Friday, July 11, 2014

Torn and Flushed Away

            The 2014 Yankee season took a death blow this week with the announcement that Masahiro Tanaka has a partial tear in his right elbow and the dreadful cloud of Tommy John surgery hangs over the $155 million dollar import. Tanaka had kept the mediocre and underwhelming Yankee roster in the AL East mix with his league-high 12 wins, but with Tanaka gone, any hopes of playing significant baseball in October is as likely as a clean toilet at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

            Perhaps it was all the innings he racked up as a young player in Japan, perhaps it was all the 7-8 inning performances he gave nearly every start for the Yankees, perhaps his was the arm-action on his superior-level splitters, but Tanaka has fallen victim to the rash of elbow tears that has spread all over MLB pitchers during the past two seasons. Currently, doctors have laid out two options for the Yankee ace; either rest and rehab across 6-8 weeks in which possibly the ligaments could heal themselves, or the more scary Tommy John procedure which will have Tanaka out of action till the end of the 2015 season.

            Even if the Yankees and Tanaka do attempt the rehab and return path for this season, sooner or later that weak ligament is going to snap, so Tommy John surgery asap versus later is likely the wiser choice. The news wasn't any better for any of the other injured Yankee starters: CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. On a minor league assignment, Sabathia experienced discomfort in his bulky knee and it was later revealed he has a micro-fracture that will certainly end his 2014 season and possibly baseball career. The decision to resign him to a long deal after he opted out of his first Yankee contract is looking as dreadful as the A-Rod contract. Pineda has been trying some long toss drills to test out that bad muscle pull under his shoulder blade, but at best he could be ready by late August and by then the Yankees will probably be too buried in the standings to make much of a difference. Hiroki Kuroda remains as the only reliable starter left in the Yankee rotation, but he's pushing 40 and hasn't been as effective as the past two seasons. The honeymoon seems to have ended for Chase Whitley, who has gotten clobbered in his past couple of starts, so Brian Cashman has been a busy bee to try to find some bandaids to cover the holes in the dike.  

            Once Nuno and Whitley stopped giving quality starts that was badly taxing the bullpen, Cashman sent the young Nuno off to Arizona in a trade for veteran righthander Brandon McCarthy Although McCarthy is a journeyman who throws sinkers and sliders, he'll more likely be able to eat up enough innings so Girardi can save his bullpen from wearing out during these hot summer months. Once the news was out on Tanaka, Cashman also make a trade with Oakland to bring in another veteran mediocre starter, Jeff Francis. A few weeks ago Cashman had the Yanks in the running to pick up Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija and middle-rotation man Jason Hammel in a trade, but the very same Oakland A's were able to offer a better package of prospects and they landed the two starters instead. The Yankees did bring up Shane Greene and he was very impressive in his first career start, but Chase Whitley also looked good in his first couple of starts before getting belted around. So a rotation which had Sabathia/Tanaka/Kuroda/Nova/Pineda in Spring Training is now looking like Kuroda/Phelps/McCarthy/Francis/Greene. David Price and Cliff Lee should be available around the trade deadline, but the likelihood of Tampa helping the Yankees in their own division is extremely slim, and Cliff Lee still has $50 million left on his contract, which is doubtful the Yankees are willing spend after the money lost on Tanaka, Sabathia, and the underwhelming performances of McCann and Beltran. Speaking of Beltran, he took a line drive off his nose in batting practice and has been placed on the new Concussion 7-Day DL. This year's Yankees just can't get the injury bug out of the lockeroom.

            Brian Cashman has also been busy trying to do something to spark this pitiful lineup. The slack on Alfonso Soriano finally was cut as he was designated for assignment. After a magnificent return to the Yankees at last year's trade deadline, this season Soriano has been terrible and getting rid of him allowed a much needed roster spot. Yangervis Solarte was a great human-interest story towards the beginning of the season, but he too became an automatic out and started to get sloppy at thirdbase, so he was sent down in favor of Zelous Wheeler. Kelly Johnson proves to be a bust and he's in danger of being designated for assignment as well. The offense has struggled to put runs on the board and now this weak starting pitching staff is going to be asked to achieve the impossible. The saddest part is, like Mariano's retirement last year, the Yankees will be playing for nothing in late September when Derek Jeter says his final goodbyes.

Position: 46-46 (3rd Place AL East - 5 games behind 1st Place Baltimore Orioles

- Brett Gardner has emerged as a bright spot in a dull lineup with tying his career-high in homers per season with 8 and there's half of season still to go. 
- Dellin Bentances has been formally recognized as one of the best bullpen arms in baseball and has been selected to the 2014 All-Star game. 
- Zelous Wheeler hit a homerun in his first major league career game and looks to be a better defender at third than Solarte. 
- Mark Teixeira continues to slug homeruns with his surgical repaired wrist. 

Foul Tips:
- Hitting coach Kevin Long identified a toe-tap in Brian McCann's swing and had it removed. Since then McCann has been hitting a little better, but overall has been an underperformer at the plate.
- Jacoby Ellsbury seems to have fought his way out of a slump and has been hitting a few balls over the walls. 
- David Phelps quietly continues to give the Yankees good starts, but unfortunately for him the team never gives him enough runs to get loud wins. 

- Masahiro Tanaka has a tear in his elbow and he's likely done for 2014 and part of 2015. 
- CC Sabathia's knee contains a microfracture and he's shelved for 2014, indefinitely 
- Alfonso Soriano was sent packing (it was nice to see you again). 
- Kelly Johnson is hitting a putrid .215 with only 5 homeruns at the halfway point; the Yanks were counting on him to hit about 18-20. 

             The AL East is still a shameful display of baseball, so as banged up as the Yankees are, they'll probably be able to stay within an arm's distance of the division leader. Eventually, the lack of consistent starting pitching is going to carry over to the bullpen, and when the bullpen blows leads that the woeful offense was able to grab, that locker room will melt down.

              I'm sure Derek Jeter wishes he retired back in Spring Training instead.........