The Runner Sports

Masahiro Tanaka Or CC Sabathia? The Yankees’ Answer Might Surprise You

As the New York Yankees are in the midst of the playoff race (where they currently sit 1.5 games ahead of the second Wild Card spot), it is difficult to start looking ahead to the offseason. The Yankees have a month left to go in the season to solidify their playoff spot. Though the AL East title is more of a dream than a reality, a four-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox would bring the Yankees within a game and a half. With the season hitting the home stretch, a postseason push happening, and speculation about which top prospects migth be called up, this article will talk about the upcoming offseason. Specifically in regards to Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia, both who can become free agents at the end of the season.

In Jon Heyman’s recent AL Notes, there was a bit of surprising news in regards to the two veteran Yankees in the rotation. Heyman reports that the Yankees would not chase after Masahiro Tanaka too furiously if he decided to opt out of his current contract. On the flip side, the Yankees would be interested in bringing back C.C. Sabathia on a one-year deal. This is very interesting to think about given how important these two have been for the Yankees. Sabathia led the pitching staff in 2009 to winning the World Series while Tanaka has been the lone, consistent spotlight (outside the bullpen) for the Yankees since being signed before the 2014 season.

What is most surprising about this reported thought process for the Yankees is the lack of interest to pursue Masahiro Tanaka. Even with his shaky 2017, he has been great for the Bronx Bombers. In addition to that, the Yankees spent the $20 million posting fee in order to sign him to his seven-year/$155 million deal. According to the report, if Tanaka were to opt out of his deal, the Yankees would only offer him what is remaining on his current contract to re-sign him. While the market for starting pitching can be odd and unpredictable, it would appear to be set in stone that Tanaka will pitch elsewhere in 2018 if he decides to opt out.

Will Masahiro Tanaka Opt Out?

At a glance, Tanaka’s 2017 statistics so far would indicate that he will most likely decide against opting out. His ERA is 4.69 with 29 home runs allowed. On top of those poor numbers, Tanaka has experienced arm injuries over the course of his four-year MLB career. With those two things in mind, it would not seem that Tanaka would draw a strong market if he decided to opt out.

However, Tanaka has come on strong as of late. Since the All-Star break, Tanaka has been more of himself over his last seven starts. His ERA is 2.96 and he has averaged a little over 7 strikeouts per game. Actually, his 155 strikeouts on the season ranks him tenth in the AL for strikeouts. Also, Tanaka has only given up 6 home runs in those seven starts, which has been his main downfall this season. One would figure that Tanaka has about four or five starts left this season. If he continues to produce like this, teams may ignore the first half and focus on how good Tanaka was in the second. That is especially true if he pitches well in postseason play, if the Yankees get there.

A Weak Market Might Say Yes

Heading into the season, Masahiro Tanaka was considered the third best starting pitcher who could be a free agent after the 2017 campaign. Now, an argument can be made that he could be considered the best starter on the market. Personally, I think Yu Darvish will still hold that distinction. However, Darvish finds himself on the DL again after being acquired by the Los Angeles Angels. While Tanaka has had his share of injury problems, Darvish’s injuries have been more severe. Jake Arrieta was supposed to be competing for the spot as well. While his numbers are solid (3.36 ERA and 153 strikeouts), there is an air of disappointment after his 2015 Cy Young season and strong 2016.

Even if most teams rank Tanaka behind these two starting pitchers, he will be the third best starting pitcher who is comparable to Arrieta and Darvish. If I were advising Tanaka, I would say remain with the Yankees. A weak market does not always equal more money or even interest. Think about this past offseason; only Rich Hill received much fanfare as a starting pitcher. In a market, that will be dominated by Darvish and Arrieta, I would give them the edge over Tanaka. However, I believe that Tanaka will opt out.

Is Shohei Otani The Reason?

Shohei Otani is the new prized Japanese player that has all of the MLB salivating over. Marketed as the Japanese Babe Ruth, Otani is drawing interest from most MLB teams, including the New York Yankees. It seems uncertain whether Otani will be posted during the offseason, but there is that possibility out there. Could that be the reason why the Yankees are comfortable with allowing Masahiro Tanaka to walk? Not only was Brian Cashman in Japan for Otani’s recent game, the Yankees have been accumulating international money. Remember, in the Sonny Gray trade, the Oakland A’s sent over $1.5 million in international money.

Beyond the doubt about whether Otani will even be available or not, there is no certainty that the Yankees will land Otani. Other big teams (such as the Boston Red Sox) will be in the running to land Otani along with the Yankees. The days of bidding wars over the posting fee are over, which could make it more difficult for the Yankees to sign the Japanese superstar. While I believe there is a link between the two, I would be surprised that Cashman would bank on an unknown over Tanaka.

Or Is It Chance Adams?

This is the player that I would believe would majorly factor into the thought of letting Masahiro Tanaka go without much of a fight. Chance Adams, who has been tremendous in Triple-A this season (2.89 ERA in 21 starts), is the next big pitching prospect in the organization. Some fans have clamored for the young right-hander to be called up to the majors this season. After his year in Triple-A, it would be assumed that Adams has a strong chance (pardon the pun) of being the fifth man in the rotation. Allowing Tanaka to walk away could open a spot for Adams next season, depending on whether Otani and/or Sabathia are on the Yankees in 2018.

C.C. Sabathia Back Again?

