Tag: Masahiro Tanaka

How Yankees Must Handle Impossible Masahiro Tanaka Decision in 2017

When it comes to opt-out clauses, the New York Yankees tend to opt in.

They aren’t always happy about it. They don’t always do it right away. But when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his deal during the 2007 World Series, the Yankees turned around and gave him a bigger contract they would come to regret.

When CC Sabathia was ready to opt out of his contract four years later, the Yankees added what amounted to two years and $50 million, another deal they wouldn‘t mind having back.

So now we come to Masahiro Tanaka. As every Yankees fan knows, he’s the closest to a sure thing they have in their 2017 rotation. And as every Yankees fan knows by now, he can opt out of his contract when the 2017 season ends.

There’s no way the Yankees can make this work in their favor. If Tanaka has a great year, he obviously opts out of the final three years and $67 million of what was originally a seven-year, $155 million contract. Then the Yankees pay him market value—more than his current $22 million a year, and more years—or someone else does.

If Tanaka has a decent year and stays healthy, he still almost certainly opts out. Or threatens to, with the Yankees extending his contract.

Or maybe Tanaka gets hurt. He made 31 starts in 2016, but he is still pitching with a slight tear in the UCL in his right elbow. It could tear further, requiring Tommy John surgery. He could suffer a different injury. Either way, he sticks with his current contract, and the Yankees are stuck paying him.

The Yankees obviously know all this. They knew it when they agreed to Tanaka‘s original contract. Three years into the deal, they were either going to pay more to keep him or he wasn‘t going to be worth what they were paying him.

There was no way that could work in their favor. But opt-outs are part of getting big contracts done—David Price and Clayton Kershaw have them too—and the only way around them is to offer even more guaranteed money.

The problem for the Yankees is they’re short on dependable starting pitching. They likely need to shop in the starting pitching market next winter even if Tanaka stays.

Behind Tanaka, they have only Sabathia (who’s old) and Michael Pineda (who’s unreliable). Both of their contracts expire after 2017 (which isn‘t necessarily a bad thing).

Behind them, the guy with the most career major league starts on the Yankees roster is Luis Severino with 22. They’re not even sure he should be a starter.

The guy with the next most career starts is Adam Warren with 21. They don’t want him to be a starting pitcher.

You get the picture, and you get why the Yankees would rather not think about Tanaka leaving.

So why not just eliminate the risk and renegotiate his contract now? Why did general manager Brian Cashman tell reporters the Yankees have no plans to do that?

Simple. Even though a new contract eliminates the risk of Tanaka‘s walking away, it adds the risk of getting stuck with an even bigger contract the Yankees don’t want.

Remember the $21 million they’re still paying A-Rod in 2017. Remember the $25 million they have committed to a 36-year-old Sabathia.

When Sabathia was ready to opt out in November 2011, he was 31 years old and had just finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award vote. The new contract wasn‘t ideal, but Sabathia had averaged 235 innings over his first three seasons as a Yankee. He seemed like a decent risk.

Tanaka will be two years younger when he reaches his opt-out date, but he has yet to finish higher than seventh in Cy Young voting. He has yet to pitch 200 innings in a major league season (he did it in Japan). He has pitched significantly better when he gets an extra day of rest, complicating how the Yankees set up their rotation. And he has that ligament tear.

He’s not an ideal candidate for a long, expensive contract. But maybe he doesn‘t need to be. Rich Hill, who is 36 and was hurt so much that he only made 20 regular-season starts in 2016, got a three-year, $48 million deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Starting pitching is expensive, and it’s only getting more expensive. The Yankees know that, and so does Tanaka.

They’ll take their chances and hope he pitches well enough to lift them into contention in the American League East this year. If it costs them more money and a contract they don’t love, so be it.

They have little choice at this point.

That opt-out clause is going to work out well for him, one way or another. It won’t work out as well for the Yankees.

Opt-out clauses rarely do.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Masahiro Tanaka Injury: Updates on Yankees Star’s Elbow and Return

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has suffered a flexor mass injury, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported Thursday.

