Masahiro Tanaka‘s job this season is to give the Yankees an ace-like performance, especially since the starting rotation is a huge question mark for the Yankees.
But the looming question mark surrounding Tanaka has nothing to do with his performance. It has to do with his longevity with the team.
Tanaka has an opt-out clause in his contract following the 2017 season, and many are wondering if Tanaka is going to excersie it.
I can assure you the question isn’t will Tanaka opt out of his deal.
It’s when will Tanaka opt out of his deal.
The Yankees obviously want Tanaka to pitch like an ace, especially since his contract is expensive. However, the chances of the now frugal Yankees retaining Tanaka after the opt-out is slim. The Yankees are desperately trying to get under the luxury tax by the 2018 season, and with six weeks to go before the Yankees are slated to report for Spring Training, the team is trying to cut payroll just a bit further.
Whether the team actually does that is still to be seen.
Tanaka would obviously command a lot of money–the Yankees recently paid $155 Million for the ace’s services. And the Yankees currently don’t have an ace-like pitcher in the system to replace him.
CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are both slated to come off the books after the 2017 season. Pitchers like Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green and Luis Cessa are competing for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in Spring Training. And pitchers that the Yankees once envisioned entering the starting rotation years ago (Dellin Betances) ended up finding their niche in the bullpen.
Despite not having an ace potentially after the 2017 season, the Yankees still have a choice to make. They could either let Tanaka walk after the 2017 season, or they could get the most from the ace by trading him in the middle of season should the team exit from contention. Many questioned a similar move last season when the Yankees traded Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman in exchange for prospects. However, it worked out for all involved; the Yankees replenished their farm for the future, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and the Cleveland Indians were the American League Champions.
Regardless what happens with Tanaka, the Yankees need the ace to have a good season.
Even if it means potentially losing him after next year.