Masahiro Tanaka’s future with Yankees could boil down to DJ LeMahieu’s return

Free-agent starter Masahiro Tanaka, who spent seven years with the Yankees, has recently been linked with the crosstown Mets.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

By Joe Pantorno

DJ LeMahieu’s future with the New York Yankees could very well dictate what’s next for starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. 

Michael Kay, the voice of the Yankees on YES Network, shed some insight on the club’s offseason plans on Monday night as an offseason of uncertainty awaits.

“Their No. 1 priority, the organization wants to sign DJ LeMahieu,” Kay said on his ESPN Radio show. “Now, can I sit here and tell you that it’s for whatever cost for however many years? No, I can’t. But that’s what they want, and everything else is going to play off of that.

“And from what I’ve heard, if they get LeMahieu — it’s going to cost money — that might be the last big guy they get. So if everybody thinks it’s a fait accompli that Tanaka is coming back, I would really, really not hold my breath.”

LeMahieu is one of the top free agents available this offseason and his ability to play multiple infield positions only improves his value. The 32-year-old experienced a resurgence in the Bronx, slashing .336/.386/.536 with 36 home runs and 129 RBI over two seasons. That included winning a batting title in 2020 behind a .364 average. 

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Mets, Blue Jays, and Dodgers have expressed interest in him. 

While the parameters of an expected contract are unknown, Fangraphs‘ crowdsourcing has LeMahieu’s future contract in the three-year, $42 million range, which would carry an average annual value of $14 million. 

With the Yankees reportedly working under a strict budget after taking a financial hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there might be enough funds to bring Tanaka back after the team also exercised Zack Britton’s $13 million option for next year. 

Andy Martino of SNY reported on Tuesday that they are doing next-to-nothing on the Tanaka market. 

The 32-year-old has spent all seven of his MLB seasons with the Yankees, making two All-Star appearances while going 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA.

He’s one of the featured names in a second-tier of free-agent starting pitchers available that also include Jake Odorizzi and Corey Kluber.

Should the Yankees move on from Tanaka, they would be lef with the likes of Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, Jordan Montgomery, Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, and Nick Nelson to fight for rotation spots behind Gerrit Cole before Luis Severino returns. 

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