Rocked by Masahiro Tanaka Injury, What Options Are There for Yankees in 2014?

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Rocked by Masahiro Tanaka Injury, What Options Are There for Yankees in 2014?
Kathy Willens/AP Images

Standout rookie Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn UCL, and while the news could have been worse and there's a chance he'll avoid surgery, it's still a significant blow to the New York Yankees' playoff hopes.

Tanaka met with three different doctors, each providing the same diagnosis, and he has opted to try rehabbing the injury, a process that will sideline him for at least six weeks.

That's according to a pair of tweets from Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, with a number of others verifying the report.

As Hoch points out, Tommy John surgery is still a possibility if rehab doesn't work, as Matt Harvey took a similar route to surgery last year.

Either way, the Yankees will be without their best starter and the one reliable arm in their rotation until roughly September.

The team already acquired Brandon McCarthy in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was expected to at least kick the tires on adding another starter.

This could expedite that process, as New York's current staff does not have the look of a legitimate contender.

New York Yankees Current Projected Starting Rotation
Player 2014 Stats
RHP Brandon McCarthy 19 GS, 3-10, 4.80 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, 116.1 IP
RHP David Phelps 21 G, 12 GS, 3-4, 4.01 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.35 WHIP, 83.0 IP
RHP Hiroki Kuroda 18 GS, 6-6, 4.20 ERA, 3.94 FIP 1.26 WHIP, 109.1 IP
RHP Shane Greene 2 G, 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA, 6.11 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 6.1 IP
RHP Chase Whitley 11 G, 10 GS, 4-2, 4.94 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 1.45 WHIP, 51.0 IP

Baseball Reference

Picking up McCarthy was a nice move by the front office, as his peripheral numbers suggested he was pitching far better this season than his 3-10 record and 5.01 ERA during his time with the Diamondbacks indicated.

He went 6.2 innings in his Yankees debut, allowing nine hits and four runs (one earned) to come away with a no-decision. If he can pitch to his 2011-12 A's form (3.29 ERA in 43 starts), the Yankees will be much better off.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Brandon McCarthy was a nice mid-level acquisition, but he's not capable of carrying the Yankees' staff.

Hiroki Kuroda is not a Cy Young candidate like he was midway through last season, but he remains capable of going deep into games. He's turned in 10 quality starts in his 18 outings and is averaging just over six innings per start.

David Phelps has also been a viable option since moving to the rotation, going 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in his 12 starts, though he is best suited as a fifth starter.

Then there are the two rookies Chase Whitley and Shane Greene, who have done admirably considering nothing was expected of them at the big league level this season. However, relying on them every fifth day during a second-half playoff push is probably asking too much.

So basically, New York is currently working with what would constitute three-fifths of most contenders' rotations and a pair of unknown commodities.

It would appear the Yankees can approach the days and weeks to come in three different ways.

  • They go all-in and try to land a frontline starter to replace Tanaka.
  • They go after a mid-level starter or two to try to put a Band-Aid on things.
  • They stand pat, hope Tanaka returns, and accept their fate if he doesn't.

The first option would be ideal, if the Yankees had the chips to move and there were an abundance of front-of-the-rotation arms on the trade market.

David Price is the biggest name that could wind up available, but there is no chance the Tampa Bay Rays would trade him in-division, and the Yankees don't have the chips to acquire him anyway.

Beyond Price, the list of frontline guys who could be available seems to begin and end with Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's currently sidelined with a forearm strain and may not return until after the deadline.

Injury issues aside, the Phillies seem set in their stance that they will only move him if someone takes on most or all of the $37.5 million remaining on his contract (which doesn't include the rest of this year's salary) and parts with a significant package of prospects.

So let's go ahead and say:

  • They go all-in and try to land a frontline starter to replace Tanaka.

After spending nearly $500 million on free agents this offseason in an effort to revamp the roster and avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1992-93, it's hard to see the Bronx Bombers simply standing pat and hoping for the best.

As of writing this, they sit just 3.5 games back in the AL East, and with no runaway best team right now, the division is up for grabs.

With that in mind, we can also probably say: 

  • They stand pat, hope Tanaka returns, and accept their fate if he doesn't

That just leaves the second option of them going after a mid-level arm or two between now and the trade deadline, and there are a number of intriguing options of varying ability and price to be had.

Here is a quick overview of pitchers who could be made available in July, all of whom the Yankees are capable of acquiring given their tradable assets.

Potential Mid-Level Starter Trade Targets
Player 2014 Stats
Bartolo Colon, NYM 17 GS, 8-7, 4.04 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 113.2 IP
Kevin Correia, MIN 18 GS, 4-11, 4.79 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 1.42 WHIP, 103.1 IP
Jorge De La Rosa, COL 18 GS, 9-6, 4.75 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, 96.2 IP
John Danks, CWS 18 GS, 8-6, 4.15 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, 112.2 IP
Roberto Hernandez, PHI 17 GS, 4-8, 4.22 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 1.45 WHIP, 100.1 IP
Kyle Kendrick, PHI 18 GS, 4-8, 4.46 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 115.0 IP
Ian Kennedy, SD 19 GS, 7-9, 3.71 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 116.1 IP

Baseball Reference

The two names that stand out have both worn pinstripes before: Bartolo Colon and Ian Kennedy.

After sitting out the 2010 season, Colon made his comeback with the Yankees in 2011. He was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 games (26 starts) that season, helping what was also an injury-plagued Yankees staff turn things around.

He's coming off a solid month of June, in which he posted a 2.57 ERA in six starts. With what figures to be an abundance of starting pitchers vying for rotation spots next season, the Mets could be motivated to move him.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Bartolo Colon could come fairly cheap, and he's had success with the Yankees before.

The 41-year-old is due $11 million next season, so picking him up would represent a fairly large commitment beyond this season, but he could come relatively cheap.

Kennedy may be the most intriguing name of the group, though, as he's capable of providing the Yankees with the frontline arm they need if he can pitch to his capabilities.

The Yankees took Kennedy with their first-round pick back in 2006 but shipped him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-team blockbuster in 2009 that also included Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and others.

Everything came together for him in 2011, as he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting, emerging as one of the top starters in all of baseball during his age-26 season.

He fell back to earth in 2012, though, going 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA, and things got even worse for him last season.

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
Once a disappointing prospect, could Ian Kennedy come full circle and return to the Yankees?

With Kennedy sporting a 5.23 ERA through 21 starts, the Diamondbacks opted to make him available at the deadline, despite the fact that they were still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The San Diego Padres jumped at the chance to buy low, swapping lefty reliever Joe Thatcher for him, and he's turned things around in a big way during the first half of this season.

His 2.93 FIP ranks 14th among all qualified starters, and while pitching in Petco Park has certainly helped, he actually has a lower ERA on the road (3.49) than he does at home (3.92) so far.

This is all just speculation, and the Yankees could indeed opt to hope for the best and try to ride things out while Tanaka attempts to rehab his elbow.

One thing is for sure: The loss of Tanaka is a serious blow for the Yankees and for baseball fans everywhere. He was in the midst of a special rookie season and had become must-see TV every time he took the mound.

Here's hoping the rehab works and he's back pitching again in the estimated six weeks. History says the odds of that happening are fairly slim, but crazier things have happened.

 

Note: Stats up to date through games on July 9.

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