By Joe Pantorno
Masahiro Tanaka made it official on Thursday morning, announcing that his seven-year run with the New York Yankees and in Major League Baseball is officially over. The 32-year-old right-hander has signed on with his former team in the Japanese Nippon Baseball Organization, the Rakuten Eagles.
“We have signed a contract with Rakuten Eagles,” Tanaka released in a statement, which has been translated from Japanese. “We are planning to hold an enrollment meeting at a later date about the circumstances and thoughts that led to the decision to play in Japan this season, so I would like to tell you at that seat.”
“Welcome home, our hero!” the team wrote on its official release announcing the Tanaka reacquisition.
Tanaka pitched seven seasons in Rakuten where he became one of the most highly-prized international free agents in recent memory. In 175 games, he went 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA and 1,244 strikeouts.
The Yankees outbid a crowded market for the righty in 2014, agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million deal.
He became a reliable fixture with the Yankees’ starting rotation, going 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.76. With it came two All-Star Game selections and a 2016 season in which he finished fifth in the American League Cy Young Award voting after going 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA.
It was in the postseason that Tanaka really left his mark. Before a difficult showing this fall, he allowed just nine earned runs in 46.0 playoff innings pitched from 2015-2019. Over two gutsy appearances in the 2017 and 2019 ALCS, Tanaka was even better, allowing just four runs on 12 hits in 24 combined innings of work.
But the suddenly-frugal Yankees, who have remained resolute on the notion that they will stay under MLB’s competitive balance tax threshold, did not make re-signing the free-agent Tanaka a priority this offseason. Instead, they threw most of their resources to retain the defending AL batting champion, DJ LeMahieu.
With a questionable pitching staff behind Gerrit Cole, the Yankees added the high-risk, high-reward — and cheaper — acquisitions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, pitched just eight innings over the last two seasons while Taillon missed the entire 2020 season due to a second Tommy John surgery.
The market outside of the Yankees amongst Major League Baseball also proved to be scarce, paving the way for Tanaka to make his return back to Rakuten.