Masahiro Tanaka just added an unusual chapter to his baseball narrative, and he sounds fully ready to add another one shortly.
Following a successful seven-year run with the Yankees, the 32-year-old returned to his native Japan to pitch for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the club with which he established his star power. Historically, Japanese players who take the leap to Major League Baseball have headed home only to write their final chapter, as occurred with the likes of Hiroki Kuroda, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Takashi Saito.
Tanaka, however, sounds like someone very open to a second MLB act even after this homecoming.
“I feel I have unfinished business in America, and I haven’t given up on that, so they agreed on terms that would keep those options open,” Tanaka said Saturday at a press conference held by the Golden Eagles. “Without throwing away those goals, I really want to win a Japan championship here. But there are no guarantees in this world, so my first goal is to give it all I have for this season.”
While Tanaka signed a two-year contract for 900 million yen, which equates to about $17 million, the right-hander’s comments indicate that Tanaka will be allowed to opt out of the second season to explore MLB possibilities.
He surely could have found an MLB job in 2021, just not necessarily with the team he wanted for the dollars he desired.
“At the instant I became a free agent, truthfully, my desire was to re-sign with the Yankees and continue playing for them,” Tanaka said. “But at a very early stage, I heard from them through my agent and felt it would be better if I considered other options, which I considered, including a return to Japan.”
Brian Cashman said on Friday that the Yankees decided that “fitting in two [pitchers] for, in theory the price of one, was maybe a better strategy,” those two pitchers being free agent Corey Kluber and trade acquisition Jameson Taillon. Cashman added that he’d be open to a reunion with Tanaka down the road.