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Are Yankees caught in bad dilemma with ace Masahiro Tanaka?

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The renaissance in the Bronx is in full swing. There will be young players competing up and down the New York Yankees roster this spring. There has not been this much competition and uncertainty for the Yankees in what seems like forever.

Players that are playing prominent roles are most notably, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Severino, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez. This year, the Yanks don’t appear to be ready to make a title run. I see this season as a litmus test of sorts for the young talent that the Yankees possess.

The Baby Bombers need to be exposed to the everyday rigors of a Major League season. They need this year to see where they are in their development, and the Yankees need to know what they have in these young players. Brian Cashman has done a beautiful job building up the Yankees farm system, as it is now considered to be among the best in baseball. It is their turn in the lime-light and they could rise or fall.

Having said that, the Yankees still have many veterans on their roster and Masahiro Tanaka is one of those key veterans vital to the success for the 2017 season. The Yankees ace enters this season with an opt-out clause looming at seasons end. That could make him available on the free agent market next season. The Yankees are in a lose-lose situation. If he pitches well, he will opt-out and get a larger contract from the Yankees or another team. He could also pitch poorly and stay put in the Bronx while reeling in the remaining $67 million dollars on the next three years of his deal. The Yankees have a tough decision ahead on the Tanaka’s future in pinstripes.


The Yankees could consider trading Tanaka this year. It makes more sense to get this done at the deadline if he has a good first half. This trade is more likely if the Yankees find themselves on the outside looking in from the playoffs in the middle of the summer. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Yankees to ship him out of town on a rental deal for a top prospect. This season is a rebuild no matter what the Yankees say. Best case scenario they possibly compete for a Wild Card spot. Title contention is a few years away for this team and there is no telling what the Yanks could get for a premium starting pitcher like Tanaka in this market. Tanaka would be one of the prized jewels of the trade market and the Yankees would brighten their future with another young star in the mix, if they go with the trade route.


Another very likely outcome would be the Yankees offering Tanaka a new contract with more years and more money. The Yanks have been known to be generous to their players when their contracts expire. Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia are still on the books in 2017 for over $20 million dollars each. Teams usually wind up regretting these types of deals with players because the production generally drops off immensely once a player gets into their late 30s. They can’t make the same mistake with Tanaka.

Tanaka is damaged goods, he still has a small tear in his UCL that could cost him an entire year if it gets worse. He also pitches better on extra rest; which is not something you want from your ace. He has never eclipsed the 200-inning mark since coming to America, though last year he came close with 199 2/3 innings. He enters this season at 28 years old and the deal would likely take him through his age 32 or 33 season. Those should be a players peak years, which would make the deal acceptable, but it feels as though there is a constant uneasiness about Tanaka’s elbow, which is alarming.

Tanaka has taken some velocity off of his fastball since his elbow injury, and has focused on his movement and the location of his pitches. He was still extremely effective, as he finished with a 3.07 ERA, 3rd in the American League, while competing for the ERA title until the end of the season. He also had a career high in WAR of 5.4, which was 3rd in the American League for pitchers, not to mention finishing 5th in the American League in FIP and WHIP.

The bombers also lack good pitching behind Tanaka. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia’s contracts are set to come off the books at season’s end, making things even more difficult for the club. There are definitely questions about giving Tanaka a big deal, but he might be the only sure thing the Yankees will find. They have some good young starters coming up in the minors who should get some opportunities soon, but the Yankees can’t rely on them just yet.

The Yanks definitely need to get this one right with all of the money they are expected to spend in free agency over the next few years. The Yankees are in good shape to be title contenders very soon, but the next few moves need to be wisely calculated to ensure the title window will be opened sooner rather than later.

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Spencer is the New York Yankees Lead Writer for
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