Masahiro Tanaka is coming home.
The right-hander, who in 2013 led the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to their only Pacific League pennant and Japan Series title, is returning to the club this season the Eagles announced on Thursday.
“Welcome home our hero!” the team announced on its website, with a photo of the pitcher from the last time he wore an Eagles uniform. According to the club, Tanaka will once again wear the No. 18 he starred in from 2007 to 2013 in Sendai.
Tanaka’s move is the biggest of the NPB offseason and comes just days before the start of spring camp on Feb. 1.
Tanaka spent the past seven seasons with the New York Yankees, with whom he signed a seven-year $155 million contract in January 2014 after being posted by the Eagles after the 2013 NPB season. He was 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA in 174 appearances for the AL club. Tanaka was an All-Star in his first season and again in 2019. He pitched in 10 playoff games for the Yankees and was 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA.
Tanaka was 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA this past season in the Bronx.
Tanaka posted a message to his MLB fans on his Twitter account later Thursday night.
"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," he wrote.
There didn’t seem to be much movement from the Yankees to re-sign him as a free agent and the prospects for a return dimmed further when the team signed Corey Kluber and traded for Jameson Taillon.
So the 32-year-old returns to Sendai, where he was a star for seven years after being selected by the Eagles in the 2006 draft. He was 99-35 with the club, and also had three saves, posting a 2.30 ERA in 1,315 innings. Tanaka won the Sawamura Award in 2011 and 2013.
He put together a historic year in 2013, his final season before leaving for MLB, finishing 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 212 innings. He was the Pacific League MVP that season and recorded the final out in Game 7 of the Japan Series against the Yomiuri Giants.
Tanaka returns to a Rakuten team that will be managed by Kazuhisa Ishii (a former MLB pitcher himself), who is stepping into the dugout after serving as the club’s GM since 2018.
Rakuten finished fourth in the Pacific League last season with a 55-57-8 record. Tanaka will be paired once again with Takahiro Norimoto in the Rakuten rotation, which also includes Hideaki Wakui, who finished tied for the PL lead with 11 wins in 2020.
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