Continue for updates.

Tanaka to Miss Monday’s Start

Thursday, Sept. 22

Feinsand reported Tanaka, who will miss his scheduled start Monday, won’t throw for five days as he recovers from the injury.

This is another setback for the injury-prone pitcher, which is particularly worrisome for a Yankees team that’s relying on him to be the ace of the staff as it fights for a postseason berth.

He underwent elbow surgery in October 2015 to remove a bone spur and was on the disabled list from April 23 to June 3 last season with right wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain. He missed another start down the stretch in September 2015 because of a strained right hamstring.

Tanaka could have had surgery after suffering a partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, but he decided against it.

The right-hander tallied 24 starts in 2015, posting a 12-7 record, a 3.51 ERA, and 139 strikeouts in 154 innings. He also finished with an impressive 0.99 WHIP and 3.1 WAR, according to ESPN.com. In 2016, he’s 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and 165 strikeouts in 199.2 innings pitched.

While injuries have prevented him from living up to the astronomical hype that surrounded him when New York signed him before the 2014 campaign, he is the anchor of the Yankees pitching staff when healthy. He has struggled to keep the ball in the park, allowing 62 home runs in his first three seasons, but his 1.08 WHIP makes the ace valuable at the front end of the rotation.

New York will have to rely on pitchers such as Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia in the meantime. It also has a formidable bullpen with pieces such as Adam Warren and Dellin Betances to help shorten games until Tanaka is ready to return.

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Masahiro Tanaka Injury: Updates on Yankees Pitcher’s Recovery from Elbow Surgery

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is inching closer to a full return to the mound after undergoing elbow surgery in October. It appears he could be ready to pitch in time for Opening Day.

Continue for updates.

Tanaka Comments on Recovery Timeline

Friday, Feb. 12

Tanaka told Erik Boland of Newsday that he’s “perfectly healthy,” though he’s uncertain about Opening Day. He added, “Can’t say for sure just because…I’m building myself up toward the season.”

Tanaka Throws off Bullpen Mound for the 1st Time

Tuesday, Feb. 9

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild confirmed Tuesday that Tanaka’s rehabilitation remains on track this spring, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

Tanaka Battling Injuries Throughout Short MLB Career

Tanaka’s arm issues go back to July 2014, when he was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Generally, Tommy John surgery is the next step, but Tanaka and the Yankees opted against that approach, and the All-Star pitcher returned in September.

However, he headed back to the disabled list late last April and missed all of May before coming back on June 3 against the Seattle Mariners. The arm problems persisted, leading to his eventual surgery.

Not only will Tanaka play a big role in the Yankees’ playoff hopes in 2016, but the team is also paying him $22 million annually for the next four years and then $23 million in 2020. New York won’t get anything close to a return on that investment if Tanaka’s injuries keep affecting his performance going forward.

Judging by his continued progress, it looks as though the Japanese star will be ready for Opening Day on April 4. Both the team and Yankees fans alike will be monitoring his every move during his rehab throughout spring training to ensure he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.

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Can the Yankees Trust Masahiro Tanaka in a Wild Card Game Playoff?

NEW YORK — Masahiro Tanaka made it through the regular season without needing Tommy John surgery, so that’s something. He made it through his final regular-season start with his hamstring intact—another positive.

“I feel good about him,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday night, suggesting but not yet announcing that Tanaka will be his starter in next week’s American League Wild Card Game (because the Yankees still haven’t clinched their spot).

He should feel good, but the manager of a team with a $200-plus million payroll really ought to have a guy he feels great about when he’s faced with one game he absolutely has to win. Someone like Jake Arrieta or Gerrit Cole—the two guys who figure to start the National League Wild Card Game—or Dallas Keuchel, the guy who would start against Tanaka at Yankee Stadium if the Houston Astros make it to the AL game.

Tanaka was that guy for three months last year, before he got hurt. He’s not that guy now.

