Tanaka after return to Japan: I wanted to stay with Yankees
The two-time All-Star right-hander officially rejoined his original team on Saturday, signing a two-year contract with Japan's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. While he's thrilled to be back with the Pacific League club, he admitted staying in pinstripes was his preferred option.
"When I became a free agent, honestly, I wanted to sign another contract with (the) Yankees and play there," Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo, according to Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times. "Then, as I heard different things, I thought I might have to take a different road and considered various things."
Tanaka signed a seven-year contract with the Yankees in 2014 after a long run as the Golden Eagles' ace. He was a solid starter over his seven seasons with New York, posting a 3.74 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 991 strikeouts. Though he didn't win a World Series, Tanaka did show up in the playoffs, crafting a 3.33 ERA and 0.98 WHIP across 10 postseason outings.
But despite his desire to stay with New York, the Yankees chose to replace Tanaka in the rotation by signing Corey Kluber and trading for Jameson Taillon. Luxury-tax concerns after the team re-signed star infielder DJ LeMahieu also contributed to the decision to let Tanaka depart as a free agent.
The 32-year-old drew interest from other big-league teams this winter and reportedly talked to the San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, and Toronto Blue Jays. But once New York was off the table, personal comfort in the form of his home country won out.
"I played over there for seven years, was told how highly I was valued, and received really good offers," Tanaka said, according to Kyodo News. "But for me, there was also this chance to play for the Eagles again, to pitch once more in front of my fellow Japanese. In the end, no offer in the States surpassed that."
He added: "For me, No. 1 was what kind of baseball do you want to play, what kind of environment do you want to be in."
Tanaka signed a two-year contract with Rakuten, but a return to the majors may not be entirely off the table. He said Rakuten has agreed to let him "keep those options open" next winter, according to Kyodo.
If Tanaka does try to return to the U.S., the Yankees might be more receptive to a reunion in 2022.
"There's no door closed, let's put it that way from my perspective," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Pete Caldera of NorthJersey.com on Friday.