New York Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka is headed to see team doctor Dr. Ahmad who is in Seattle for a conference. This is not good news as it surrounds the elbow. The first thing that comes to mind, and rightfully so, is Tommy John surgery. While nothing has been confirmed yet, this news has to have Yankees’ fans on the edge of their seat. If the Yankees lose Tanaka for an extended period of time it will be up to GM Brian Cashman to decide if this team should be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
The case for being sellers is strong. In games Tanaka hasn’t pitched the Yankees are six games under .500 at 33-39. Add to that the fact that C.C. Sabathia is probably done for the year along with Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda’s return is due no earlier than mid-August, barring any setbacks, and the Yankees don’t exactly have a lot of hope this season.
With only Hiroki Kuroda standing out of the five starters who opened the season in the rotation and you have a recipe for disaster. The bullpen is already showing signs of being overworked and in desperate need of rest. Even if the Yankees do make the playoffs it would take a miracle for them to advance the opening round. Can a rotation of Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Phelps, Shane Greene and Chase Whitley or another AAA pitcher? The answer is an emphatic no.
If Tanaka is down for an extended period, say more than 30 days, the Yankees must consider selling. The issue is, do they even have pieces that other teams would want? Derek Jeter isn’t going anywhere. The same goes for Dellin Betances and Adam Warren who are pieces you hope the Yankees can build around. Brett Gardner would bring something back but he is under a team-friendly contract and has shown he might be their best player. Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t going anywhere. Ditto for Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. Kuroda has a no-trade clause and even if he is willing to waive it to return closer to his Los Angeles home he might not fetch much. Maybe Brian Roberts has shown something over the past week to convince a team to see what he has left in the tank but he won’t bring back a top prospect. No team will touch Carlos Beltran at this point given his age and recent injury history.
Trading David Robertson, who can become a free agent after this season, might bring back a decent prospect but he is 29 and is part of the Yankees’ strength, the bullpen. Why deal him when you have a proven closer moving forward? Maybe the Yankees can find a taker for Ichiro Suzuki but they have been trying since Spring Training with no luck. Perhaps a team would see Matt Thornton as a potential late-inning lefty and give something of value up. Francisco Cervelli might bring back a mid-range prospect.
As you can see there isn’t much in the Yankees’ cupboard. Trading their prospects for help now would only hurt the team in the long-run. If Tanaka is out for a long period they should bring up Rob Refsnyder and let him have a go at the second base job. They should bring back Yangervis Solarte who is currently hitting .600 (12-for-20) in the five games he has played since being sent down to AAA. Maybe give Jose Pirela a try and see what he has to offer against Major League pitching.
There just wouldn’t be a point in trying to contend without four-fifths of your starting rotation. The Yankees have never gone into sell mode, it is just something they don’t do. However, to enter into buy mode might be foolhardy unless Tanaka is only out for a couple of weeks. If the Yankees were somehow able to get a great deal on Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels then they should do it. However, the likelihood of that happening is almost equal to watching Sabathia walk on water. Perhaps the only trade the Yankees should make is something similar to the Brandon McCarthy deal, getting an arm that can eat some innings in front of a bullpen that needs some rest.