While Michael Pineda recently mentioned his goal this season was to pitch 200 innings (something also realistic for Luis Severino and Nathan Eovaldi), reports came out this week Masahiro Tanaka may not be ready for Opening Day. By now we know the story about the Yankees’ rotation: From top to bottom it has durability question marks. In 2015, nobody threw 180 innings, let alone 200 innings.
Tanaka has a tear in his elbow and is coming off an offseason operation for a separate elbow issue. Pineda never seems to stay healthy for various reasons. Eovaldi was shut down in August for his own arm issues. Severino has thrown a career high of 162+ innings and is moving into his first complete major league season. Ivan Nova was not even good enough to stay in the rotation until it became necessary. CC Sabathia is too old to finish a season, is coming off a season cut short due to checking into rehab for alcohol addiction and has battled knee problems the past few years.
A lot of those problems are the nature of the beast the Yankees will have to deal with in 2016, and some of those issues, like with Severino and Eovaldi, could have simply been concerns with no substance behind them. The Yankees have an upside of throwing more frames than they did as a staff last year and now have a deeper bullpen.
Specifically, Tanaka is priority concern number one since he has the highest upside of any of the starters and is the only one in danger of missing Opening Day. But the Yankees are running into its own spring issue it didn’t have last year.
If everyone does stay healthy, there will be six major league starters ready for a five man rotation beginning Opening Day.
With that kind of surplus and former implications the team won’t use six starters, someone isn’t making the rotation. If Tanaka misses Opening Day due to being behind the others, it would allow Ivan Nova into the rotation.
Nova is in a walk year and barring a Cy Young miracle season, will not be resigned (he is 29 years old) and will not be made a qualifying offer. The only way Nova can be of maximum value to the Yankees this season is by being a productive starter. Establishing value in the beginning of the year and demonstrating he is fully healthy, could lead to trade value. If he is pitching well, they won’t miss much of a beat without Tanaka and may be able to get something in a trade.
If he is not pitching well, he will be replaced and there will not be a rotation controversy. It is in the Yankees’ best interest to make sure Tanaka is fully healthy before taking the mound, specifically because he can opt out at the end of the year. If Tanaka needs a Tommy John like surgery, he would fully return back to potentially his 2014 form in 2018 when the Yankees also likely start spending big. If he comes back fully healthy and has a great year he may very well opt out. If he falls somewhere in between, he may not opt out and the opt out does not become an issue in the future.
Tanaka having an incomplete season and Nova taking his place for the first month or two could backfire if Nova pitches poorly, but there could be a silver lining where the Yankees could end up with finding value for Nova, solid replacement in Tanaka’s absence and then have a healthy Tanaka for the remainder of the year.