Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka nearing return to Japan

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

Masahiro Tanaka’s time not only with the New York Yankees but in the United States looks as though it’s nearly up.

A report from Sankei Sports in Tokyo revealed that the veteran right-handed pitcher could receive a contract offer from his original team, the Rakuten Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball, this week.

The 32-year-old made it known earlier this offseason that he will be open to all offers sent his way, including from the Yankees and teams in Japan. Offers from MLB teams, however, have come few and far between.

The suddenly-frugal Yankees, who are diligently staying under the league’s competitive balance tax threshold, made the retaining of star infielder DJ LeMahieu a top priority — committing a six-year, $90 million deal to the reigning AL batting champion.

To address an uncertain pitching staff that lacks stability behind ace Gerrit Cole, the Yankees have brought on two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and Cole’s former Pittsburgh teammate Jameson Taillon in cost-effective moves. However, Kluber has only pitched eight innings over the last two seasons while Taillon is coming off his second Tommy John surgery.

Taillon’s acquisition from the Pirates on Sunday ended most hopes that Tanaka would return to the Bronx, leaving the Yankees with their two new acquisitions, Luis Severino — also returning from Tommy John surgery — and a stable of young, unproven arms.

Tanaka spent the last seven seasons with the Yankees after coming over from Rakuten in Japan for a seven-year, $155 million deal. He went 78-46 with a 3.56 ERA in 173 starts, making two All-Star appearances and becoming one of the organization’s go-to arms in the playoffs. From 2015-2019, he posted a 1.76 postseason ERA over eight starts.

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