Worst-Case Scenario

The Yankees hope Masahiro Tanaka's elbow issue isn't serious, but they're in trouble even if it isn't. (Getty Images)

The Yankees hope Masahiro Tanaka's elbow issue isn't serious, but they're in trouble even if it isn't. (Getty Images)

It feels at times like I’ve started a hundred columns this year with the phrase “…and just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Yankees,” which is a somewhat remarkable testament to our enduring impression of them as a winning ballclub considering they’re still over .500 and only three games back in the division hunt. Nevertheless, given Wednesday’s events…

And just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Yankees, this happens. The morning after giving up 5 runs in 6.2 innings to the Cleveland Indians and informing the team’s training staff of elbow discomfort after the game, Masahiro Tanaka returned to New York City to get an examination, the results of which landed him on the disabled list. He’s hardly alone there, as he’ll be joining fellow starting pitchers Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Nova is absolutely done for the season following Tommy John surgery, and Sabathia may be as well, considering his rehab recently stalled with more complications in his injured knee and is out indefinitely.

The Yankees starting rotation is now some combination of 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda, recent trade acquisition Brandon McCarthy, former relievers David Phelps and Chase Whitley, and virtually unknown Shane Greene, who was taken by New York in the 15th round of the 2009 draft out of Daytona Beach Community College and made the first MLB start of his young career on Monday night, giving up five runs in 6.1 innings (though only two of the runs were earned).

This is, without reservation or complication, the worst starting rotation in the AL East — which is not a slight against Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, because it took injuries to four out of his five starting pitchers to force him into fielding it. As the Texas Rangers have shown, there is effectively no way to prepare for a rash of injuries like this — in a modern, 30-team league obsessed with advanced analytics, even the backups to backups are being properly scouted and signed to minor-league deals, just in case.

It’s not clear yet if Tanaka will miss any significant time, and while season-ending elbow and arm injuries have been unusually prominent in the 2014 narrative, the Yankees can at least cross their fingers and point to two pitchers — the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (back/shoulder) and the White Sox’ Chris Sale (elbow) — who have been disabled and come back as effective as they were before they left, if not more so. The extreme amount of caution teams are taking now with elbow and shoulder issues means there’s at least a chance all this concern is for nothing — and that’s something that Yankees fans would be quite pleased with.

But the bottom line is that even if Tanaka is fine, unless the Yankees are willing to gut their farm to somehow acquire another 1-2 quality starting pitchers, a quality right fielder, and quality options at second and third base — which might not even be possible in this market — they’re not going to be favorites to make the postseason even in this year’s AL East. As weak as the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are in some facets of their game — pitching, basically — the Yankees are even weaker, and both the O’s and Jays outclass the Yankees at the plate.

There’s no reason for the Yankees not to play this as cautiously as possible, especially given that they’ll be paying Tanaka $22 million a year or so through the end of the 2020 season. As painful as this might be for Yankees fans — especially for the second year in a row — the smart play is probably to handle Tanaka with the softest kid gloves possible, see what can be had on the trade market for what few trade chips the team actually has (Matt Thornton definitely, and perhaps even David Robertson if the Yankees aren’t willing to pay him top-flight closer money this offseason), and start thinking about what to do this offseason to try to regroup for next year.

39 thoughts on “Worst-Case Scenario

  1. I wouldnt panic so soon, Yankee lovers…this division was always going down to the wire.

  2. Of course Tanaka going on the DL is bad news for the Yankees. I mean…duh. As far as “worst case scenario” goes, it depends on the diagnosis. “Worst case scenario” would be Tommy John surgery. If it ends up being simply inflammation or tendinitis then it will actually be received as good news.

  3. I’m sorry but I hate the beginning of this article. “And just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Yankees.” Since when have the Yankees ever had to go through any real struggle as a team? They haven’t had a losing season in 22 years! Two years ago the O’s had their first winning season in 15 years. They spent year after freakin year at the bottom of the division. I do not feel sorry for the Yankees simply because they’re in 3rd place instead of 1st. No, how about they think long term for once and go and scout some real young talent? They simply buy a bunch of amazing veterans and everyone’s surprised when they get hurt? How about they spend some time at the bottom of the division, then you can start of an article with “And just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Yankees.”

    • Andrew, why the hate? The Yankees have a strong organization. As for “developing talent,” I suggest you look to the teams of the late-90s and early-to-mid-2000s. Those teams were heavy on “developed talent, but idiots like you kept insisting the Yankees were “buying” all of those titles. Stop being a goon.

      • Yankees spend more money than any team and you say that they aren’t buying talent and have the audacity to call me an idiot for saying so? Yes, they were good in the 90′s and were based on developed talent. Now, they are the oldest team in baseball getting the biggest paychecks. I’m not hating on the organization. I’m simply hating on the insinuation that the Yanks are having such a tough time right now.

        • If you worked for the wealthiest construction company, wouldn’t you expect your employer to provide you with the best equipment to do the job. I suspect that the folks that cry about “the Yankees buying there team” are really mad because the Yankees owners and organization are able to give their employees the best tools to do the job, and they do their best to do so.

