Home / Sports / Masahiro Tanaka returning gives Yankees title-caliber rotation

Masahiro Tanaka returning gives Yankees title-caliber rotation

The Yankees’ offseason just got a lot simpler for Brian Cashman. Well, other than hiring a manager, which the GM seems content to take his time in doing.

But with Masahiro Tanaka deciding on Friday not to invoke the opt-out clause in his contract, Cashman doesn’t have to worry about Plan B to add a starting pitcher for next season and beyond.

In fact, if the Yankees bring back CC Sabathia on a one-year deal, which seems very possible, this team could, at the very least, have the same starting rotation in 2018 that pitched very well in October, pushing the world champion Astros to Game 7 of the ALCS.

That is: Luis Severino, Tanaka, Sabathia and Sonny Gray, as well as fifth starter Jordan Montgomery. All but Sabathia are under 30 years old.

In addition, Chance Adams could make a push after a strong season in Triple-A, and the Yankees might be inclined to try Chad Green as a starter again after his dominant season in the bullpen.

And then there is the wild-card for next season, Shohei Otani. He’s supposed to be the next big thing from Japan, at least as good as Tanaka on the mound, and a big-time hitter as well.

OCT. 18, 2017, FILE PHOTO

Masahiro Tanaka not invoking the opt-out clause in his contract means Brian Cashman doesn’t have to worry about Plan B to add a starting pitcher for next season and beyond.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

The Yankees want him badly, but unlike with Tanaka, they can’t make it happen by simply outbidding the competition. It’s complicated, partly because changes in the collective bargaining agreement mean the 23-year-old Otani can’t be a true free agent until he’s 25, so if he came to the majors this winter he’d be limited to signing a one-year bonus in the $ 3-5 million range from a team’s international spending pool.

It’s further complicated by the fact that the posting system between Japanese baseball and MLB has expired, and there is disagreement on both sides about how to go forward.

Nevertheless, there is also considerable talk among baseball people that Otani’s preference is to play in New York next season, even if he can’t command a huge contract, but obviously it’s nothing the Yankees can count on at the moment.

With Tanaka back, however, at least now they can look at Otani as more of a luxury than a necessity.

Simply put, the Yankees should have a championship-caliber rotation, especially if they can complement it again with a deep bullpen. Remember, it was the offense, not the pitching, that ultimately failed against the Astros.

That doesn’t mean Cashman wouldn’t be open to considering other ideas. There’s always a chance he could trade for more pitching, as it’s possible he would look to deal either Starlin Castro or Chase Headley to make room for Gleyber Torres, or he might deem it necessary to move Brett Gardner to clear space for Clint Frazier.

(Obviously the Yankees would love to trade Jacoby Ellsbury instead to unclog the outfield, but they would have to eat much of the remaining three years, $ 63.4 million on his contract to make such a notion realistic).

All in all, this qualifies as good news for the Yankees, but only because Tanaka restored their faith in him with some brilliant pitching in the postseason, putting up a 0.90 ERA as he allowed only two runs in 20 innings over three starts.

In doing so, Tanaka reclaimed the reputation he had in Japan as a big-game pitcher and made good on the $ 175 million the Yankees bid, including posting fee, to get him.

His impressive October also made it easier to forget how inconsistent Tanaka was during the regular season, when he went 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA, and had the Yankees often scratching their heads for answers.

Masahiro Tanaka redeemed himself in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka redeemed himself in the playoffs.

(Shanna Lockwood/USA Today Sports)

Until the postseason, there was a feeling the Yankees were hoping he would opt out, so they could be out from under the remaining three years and $ 67 million on his contract.

I never thought he’d do it, however, because I didn’t think another team would be willing to pay him significantly more than that, especially knowing he still has the partial tear in his elbow ligament.

And though Tanaka said in a statement on Friday that he is staying because he’s happy pitching for the Yankees, you can bet his agent didn’t like the feedback he was getting from potential suitors about a long-term deal.

So instead he stays, and not that Tanaka is a bargain at $ 22-23 million for each of the next three seasons, but for Cashman it’s a much better alternative to signing someone like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish to a four- or five-year mega-deal.

Now the Yankees can bring back Sabathia on a one-year deal at, say, $ 12 million, and feel good about their starting pitching, with or without Otani.

They’ll surely want more from Tanaka in the regular season, however. He had far too many clunkers, giving up 35 home runs along the way, yet his October brilliance superseded his regular season shortcomings and made Friday a happy day for Cashman and the Yankees.

A minor move here and there, starting with a manager, and they’re good to go in 2018.  

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