He can be very good. Don’t forget he allowed just three runs in 22 innings in three late-season starts versus the Toronto Blue Jays or that his August-September ERA was 2.79 before Wednesday.

He’s still the best choice the Yankees have to start a must-win game. He just doesn’t feel as automatic as you’d like in a game you can’t afford to lose.

“Vanilla” was the way one scout in attendance put it Wednesday, when Tanaka allowed a three-run first-inning home run to Boston’s Travis Shaw and ended up giving up four runs in five innings of the Yankees’ 9-5, 11-inning loss to the Red Sox.

“Not a disaster, certainly adequate,” the scout said. “But he was a pitchability/contact guy with no plus pitches tonight.”

Girardi and Tanaka could easily dismiss Wednesday’s results because of an 11-day layoff caused by Tanaka’s hamstring strain. He was rusty, he didn’t have his good split-finger fastball (he hung the one that Shaw blasted for a home run), and a normal schedule between now and Tuesday will help.

“I think it was a good sign I was able to come out of this game strong,” Tanaka said through his interpreter. “[The problems with the split] may have had something to do with the layoff. I think it’ll be better next time.”

The Yankees could have clinched their playoff spot with a win Wednesday, but they lost to the Red Sox for a third straight night. With Mark Teixeira out for the year and with Alex Rodriguez and others starting to look worn down (although A-Rod homered Wednesday), the Yankees aren’t the offensive powerhouse they were earlier in the season.

They’ll need big performances from some of their starting pitchers, and there’s every chance they’ll need a big performance from Tanaka next Tuesday.

“I don’t know if it would be the biggest game I’ve pitched,” said Tanaka, who once threw 160 pitches in a Japan Series Game 6 and came back the next day to save Game 7. “Absolutely, it’ll be a big game.”

Tanaka has a big-game attitude, a toughness that is especially evident on nights like Wednesday, when he is forced to battle. Even with diminished stuff, he’s a safer choice for the Wild Card Game than rookie Luis Severino, who looks like a future ace but has started just 10 major league games. He’s a safer choice than CC Sabathia, who has the same toughness but even more diminished stuff.

Tanaka’s fastball averaged 92.1 mph Wednesday, according to BrooksBaseball.net. While that’s not far off from where it has been for much of this season, it’s a tick down from where he was in his exciting first month with the Yankees.

Since then, of course, Tanaka has had to deal with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow. He has proven that it was a good choice to put off Tommy John surgery and that he can be a successful pitcher with what he takes to the mound now.

“We’ve been very pleased with the way he’s thrown the ball,” Girardi said Wednesday afternoon. “I think he’s had a very good second year.”

He ends the regular season with a 12-7 record and a 3.51 ERA, and the other numbers aren’t bad, either.

He’s a very good pitcher, but in a game you have to win, you’d rather count on a great pitcher.

Can the Yankees depend on him? Next week, they’ll have little choice.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yankees’ October Run in Jeopardy If Masahiro Tanaka Isn’t 100 Percent

The pick-an-ace game of chance will not work in October.

The New York Yankees need a definitive answer. But for nearly six months, that all-important No. 1 spot in the rotation has been a revolving door of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately candidates, none of which have been able to keep the position in their grasps for what seems like more than a couple of weeks at a time because of ineffectiveness, injuries or both. 

Even through patches of injuries and inconsistency, Masahiro Tanaka has been considered the team’s best option to start any big October game, whether it be one in the final days of the regular season, a wild-card play-in or Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Of the starters who have been with the team all season, the Japanese right-hander leads the Yankees with a 3.38 ERA, 0.987 WHIP and 118 ERA+, showing he has been mostly good this season when healthy.

His health, however, is his biggest obstacle. His latest problem is a right hamstring strain suffered on Sept. 18. He was feeling discomfort in it as late as Friday, and the Yankees now do not know when, or if, he will take the ball before the end of the regular season. It was announced Sunday that if Tanaka cannot take the mound by Thursday, he won’t start again before the playoffs, when he would likely be called upon for a one-game wild-card sudden death likely to happen at Yankee Stadium.

