Blue Jays: Why Tanaka on a one-year deal would make perfect sense

If Masahiro Tanaka is only looking for a one-year deal, there are a variety of reasons why the Blue Jays should make an aggressive bid.

First and foremost, the Blue Jays still need to upgrade their rotation, even if they have a fair bit of depth to work with. As things stand right now, they’re likely entering the season with a rotation headed by Hyun Jin Ryu, and followed by Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and Ross Stripling. It’s nowhere near as thin as they entered the 2018 campaign with, but if the Jays are serious about competing then they’ll need to raise the floor of the group.

Tanaka would certainly help accomplish that goal, as he’s been a reliable starter throughout his seven-year MLB career. He was rock solid for the Yankees last year when he posted a 3.56 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP over 10 starts and 48 innings, which isn’t far off from his career marks of a 3.74 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. It doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to New York though, as the Yankees re-signed DJ LeMahieu last week, and agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Corey Kluber, which chews up most of their available payroll.

The biggest concern with Tanaka over the years has been whether or not he’d be able to stay healthy, which he has. He rehabbed some serious elbow issues earlier in his career and managed to avoid surgery, and was successful doing so, averaging 30 starts per season from 2016-19. That said, it really shouldn’t be a concern for teams that might be interested in offering him a contract for the 2021 season, as he’s reportedly only looking for a one-year deal in the 15-20 million range according to MLB insider Andy Martino.

While he’s not quite in the “ace” calibre of starting pitchers, Tanaka would vastly improve what the Blue Jays have now, and would slot in as their #2 starter. Even if they had to pay him 20 million to get him to sign in Toronto, which admittedly is a bit of an overpay, it’s arguably still worth it if the commitment is just one year. The Blue Jays have the payroll space, the need in the rotation, and so far they’ve struck out trying to add big money free agents to the roster. Even if they signed someone like George Springer for around 25 million per year, they should be able to handle both without a problem.

As much as the idea of adding Tanaka in 2021 would be helpful, the idea of signing a solid veteran for one year has to be pretty appealing for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office as well. That would give them another season to buy time for the likes of Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson, and even Nate Pearson to develop, and hopefully get ready to inherit spots in the big league rotation. If they can get the most out of their homegrown trio, and the other talented arms throughout the organization, that only makes the future even brighter.

Right now the Blue Jays are considering a wide variety of paths to improving the big league roster, just as they have all winter long. They’ve always had the idea of trading from their vast prospect pool, and they’ve never come out and said that pitchers like Woods Richardson or Manoah are off limits. I’m sure it would take the right deal to trade their best in-house pitching assets, but if we’re talking about trying to acquire someone like Luis Castillo from the Reds, I’m sure they’d have to surrender at least one of them.

Signing Tanaka for somewhere between 15-20 million should also allow the Blue Jays to sign one more starter. Whether that’s offering a one-year deal to Canadian southpaw James Paxton, or maybe trying to re-sign Taijuan Walker, they should have the payroll space if they want to sign two starters, even if they can land Springer. The money won’t be endless, but the Blue Jays still have a pretty small payroll at the moment, and should have plenty of room to add.

While Tanaka won’t move the needle like a Trevor Bauer signing would for the rotation, signing him to a fairly affordable one-year deal has to be appealing to Atkins and the Blue Jays. We’ll see if that’s something that Tanaka’s camp will consider.