Masahiro Tanaka has reached an agreement with the Rakuten Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Tanaka, who began his professional career with the team from 2007-13, returns to Japan after a seven-year MLB career with the Yankees.
Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees in 2014 after posting a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA in 2013, the final season of his first stint with the Rakuten Eagles.
The 32-year-old right-hander posted a 3.74 ERA in 174 games (173 starts) with New York. He had a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts in 2020.
And when the lights were brightest, he only got better. Tanaka had a 3.33 ERA in 10 postseason starts for the Yankees, winning five and striking out 44 in 54 innings.
“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,” Tanaka tweeted. “It has been an honor and a privilege!”
Tanaka was always a fan favorite, as well as a locker room favorite.
Tanaka is a rigorous worker and a gleeful clubhouse presence. Each afternoon before he made a start, he sat cross-legged at his locker, writing out his goals and objectives before he takes the mound.
On the days he did not pitch, he could be found laughing at a teammate’s joke, trotting out some phrases in Spanish, or shaking his head sarcastically at this reporter’s audaciously probing questions.
Those around him with the Yankees exuded a singular measure of respect for Tanaka: They didn’t want to let him down.
He will be remembered by Yankees fans as a consummate pro who took his craft seriously, even through the ups and downs.
He’ll be remembered for pitching with a partially torn UCL despite early fears in his seven-year contract that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery. That commitment to giving it all, despite it not particularly being best for him, is something Yankees fans will always appreciate Tanaka for.
Tanaka treated every game as a must-win and was beloved by his teammates for his diligence and sense of humor.
Losing Tanaka stings a little, maybe more than we feel it now. The Yankees badly needed to add starting pitching, and they ddi that by acquiring Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon this offseason, but are they as good and reliable as Tanaka? Certainly not as reliable as the two combined to throw one inning a year ago.
It is unclear what the issue was — contract terms or projected performance, but the two sides went their own way.
Tanaka didn’t get a ceremonious ending with the Yankees, one he deserved. It was unfitting and unfortunate that his final regular season game he was let down by his teammates sloppy play, then his final playoff game where he let them down.
But Tanaka showed loyalty through and through. He didn’t want to pitch for any MLB team other than the Yankees. So he returned home to his former team.
He goes out the way he came in, with class and dedication.
Thank you for everything, Masahiro Tanaka 💙 pic.twitter.com/qGoHtt4ydp
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) January 28, 2021
— Gary Sanchez (@ElGarySanchez) January 28, 2021