Although he wasn’t necessarily expected to leave New York, this is still a really big surprise.
One of the biggest names who could have broken the bank in the free agent market has decided to opt-in and stay with his team:
— Yankees PR Dept. (@YankeesPR) November 3, 2017
The New York Yankees shared a statement from right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, in which the 28-year-old starting pitcher reveals he will not opt out of the final three years of his contract. Instead, Tanaka opts in to what’s left on the megadeal he signed four years ago – which features three years and $67 million in guarantees. Tanaka has accumulated 12.7 fWAR over the last four years, which ranks as the 22nd most among starting pitchers since 2014.
Tanaka was the fifth highest-rated free agent on the market and third among starting pitchers by MLB Trade Rumors, which projected him to go to the Philadelphia Phillies on a five-year deal worth $100 million.
It’s not much of a shock Tanaka has chosen to stay in New York, but it is a bit surprising he didn’t at least test the market before returning to the Yankees. However, a relatively disappointing year (4.74 ERA, 4.34 FIP) and lingering concerns about pitching with a partially torn UCL could have been limiting factors had he reached free agency. Signing with a new team would mean a new physical, and perhaps there was concern an MRI would have been required – which could have revealed further deterioration in his elbow and completely tanked his market.
Even if Tanaka wasn’t going to be a primary free agent target for the Cubs, Tanaka being off the market means there is one less starter who can drive free agency costs (which is to say, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish can probably stay slightly more aggressive in their demands now).
Of course, the flip side of that is the possibility that the Yankees were counting on an opt out, and instead planned to heavily pursue other arms instead of Tanaka. If that were the case, this decision actually improves the market from the perspective of other teams, like the Cubs, seeking free agent pitching.
Absent an announcement this offseason that Tanaka is getting elbow surgery, though, we might not know how that factored into this decision until and unless his elbow goes pop. Given that Tanaka could have opted out and simply tacked on a year or two to his deal with the Yankees (as Justin Upton did with the Angels), it certainly does make you wonder about that elbow.
Whatever the truth, cross Tanaka off your free agent boards, and start wondering whether this takes the Yankees out of the market for any of the other first or second tier free agent arms.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.