Tanaka leaves Yankees, rejoins former team to pitch in Japan

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press

FILE - New York Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, of Japan, delivers a pitch during the second inning of the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in New York, in this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, file photo. Former New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has signed a two-year contract with the Rakuten Eagles in Japanese baseball, the club said Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

TOKYO – Masahiro Tanaka is returning to pitch for his former team in Japan after seven seasons with the New York Yankees.

The Rakuten Eagles of the Pacific League said Thursday the 32-year-old free agent had signed a two-year contract. Local media reported the deal was worth almost $9 million annually.

“WELCOME HOME our HERO!!!!” the Eagles posted on Twitter.

The Yankees in the past week added two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and traded for Pittsburgh pitcher Jameson Taillon. New York appeared to have no room for Tanaka in its 2021 rotation and didn’t appear to be trying to re-sign the two-time All-Star.

“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “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 went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts last year during the pandemic-shortened season.

“Disappointing news,” Yankees second baseman DJ LaMahieu said during a conference call to announce his new contract with New York. “What a great teammate he's been and what impact he's had on the Yankees, on the city. Obviously wish him well, and we’ll be following them. I’m disappointed I’m not going to be able to play with him any more, but I’m really happy for him.”