New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton vying for extension

Two impending free agents on the New York Yankees are hoping to make a case for an extension.

One position that seems to be a hot commodity on the open market is starting pitching. Every major league team is on the prowl looking to add additional arms to their rotation. Once the 2020 season begins, the New York Yankees will have a very important decision ahead of them: is Masahiro Tanaka or James Paxton worthy of a contract extension.

The Yankees need to solidify their rotation behind Gerrit Cole for the coming years. The status of Luis Severino is very much in-doubt after undergoing Tommy John surgery at the start of spring training. Thus, the next logical candidates are Tanaka and Paxton to temporary fill the No. 2 and 3 slot in the rotation this season, but neither are “no-brainers” for a long-term deal moving forward.

Making a Case For Tanaka and Paxton

The pluses for both starters are they’re established MLB pitchers, who have been quite (Tanaka 75-43 3.75 era and Paxton 56-32 3.50 era) productive over their career. Each has shown terrific control with excellent strikeout-to-walk (Tanaka had a 7-2 and Paxton had an 11-3) ratios. So, there will be a demand for their services if either one goes on the open market. The obvious next step is determining each pitcher’s value to the Yankees.

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In the case of Tanaka, his extension may not cost as much as Paxton. He’s going to turn 32 next November and has been pitching with a partially torn UCL since September of 2014. Plus, Tanaka had bone spurs removed this past offseason. So, you may not be comfortable penciling him for 32 starts in the regular season, but Tanaka’s dominance on the hill has come during October. He’s 5-3 with a 1.76 era in eight postseason starts. In 46 innings pitched, Tanaka allowed only 25 hits and nine earned runs. Any way you look at the numbers, that is pretty dominating for a starting pitcher.

Concerns were raised when Paxton got off to a slow start in his first month with the Pinstripes. Many contribute his inconsistency on missing a month due to a knee injury, but Paxton’s luck changed as he was the Yankees best starter (10-2, 3.63 era) in the second half of the season. This was highlighted by his pitching performance in Game 5 against the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. It was spectacular as Paxton pitched six innings and allowed four hits, one run with nine Ks.

Each pitcher definitely had their ups-and-downs during their career in the Bronx. Tanaka has been dealing with issues with his elbow that has required stints on the injured list, while Paxton is currently on the mend from back surgery. The uncertainty on their long-term health has made this decision tough, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman rarely makes knee-jerk reactions on player transactions.

Cashman Must Make a Calculated Decision

Usually, Cashman will confer with his trusted advisors (Tim Naehring and Jim Hendry), so don’t expect a rash decision like handing out a contract extension before letting the situation play out. However, he won’t stand idle as well. Cashman will need to determine which pitcher has shown the most signs of physical decline. His analytical team will provide the data based on actual production and projecting each pitcher’s future statistical numbers based on their declining skills in the coming seasons. You might be skeptical of making a player decision based strictly on hypotheticals, but that is MLB 2.0: The Analytical Edition.

Of late, the New York Yankees have been burned by signing players to long-term deals only to see them miss significant time from the lineup. But, this decision will come down to determining which pitcher will be effective in getting batters out after they have lost their velocity. Tanaka and Paxton must show they have the capacity to become a starter with a full repertoire of pitches once their fastball peaks at 90-91 MPH on the gun.

If the 2020 season is played, it could offer some answers to the above questions, but determining the long-term health of both Tanaka and Paxton will still remain a mystery to us all. It’s a crapshoot for Cashman as he may never be fully convinced that either pitcher will be injury-free for the next three seasons. So, let the debate begin as a contract extension could go to Tanaka, Paxton or neither.

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Ideally, the New York Yankees want to keep both pitchers, but that isn’t in cards at the moment.

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