Before the season started, everyone knew that there was a good chance that Masahiro Tanaka wouldn’t make it through the year healthy. After all, the guy had just rehabilitated a small tear in his throwing elbow’s UCL. So when news broke that Tanaka was diagnosed with a sore wrist and forearm strain, nobody was overly surprised. It was disappointing, especially after a great performance last week against Detroit. He’ll be out for at least one month.
Where do the Yankees go from here? It’s evident that Chase Whitley will take Tanaka’s spot in the rotation after yesterday’s solid outing. As an alternative, Bryan Mitchell could get a start or two as well. And just to get this out of the way: don’t expect the team to rush 21 year-old Luis Severino to be a replacement. No matter who gets the ball in place of Tanaka for the next month, the drop off in talent will be stark. So in order to absorb Tanaka’s absence, the Yankees are going to need other guys in the rotation to step up: namely CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. We know that Michael Pineda is great — the only worry is keeping him healthy, especially now without Tanaka. Adam Warren is respectable, but unlikely to take a leap forward. That leaves us with the aforementioned Sabathia and Eovaldi, who could be better.
Early on, Sabathia and Eovaldi have been up and down. Last start notwithstanding, I think CC has actually looked really good thus far. It would be unfair to ask him to be the ace he once was, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he could pitch like a second or third starter for the period of time Tanaka is out (assuming just the one month). On the other hand, Eovaldi has been a whirlwind. It’s easy to see that he has frontline pitcher stuff, but his command is lackluster. He’s a project that the Yankees are hoping to succeed with, but given the injury to Tanaka, the team really needs to see the fruits of its labor as soon as possible.
If Tanaka can return in the next month or so, then the staff can probably get by without him. Unfortunately, that’s no sure thing. If he needs more time, the Yankees have some reinforcements on the way. Once we get past the one month point, Chris Capuano will likely be ready to step in (if not sooner). Ivan Nova will be on the precipice of returning, too. Nonetheless, Capuano isn’t anything special and who knows what Nova will be after missing a year because of the surgery Tanaka avoided last season. Capuano and Nova are slight upgrades over Whitley or Mitchell, but I’d guess the Yankees might look elsewhere if this becomes a long-term issue.
Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto will be the biggest names on the trade market, but at a steep price. More than one of Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird would have to go in return, and even that might not be enough. I don’t think the Yankees are willing to do that given the way the club has proceeded in the trade market recently. I’d anticipate something more mid-level, perhaps similar to the Brandon McCarthy deal last year. Such a move wouldn’t fill Tanaka’s void in its entirety, but it would be a fairly substantial upgrade over the internal options. Hopefully Tanaka’s injury doesn’t get to this point.
Losing Tanaka is a big blow, make no bones about it. The Yankees are going to play it extremely safe with the right-hander, which makes sense. I trust the team in its preliminary belief that Tanaka can be back in a month or so. However, am I worried a setback could occur? Of course. But for the time being, the Yankees should behave as if he’ll be back by early June and hope that Sabathia and Eovaldi can pick up the slack. Perhaps those expectations are lofty, but there’s no need to panic just yet.