The Yankees need a 'Hiro, baby, who can pitch away the pain. Unfortunately, they're going to stand by the one who's been on the mound for them in 2017.
The morning after Masahiro got Ta-knocked around vs. Boston, the Yankees are facing a big question: What's next?
The team's No. 1 starter has pitched to the tune of No. 5 starter numbers this year, and that's being generous. Tanaka has a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts, a 1.500 WHIP and has pitched fewer than six innings in half his starts.
It seems easy for fans to say, "Hey, let's skip a start or DL him." But there's a problem. Well, there are 67 million of them.
Tanaka is the Yankees' No. 1 starter. The team isn't going to DL him; they're not even going to send him for any tests. It's stubborn, but it's the way the Bombers operate.
Tanaka is owed $22 million in 2018 and '19, and $23 million in 2020, before he enters free agency after the 2020 season. 2017's best-case, most realistic scenario for the Yankees isn't exactly playing out: Tanaka would have pitched lights-out in 2017 and looked to opt out after this year, freeing the team of the money and potential future elbow issues.
Just a reminder: Tanaka was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear in 2014, his first year in the majors, rehabbed the injury, and has pitched since.
The Yankees have largely avoided bad contracts the past few seasons, and are even poised to shed some of them: Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia come off the books this year, after Mark Teixeira and others came off last season.
But truthfully, Tanaka has been as ineffective as infomercial diet pills, and it's probably too late for him to turn this season completely around. Meaning he'll stay in his contract, meaning he'll be a Yankee for the next three years, meaning he'll be owed a lot of money to be average to bad if he doesn't improve.
Tanaka is stuck, and there ain't a thing the Yankees can do about it until he figures it out. Some still hold out hope that he could figure it out soon.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi pointed to Tanaka's start vs. the A's on May 26 as the reason why Tanaka's 2016 form still exists inside. Tanaka pitched very well vs. the A's, striking out 13, but the Yankees lost the game, 4-1.
There are two problems with using one game as justification for hope, though:
One game does not a season make.
The A's are second-worst in the American League in strikeouts with 527, and have struck out 10 times or more in 29 games this year. They've also struck out 13 or more times seven times this season, including a 14 K game vs. the Yankees and Sabathia the very next day.
No, managers and front office guys aren't going to panic the fan base in pressers and comments to media members, especially in a year when they consider themselves surprising contenders. But there should also be a modicum of honesty with the fans and even themselves.
So, what can the Yankees do with Tanaka?
Well, the first, most logical thing to do would be to place him on the phantom DL. With a dozen starts on the season, the time for game-to-game adjustments is likely over, especially when the Yankees are sub-.500 (9-11) in their past 20 games. If Tanaka is to be the team's stopper, then he's going to have to sit down for a week and just stare at video to figure out how to stop not stopping. Unlikely the Yankees do it.
The second, more likely option is that the Yankees will keep running him out there in hopes that he figures out what's wrong, which is something Girardi has reinforced several times. On the surface, Tanaka's issues are pretty simple: As a pitcher who doesn't rely on pure power stuff, has been living in the upper half of the zone in '17. His velocity hasn't changed much from 2014 to now, according to Fangraphs.
But there's still a third option that may seem farfetched. But given the Yankees' recent selling spree, it might not be.
Let's say that Tanaka goes on an absolute tear from this point. With the way Yankees GM Brian Cashman has been dealing these past 365 days, maybe Tanaka could be a trade option. A risky, high-priced trade option for other teams, but if there's a team really looking to hammer down its contender status, looking for depth, and would be willing to take the risk of future years of Tanaka, it could be on the table.
Pipe dream? Maybe. Option? It should be.
The Yankees won't be able to escape Tanaka's issues, and luckily for them, their young arms are looking pretty good this season. Yankee untouchable Luis Severino is pitching to a 2.90 ERA, Michael Pineda is in the midst of his best season with a 3.76 mark, and the surprising, out-of-nowhere lefty Jordan Montgomery is pitching to a 3.67 ERA.
All the while, top prospect Chance Adams is pitching to a 2.07 ERA with the Yankees' Triple A affiliate.
So, reinforcements may be coming for the Yankees.
But for the time being, the Yankees can run, they can hide, but they can't escape Ma-sahiro.