|Ooo... That looks painful|
By all accounts the New York Yankees are the model franchise of all North American professional sports. They have won 27 World Series Championships. Next closest in all of the major North American franchises is the Montreal Canadians of the NHL with 24. Followed by the NBA's own Lakers and Celtics with 17 a piece. The next MLB team down the list? The St. Louis Cardinals with 10. That's right, the New York Yankees have 17 more championships than the next closest team in their league. They know how to win baseball games and they've been doing it for a very long time.
So why do we, and by we I mean the fantasy baseball community, baseball chattering class, baseball bloggers, casual fans, people on the street and the random J-Pop stars that I follow in Twitter seem to think that we all know better than the Yankees? Why are we all so convinced the Masahiro Tanaka will not last the entire 2015 season? The Yankees have actually talked to Tanaka. They have seen his medical records, his x-rays, and the size shirts he wears. They know everything there is to know about him and the 27 time World Series Champion New York Yankees believe that letting Tanaka pitch this season is A-O-K. Why?
Before we try and answer that question, lets try to figure out why we think we're so right. Back in July of 2014 after lighting the league on fire, Masahiro Tanaka went down with a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow. The kind of injury that usually results in Tommy John surgery for the majority of players, pitchers or otherwise. If you've gotten this far into the article and can point an instance of a pitcher who avoided TJ after a partially torn UCL please chime in. I will fix this post and cite you as a source. I know its happened once or twice, but for the most part after teams get that 2nd opinion on the damaged UCL, its surgery. Teams usually figure that its easier to bite that 12-18 months recovery time than to have a 2 month recovery followed a questionable return and then probably a visit from TJ anyway. So please, once again, if you have a case where a pitcher with a torn or partially torn UCL has come back and pitched effectively hit me up. I'd love to hear it.
The Yankees knew all that. They're not dumb. They have won 27 World Series titles after all. But instead they opted for rest and rehab. Maybe it was because they wanted to get the most use out of their brand new $155 million investment. Maybe it was because they were trying keep the Derek Jeter retirement tour chugging along as if it wasn't a lost season. Or maybe they really just thought that Tanaka could heal his ligament without changing how he threw a baseball.
To be clear, I understand why the Yankees would want as much Masahiro Tanaka as they can get. The first 3 months of the 2014 season he posted a 2.10 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP and 127 K's in 115.2 innings (ESPN). He made hitters look silly and he won 13 games which for only throwing just a hair over 130 innings in pretty good. There's a lot to like there, but once the elbow injury surfaced Tanaka nose-dived in a big way to the point where the Yankees shut him down all together just a 7 innings in to his September return.
So what do the Yankees know that the rest of the baseball world doesn't? I'm afraid nothing. These are not your father's Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, work hard, come through in the clutch Yankees. Nor are these your grandfather's outclass, out-talent, just a million times better than anyone Yankees. Hell, these are not even your older brother's Core4, Mike Mussina, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams belong in the Hall of Fame Yankees. This is the mostly 30+/$20 mil a year, mediocre at best farm system, grasping at straws, 27 time World Series Champion Yankees. And while those 27 World Series Championship are a nice thing to hang your hat on (or in most cases throw in every one else's face), they don't do diddly-squat for them this year, next year or any year in the future.
I think the bottom line reason that Masahiro Tanaka is still pitching for the Yankees and not recovering from a mid-July TJ surgery is because the Yankees have no other options. Its probably true that a slightly above replacement level Tanaka is better than no Tanaka. And he's probably better than anybody else the Yankees could trot out there right now. I don't blame them for not getting deep with Lester or Scherzer this off-season. Especially considering the FA class hitting the market in 2016 and the money they have coming off the books in the next 3 years. Unfortunately, a reduced Tanaka gets them no closer to the playoffs this season than no Tanaka will get them. But then again, these are your grasping at straws, let's see what sticks to the wall, we'll still cash in on merch sales, 27 time World Series Champion Yankees.