If Tanaka does not pitch again until the postseason, that would be 18 days between starts, the second one coming on Oct. 6 in the franchise’s most important game since 2012. If he is not 100 percent healthy, or effective, his team’s playoff chances are put in real jeopardy.

“I know everyone wants an answer, but it’s really not that simple because of his value to us moving forward,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters, via Grace Raynor of MLB.com. “It’s something you have to weigh. Is it worth the risk maybe moving it up a day or two days if you need him, to what could possibly happen? It’s a careful situation that we’re trying to manage. I wish I knew, really.” 

Before Tanaka, who could pitch out of the bullpen if he does not make a start by Thursday, hurt his hamstring running to first base in a game against the New York Mets, he was pitching like the ace the Yankees figured him to be when they signed him for $155 million over seven years. In his last eight starts, he had a 2.60 ERA, including two dominant outings against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he combined to allow one run with 15 strikeouts across 16 innings.

That kind of production gives the Yankees an arm that can match up with any the other wild-card contenders might throw at them, including Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Texas’ Cole Hamels or whoever the Los Angeles Angels or Minnesota Twins might decide to trot out there. The problem, of course, is Tanaka’s availability, or his sharpness in the safe assumption that he is ready to pitch in that game.

“I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m not ready to talk anything about that yet,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter, via Raynor. “As for now, for me, I’m just happy with the way I’m progressing.”

If the Yankees are not comfortable throwing Tanaka in his first postseason game on 18 days of rest, they have another option, though one that is less proven—21-year-old rookie Luis Severino, who has a 2.77 ERA in 10 major league starts after he pitched six shutout innings Sunday against the Chicago White Sox.

“I would be happy to, of course,” Severino told reporters Sunday, via Newsday‘s Neil Best.

The Yankees don’t want to be forced into that alternative, obviously. Not because Severino has not demonstrated his value, because he has. And part of the reason they made sure to limit him in his 19 minor league starts was so they could keep him fresh for September and October in the majors.

But that Wild Card Game is exactly the kind of start the Yankees envisioned Tanaka making when they signed him. For the better part of the last two seasons, he has shown, when healthy, he is the kind of pitcher who should get the ball in a do-or-die scenario.

The problem is getting him prepared for it. Hamstrings are temperamental; they act up without notice. And that is beside the fact that keeping Tanaka sharp after nearly three weeks of nonaction seems fairly improbable even for a front-line starter.

In order for the Yankees to advance, though, the hamstring and the stuff have to be ever-present. If not, the franchise’s return to the postseason might last just a few hours.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Do the Yankees Have What It Takes to Survive Do-or-Die Wild Card Playoff?

NEW YORK — Over in the National League, the Wild Card Game matchup seemed set weeks ago.

Here in the American League, no one wants to acknowledge that any part of it is set yet.

“I think it’s still too early,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday, when someone asked who he might start in the AL Wild Card Game. “Because nothing’s decided yet.”

Technically, he’s right. Realistically, the Yankees are headed for baseball’s one-game, do-or-die round for the first time in their history, and the question that matters more than anything is whether they’re set up to win it.

And the answer is, that depends.

It depends on whether Masahiro Tanaka is healthy enough to pitch (the Yankees say they expect he will be). It depends on which team the Yankees face (too close to say).

The Yankees hold a comfortable lead for the first wild-card spot and the chance to host the October 6 game. The race for the second spot is so close that my friends Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times and Jayson Stark of ESPN.com both wrote stories Thursday explaining what will happen if there’s a two- or three-way tie.

That’s good for the Yankees (although a three-way tie would push the Wild Card Game to October 7, the day before the Division Series begins). Even better would be the Minnesota Twins emerging as the second wild-card team, however it happens.

The Twins have a long history of losing in New York. They also have the small problem that the guy who is pitching best for them—Ervin Santana, 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA over five starts since August 30—is ineligible for the postseason because of his April drug suspension.

