Free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is leaving Major League Baseball to return to Japan's Rakuten Eagles. Tanaka and the team made the announcement Thursday. Tanaka, 32, began his professional career with the Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, where he pitched from 2007 through 2013, but then spent the last seven seasons with the New York Yankees in MLB.
Over those seven seasons, Tanaka went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+) and a K/BB ratio of 4.76. Tanaka was a two-time All-Star with the Yankees, and he finished seventh in the AL Cy Young balloting in 2016. He also made 10 postseason starts for the Yankees with a 3.33 ERA. This past season, Tanaka made 10 starts across the abbreviated 60-game regular season with a 3.56 ERA and a 5.50 K/BB. Coming into the offseason, our R.J. Anderson ranked Tanaka 10th among all 2020-21 free agents in MLB.
"I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons," Tanaka wrote on Twitter. "I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. It has been an honor and a privilege!"
The Yankees figured to prioritize a Tanaka re-signing this offseason, but instead went in a different direction to round out their rotation. They've signed Corey Kluber to a low-cost deal and swung a trade for Jameson Taillon. Given that the Yankees are prioritizing staying under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, there was likely no room in their budget for Tanaka. His stabilizing presence in the rotation will surely be missed.
Tanaka no doubt was of interest to any number of MLB teams, but so few of those teams were willing to make even modest investments in the roster this winter. Tanaka might have viewed the generally non-competitive landscape in MLB and determined that a return to Japan was his best option.