Monday, February 22, 2016

What can we expect from Masahiro Tanaka in 2016?

You've heard the figures a gazillion times: How the Yankees have nearly $70 million of their payroll tied up in the onerous contracts of CC Sabathia ($25M), Mark Teixeira ($23.2M, and Alex Rodriguez ($21M). How the team is hamstrung because of these ridiculous contracts, and won't be able to spend until they're off the books (Tex comes off books after this year; CC has a $25M vesting option w/$5M buyout for next year, and A-Rod is off after 2017.)

Well, here's the thing: as expensive as these three players are, they were not only an integral part of the Yankees winning the 2009 World Series, but two of the three (Tex and A-Rod) combined for a 7 WAR, and were the top two reasons the Yanks made it to the playoffs at all in 2015.

The really untold story when it comes to the Yankees payroll are some of the players added within the last two years, all of whom have been disappointments. Masahiro Tanaka is owed $22M this year, and $101M total, but has not pitched like an ace, other than his first few months. Jacoby Ellsbury is owed over $100M as well, with $21M on the books for 2016. Yet he did not start the team's Wild Card game last year. Chase Headley is "only" owed $39M over the next three years, but his numbers are pretty mediocre, even for that amount. But Tanaka is the biggest expense. And arguably, the biggest disappointment.

The Bergen Record's Bob Klapisch writes today about the enigma that is Tanaka. He says that the pitcher is a "sensitive" subject for the Yanks:
The problem is the disconnect between Tanaka and the Yankees when it comes to the real-time condition of his arm. Club officials were shocked to learn an old bone spur in his elbow had grown last season, resulting in surgery in October. Tanaka never said a word about it. While no one suggests the Japanese star tried to mislead his superiors, they clearly wished they’d known he wasn’t at 100 percent as they were chasing a wild-card spot.
I was on my pal Paul Francis Sullivan's SullyBaseball's podcast last summer, and I said that I would like to see Luis Severino to start the Wild Card game, because he was a new pitcher that the rest of MLB was not yet familiar with. Given Tanaka's underwhelming performance in that game, not to mention his unknown injury, maybe they should have gone with him in the first place.

Klapisch writes:
Was Tanaka really telling the truth about being pain-free while he was being outpitched by Houston’s Dallas Keuchel in the Yankees’ 3-0 loss in the wild-card elimination game? And can he be counted on to be honest in the future? The Yankees’ answers, in order, are: Not sure. And not sure. They admit they’ve been in the dark about Tanaka’s day-to-day pain level, if only because he’s stoic by nature. “We had zero idea,” [Brian] Cashman said. “He never complained, he never came in for treatment. He went through the exit physical and didn’t say a word.”
The bone spur marks his third arm injury as a Yankee. Yikes!

So what can we expect from him this year? He's apparently not ready to commit to being ready to pitch on Opening Day. And I watch every Tanaka game wondering if this will be the game in which he fully tears his UCL and needs Tommy John surgery. He's an above-average pitcher now, but the magic is gone, and I don't know if and when it will be back. But regardless, the Yankees still owe him over $100 million. Yeesh.

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