The Twins would come to New York without a true No. 1 starter. The Houston Astros could show up with Dallas Keuchel, who might win the American League Cy Young (and who threw seven shutout innings at Yankee Stadium just last month). The Los Angeles Angels fall somewhere in between.

The Yankees believe they have a true No. 1, but only if Tanaka can pitch. He missed Wednesday’s scheduled start in Toronto with a hamstring strain, and the Yankees still haven’t said when he’ll pitch next.

“I’d be surprised if he’s not available in the near future,” Girardi said, adding after the game that Tanaka got a good update Thursday from the Yankees’ doctor.

Tanaka’s recent form has been good (a 1.29 ERA in his last three starts). He has shown the ability to control a game against a good lineup (seven shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 13).

“He can be a dominant pitcher,” Yankees closer Andrew Miller said.

And the Yankees wouldn’t need him to pitch nine innings. Their bullpen depth has become a big concern, but in the postseason they should have Adam Warren in the bullpen along with Miller, Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson.

“They only need five innings from the starter,” said one rival scout who has been following the Yankees. “Betances would pitch the sixth and seventh, and Miller the eighth and ninth.”

All they need to do is get a lead. And that’s where it should help that they’ll be playing at home.

The Yankees are built for their ballpark. For the season, they’ve hit 108 home runs in 74 home games.

“If you don’t think our lineup is built to play here, you’re naive,” Miller said.

They’ll take their chances. If it comes down to one game to save their season—and it sure looks like it will—the Yankees believe they’ll be in good position to win it.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure the team we’d be playing would feel the same way,” Miller said.

History won’t tell you much. The Wild Card Game is only in its fourth year, and no real patterns have developed yet.

Teams have won with true aces (Madison Bumgarner for the San Francisco Giants last year in Pittsburgh), and without them (Joe Saunders won for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 in Texas). Two games were shutouts, and one finished 9-8 in 12 innings (Kansas City over Oakland, last year).

Road teams have won four of the six games, but any team involved would still tell you they’d rather play at home.

Actually, every team in it would tell you they’d rather have avoided it, that they wish they’d finished in first place and advanced straight to the division series.

The Yankees were in that spot earlier this week. Technically, they still are, although after two losses in three games in Toronto, it’s clear that being in the best shape for the Wild Card Game has also become a major concern.

“We need to win games,” Girardi said, before pausing and adding, “and we’ve got to keep guys healthy.”

If they keep the guys they have now healthy, they should have a real chance. If they get Tanaka healthy, they should have an even better chance.

If they get the right opponent, they should have the best chance of all.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Masahiro Tanaka Injury: Updates on Yankees Star’s Hamstring and Return

The New York Yankees pitching staff took a hit Sunday when the team announced Masahiro Tanaka will miss Wednesday’s start with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain.     

Continue for updates. 

Ivan Nova to Take Tanaka’s Start

Sunday, Sept. 20

While any injury to a pitcher of Tanaka’s quality is a concern, the silver lining for the Yankees is the severity of the setback. Buster Olney of ESPN noted New York hopes the pitcher only misses one start.

Tanaka missed more than one month from late April to early June because of a forearm strain. But his ERA sits at a solid 3.38, and he boasts an impressive 0.99 WHIP. 

His inconsistencies in the health department were compounded by the fact that CC Sabathia missed a large portion of 2015 with a knee injury. Michael Pineda also missed time, and Ivan Nova is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery last year. 

The Yankees have been able to stay in the American League East and wild-card races despite all of the problems with their starting rotation, but given how well the Toronto Blue Jays have been playing since acquiring David Price, they likely have their eyes on a wild-card spot.

Ideally, Tanaka will return after only one missed start and be fresh for a postseason run in October.

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Masahiro Tanaka’s Clutch Complete Game Provides Yankees Needed Ace Presence

Momentum is such a fickle thing in Major League Baseball.

