By Ernie Palladino
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The grass in the neighbor’s yard may indeed be greener, but sometimes it’s just best to stay home.
The choice Masahiro Tanaka faces as Saturday’s deadline for opting out of his contract approaches looks a lot like that. And to be honest, he might be crazy to leave the last three comfortable years of his Yankee deal behind to pursue life in more financially verdant pastures.
For one thing, there’s no guarantee that Tanaka finds a taker that will better the $67 million the Yanks will still owe him if he stays. Though he only turned 29 on Wednesday, an age where pitchers hit their prime years, there’s still that partially frayed ulnar ligament in his pitching elbow that could cause a new team no small amount of anxiety.
Joe Girardi knew how to handle it. Whoever takes over his job, whether he be a Yankee insider or outsider, will have to grow accustomed to the constant worry about that partial tear growing into a full one and ending his season prematurely.
The difference is that a new organization might be wary of taking on such a responsibility, especially at a price tag that would exceed the $22 million he’s due each of the next two seasons, and the $23 million he’d get in his 2020 walk year.
If he stays, at least he’s guaranteed the remainder of the deal. Opt out, and all bets are off. Chances are, even the Yanks won’t be interested as they contemplate handing CC Sabathia a one-year deal after a season that far eclipsed Tanaka’s inconsistencies that included a career-high 35 homers allowed and a precipitous decline from the 3.12 ERA he compiled from 2014-16.
With low-paid youngsters like Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery taking up two other spots, and Sonny Gray taking up a fourth with an economical contract even if he does opt for arbitration and wins, the Yanks will have some money to throw at a free agent like the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish, his World Series flops notwithstanding. The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta might also look nice in pinstripes. But it’s unlikely they’ll re-up Tanaka at a higher price coming off the year he just had.
Then there’s the ring business. No guarantees there, of course. But the Yanks proved this year that they’re right on the cusp of a golden era. In Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Severino, they have the basis for a long period of success.
As the Astros proved this year, yesterday’s doormats can become today’s champions. But as far as Tanaka is concerned, it’s probably better to stick with a team that came within one game of the World Series than to land with someone in need of an overhaul.
And the teams who consider themselves one good pitcher away from contending, they’ll be asking themselves if Tanaka is really the best choice.
If they only watched the playoffs, then of course the answer would be yes. Tanaka’s postseason proved a welcome departure from his regular-season troubles, as he allowed just two earned runs in 20 innings over three starts.
But it’s hard to overlook his rollercoaster regular season. Great postseasons raise a pitcher’s profile. But teams also have to look for people who can get them there, and Tanaka may not be the ideal choice for that right now.
Sticking with the Yanks guarantees him a spot in the rotation, a nice paycheck, and a shot at another postseason.
He’d be crazy to leave that to gamble on a bigger contract elsewhere.
The grass will always look greener over the fence. The urge to explore new places and richer options can overpower a player.
But Tanaka also needs to know that sometimes it’s best just to stay home, put your feet up, and watch TV.
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