Masahiro Tanaka is under unusual pressure. He’s kicking himself for his lackluster performance on Opening Day. That’s obvious. What is unusual for him, perhaps, is how the pressure is mounting from the off-the-field discussions about his contract and the infamous opt-out clause. On Friday, he made a tense statement about how the talk around the contract and the clause will not affect his pitching performance. Of course, that cannot possibly be true, but I understand why he is saying that. He wants to play honorably, do his best for the team, and I respect him for that. That doesn’t change the fact that his performance will have everything to do with whether he exercises the opt-out clause, what the Yankees will do if he does, and what his options will be. If you’re Tanaka, that’s a powerful incentive to make sure you pitch as close to Cy Young quality as humanly possible.
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Tanaka finished last year with the 3rd best ERA in the AL (3.07), 5th best WHIP (1.077), 3rd best BB/9 (1.6), and 4th best Team W/L% (23-8, .742). There’s a reason why he’s the ace and, more importantly, why he is the main guy around whom you want to build the future rotation. CC Sabathia is in the last year of his contract, and it may be his last season as a Yankee, maybe the last of his career. Michael Pineda is year to year, and while he has flashes of brilliance, he always reverts to the guy we saw last Wednesday. Tank’s the man, and if he pitches as brilliantly as we know he can, we’ll probably lose him. If he has that kind of season, why wouldn’t he exercise the clause? Monster free agent deals for premiere players is the new normal in baseball. The Yankees, likely still trying to wash away the stink of the 2007 A-Rod deal, have said they will not offer Tanaka a “costly, long-term extension” (as reported by the Daily News here). Tanaka’s full no-trade clause would handcuff the Yankees in terms of any trades to get some value back for him, assuming they thought he wouldn’t return for 2018.
|(Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)|
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