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It’s been nearly a month since general manager Brian Cashman said he was willing to “risk” losing out on other free agents as the Yankees waited out DJ LeMahieu’s decision.
The landscape hasn’t changed much since those mid-December comments, although one potential alternative – trading for Francisco Lindor – is off the table after the Mets pulled off the blockbuster trade with Cleveland last week.
But with the Yankees and LeMahieu still at a “standstill” in negotiations, it figures to be a matter of time before a potential target signs elsewhere as this historically slow MLB offseason inches closer to spring training with dozens of free agents still unsigned.
According to a report in The Athletic, the Padres have shown interest in Masahiro Tanaka, who is among the players Cashman has checked in on. So far, however, he has been unwilling to shift his focus away from LeMahieu.
A move to San Diego for Tanaka could make sense. Former Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild is now with the Padres. And San Diego has proven to be among the only teams showing an interest in spending money this offseason.
They’ve already traded for the Cubs’ Yu Darvish and picked up $57 million of the $60 million on the remaining three years on his contract. The Padres also acquired Blake Snell from the penny-pinching Rays, although the right-hander is a bargain at $39 million over the next three seasons.
San Diego also signed free agent infielder Ha-seong Kim from South Korea for four-years and $28 million.
Tanaka has spent all seven of his seasons in the majors with the Yankees and would seem to still be a fit in The Bronx, who have a dearth of starting pitching behind Gerrit Cole.
The 32-year-old showed signs of slipping in 2019, when he had a 5.45 ERA over his final 13 appearances. After a strong showing in the shortened 2020 season, Tanaka had his worst two playoff outings.
Tanaka hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to Japan to pitch next season. On a Japanese radio show earlier this month, he called the chances of him doing so “not zero.”
Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton are all free agents. Jordan Montgomery is currently their No. 2 starter, while Luis Severino could return from Tommy John surgery by midseason and Domingo German is eligible to return following a domestic violence suspension. Inexperienced right-handers Deivi Garcia, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt will be in the mix as well.
Tanaka has pitched with a partially torn UCL since 2014 and remained one of the most durable pitchers in the majors. The Yankees would like to keep him, but as they try to remain under the $210 million luxury tax threshold, they have roughly $35 million left to spend this offseason.
If they bring back LeMahieu, it would come at a cost of $20-25 million, which might not leave enough room for Tanaka.
“I understand by waiting on something you want and trying to find ways to make it happen… comes with risk,” Cashman said last month. “That has a downside to it, too, but there are certain players you feel are more worth the waiting game on, and I think DJ LeMahieu is worth that.”
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