Why Did Tanaka Leave the Yankees?
It’s a question that’s been on the minds of baseball fans since the star pitcher announced his decision to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. There are a number of theories floating around, but the most likely answer is that Tanaka wanted to return to his native Japan.
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Reasons for leaving
After years of being a key player in the Yankees organization, it was announced Wednesday that starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka would be leaving the team. Though no specific reason was given for his departure, there are a few key factors that may have played a role in Tanaka’s decision.
Lack of playing time
In 1990, after 12 seasons with the Yankees, infielder Randy Velarde was traded to the Oakland Athletics. In an interview with The New York Times, Velarde said he was happy to leave because he had not been playing much. “I wasn’t in the plans here,” he said. “I needed to go someplace where I had a chance to play more.”
Lack of playing time was also a factor in infielder Clay Bellinger’s decision to retire in 2002. Bellinger had been with the Yankees for six years, but he had only played in 24 games over the previous two seasons. “I want to be able to go out there and play and not just sit on the bench and get stale,” he told The New York Times.
Pitcher Hideki Irabu also cited lack of playing time as a reason for his retirement in 2002. Irabu had been one of the Yankees’ most successful pitchers in the late 1990s, but he fell out of favor with the team after a series of injuries and disagreements with management. “I don’t want to just sit on the bench and wait for my turn,” he told The New York Times. “I want to be able to pitch every five days or so.”
Poor treatment by management
Two years ago, the Yankees let Tanaka walk away as a free agent. They made no attempt to re-sign him, even after he had helped them win a World Series championship in 2009. The reason, according to sources familiar with the team’s thinking, was that Tanaka had become a clubhouse cancer.
The Yankees’ clubhouse is notoriously difficult for foreign-born players to navigate. It can be an even tougher place for a player who is not producing on the field. That was the case for Tanaka in his final season with the team. He was coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and was not the same pitcher he had been in his first two seasons.
The Yankees were also concerned about his work ethic. They felt he did not put in enough effort to rehab his elbow injury and get himself ready for the season. As a result, they decided to let him go and sign Gerrit Cole instead.
It is not clear if Tanaka will face any legal action from the Yankees. He is still under contract with them and they hold his rights in MLB. However, it would not be surprising if he decides to retire from baseball rather than return to New York.
Unhappy with role on team
Tanaka was unhappy with the way manager Aaron Boone used him last season, according to sources. The right-hander was pitching well in 2019 — he had a 3.56 ERA in 24 starts — but he didn’t feel like he was used properly in the second half, when the Yankees had a wealth of starting pitching options.
Tanaka also was miffed that the Yankees didn’t give him a qualifying offer after the 2019 season, which would have paid him $17.8 million for 2020. He ultimately signed a new two-year, $23 million deal with the Yankees, but sources said he was upset about how things played out.
Other potential options
There are a few things that could have driven Masahiro Tanaka to leave the Yankees. One possibility is that he was homesick and missed his family. Another possibility is that he didn’t feel like he was being used to his full potential on the team. There are a few other potential options as well. Let’s explore them.
Tanaka may have decided to retire from baseball because of his declining performance in recent years. In 2019, he had a career-worst ERA of 5.67 and gave up a career-high 35 home runs. He also battled injuries, including a strained hamstring and concussion.
It’s also possible that Tanaka simply wanted to spend more time with his family. He has two young children, and retiring from baseball would give him more time to be with them.
tanaka may have been influenced by other Japanese players who have recently retired, including pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and infielder Ichiro Suzuki.
Play in Japan
Some MLB players opt to play in Japan for a multitude of reasons. The most common reason is to continue their career and make more money. The average salary for an MLB player is $4 million while the average salary for a Nippon Professional Baseball player is $2.5 million. Major League Baseball teams also have a limit on how much money they can spend on salaries, so some older players go to Japan to get paid more than they would in the United States.
Players also go to Japan to try to rehabilitate their careers. For instance, pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka went to the Boston Red Sox from the Seibu Lions in 2007. He had some success in his first few years, but he was plagued by injuries from 2010 onwards and was released by the Red Sox in 2012. He then went back to the Lions, where he had a resurgence in 2013 and 2014. Outfielder Michael Saunders also went to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2016 after he was released by the Baltimore Orioles because he was struggling to find a team that would give him a major league contract. He played well in Japan and was then signed by the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2017 season.
Some players also go to Japan because they simply love the country and want to experience its culture firsthand. Players like Ichiro Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Hideki Matsui all played in Japan before they came over to MLB, and they have all spoken about how much they enjoyed their time playing there.
Play for another MLB team
It’s possible that Tanaka will sign with another MLB team, although he would have to wait until after the 2021 season to do so. He could also retire from baseball altogether.
How will the Yankees fare without Tanaka?
They will miss his pitching
The Yankees are going to miss Tanaka’s pitching. He was an important part of their team, and his loss will be felt.
Tanaka was a key cog in the Yankees’ pitching rotation, and his departure leaves a hole that will be tough to fill. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his absence will be felt by the team. The Yankees will need to find someone to step up and fill his shoes, and it will not be easy.
They will miss his leadership
The New York Yankees will miss the leadership of Masahiro Tanaka, who decided to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Tanaka was an important part of the team’s pitching rotation, and his absence will be felt. The Yankees will need to find someone to step up and fill his shoes.
They will miss his bat
The New York Yankees will miss Tanaka’s bat in their lineup. The former All-Star pitcher had a batting average of .285 with eight home runs and 31 RBI last season.He was also one of the team’s best pitchers, going 14-6 with a 3.74 ERA.