          • If there were a salary cap or even a more equitable revenue sharing system in baseball, the Yankees would have been S.O.L. for a long time, because they DO buy their pennants. They can afford to waste money on risky talent, because they can always buy plan C &D if A & B don’t work. That doesn’t even require thought. If they had to pay for their mistakes like a lower budget team, they would already have years of failure. Why should the Yankees be entitled to that sort of a head start, when they already have the advantage of having unlimited resources to buy the best scouting staff in baseball (because there’s no salary cap on scouting staffs either, and never will be).
            They’re not ENTITLED to have the best tools, although like a typical New Yorker, they think they are.
            And NYCTim, the Yankees of the ’90s were partially homegrown, but they were always augmented by deep pockets free agency signings, not to mention that they could afford to keep their players under contract & not lose them to other teams offering more money.

      • Developing talent???/Since the early 1990 days of jeter, Pettite and Posada it has been awful…Riveria and cano were FREE AGENT signings…Yankees basically bought them..Since 1994 the yankee who has done the most and has had the best career over a period of time, not a season or 2, is Mike Lowell.. MLB never had a draft priorm to 1964..Every one and any one coming from sandlot or high school could go where they wanted..New York had the money, night life fame and excitement..No draft..That would be like Kershaw, Cabrera, Trout etc. all coming out in one year and there was nothing in place saying where they had to go..Fro 1964 to the early 1980 the Yankees had Horace Clarke Celerino Sanchez etc and were god awful..Not till free agency and steroids did they win..So please don’t say they develop great talent..This is site to research draft results

        http://www.thebaseballcube.com/draft/research.asp

        • It’s misleading to say that Cano and Rivera were free agent signings. They were amateur free agent signings. As in everyone had a chance for them and no one took them, or even tried to sign them to a cheap minor league deal. Regardless they spent their entire professional baseball career with the Yankees up to when Rivera retired and Cano bolted for the Mariners.

          • Both Rivera and Cano were foreign players, not subject to being drafted, so of course they went to the team with the most money to offer & the famous franchise & city. Even as Tanaka did in this day & age.
            Homegrown?? Bullsh!t.

        • Anyone who thinks the Yanks bought thier championships please tell me why we are not the winners for the last 10 years. Cause all the spending for the last 10 has bought us 1. And we are not the highest payroll, the Dodgers are! Just haters sh!ttn on the Yanks.

          • Because your GM is an idiot who regularly makes imprudent expenditures (see: Rodriguez, Teixeira, Sabathia, Ellsbury, and Beltran for example). Give Beane, Friedman or Mozeliak access to those resources and they would have won at least three more championships than Cashman. Can´t even buy championships well. Pathetic.

    • You and a million people have said this already. How about coming up with something original. Don’t you think the Yanks are out there scouting young talent. I think thier scouts need to take notes from the Rays scouts. They’re gonna have to be bottom dwellers for a while in order to draft high. Cashman has certainly put us in a pickle. But then again, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if everyone was healthy.

  4. Shane Greene only gave up 2 runs on Monday night. Yes all earned. Not sure how you can say he gave up 5 when the Yankees WON 5-3.

  5. Teams go from being “veteran” to “old” really quickly. Ask the phillies.

    They owe a ton of money to aging players who are not going to deliver value even close to equivalent value. Veterans are only getting more expensive and they didn’t get under the luxury tax this year. Farm system is weak.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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  7. The Yankees are in deep trouble for this year and many more to come. They will not make the playoffs and will finish with a worse record than the Mets.

    • Keep dreaming. The Mets are bottom of the barrel trash. They’ll be lucky if they finish with a better record than the Astros. Forget being better than the Yankees. Thats years and years and years and years away. The Yankees Double A team could have a better record than the Mets.

  8. Yes, if Tanaka does stay on the disabled list for a longer period of time, it will definitely hurt because he has carried this team so far this year. But the Yankees still have a quality team in hitting, yes their pitching staff is banged up but I think they will make the playoffs especially in this division. It’s anybody game even if they don’t get first they can go in as the wild card. Anything can happen in the playoffs. At least they’ll always be in the hunt.

  9. Making the playoffs with little to no chance of winning makes no sense. For once the Yankees should think long term (next season) and plan accordingly. Unless Tanaka’s injury is minor in time and severity and Cashman can pull off a miracle to make this team viable, then they should just shut it down and retool for next year. The Yankees are in a horrible situation that will only become worse if they gut the meager farm they now have, only to lose in the first round once again.

  10. I’ve despised the Yankees since I was in elementary school. Why? Because they always seem to have the most amount of fans that resort to calling anyone who doesn’t like ‘their’ team idiots and goons. Glad to see their constant method of buying talent starting to become flawed.