While the narrative and storyline that comes along with it feed the public’s interest and make for good radio, column and bar-stool fodder, the truth is momentum in that sport shifts from day to day, inning to inning and even batter to batter. All the momentum in the world—negative and positive—can be altered by one misplaced pitch, a swat of a hanging breaking ball or the twirling of a gorgeous complete game.

The Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and all their fans now know that after Masahiro Tanaka delivered his outing of the season in a complete-game, one-run, five-hit, eight-strikeout gem Saturday. With that 4-1 victory at Rogers Center—again in a playoff-like atmosphere—the Yankees have proved the runaway train that was once the Blue Jays will not disappear into the distance with the American League East title.

And if Tanaka can return to the pitcher who resembled a budding ace in 2014, he would suddenly give the Yankees a front man for their rotation and someone who can match up with Toronto ace David Price. Tanaka also provides New York with desperately needed depth in a rotation that seemed to be in flux entering this critical weekend series.

“He was great,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters of Tanaka. “He was on, he was hitting his spots.”

“My mindset was I wanted to go as deep into the game as possible,” Tanaka told reporters through a translator. “I’m just really satisfied that I was able to do that.”

This was the best outing of Tanaka’s season. The 26-year-old Japanese right-hander had shown only flashes this year of what made him the Yankees’ $155 million import and future ace. He lived up to the billing last season by posting a 2.77 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 20 starts before a partial UCL tear shelved him for the final 65 games. 

In Tanaka’s previous 16 starts this season, he had a 3.79 ERA and 4.18 FIP. His strikeouts were down, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was down, and his 102 adjusted ERA showed he was an average pitcher. That mediocrity is part of what made the non-waiver trade deadline such a disappointment for Yankees fans, and it is the reason the team had to call up top pitching prospect Luis Severino when Michael Pineda went on the disabled list earlier this month.

While that was happening with the Yankees, the Blue Jays went out and landed Price, bullpen help and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki at the deadline, which made them look like the most complete team in the American League for a span of 15-plus games. It would have been 16 had Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez not served up a go-ahead home run to Carlos Beltran on Friday, spoiling a great outing by Price.

But that momentum is such a fleeting beast.

The Blue Jays rode that two-week stretch to the top of the AL East, erasing an eight-game deficit in 14 games to go up a half-game in the division. At that point, the narrative suggested the Blue Jays were world-beaters and the Yankees were suckers for not nabbing a front-line starter in July.

Going into this weekend in Toronto, the series winner would have the advantage entering the season’s final seven weeks, although it’s still a long schedule when you play almost daily. But if the Yankees did not want to be bombarded with questions about what their problems were and if they could envision themselves catching a team as hot as the Blue Jays, they had to do something.

“Up to this point, I think today was one of the most important games that I’ve pitched in,” Tanaka told reporters.

And he delivered his best of the year, giving the Yankees hope that this is the Tanaka they can expect through this playoff push and once they get to the postseason.

Pineda, who went on the DL with a strained forearm, is expected back at some point this month so long as no setbacks happen. Severino has been impressive in two starts on a relatively short leash. And Ivan Nova is a wild card the Yankees can hardly afford to play with all the chips in the middle of the table.

This is why it’s so significant that Tanaka again looks like the ace of the rotation. When he is right, he undoubtedly gives New York the kind of arm that can go pitch for pitch with the likes of Price, Johnny Cueto and Dallas Keuchel, the other aces of the league.

The Yankees might not have pulled off a blockbuster trade for a starting pitcher, and they might have lost one to the DL for a brief time. But if Tanaka becomes as dominant as he was in 2014, that return to form is as valuable as any ace on the market would have been.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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10 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of MLB Action

Surprised yet?

You should be.

The first calendar month of the Major League Baseball season is behind us, and there was absolutely no shortage of stunning happenings during that time. From the supposed best team in baseball literally kicking away wins to one of the game’s biggest stars involved in a disturbing soap opera, the game has provided plenty of early barstool chatter.

