Masahiro Tanaka
(Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

As he made his return to Japan, Masahiro Tanaka revealed his preference would have been to sign a contract to return to the New York Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka is back with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in his home country of Japan, but that’s not how he envisioned his offseason.

According to Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times, the veteran righty would have preferred to re-sign with the New York Yankees.

“When I became a free agent, honestly I wanted to sign another contract with Yankees and play there,” Tanaka said during his re-introductory press conference for Rakuten. “Then as I heard different things, I thought I might have to take a different road and considered various things.”

Tanaka spent the last seven years in MLB, all with the Yankees. He went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA and appeared in two All-Star Games. After New York signed Corey Kluber as a free agent and then traded for Pittsburgh Pirates righty Jameson Taillon, the writing was on the wall. Masahiro Tanaka would not be pitching in New York in 2021, at least not for the Yankees

Now, he’s heading back to where it all began. Tanaka pitched for Rakuten from 2007-2013 and went 99-35 with an eye-popping 2.29 ERA. He was a six-time All-Star and two-time ERA champion in Japan, and was instrumental in helping Rakuten win the Japan Series in 2013.

JB’s Take

It’s sad that Tanaka’s time in New York came to such an unceremonious end, but it’s really not much of a surprise. He was struggling to adapt his signature splitter to MLB’s new ball and was thus prone to giving up home runs. Throw in the Yankees’ infamous analytics team, and there were probably multiple reasons we don’t even know yet as to why he wasn’t re-signed.

Despite that, Tanaka’s deal with Rakuten leaves the door open for a return. Per Coskrey, he can explore his options in MLB after the 2021 season despite signing a two-year deal. Who knows? Maybe he can find his way back to the New York Yankees when more money comes off the books next offseason, and the team is in better financial shape post-pandemic.

Or perhaps Masahiro Tanaka will go the Hideki Matsui route, as in signing a one-day contract to retire a Yankee. Even if just for a day, it allows him to go out as the one and only Masa-hero the fans knew and loved.

Sure enough, even general manager Brian Cashman seems open to the idea even after letting his once-prized pitcher walk.

“There’s no door closed,” Cashman said, per Pete Caldera of “Let’s put it that way from my perspective.”

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.