Spring training hasn’t even officially started, and there is already panic about Masahiro Tanaka’s arm.
Earlier today, news broke that Tanaka said he wasn’t sure whether or not he would be ready to pitch on Opening Day. As soon as I read the headline, I knew there would be panic from Yankee fans, and doubts about his status as an ace from everyone around baseball.
When asked about his first regular season start today, Tanaka said:
“Can’t really say. We’ll take it day by day. I feel that I can’t really talk about that at this point. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings in and see how I feel.”
It is his first day in Tampa – his first workout since the offseason. What is so wrong with that?
Yes, the Yankees made a huge investment in Tanaka (7 years $155 million, plus a $20 million posting fee) and yes, they expect him to be an ace. We already know about his partial UCL tear, trips to the disabled list in 2014 and again in 2015, and he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his throwing arm this offseason. I understand fans concern about Tanaka. I understand fans frustration about what we’ve seen from Tanaka during his first two seasons in MLB.
I, too, would love for Tanaka to put the injuries behind him and be the ace the Yankees expected him to be when they signed him. But for right now, it’s entirely too early to judge his upcoming season. Likewise, it’s entirely too early to panic about his arm.
Regardless of whether or not he had surgery in the offseason, this is Tanaka’s first workout after the offseason. No pitcher is going to feel 100% ready to go on Opening Day after one workout. Spring training doesn’t even officially start until Thursday for pitchers and catchers. There are a lot of workouts and a lot of throwing for Tanaka (and all the pitchers) between now and Opening Day.
There are many factors that will go into deciding when Tanaka is ready to make his first regular season start. There are doctors, trainers, management, and even Tanaka himself who will all have a say in when he’s ready to pitch. For the amount of money the Yankees have invested in one arm, I don’t blame them for being cautious – and they’ve shown they’re not afraid to rest him when needed. Being overly optimistic about his Opening Day status right now is of no benefit to anyone.
Had Tanaka said this a week before the regular season, this would be an entirely different situation. We are just under a week until spring training starts. As much as we all want baseball back right now, there are still several weeks to go.
Before fans lose faith in Tanaka or raise your blood pressure worrying, ask yourself this: Would you rather Tanaka rehab properly and pitch well this year (Opening Day or not), or rush his rehab just to pitch Opening Day and suffer a worse injury later?
The answer is simple to me.