Regardless of how they want to word it, the Yankees are a team in transition and their ace Masahiro Tanaka is in his prime. Tanaka threw incredibly well in spring training giving up one run in 23.2 innings while racking up 28 strikeouts.
His Opening Day start against the Rays did not go as planned however with the premium placed on starting pitching these days, the possibility that he may opt out of his contract is starting to loom large.
After this season, Tanaka will have the opportunity to walk away from $63 million dollars and three more years with the bombers to explore the free agent market. Many pitchers of Tanaka's caliber will test the free agent market after a good season but the Yankees have reportedly indicated that they will not pursue their Japanese ace should he opt out. It is believe that owner Hal Steinbrenner would not like to tie up more money to a pitcher that has had elbow problems.
There has also been another report that the Yankees have been given an opt out ultimatum by Casey Close who is Tanaka's agent and they do not appreciate that. These reports have been refuted by Brian Cashman who said, "I have the utmost respect for Casey Close and his office. I don't know where this is coming from."
Regardless of the relationship between the Yankees and Tanaka's representatives, the decision will fall into the hands of Tanaka at the end of the season and will almost definitely be decided by his performance this season.
The Yankees have a bigger problem than they are understanding because with Pineda and Sabathia becoming free agents and Tanaka's opt out looming they are slated to go into next season with just Severino in the rotation. On the chance Tanaka does opt out they will have to replace an ace and lucky for the Yankees there are a few ways to go about doing this.
In house, the Yankees have a few quality prospects who can step up and lineup behind Severino.
First, the Yankees first round pick of the 2015 draft, right hander James Kaprielian. The former UCLA pitcher suffered an injury setback but has remained his status as the 6th best prospect in the Yankee's farm system and the 56th overall in the MLB. Once the Yankees signed him his velocity jumped to 93-96 mph touching 99 mph during games. His impeccable control along with the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes and from the same slot has made scouts think of him as a viable frontline starter type. Kaprielian has the potential to compete with Severino for the ace job if the Yankees stay strictly in house.
Not far behind, slotted as the number 7 prospect in the Yankees farm is Justus Sheffield, the left hander who was acquired by the Yankees from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade. The 20 year old sits at about 92-94 mph touching 96 mph. His hard slider has been dubbed his put away pitch and has been incredibly successful. Sheffield has the upside right now of a mid-rotation type.
Another option the Yankees have is Chance Adams, the 22 year old is a homegrown prospect who the Yankees took with the 153rd pick in the 2015 draft. Adams has the potential to throw his fastball, slider and change-up at any time for a strike making him a lethal option which added to his success last season.
Should Tanaka opt out, the Yankees will need a new ace. Luckily for them there are two aces that will be free agents after the 2017 campaign, barring an extension from their club. The big name is Jake Arrieta. The Cubs ace will be 32 years old but still very capable of leading a rotation. Last season he racked up 18 wins striking out 190 guys to the tune of a 3.10 ERA.
The sole problem with Arrieta is the fact that he will not come cheap and the Yankees will be cautious to dig deep into their pockets. Next is another Japanese born ace, Yu Darvish. Darvish will be a year younger than Arrieta at 31 years of age but has not had the same immense success as him. Having to battle injuries, Darvish will look to bounce back this season which could boost his worth in the eyes of the Yankees. Last season in 17 games Darvish won 7 and held an ERA of 3.41.
The Yankees should weigh all of their options but perhaps a mixture of both will be most beneficial. If they can fill 2-3 spots with young, controllable and affordable talent they could go out and acquire Jake Arrieta for some money. Also they could look to the trade route. There are a bunch of viable options and it will be interesting to see which way they go should Tanaka opt out.