Both Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are big free agency question marks for the Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka has become a fan favorite in his six years in the Bronx. James Paxton’s clutch performance in Game 5 of last year’s American League Championship Series saved the Yankees from elimination for one more day.
But both will hit the free agency market after the 2020 season.
With young prospects like Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King on the rise, and Jordan Montgomery set to be in the rotation for the next several years, the Yankees have some thinking to do about who will round out the 1-2 punch of Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino in 2021 and beyond.
While it’s nice to have three homegrown arms and hope they are each the next Andy Pettitte, the Yankees are too talented to take on the risk of three prospects rounding out their rotation. At least one of Tanaka or Paxton has to stay in the mix.
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Tanaka’s regular season numbers have not been eye-popping. Since Tanaka joined the big leagues in 2014, his 3.75 ERA ranks 21st out of 39 pitchers who have tossed at least 900 innings in that stretch. Opponents’ have slugged .420 against him in that stretch – the ninth-worst mark. His 8.47 K/9 ranks 22nd.
However, his 1.79 BB/9 is the third-best mark in baseball, while he is one of the best postseason pitchers ever.
Tanaka has allowed nine earned runs in 46 innings, which equates to a 1.76 ERA. Three of those runs came on one pitch to George Springer last year. Not including his two-run, five-inning outing against the Astros in the 2015 Wild Card game, his ERA drops to 1.54. He also owns a 0.783 WHIP in the postseason.
Paxton was the Yankees’ big splash following the 2018 season, and after struggling in his first 18 starts (4.72) ERA, his 2.51 ERA in his final 11 was the eighth-best mark in the bigs (min. 50 innings). As previously mentioned, Paxton struck out nine and allowed just one run on four hits in six innings of work to save the Yankees’ season last year.
Paxton has yet to have an ERA of over 4 in any one season, while Tanaka has had two seasons of at least 4.45 in his last three years. However, Tanaka, despite having a partially torn UCL since 2014, has pitched 1,006.1 innings compared to Paxton’s 733 innings, and has 32 more starts. Of course, Tanaka’s elbow can be a ticking time bomb, but he has not had any elbow-related injured list stints since 2014.
Tanaka has made at least 30 starts in three of the last four years, while Paxton’s 29 starts last season were a career-high. His 150.2 innings last year were the second-most of his career.
Tanaka and Paxton will both be 32 when they become free agents – they are just five days apart. Both both will be pretty heavily coveted arms.
While Tanaka’s regular season numbers might not quite live up to his contract, his postseason numbers certainly do. And when you look at what the Yankees gave up to acquire Paxton, with Justus Sheffield being the main piece, it seems like the Yankees have easily won that trade so far.
The decision won’t be easy for the Yankees as both players have their pros and cons, all while three decent arms are climbing the ladder. On top of that, coveted arms like Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, and Robbie Ray will also hit the market.
Sure, the Yankees have their ace for the next eight years. But the rest of the rotation remains a question.