In The Playoff Hunt, Bombers Cannot Afford To Be Patient With Struggling Ace

By Jason Keidel
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Boomer and Carton have gleefully and, with the help of their producer, Al Dukes, lyrically played with “Tanaka Tuesday,” signing a Rolling Stones mutation whenever Masahiro Tanaka takes the mound on the second workday of the week.

But if Tuesday had a voice, it would likely beg for a trade with Wednesday. Indeed, no day of the week has suited the understated starter, whose efforts this year have been as muted professionally as he is personally.

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The New York Post recently asserted that there’s nothing the Yankees can do about their struggling ace, at least as long as he’s healthy, which the club insists he is. Well, they can’t keep going like this. It doesn’t serve the player or the team. Now mired in a six-game losing streak, the purpose of having an ace — and paying him $155 million — is to make sure losing streaks never mushroom to six games.

Matt Joyce rounds the bases after hitting a home run off of Masahiro Tanaka during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on June 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. Players and umpires are wearing blue to celebrate Father’s Day weekend and support prostrate cancer awareness. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

But Tanaka is far more likely to extend such streaks than blunt them. While some take solace in his recent spike in strikeouts, you don’t indulge in moral victories. Not in the Bronx. Not with the Yankees. Not with their presumed top starter. Some may marvel at his last two outings, as he fanned 18 batters while walking three, yet his 6.34 ERA is easily the worst of his career.

When you approach July 4, you are, as Bill Parcells famously said, what your record says you. This isn’t April, when a pair of three-hit games boosts your batting average 50 points, or when two quality starts lowers your ERA a full run or more.

So perhaps the Yanks should shop for an arm, a quality starter as security blanket, in case Tanaka continues to tank. It stands to reason that if the Yankees had a farm ace in the hole, he’d be in pinstripes by now. Let’s look at some starters who could be available by the July 31 trade deadline. We will only mine rosters/rotations from clubs (except one) that do not have a winning record today.

1. Jason Vargas, Royals

The Royals (33-35) are nothing like the club that contended for back-to-back World Series titles, including their Fall Classic victory over the Mets in 2015. Vargas is posting the best numbers of his career (8-3, 2.18 ERA through first dozen starts). The Yanks would owe the southpaw just $5 million if they traded for him at the end of July. And while the Royals will want prospects back, how much could they really command for a 34-year-old who doesn’t have a dominant fastball?

2. Ervin Santana, Twins

While Minnesota is surprisingly decent this season — just one game over .500 (34-33) — many cynics see the Twins tumbling down the standings before it’s over. Like Vargas, Santana is 34, and is also posting sublime numbers through his first 13 starts (8-3, 2.20 ERA). The downside is the Yankees would be on the hook for $28 million through 2019 (plus his remaining salary in 2017), and he’s one more dirty PED urine sample from a one-year ban. But if anyone can afford $14 million per year, it’s the Yanks.

3. Yu Darvish, Rangers

Easily the pitcher with the biggest name and game on the list. Darvish is in the last season of a six-year deal, so the Yanks would be sure to get his best in this de facto audition for his next deal. There would be a $5 million payoff at the trade deadline. But the Bombers have that kind of coin between sofa cushions. Sure, the Rangers (34-34) are in second place, but they’re still 11 games behind the scalding Astros. And the Japanese pitcher’s numbers are typically eye-popping. Through 15 starts, Darvish is 6-5 with a 3.35 ERA, and in 94 innings pitched, he has 99 strikeouts while he has surrendered just 70 hits.

4. Jeff Samardzija, Giants

Silly? Maybe. The flame-throwing righty may be 2-9 through 14 starts, but he has averaged 6.5 innings per start, and leads the National League with eight strikeouts per walk. The problem is his exorbitant $90 million contract. But hey, at least you know the former Notre Dame wide receiver has your back in a brawl. Look at the way he lunged into the pile of people during the Giants’ recent scrum. And maybe a change of leagues and scenery will do him some good.

5. Jose Quintana, White Sox

Why pick someone who’s been just as disappointing as Tanaka?

Because Tanaka and Quintana can’t stink forever. While the Chicago lefty is scuffling through 13 starts (2-8, 5.30 ERA), his past four seasons were sensational, averaging over 200 innings pitched and an aggregate 3.40 ERA. And this is the time when the team will ask for the least, when their pitcher is producing the least. What if he comes around? Then the Yanks would have a borderline ace, and a southpaw, no less. And he makes just $10 million per season through 2020.

The above clubs will likely want prospects, which runs counter to the credo that finally got the Yankees back into their sunny spot. But they do have, by all accounts, one of the three most fertile farm systems in MLB. So unless the Yankees are looking to next year — and they never do — they need to bag at least one starter as a Tanaka insurance policy.

Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel


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