The New York Yankees paid a $20 million posting fee to sign Masahiro Tanaka away from the Rakuten Golden Eagles prior to his age-25 season in 2014 and then inked him to a seven-year, $155 million contract.
All things considered, it was money well spent.
Tanaka went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+), 1.13 WHIP and 991 strikeouts in 1,054.1 innings over the life of that contract, earning two All-Star selections and going 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 postseason starts.
Now he is a free agent once again, and in a thin market behind National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, he will likely generate interest from a number of teams.
At 32 years old, he should still have several productive years left in the tank, though he does have 2,384.1 professional innings on his arm with his seven seasons in Japan.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted he would receive a three-year, $39 million contract this offseason, ranking him as the No. 10 player in this year's free-agent class. The only starters ahead of him were Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, and the latter two accepted qualifying offers from the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants before even reaching free agency.
The Yankees are expected to make a serious push to retain Tanaka, but with so many teams vying for so few quality starting pitchers, a return is far from guaranteed. Odds are he'll prioritize signing with a contender given his age and the fact that he has yet to win a World Series, but he has made no indication that is a top priority.
With free agency underway, let's look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Tanaka based on their financial flexibility, roster needs and status as contenders.
Not a Chance
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Unless you're a fringe major leaguer with no other MLB offers on the table, there's really no reason to sign with the Pirates. There's a real chance things are going to get worse before they get better, and that's saying something after a 19-41 season.
29. Colorado Rockies
Setting aside the fact that the Rockies are far more likely to finish in the National League West cellar than they are to be playoff contenders, there's a reason the market's top pitchers generally steer clear of playing their home games at Coors Field.
28. Baltimore Orioles
In eight career starts at Camden Yards, Tanaka has a 5.00 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 45 innings. It's already unlikely he would consider the Orioles given their proximity to contention, and his struggles in their home ballpark is one more reason to cross them off the list.
27. Kansas City Royals
Tanaka would be a nice veteran leader on a young pitching staff, but it's unlikely he'll be willing to sign on to the early stages of a rebuild. It's going to be a few years still before the Royals are ready to make a push up the standings.
26. Detroit Tigers
If the Tigers are going to make a free-agency splash to try to jump-start their climb back toward contention, it would make more sense to splurge on a hitter who will age well rather than a starter on the wrong side of 30 with significant mileage on his arm.
25. Arizona Diamondbacks
The five-year, $85 million contract the D-backs gave Madison Bumgarner last offseason already looks like a mistake. There's no reason to double down as they ponder the best way to retool the roster.