Latest MLB News: Masahiro Tanaka Returns to Japan

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In the latest MLB news, seven-year Yankee and 2021 free-agent Masahiro Tanaka has decided to return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Per reports, the starting pitcher has signed a two-year deal with Rakuten, worth almost nine-million dollars annually.

Tanaka introduced early in the offseason the possibility of him rerouting back to Japan. It was his alternative to rejoining a contending Yankees team. Since New York added starters Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to their rotation this offseason, a spot for Tanaka became increasingly distant. Just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers are to report to Spring Training, the 32-year-old has made his decision to play baseball at home.

Tanaka infiltrated every MLB team’s radar in 2013 when he engineered a perfect 24-0 season while pitching for the Golden Eagles. Contributing to his unblemished record was a 1.27 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, and 5.72 K/BB ratio. He became priority number one for big-market clubs, and it was the New York Yankees that lured him to the states by offering Tanaka a seven-year, $155 million contract. At the time, that contract was the fifth-highest in the game.

Latest MLB News: Tanaka Leaves Behind Applauded MLB Legacy

The Yankees fell short of a few World Series appearances during Masahiro Tanaka’s tenure, but he was never to blame. New York made the postseason in five of his seven seasons with the team; the right-hander culminated a 5-4 playoff record backed by an impressive 3.33 ERA. He had his best run during the 2017 postseason when he pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the ALDS and Game 5 of the ALCS.

Tanaka was a two-time All-Star (2014 and 2019). He received Cy Young votes in 2016 and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014. He averaged 24 starts a season for the Yankees and accumulated a 78-46 record.

Was he the run-away ace of Major League Baseball that Yankees fans, and perhaps the Yankees themselves, envisioned? Not quite. T his defense though, neither was Yu Darvish for the Texas Rangers or Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Boston Red Sox – the two Japanese sensations that preceded Tanaka.

Tanaka was, however, the lone consistency in a constantly tweaked Yankees rotation for seven years. At his best, he was one of the top pitchers in MLB. At his worst, he was a quality starting pitcher that almost always left the game with a team victory in reach.

This latest MLB news certainly hurts New York. The Yankees will miss their trusty arm, especially as they struggle to form a championship-caliber starting staff for the 2021 season.

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Travis Koch is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and a lifelong baseball fan. He's covered MLB for Overtime Heroics since January of 2021.