By Joe Pantorno
The rumor mill reached a fever pitch of sorts over the weekend regarding long-time Yankees pitcher and free-agent Masahiro Tanaka, only to disclose that all options are on the table for the 32-year-old right-hander.
Tanaka denied a report on Saturday night from NJ.com that he would only pitch for the Yankees next season or return to play in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization in Japan, where he pitched from 2007-2013 before arriving in the Bronx.
“At this stage, we are not limiting the teams we want to play [for] next season, but we are thinking [about] all the teams that are interested in us,” Tanaka wrote, as translated from Japanese.
Tanaka did not rule out returning to Japan, however. Appearing on the Japanese radio show “All Night Nippon,” he disclosed that a reunion with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles or a deal with the high-powered Yomiuri Giants is not out of the realm of possibilities (h/t Ken Davidoff, New York Post)
While specific interested MLB teams are unknown, there is obvious intrigue in Tanaka on the free-agency market. Over the last seven seasons with the Yankees, he posted a 3.74 ERA, a 1.130 WHIP, and just a 1.9 walks-per-nine-innings rate, making him a stable option to bolster any rotation looking for depth.
It appears as though Tanaka’s return to the Bronx is contingent on what the Yankees are able to do with star infielder and 2020 AL Batting Champion, DJ LeMahieu. The two parties have been far apart on negotiations despite the veteran’s status as the Yankees’ No. 1 priority this offseason.
If they have to go over budget to retain LeMahieu, there might be enough left in the bank for the suddenly-frugal franchise to keep Tanaka, too. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Tanaka’s next deal near the three-year, $39 million mark, which carries an average annual value of $13 million. That certainly makes him an affordable option for many other franchises — most notably, the crosstown-rival Mets who continue to search for rotational depth this winter.