  11. What made no sense to me about Tanaka is the following. It was pointed out by just about everyone that Tanaka had a lot of innings on his arm for his age. On top of which Girardi, who I’m a big fan of, talked about the fact that in Japan he only pitched once a week. The Yankees bring him over here and pitch him every fifth day, and in addition, he leads the league with three complete games. It seems to me that the better part of wisdom would have been to limit him to seven innings so he could adjust to not having 6 days rest between starts as he had in Japan. Tanaka is a 7 year investment, and he should be treated as such.

  12. Well, I guess we can say the Yankees are thinking long term all right. But even here, spending 14 mil in order to acquire, what, 8 or so IFA out of the top 20, and having to pay a heavy tax on that is also, not developing so much, as outbidding the competition. It’s not hard to becoming hateful when an organization stretches the rules because it has the bucks to do it. For these kinds of reasons I am always happy to see the Yankees misfiring, although, of course, I don’t wish injuries on anyone.

  13. The Yankees’ present looks bad — and their future looks worse. They can still win this weak division, but need an arm or two. I know they loathe dealing with the crosstown Mets, but Bartolo Colon just might be enough to pull them across the finish line this year. And the Mets will likely take a AAA prospect, especially if he’s a corner outfielder with some pop.

    • The Bartolo Colon of 2013 (18-6, with a 2.65 ERA) might have been that savior of a pitcher who might be able to pull the Yankees across the finish line, but he’s clearly not the same guy in 2014. He’s 8-7, with an ERA approaching 4.00. I guess age (41) is finally catching up with old ‘Bart’. It’s time to start looking for a different “savior” for the Yankees to target.

  14. For all the people that hate the Yankees because they spend money, imagine how much more heinous of a crime it would be for them to rake in millions in revenue and NOT reinvest that money into the team, salaries, farm system, etc., and just line their pockets. Now, THAT would be a good reason to hate the Yankees, but they are better than that, and they generate money, and they invest that money. So quit hating. George and his heirs understand that part of it, put the cash back into the team. Secondly, they haven’t ‘bought’ any pennants, what their high payroll does afford them is the ability to re-sign their stars when they reach free agency. Jeter, Bernie, Mariano, all of the great Yankees that stayed here most of their careers, it was because the Yankees could afford to keep them. Unfortunately, many franchises cannot, and this is something that baseball has been trying to address. High payroll buys you experience. It’s our old veteran guys against your young guys. As we have seen, money does NOT equal success. Well run organizations win more than poorly run teams. Does having more money give you an advantage? Of course. But there are no guarantees.

    • Thank Jeff!!! For pointing out all the hate aimed at the Yankee Organization for being ran properly. This being said I love all these fan clamoring for a salary cap in baseball why? So we all can experience the horrible games that NBA, NFL and now NHL experience during their seasons. Salary Caps just breed more bad teams. For all you haters A’s , Cardinals , Gaints, and the Angels are great example of No Salary Cap ,but great ran organizations who win .

      • So the Yankees never bought Cone, Tino, Oneill, Clemens, Knoblauch, Strawberry, Raines, Giambi, A-rod, Sheffield, Sabathia, Texeira, Burnett,Ellsbury, Tanaka, McCann, Mussina, Damon, Matsui, Abreu…..I could go on and on and on. Maybe some of those guys helped win a WS or two. There is a reason it was called a core 4. They developed 4 guys and bought the rest. Yankees buy titles. Don’t hide from it, embrace it. It is who your team is. Own it.

  15. Well these front runners in NY won’t be buying their 28th world championship this year

    • sdabob, whats that stand for? stupid dumb azz bob. Cause the last I checked money don’t buy championships. If it did, the yanks would be the winners of 10 or more in a row. Come off that old fart of a comment. Ity stinks of stupidity.

  16. Truth is I think baseball does have a problem. When the Rays, and the Indians, and the Athletics have to trade away their best players just before free agency over and over (Indians: CC, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, etc.) it’s bad for baseball. I feel terrible for fans of those teams, not getting a chance to root for their stars for more of their career. They’ve leveled the playing field somewhat, it’s better than it was, and those teams CAN be competitive year after year if they run a great operation. But there’s no margin for error. AND NONE OF THIS IS THE FAULT OF THE YANKEES.

  17. Whoever they deal for will not be half the pitcher that Tanaka is. Forget the division title and even the Wild Card. In fact, all signs are pointing to 2014 being the first year a Yankees team has finished under .500 since 1992.

  18. The Yankees have historically benefitted from the stacked deck that MLB has dealt. I have no respect for Yankee fans. How can they root for a team that simply buys other team’s players: from Ruth to Reggie to Tanaka? I’m loving this season so far. Keep losing Yankees!

  19. “unless the Yankees are willing to gut their farm”

    They don’t have any farm to gut unless they bought a catfish farm and there is a market for catfish guts. Makes good crab bait though to catch those beautiful blue crab swimmers in the Chesapeake Bay where the Orioles reign supreme over the ALE.

  20. The best case scenario when the Yankees face the Blue Jays in the ALCS then the Black Sox Scandal needs to be repeated for the New York Yankees is the only hope to cheat on a team from Canada to keep all their 27 World Series titles as the best solution for the New York Yankees to don’t get stripped.