From the beginning to end MLB’s 60-game 2020 regular season provided difficulty in evaluating players, because of small sample size married to COVID-19 concerns that caused families to separate and players to fear being infected.
So, it is not a surprise the industry is all over the map about what Masahiro Tanaka will sign for when he becomes a free agent following the World Series.
Other than predicting Tanaka will return to The Bronx, there is a wide disparity of opinion concerning the terms of the contract he might receive from the Yankees, who like all teams took a financial beating this past season.
One voice said Tanaka could do better than the $23 million he made this past season when he went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts. It was a year in which Tanaka got drilled in the head by a spring-training 2.0 liner off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat that caused a concussion.
Another believed a two-year deal for $26 million was in line. A third voice wondered: Would the Yankees make him an $18.9 million qualifying offer and would Tanaka accept it? Finally, another evaluator said Tanaka could get three years for $36 million.
One thing is certain: The Yankees’ rotation needs to be retooled. In Tanaka, who just finished a seven-year, $155 million deal, the Yankees would know what they are getting, which is a pitcher who has thrived in The Bronx, where others have wilted.
Free agents James Paxton and J.A. Happ aren’t expected to return. So, at the moment the rotation consists of ace Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery. Youngsters Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt are candidates, but nothing more at this juncture. Free of his suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy, Domingo German’s future with the Yankees is cloudy. Luis Severino possibly won’t return from Tommy John surgery until June.
Trevor Bauer tops the free-agent list of starters, but if the Yankees want to get under the $210 million luxury tax ceiling, the right-hander might not fit their budget. Lower-cost free agents are possible and the field of non-tendered pitchers will be deeper than in other off-seasons.
“I think the starting rotation was at risk,’’ general manager Brian Cashman said of the postseason, when Tanaka posted a 12.38 ERA in two starts and Happ was deemed better backing up Garcia in Game 2 of the ALDS which resulted in a 7-5 loss to the Rays. “That needs to get improved upon.’’
Despite his subpar postseason, an NL scout remains impressed with Tanaka’s pitching IQ.
“He still knows how to maneuver his way through lineups,’’ the scout said of Tanaka, who will turn 32 on Nov. 1. “He is a competitor and you know what you are going to get from him. He certainly is still a good pitcher.’’
An AL scout mentioned Tanaka throwing more sliders than splitters this year, and the numbers back that up for the past two seasons. In games in August, September and October, Tanaka threw more sliders than splitters. That was also the case in 2019.
“He still has a four-pitch mix, throws the slider more than the split,’’ the scout said. “He commands the fastball and slider.’’
Ever since Tanaka’s rookie year (2014), when he suffered a small tear of the right ulnar collateral ligament, which wasn’t surgically repaired, teams have wondered about the elbow. From 2015-20, however, Tanaka made 153 starts while posting a 65-41 record and 3.88 ERA. In 10 career postseason starts, Tanaka is 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA. In two postseason outings this year, Tanaka posted a 12.38 ERA against the Indians and Rays.
This past Wednesday, Cashman gushed about what Tanaka has meant to the Yankees across the past seven seasons.
“He has been very special since he has been here,’’ Cashman said of Tanaka, who is 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA in 174 games (173 starts) as a Yankee.
Then, Cashman addressed the uncertainty that free agency brings.
“Obviously we enter the winter now as free agency he has another opportunity to enter free agency like he did when he left Japan and that is an unpredictable times how things happen,’’ Cashman said. “So far I thought he was special and fantastic. Everything we thought he could be, he was as advertised.’’