Masahiro Tanaka is set to face live hitters today for the first time in weeks. He was shut down after doctors found a small tear in the right ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow just before the All-Star break. Larger tears of this kind are generally repaired by Tommy John surgery. Since Tanaka’s tear was relatively small, the Yankees opted to rehab the elbow rather than go under the knife. Tanaka’s rehab has thus far been successful and the Yankees remain optimistic that Tanaka may be able to take the mound in the middle of September. However, the Bombers should ax that plan and focus on getting Tanaka’s elbow fully healed and ready for spring training next February.
One of the biggest bright spots in an otherwise dismal up and down season was the stellar first half pitching performance orchestrated by the Japanese rookie import. Tanaka was the biggest and best reason to watch the Yankees in the first half of the season, other than the final season of Derek Jeter‘s Hall of Fame career. However, while Jeter’s impending departure signifying an ending and closing of a chapter in the Yankee universe, Tanaka’s arrival on the scene seemed to represent the polar opposite. Tanaka was hope. Tanaka was youth. Tanaka was a new beginning in comparison to Jeter’s ending.
Of course, the 2014 season has very little hope remaining for the Yankees. While not mathematically eliminated from anything, the realistic probability of this team winning the division or a wild card this season falls with each game. They certainly still have a puncher’s chance to win the second wild card and get to participate in a one-game playoff. However, that reward is simply not worth the risk associated with Tanaka’s return this season.
The best case scenario for a 2014 return by Tanaka appears to be about 4 starts in mid-to-late September plus any playoff games the Yankees might qualify for. The risk however, is that Tanaka may hurt his elbow further and require Tommy John surgery wiping out the entire 2015 season and likely part of the 2016 season. All for the miniscule unguaranteed reward of a one-game playoff game that will likely be played in Los Angeles or Detroit. In this case, the juice is simply not worth the squeeze. The Yankees need to shut Tanaka down and plan for him to be ready for February not September.