Yankees' ace Masahiro Tanaka is on the 15-day disabled list due to a right elbow injury and will undergo an MRI back home in New York. In a season in which an alarming number of pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery, the Yankees no doubt have to be concerned with the immediate future of their $175 million right-hander.
Michael Parente (@MichaelParente)
We really don’t need to wait for the results of Masahiro Tanaka’s MRI to know this is the beginning of the end for the 2014 New York Yankees. Upon learning their $175 million foreign import and staff ace is heading to the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow injury, the Bombers might as well raise the white flag, slash payroll, slash ticket prices and start planning more Joe Torre/Bernie Williams/Core Four anniversary celebrations in an attempt to fill seats in their $1.5 billion soundproof reading room otherwise known as The House That George Built.
See you on Clay Bellinger Bobblehead Day.
This won’t end well, not with the way injured Yankees’ pitchers have healed at a snail’s pace, or with the alarming rate at which pitchers in general have gone under the knife this year. Before we even reached the end of April, 25 pitchers had already undergone Tommy John surgery. Veteran Bronson Arroyo joined the list this week. Tanaka could be next.
If he goes down, that puts four-fifths of the Yankees’ Opening Day rotation, roughly $49 million worth of arms, on the disabled list, most of who were expected to come back within two, maybe three, weeks.
It started with Michael Pined, who landed on the 15-day DL on May 6th with a strained back muscle. Two months later, he’s just now starting to throw off flat ground and might be back by August if he doesn't suffer a third setback. Five days after Pineda hit the DL, CC Sabathia joined him with inflammation in his right knee. Four days ago, we learned Sabathia is out for the year due to fluid in the knee and significant cartilage damage that could require microfracture surgery. Ivan Nova never even had the luxury of suffering a setback. A partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow ended his season in April, resulting in immediate Tommy John surgery, which will sideline him for at least 18 months.
Now it's Tanaka, human after all following seven yeoman-like seasons in Japan in which the 25-year-old workhorse barely missed a start and pitched an eye-popping 53 complete games. It hardly makes sense. Have all the innings and high pitch counts suddenly caught up to Tanaka, or is this elbow injury a result of having to pitch every four days in the major leagues instead of once a week like he did in Japan? Are the Yankees to blame for allowing him to pitch a team-high 129 1/3 innings before the All-Star break? Was this inevitable no matter what?
If this were any other season, the forecast for Tanaka wouldn’t be all doom-and-gloom, but when you’re cursed, you’re cursed, and this season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees since Sabathia’s first pitch in April. Were it not for the league-wide decline in offense and the “parity”- a.k.a., lack of a runaway favorite – in the American League East, the mediocre Yankees (a paltry 45-44 entering Wednesday’s game) would've already been buried under an avalanche of younger, more efficient teams in the playoff hunt.
Even after Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland in which Tanaka surrendered two bombs and a season-high five earned runs, the Yankees only trailed first-place Baltimore by four games and sat just 3 ½ behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot. They still have a chance to make it to October, but if Tanaka is out for an extended period of time, you can file this season alongside the ‘92 Mets or the Alexi Kovalev-Jaromir Jagr-Bobby Holik Rangers’ teams as the most expensive disasters in New York sports history.
The A.L. East is bad, but it’s not nearly bad enough for a rotation featuring David Phelps, Shane Green, Chase Whitley and Brandon McCarthy (acquired in a garbage-for-garbage trade with Arizona that sent Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks) to make a significant dent, unless you count the dents in walls throughout the Bronx courtesy of Yankees’ fans putting their fists through them while watching one of these guys attempt to throw strikes. At least they’re not beating their wives (yet).
The worst part is all the injuries and the collective bemoaning of the Yankees’ fate by the front office will buy glorified check-signer Brian Cashman another season with which to further deplete the team’s farm system and fail miserably at building a competent infield.
The Yankees spent $471 million this winter to bring Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to the Bronx and still somehow have a worse record now than they did at this point a year ago, worse than the team that gave Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells more than 800 combined at-bats. It’s a lesson in reloading gone wrong, an example of how opening your checkbook doesn’t always guarantee success, even if your track record in that department is pretty damn good (see: 2009).
Or maybe the Yankees just don’t have it this year, whatever “it” is. There have only been a handful of bright spots. Yagnervis Solarte, the 27-year-old Venezuelan third baseman who came out of nowhere to usurp Eduardo Nunez and batted .303 in April, was one of them, but now he’s back in the minors following an extended slump in which he hit just .148 in his last 30 games. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira continues to excel beyond expectations with 17 home runs after missing all but 15 games last year due to a lingering wrist injury.
Then there's Tanaka, the biggest bright spot of them all, a legitimate Cy Young candidate who’s now on the DL and possibly done for the year pending the results of his MRI. Considering how everyone and everything in pinstripes has turned to dust this year, it’s hard to envision a happy ending to what was shaping up to be an award-winning rookie season. Spare us the diagnosis. We don't need a medical degree to know how this story will end.
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