The New York Yankees did not receive the worst possible news on Thursday, but it it certainly was not good. Just a week after all but confirming CC Sabathia would be out for the remainder of the 2014 season, the Yankees learned that Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow. Surgery will not yet be required. The Yankees, already limping along, now enter panic mode as the sky falls down around them.
Much like Matt Harvey with the Mets last year, Tanaka has been a must-watch player in New York this season and now hits the sidelines with an elbow injury. It is as much a disappointment to fans as it is a severe handicap to the team. Tanaka is expected to be out at least six weeks, but the worry is that the Yankees may be dragging far behind the Orioles or Blue Jays by then.
Since Tommy John surgery may be inevitable, some have wondered about why Tanaka does not simply have the procedure now to get it out of the way in what has been a relatively tough season for the Yankees. That would allow him to come back healthy late in 2015, perhaps fully healthy with a retooled roster in 2016. However, that sort of move does not make sense for the team, and more importantly Tanaka himself.
No matter how safe and common a procedure is, it is still a major operation with the risk of complications. Former NBA player Grant Hill nearly lost his life from an infection following a routine ankle operation. While something so drastic is obviously not anything Tanaka should worry himself with, it does show that operations should always be a last resort. It should be noted that of the three doctors who examined his elbow, none recommended surgery. For now, Tanaka will rely on rest and rehabilitation. He will be receiving platelet-rich plasma injections into the injury site, a recourse that many athletes have sworn by.
For the team itself, the clutter is really beginning to pile up. Carlos Beltran is also on the disabled list now after hitting a ball off of his own face in batting practice. The result was a concussion and a broken nose. Maybe this is the time for Beltran’s former teammate Jon Niese to return a favor to him, but that unfortunately does the Yankees’ lineup no good. The team is now down several everyday players from their opening day lineup, as well as four of their original five starting pitchers.
As the need to improve the roster increases, the decision about whether the Yankees even should make more deals is becoming murkier. The Yankees have hung around the division race, but much of that was on the back of Tanaka’s superb work. If the team were to look at someone like David Price, they would have to determine first if they even have enough top flight talent to offer the Tampa Bay Rays for the best starting pitcher in team history, and then evaluate if that package of youth is worth giving away on an already aged and brittle team.
The All Star break arrives on Monday, at a good point for the Yankees. It is panic time for the team, and a few days off will not only allow them to return Beltran from the disabled list but also rest their heavily taxed bullpen. In the best case scenario, Tanaka will be back sometime in late August for the stretch run, but the Yankees cannot count on someone who is still so far away. Look up, New York.
Commentary by Brian Moore