At the end of the 2017 season, Masahiro Tanaka was faced with a choice. Opt-out of his 7 year, $155 million contract and test the open market, or stay with the Yankees. The 29-year-old obviously chose to stay in the pinstripes, making the decision less than a month into the offseason.
He insists he never seriously considered leaving the Bronx, stating a desire to build upon the team’s accomplishments from last season.
“I’ve been with the organization four years,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter Wednesday. “We went into battle with these guys. Last year, especially, went where we wanted to go. My thought was, ‘I want to go out and battle with these guys again and try to get where we really want to get.’ That was my thought process about returning to the Yankees.
“I really prioritized what I felt inside. I’m sure there were possibilities [elsewhere], but the important thing for me was to follow what my heart was saying, and that’s what I did.”
Considering how historically slow this offseason has unfolded with so many big names on the market, it’s easy to see that Tanaka’s decision was a smart one. He’s happy to not be in the same boat as the Jake Arrieta’s and Alex Cobb’s, who are still looking for a job.
“You want to be here [with your team] and get ready for the season,” Tanaka said after working out at the Yankees’ minor league complex. “On that note, it was good for me to know where I’m going earlier and be able to be here and start out my work — but you would never know after the season was over, it was going to turn into something like this.”
Despite setting a career high in strikeouts in 2017, Tanaka also posted his worst ERA and WHIP in a 13-12 campaign. On top of that, he gave up 35 homers and issued 41 walks, both of which were career highs. He declined to discuss the adjustments he intends to make to lower those numbers this season, but does admit he knows what changes are needed.
After compiling a 6.34 ERA through June 23, the right-hander found his groove and ended the season on a high note. He cut his ERA nearly in half across his final 16 outings, pitching to a 3.54 mark. Even more brilliant were his three postseason starts. He allowed just two runs over 20 innings (0.90 ERA) while striking out 18 and walking only three. This is the success he wants to build off of in 2018.
“I want to try to get back to where things were when I left off last season,” Tanaka said. “Obviously, the start of the season was really shaky. I felt like I was making adjustments and adjustments and adjustments throughout the season, and finally it seemed everything kind of came together towards the end.”
His expectations for his fellow pitchers are the same as his own. Improve.
“The hard part about being in this league is to be consistent in your performance every year,” he said. “They have the potential. Now the important thing for them is to replicate or be better than what they did the previous year.”