Masahiro Tanaka delivered just about everything the Yankees hoped he would when they signed him — other than a trip to the World Series.
A day after Tanaka signed a deal to return to Japan to pitch for his old team in 2021, general manager Brian Cashman subtly blamed the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal for preventing the Yankees and Tanaka from getting there.
“I feel like he did everything he could to get us where we wanted to go,’’ Cashman said during a Friday Zoom call. “And in that small window we probably don’t want to talk about, he probably would have gotten us to a World Series if we didn’t run into some shenanigans.”
The Yankees lost to Houston in the 2017 ALCS in seven games, and it was later revealed the Astros’ used a sign-stealing scheme to tip pitches throughout that season.
Tanaka pitched well in a Game 1 win and a Game 5 loss in that series.
“That’s one thing I thought of when he went back to Japan,’’ Cashman said. “It’s kind of sad. You check a lot of those boxes when you have those dreams. He came over to the United States to play and compete and to perform at the major league level and ultimately by doing so, getting a chance to compete in a World Series and that was potentially stolen from him, that opportunity.”
Cashman also didn’t rule out the possibility of a return to The Bronx for Tanaka, who signed for a reported $8.5 million with Rakuten.
“He was a great Yankee,’’ Cashman said. “He was a great Yankee. A tremendous competitor [and] a big loss for us. I’m always open to evaluating opportunities that present themselves. There’s no doors closed from my perspective. Let’s put it that way.”
Another veteran Yankee, Brett Gardner, remains available on the free-agent market. Without Gardner, the Yankees don’t have a left-handed hitter in the lineup outside of switch-hitting Aaron Hicks.
Cashman noted because Gardner is still a free agent, he wasn’t able to comment, but said, “Clearly, we’ve been a big fan of Brett for a long time. He’s been a great Yankee. We’ll see how things transpire over the coming weeks.”
The Yankees have an outfield consisting of Hicks, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier and Mike Tauchman, with Greg Allen also on the 40-man roster.
Cashman got the salary relief he was looking for when he traded Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox, but it wasn’t where the GM was hoping the right-hander would end up.
Cashman said he “ultimately needed to add some [financial] flexibility. I’d prefer not to have the Boston Red Sox be able to provide that flexibility.”
But Boston, according to Cashman, took the most of Ottavino’s remaining $9 million contract, which allowed the Yankees to include a lesser prospect than they would have given up to another team. They since agreed to a one-year deal with another right-hander, Darren O’Day, and could use some of the other cash freed up on another player.
Ottavino was at Yankee Stadium when he learned he had been traded, according to Aaron Boone.
“He was there having a throwing session and working out,’’ said Boone, who was also at the Stadium. “We had a chance to talk. That was a little weird.”
Both Boone and Cashman said Ottavino pitched better than his numbers indicated.
“The last thing I wanted to do was put him in the hands of our competitor,” Cashman said. “But ultimately I’m not afraid to do business with anybody if it serves whatever our purposes have to be.”
Cashman and Boone both expect spring training to start on time — at least as of Friday.
Though discussions between MLB and the Players Association continue to hammer out details and protocols, Boone said he feels “like we’re very much in position to be ready to roll right now.”
The Yankees are set to open camp Feb. 17.
“As late as [Thursday] we were told we’re on time still,” he said, “so we are preparing and feel very much ready to go.”