What C.C. Sabathia has been able to accomplish this season is quite impressive. At the age of 37, Sabathia has reinvented himself by using his off-speed pitches more to compensate for his declining fastball. Sure, it took him three or four seasons to figure it out. However, his 3.71 this year has been a great boost for the Yankees.

If Sabathia is willing to sign a one-year deal (and most likely a hometown discount), Brian Cashman would be more than willing to re-sign him. I think that move would be smart by the Yankees. If Sabathia does not re-sign and Tanaka remains under contract, the oldest pitcher in the rotation would be Tanaka (29 in 2018) and Sonny Gray would have the most MLB experience at five years. A young staff could use a veteran like Sabathia who has experienced success, postseason triumph, and recreating himself as a pitcher. Even if Sabathia’s ERA floats over 4 next season, his true value will be measured by what he passes on to the younger players.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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  • fuster

    or it might even be that the Yankees plan to persuade San Fran to trade Bumgarner

    • andrew farelli

      I don’t think the yankees would be comfortable in paying the likely price to acquire him

      • fuster

        Clint Frazier, Starlin Castro and either Montgomery or Sheffield would be a reasonable package and one the the Yankees could quite comfortably afford

        • Griffin Fuller

          While it is intriguing to consider Bumgarner being to traded to the Yankees, I highly doubt that the Yankees would do a trade like that this offseason. With Gray and Severino as the established one and two, the Yankees will look to their system rather than use prospects to be part of deal.

          What is more likely is that Tanaka will opt out and leave, leaving the rotation down to Gray, Severino, and Montgomery. Adams or Sheffield will be five. Now, Cashman (if he is still GM) will either try to trade Ellsbury for a veteran pitcher or sign Sabathia back on a one year deal.

          If the Yankees do a deal with the Giants, it will be more likely that it will be for Jeff Samardzija in a bad contract swap.

          • fuster

            with Tanaka, Grey and Severino they have three very good starting pitchers….. but a team looking to win a World Series wants to have at least four.

            neither Montgomery, Adams or Sheffield have demonstrated that they are a good starting pitcher.

            certainly Cashman will continue to try to trade Ellsbury, but there won’t be any realistic expectation of that, as you clearly understand.

            the Yankees will look to retain Tanaka and add a pitcher as least as good as Tanaka..or they will lose him and then look to add TWO pitchers that good.

            I would imagine that they hope to add Bumgarner who is paid a rather modest $12M for the two seasons after this and also hope to add Otani….

            ,,,, but if they can get neither then they will likely consider higher-priced free agents such as Darvish

          • Griffin Fuller

            Having Gray, Severino, and Tanaka as 1-3 would be an excellent rotation. While the report from Heyman says that the Yankees will not chase Tanaka heavily, it is hard to imagine them not pursuing him if he opted out. It is September and things can change come November/December.

            I agree that Bumgarner is on a team friendly deal, which would be great. However, the Yankees most likely will not part with Torres, Frazier, Adams, or Florial this offseason. Thats why I don’t believe Bumgarner or any top pitching trade will happen.

            You’re right about needing quality arms for the rotation. While Cashman has sought to follow the Kansas City model, it is almost fact that the starting rotation is key to World Series winners. Last year, the Indians lost because two of their top starters were hurt. However, Montgomery is solid. He’s a definite 4-5 right now, but he’s solid.

            Otani sounds like priority number one for the Yankees this offseason. Darvish should not be considered and I doubt he will be. Too many injury problems and he will cost more than Tanaka. At that point, I would predict the Yankees sign Tanaka over Darvish.

            Ellsbury will be hard to deal. But I think it’s best for all parties if he is traded.

          • fuster

            why wouldn’t the Yankee be willing to part with Frazier?

            without him, they still have 4 good outfielders on the 25-man roster and another good outfield prospect in Florial

            not to mention that the Yankees have an interest in acquiring a left-handed power-hitting corner outfielder after next season.

            if the Yankees have a chance to package a surplus corner outfielder such as Frazier in exchange for an ace lefty starter can think of no reason to retain him

          • Griffin Fuller

            I agree with you to an extent. But, Hicks is in the middle of his lone good season and he has been to the DL twice, Ellsbury already lost time to Frazier this season, and Gardner is a free agent after next season. Frazier is penciled in at left field for the 2019 season.

            Look at what the Yankees did this trade deadline. The best prospect that they traded was an outfielder in High A. They kept every prospect that they believe can contribute in the next few seasons.

            Honestly, if Judge, Frazier, and Hicks can produce at good levels, the Yankees might not need to cash in on Harper. While those three most likley will not match Harper, it save money to go after positions of weakness.

            The Yankees have the assets to tade for anybody realistically. If the Angels made a certain center fielder available, the Yankees would be one of few teams who could make a strong enough deal. Even after trading away four top twelve prospects, the Yankees still have one of the best farm systems. The issue will be willingness, which, even for a pitcher of Bumgarnder’s pedigree, will not be there for a large scale move.

          • fuster

            the best traded prospects were Mateo and Kaprielian, not Rutherford.

            the Yankees don’t really need Frazier’s right-handed bat. they’ve got plenty of right-handed pop with Judge and Sanchez….. and they have a much better righty hitting prospect in Gleyber Torres.

            they need lefty power, Griffin. no matter what, they still are going to play half of their games in Yankee Stadium and Bird is their only potential lefty power bat.

            and if they forego Harper, their other potential lefty power would come from Florial …which would further serve to make Frazier superfluous