Masahiro Tanaka could leave MLB altogether

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Out of sight, out of mind, out of Major League Baseball altogether?

Masahiro Tanaka has acknowledged publicly an intriguing possibility regarding his free agency: The right-hander, having completed a successful seven-year run with the Yankees, is considering a return to his native Japan to pitch in 2021.

On “All Night Nippon,” a Japanese radio talk show, Tanaka said the possibility of returning to Japan is “not zero.”

Going back to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, his original team from 2007-13, is “not zero in me at all,” Tanaka said Friday. Nor would joining the Yomiuri Giants, widely regarded as the Yankees of Japan, be out of the question.

The 32-year-old, along with most of his free-agency class, has been a casualty of the economic pain caused by the novel coronavirus, with clubs’ revenues slashed dramatically in 2020 and an uncertain forecast for the upcoming campaign. At the end of last season, Tanaka made clear his interest in re-upping with the Yankees. Since 2014, he has posted a 3.74 ERA and 114 ERA+ over 1,054 ¹/₃ innings pitched, plus a 3.33 ERA in 10 postseason starts (including a 3.56 regular-season ERA and 12.38 postseason ERA in 2020), making the Yankees’ seven-year, $155-million commitment to him a success.

Yet the Yankees’ top priority remains re-signing second baseman DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees have maintained communication with two more of their own free agents, Tanaka and outfielder Brett Gardner, informing the respected duo they can’t commit to potential contract terms until they resolve LeMahieu’s status. That action, whether LeMahieu returns to the Yankees or signs elsewhere, will clarify the team’s payroll flexibility.

As Tanaka told the radio show, when asked about where he might pitch next, “I can’t do it without an offer.”

Tanaka also took to Twitter on Saturday to dispel, in Japanese, a report (by that he would pitch only for the Yankees in MLB next season and otherwise would pitch in Japan.

Wrote Tanaka (via Google Translate): “At this stage, we are not limiting the teams we want to play [for] next season, but we are thinking [about] all the teams that are interested in us.”

It’s believed Tanaka and his family have grown to enjoy New York so much that the pitcher would consider signing with the Mets, who in turn are trying to bolster their starting rotation.

Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton are all free agents, so the Yankees find themselves lacking in starting-pitching certainty behind ace Gerrit Cole. Former ace Luis Severino could return from February 2020 Tommy John surgery by the All-Star break; right-hander Domingo German is eligible to return following a domestic-violence suspension; Jordan Montgomery hopes to build on some encouraging results from last season; and youngsters Deivi Garcia, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt will be in the mix as well. Tanaka, having proven reliable despite slightly tearing the UCL in his right elbow during the 2014 season, would provide the Yankees with an extra layer of certainty.

SNY first reported Tanaka’s stated consideration to pitch next in Japan.

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