension, they do have internal options in Jeff McNeil for second base. The rotation on the other hand may be where they could make this move.
After perennial NL Cy Young candidate Jacob DeGrom the Mets rotation at the beginning of this offseason was not in the best of shapes. They did already make a move with bringing back Marcus Stroman on the Qualifying Offer after he sat out 2020 and should expect David Peterson (3.44 ERA in 2020) to have another solid year. This leaves two rotation spots and while it would seem obvious to go with Noah “Thor” Syndergaard and Steven Matz, neither is a great option at this point. Mets fans should be hopeful but realistic when it comes to Thor’s return in 2021 after Tommy John Surgery (as should the Yankees with Luis Severino). On the other hand, Steven Matz had a 9.68 ERA in 2020 with a career 4.35 ERA.
Masahiro Tanaka, however, would provide the Mets with a starting pitcher in the second-tier (behind really only Trevor Bauer who is alone in the top-tier). He has experience and good numbers in New York. Maybe this would be the better move to steal a player for the Mets.
The Chicago Cubs:
A team that I haven’t seen mentioned in many rumor mills for players this offseason, the inclusion of the Chicago Cubs in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes by MLBTR was interesting to me. As far as I have been aware of, the Chicago Cubs are mostly looking to offset salary but a move for Tanaka would be smart.
While the top of the Cubs rotation is very good with Kyle Hendricks (2.88 ERA in 2020) and Yu Darvish (2.01 ERA), the rest of the arms aren’t great. Adbert Alzolay should have some promise going into 2021 after a short stint and Alec Mills is likely to have another average season (100 ERA+ in 2020). And, they are losing Jon Lester and his $20 Million AAV contract which opens up space.
If they are looking to compete with their main core of Rizzo, Bryant, Heyward, and Darvish intact one final time, a move for Tanaka would serve them well as the Lester replacement. The only potential hold up would be that the Cubs would then no longer have a left-handed starting pitcher to keep opposing teams having to use different lineups.
The Rakuten Golden Eagles:
In a now deleted post from Yahoo Sports Japan, it was rumored that there may be a Steve Cohen-esque type deal up to 2.5 billion range for Masahiro Tanaka. However, this isn’t simple dollars and cents as we’re talking about the Japanese Yen. When converting between the two, this would come out to be almost $24 Million USD. Annually.
This would be an insane move for a team in the NPB given the next highest player in the league in 2020 was the soon-to-be-posted RHP Tomoyuki Sugano from the Yomiuri Giants who made $6 Million USD. However, as the team is owned by the e-commerce Rakuten Company, they likely have the financial might to make a deal of this caliber. It’s also to important to note how loved Masahiro Tanaka is in Japan. He spent from 2007-2013 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles to a 2.29 ERA over 172 starts (176 games).
Even though Masahiro Tanaka is going to enter his age 32 season, this may be the perfect time for him to lengthen his period of dominance as he comes off the end of his peak. It would also pave a way for other NPB legends who came to the MLB to return. Many of the highest profile names to come out of Japan- Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, and Hideo Nomo- retired from baseball in America. There may be more to this move in future NPB gains than just bringing back Masahiro Tanaka now.
Quick Notes on Some Other Teams With Some Interest:
The Boston Red Sox, and The Los Angeles Angels:
In my post about J.A. Happ from this past Wednesday we looked as to why the lefty would be of interest to these teams. It’s very much the same when it comes to the Red Sox or Angels and Masahiro Tanaka. The Red Sox had a depleted rotation with the loss of Sale, Price, and Rodriguez in 2020. The Angels lack solid depth behind Dylan Bundy due to injuries and inexperience. A move for Tanaka would help the Red Sox be competitive again in 2021. A move for Tanaka would give the Angels rotation more power as an offensive-first team.
The Washington Nationals and The Chicago White Sox:
In my post about James Paxton from this past Tuesday, we looked into why both of these teams would be interested in the high-risk, high-reward lefty. A different option for each of them however would be going after Masahiro Tanaka to fill in their rotation. He does also comes with a slight injury risk but it is much smaller than Paxton although his upside is likely a big lower. Still, these teams could both use another good starting pitcher to keep them competitive and Tanaka would be another good option for each.
The San Francisco Giants, The Philadelphia Phillies, and The Atlanta Braves:
Each of these teams was also listed on the MLBTR small overview for Masahiro Tanaka and their predictions for 2021 landing spots. While they expect the Yankees will bring him back- as do I- each does have an interesting logic behind the move. The Giants did bring back Kevin Gausman after he took the qualifying offer and they could use another good arm in the rotation (as could most teams). The Phillies are always just a few moves away from competing recently and with their expected loss in J.T. Realmuto, they may look to continue to supplement in the rotation around Aaron Nola. The Atlanta Braves are also likely out of the Tanaka picture after signing both Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to start the offseason.
Article By: Ethan Semendinger
Date Published: November 27th, 2020