Coincidentally, numbers give us an idea of what to expect for the next month and a half. The Yankees won 13 of Tanaka’s 18 starts. They were 34-42 on days he didn’t pitch. It all added up to a 47-47 record at the All-Star break, somehow worse than the 51-43 mark posted by last year’s team through its first 94 games despite the Yankees spending like drunken sailor’s this past winter in an attempt to get back to the postseason.
If the Yankees were this bad with Tanaka, it’s hard to imagine them staying afloat for the next six weeks, unless you think Shane Green is an adequate replacement for a 25-year-old MVP and Cy Young candidate. While it’s noble of them to think they have enough left in the tank to survive until Tanaka returns, it’s also incredibly stupid, yet another example of how this franchise has mishandled fragile arms for the past decade.
The Yankees are five games behind first-place Baltimore in the American League East. They also trail second-place Toronto by a game. They’re only 3 ½ behind Seattle for the second wild card spot, but they also need to leapfrog three others teams (Kansas City, Toronto and Cleveland) in order to catch the Mariners. The top wild card spot isn’t even an option; the white-hot Angels, dwarfed only by the resurgence of the league-leading Oakland Athletics, are 20 games above .500 and have that thing all but sewn up.
Even if the Yankees tread water the next six weeks and stay within striking distance of a playoff spot, they won’t have much time to make up that ground if and when Tanaka returns. The Yankees actually need to find a way to gain ground with four fifths of their rotation on the disabled list and a decaying lineup showing no signs of life.
This isn’t a plea for the Yankees to raise the white flag and call 2014 a wash, but it’d be nice if they were smart with their pitching prospects for a change. The same franchise responsible for ruining – or failing to fix – so many great arms (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes) is now rolling the dice with its $155 million ace.
It’s the fans’ job to scream, “We can do it!” and rally behind the reserves. It’s the franchise’s job to show proper restraint. Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright tried rehabilitating similar injuries and wound up needing surgery anyway, like most players with torn UCLs do. No two injuries are the same, but there’s enough evidence to suggest exercise and rehab is a dead-end street when dealing with such ailments.
The Yankees should’ve looked at the bigger picture, as in the remaining six year on Tanaka’s contract, and sent their ace to the operating room the minute his MRI revealed a torn ligament. It would’ve saved them a lot of heartache and possibly paved the way for a late return by Tanaka in 2015 since the recovery from Tommy John surgery is typically 15 to 18 months. Assuming the inevitable happens and Tanaka goes under the knife in September when the team realizes rehab was a bad idea, you can kiss all of 2015 goodbye.
This is what happens when you’re always in “win now” mode. Maybe deep down the Yankees realize this year’s team isn’t good enough to win it all and are afraid that ending Tanaka’s season is a sign they’re raising the white flag, thereby sending ticket sales down the drain. Or maybe instead of looking at the big picture and putting Tanaka’s long-term health atop their list of priorities they’re hoping three and a half weeks of his services in September will squeeze out another playoff berth. If all else fails, they can just sign Jon Lester to a five-year deal and watch him decay alongside C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and the rest of the deadweight soaking up the payroll.
Whatever they're thinking, it’s a short-term solution to what could be a long-term problem, and you don’t need a team of doctors to make that diagnosis.
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