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Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka returns to Japan to play after seven seasons in MLB

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka prepares during the

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka prepares during the second inning in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Wednesday in San Diego. Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

Masahiro Tanaka is going home.

The popular Yankees righthander announced on Thursday that he is returning to his native Japan to pitch for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

The Yankees decided against re-signing Tanaka to go with less expensive options after he finished his seven-year, $155 million contract.

"I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season," Tanaka wrote on Twitter in a message to Yankees fans. "I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons. I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!"

Tanaka, 32, went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA with the Yankees from 2014 to 2020. He was a two-time All-Star and a clutch postseason performer (5-4, 3.33 ERA), although his Yankees career ended with a pair of poor starts in the 2020 playoffs.

In 2020, Tanaka was 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 regular-season outings.

Before signing with the Yankees, Tanaka went 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with Rakuten.

Tanaka had a base salary of $23 million in 2020 (reduced to about $8.5 million because of the shortened season). The Yankees signed righthander Corey Kluber and traded for righthander Jameson Taillon this offseason for a total outlay of $13.25 million.

As a measure of how popular Tanaka was with his teammates, DJ LeMahieu began his re-introductory Zoom news conference on Thursday with a shoutout.

"Disappointing news, I guess, this morning with Masa saying that he won't be back with the Yankees," LeMahieu said. "What a great teammate he's been. What impact he's had on the Yankees and the city. Obviously, wish him well and we'll be following him and as exciting as it is [to have re-signed with the Yankees], I'm disappointed I'm not going to be able to play with him anymore. I'm really happy for him and just want to mention what a great teammate and a great person he was."

Terms of Tanaka’s one-year contract with Rakuten were not announced.

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