A-Rod vs. The Ace
Don't bank on Tanaka
Manager Joe Girardi has taken the right attitude regarding Masahiro Tanaka when he says, "If I sit on the edge of my seat every time he pitches, I'll never make it through the season."
He's absolutely right, because no one -- not Girardi, not pitching coach Larry Rothschild, not team physician Chris Ahmad nor even Tanaka himself -- can do anything to prevent what is or is not going to happen inside Tanaka's pitching elbow. Girardi also rightly points out that no one was worried about Ivan Nova when he took the mound last April on the day he came back with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery.
That being said, there is more of an element of the unknown with Tanaka than there is with Alex Rodriguez right now. Let that sink in for a moment.
Because if we have learned anything about A-Rod this spring, it is that he can still hit the ball out of the ballpark, even if it often appears he is guessing on the fastball, and sometimes even cheating on it, as aging ballplayers sometimes do to compensate for a slowing bat.
But we don't really know what is going on with Tanaka. We know his UCL remains torn. we know he is not throwing as hard as he did last season, and we know he has made the somewhat curious decision to reduce the number of four-seam fastballs -- the foundation of any pitcher's repertoire -- he will throw this season. It seems to indicate Tanaka's elbow might not be as pain-free as he and Girardi have insisted this spring. And, oh yeah, Girardi plans to give Tanaka an extra day's rest as often as possible this year, probably reducing the upper limit of starts he can make to about 28, if all goes well.
I'm not wishing misfortune on anyone here, but for all those reasons, I'm guessing that between 15 and 20 home runs from A-Rod will be enough to squeak past the number of starts Tanaka's elbow will give the Yankees this season.
The bar ain't high for Hiro
With this question, the bar is not being set that high for Tanaka.
Think about it: How many home runs can we realistically expect Rodriguez to hit in 2015? Maybe 15, at the most.
In 2012, he hit 18 in 122 games. Three years, another hip surgery, loads of inactivity and a lot of controversy are not recipes to improve on that number, especially with birthday No. 40 in July.
While Wally is betting on Tanaka's elbow to give out, why is there any reason to believe A-Rod's hip bone is still going to be connected to his thigh bone by the end of May? Rodriguez seems just as prone to injury as Tanaka, probably more so.
There is no real way of knowing if Tanaka's elbow will stay in one piece. Even one of his bosses, general manager Brian Cashman, says it could go in 10 days or 10 years. What we do know is four experts weighed in on Tanaka's elbow, and all, according to the Yankees, said Tanaka could rehab and come back. That's what he is doing.
The Yankees are going to take extra care to protect their $175 million investment. While Girardi likes to say any six-man rotation ideas have to do with the whole staff, it clearly begins with Tanaka. The Yankees -- led by "finance geek" Hal Steinbrenner -- understandably want as good a return on investment as they can get from Tanaka. To do that over the long haul, they will be careful.
Will it work? No one knows. But if you have to stack the chances of Tanaka making, say, 16 starts to win this Hot Button compared to A-Rod going deep that many times, then I think it is an easy decision.