TAMPA, Fla. — Masahiro Tanaka can opt out of his contract after this season, sure to be a hot topic throughout spring training and the regular season. Just don’t expect the Yankees’ ace to feed the story.
“Obviously, I’m aware of what my contract says, but it’s something that I put aside going into the season,” Tanaka said through his translator Wednesday morning at the team’s minor-league complex.
The righthander, who has been in Tampa since Monday, threw his first bullpen session earlier in the day. He has an out clause in the seven-year, $155-million contract he signed three offseasons ago. Given the shortage of available quality starting pitching in the game, it’s reasonable to assume the 28-year-old Tanaka, 39-16 with a 3.12 ERA in three seasons, would command even bigger dollars on the open market.
Still . . .
“You can’t be really thinking about that while you go through the season,” he said. “So it’s something that I will put aside during the season, really focus on this season, and when the time comes after the season, then I’ll probably have a chance to think about that more.”
Tanaka said the opt-out clause did not factor in his decision to pass on playing for his native Japan in next month’s World Baseball Classic. He pitched in the WBC in 2009 and 2013.
“I didn’t really think about that,” he said. “It’s more (that) I was able to go through a full season, finally, last year, and I understand what the team is looking for from me. I think the important part is to try and be healthy throughout the season and to be able to contribute one full season. That part was the important part to me.”
Tanaka went 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 31 games last year, throwing 199 2⁄3 innings, his high in three big-league seasons. He missed his final start with a minor flexor mass strain in his right forearm but would have pitched had the game been meaningful (the Yankees already had been eliminated from wild-card contention).
Tanaka was diagnosed with a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in 2014, which has not required surgery, and had a bone spur removed from his right elbow after the 2015 season.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Wednesday that Tanaka physically is ahead of where he was a year ago, and the pitcher agreed. “I went out there and I think I was able to throw with some force,” Tanaka said of his bullpen. “So I feel good where I’m at right now.”
Beyond Tanaka, the Yankees’ rotation features plenty of questions — finding fourth and fifth starters is a camp priority — but he expressed belief in the group.
“I’m not sure how it’s all going to line up as we go into the season,” Tanaka said, “but with the guys that we have, I’m pretty confident that whoever comes in, we should be able to get the job done.”