While some of these surprises can be dismissed as small-sample-size oddities—the Houston Astros in first place and Clayton Kershaw’s 3.73 ERA among them—there are others that will have relevant impacts for a significant portion of the summer. Ignoring them would be to scoff at the most important dealings of the early season.

We shall not scoff here. Instead, we will explore them, focusing on events and trends that not only shaped the first month but can continue to mold how the rest of the season unfolds.

Begin Slideshow

Masahiro Tanaka’s Early Injury Is Ominous Sign in Effort to Survive 2015 Season

Now the New York Yankees can fear the worst.

A heavy part of their 2015 success is contingent on the health, and therefore effectiveness, of Masahiro Tanaka. The narrative rightfully flowed as something like this: Whichever way their Japanese ace goes, so too shall the Bombers.

The Yankees are now in full-blown “hope that isn’t the case” mode after Tanaka had to be shuffled to his dark place, the 15-day disabled list. And those 15 days will not be his maximum time spent there.

Tanaka showed up to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon complaining of pain in his right wrist, general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. The team sent the right-hander for an MRI after that, and it revealed tendinitis as well as a mild forearm strain.

Tanaka will miss at least a month. And that is leaning conservatively for the team’s $175 million foreign investment, Cashman noted via Tyler Kepner of The New York Times:

“I’m going to try to get back as soon as I can,” Tanaka said through an interpreter, per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with my elbow.”

That his right elbow is even brought into the conversation is the scary part for all involved parties.

Tanaka missed two-and-a-half months last season because of a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which, as even casual fans are now poignantly aware of, is the precursor to Tommy John surgery and an absence of a full calendar year or more. Three separate specialists told the Yankees last year that Tanaka could avoid Tommy John surgery with rest and rehab, and he came back to make two starts in September.

The MRI did not show any changes to the already existing UCL damage, but any forearm injury in this day of “routine” Tommy John surgeries can pump fear into a pitcher and his employer. So much so that Cashman could not help but acknowledge that elephant sitting in front of Tanaka’s locker, per Botte:

“We want to make sure this does not lead to more horrific problems,” Cashman told reporters, meaning that particular surgery.

A month is already a significant chunk of the season for Tanaka to miss. Anything longer, and the Yankees will be forced to join the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox as suitors for a front-line starting pitcher, assuming they were not already involved in that trade market.

Tanaka made four starts this season, his last one on April 23. He went 6.1 innings and allowed one run. Over his last two outings, he has allowed just that one run in 13.1 innings. He complained of no discomfort after either start and was scheduled to pitch Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay.

Without him, the Yankees have to rely heavily on Michael Pineda to be the pitcher they have seen only blurs of since trading for him in 2012. Pineda has to be a No. 1 capable of matching arsenals with any ace in the league, which Tanaka has been when healthy. So far this season, though, Pineda has resembled that only once, in his most recent start Friday when he pitched 7.2 innings and allowed just one run against the Mets.

Last season, in 18 starts before his elbow became a problem, Tanaka was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA. He was easily the team’s best pitcher, and based on his 3.3 Baseball-Reference WAR, he was on his way to being the team’s best player, period.

If Pineda turns out to not be the suitable answer in Tanaka’s extended absence, the temptation for the Yankees to part with pieces of their up-and-coming farm system might be too sweet to resist as Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir could all be dangled in front of them in the coming months. Doing so could set the organization back years in player development.

If they do not, it could mean a third consecutive season without postseason play for the Yankees as the roster gets older, injury concerns become more realistic and frustration billows from the owner’s box and fanbase.

This is what Tanaka means to the Yankees. Partly because of an expensive, old and potentially declining club and partly because he has been so damn effective when his seemingly fragile right arm allows him to occupy the mound, Tanaka is the first domino in the Yankees’ 2015 season.

If he stands tall, they could be the team to beat in the American League East this summer. If he does not, the fallout can become undeniably enormous and detrimental to the team’s immediate and long-term future.

For now, the Yankees wait for Tanaka’s arm to respond, as scared as can be.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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