Lost in shuffle of Carmelo Anthony re-signing report, was some rather somber news in New York. Shortly after Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that Anthony was likely to announce Thursday that he was taking a massively team unfriendly contract to return to New York, George A. King III (who sounds like he should be some sort of heir to the English throne), reported that Yankees’ ace, American League Rookie of the Year lock, and Cy Young/MVP Candidate, Masahiro Tanaka was headed back to New York for an MRI on his right-elbow. Since the news officially broke, Tanaka has been placed on the disabled list with ‘elbow inflamation’, according to King.
While an MRI on your right elbow doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a UCL issue and will need Tommy John surgery, east-coast sports fans tend to assume the worst in these type of situations. But, as we have learned in Philly with Cliff Lee, even the best case scenario for elbow injuries, can take weeks, or even months, to recover from.
Lee was placed on the disabled list on May 20th with an Elbow-Flexor Strain, which came after an MRI alleviated our fears that Lee would need Tommy John Surgery. At that time, I figured Lee would be out longer than just his 15 day stint on the disabled list, but here we sit on July 9th, mere days away from the All-Star break, and Lee still hasn’t returned. All signs indicate that he will return at the conclusion of the break, but you get my point.
It is worth noting that we knew Lee’s exact injury when he was placed on the DL, although it was a rather vague diagnosis, and we don’t know exactly what is wrong with Tanaka. The Yankees are currently in Cleveland, so getting back to New York and getting an MRI should be something that only take a few hours. By tonight, one would think we will have a better understanding of exactly what is wrong with Tanaka.
I do understand that each injury is a separate case, but it would be hard for me to believe that Tanaka will pitch again before the All-Star break, regardless of his diagnosis. And that may be really good news for the Phillies.
Even prior to Tanaka’s injury, the Yankees were extremely thin on starting pitching. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are both out for the season with arm injuries. Michael Pineda is expected to be out for another three weeks, minimum. Age finally seems to have caught up with Hiroki Kuroda. And Brandon McCarthy is set to make his Yankees debut tonight, but he is coming off a disastrous run in Arizona, which doesn’t lead you to think a move to the AL East will help him rekindle his once-promising career. And now Tanaka, who has been the rotation’s rock after Brian Cashman called “a number three starter” prior to the season, could be out for an extended period of time.
Even if Tanaka is only out until August, the Yankees can’t wait to make some pitching upgrades. The Yankees are just four games back of the Blue Jays in the AL East, but a rough 10 or 15 game stretch could do them in. They need to add an ace, not just another starter, if they want to seriously compete for a title this year OR next year.
Enter, Cole Hamels.
After off-season arm problems caused Hamels miss the first month of the season, Hamels has returned with what might possibly the best season of his career. His record is a rather unimpressive three and five, but in just over 100 innings, has posted a 2.87 ERA. He isn’t a workhorse like Tanaka is or Sabathia was in his prime, but he might be the perfect compliment to a healthy Tanaka. In the meantime, he is giving All-Star production, and if you exclude 2009, has quite the playoff pedigree. We also learned last night that the Yankees are one of nine teams that Hamels can’t block a trade to as part of his no-trade clause, a list that he selected himself. He does have a minimum of $96 million owed to him after this season, but this is the Yankees we are talking about.
Hamels trade candidacy may ultimately come down to how willing the Phillies are to seriously discuss him. Hamels in New York is a fit, but may ultimately be deterred by the Phillies asking price, or plain unwillingness to move the 30 year-old lefty.
If Hamels to New York, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out, Cliff Lee may be a more serious option. Asking for the Yankees to trade for Lee prior to the July 31st deadline, when Lee will likely have only made two starts since returning from arm issues of his own, may be unrealistic. But, an August waiver trade might make more sense for the timetables of both teams.
By August, the Yankees will have a clearer understanding of three things; Tanaka’s health status, what impact Pineda will have on the remainder of their season, and whether they are still seriously in the playoff hunt. They will also know how Lee has pitched since his return. All of those factors, assuming Lee is healthy and they are still in the playoff hunt, should increase how highly they value Lee.
If Lee’s value does go up enough, the Phillies could get the Yankees to eat at least some of Lee’s $42.5 million that he is still owed (that figure is approximate and could vary on what part of August he is moved in) to him, and maybe even through in some B-level prospects.
The one catch in this scenario is that the Yankees are relatively low in the waiver order, because they are a playoff competing team, and Lee would have to get past more than half the league on the waiver wire, for the Yankees to have a shot at even claiming him.
Chances are, someone before the Yankees, would claim Lee, in hopes that the Phillies pull Lee off waivers, and try to discuss a deal with them. Said team, would do that in hopes that the Phillies would eat pretty much all of Lee’s deal and not require much of a return. That is unlikely, but why not take that chance? Once the Phillies pull him off waivers, if a deal isn’t reached by the two teams, then the team who originally claimed him Lee isn’t stuck with his deal, or given any penalty. They just wouldn’t get Lee.
No matter what happens with Tanaka, Lee and Hamels, Tanaka’s injury has only made it more glaring that the Yankees need another top-flight arm at the top of their rotation. And the two names that we discussed are among those considered top-flight arms, only they are in the minority of those arms as the ones who may actually be attainable.
Update July 11th-9:09 PM EST: Brian Cashman says that Tanaka isn’t out for the season, but the diagnosis doesn’t sound great. Tanaka may still end up needing Tommy John surgery, and at best, he will be out until late August. If he returns this year, the Yankees still need pitching. If he has Tommy John surgery, then the Yankees really need an ace for a majority of next year. Either way, Lee and Hamels could be targets over the next few weeks, or in the off-season.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman says Masahiro Tanaka has a small tear in his UCL. Will have PRP injection. Yankees hope he’s back in six weeks.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 11, 2014
The reality: Unless he’s in the vast minority of players for whom rehab works, Masahiro Tanaka eventually will need Tommy John surgery.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 11, 2014