2014 Statistics: 13-5, 136.1 IP, 9.31 K/9, 2.77 ERA, 3.2 WAR
2015 Contract Status: Signed to seven-year deal through 2020
The Yankees invested $155 million in Masahiro Tanaka with a seven-year contract before the Japanese right-hander even threw a pitch as a big leaguer. After getting badly burned on the Kei Igawa deal the Yankees finally got their money's worth when Tanaka was easily a Cy Young award candidate over the first few months of his stateside career.
Tanaka's starts were one of the few bright spots on a fairly lackluster Yankees team. Unfortunately, the injury bug that the team has faced over the last two seasons did not leave the new ace unscathed. Tanaka was diagosed with a partially torn UCL with a recommended treatment of rest and a PRP injection. Many people wondered why the Yankees did not just send Tanaka for Tommy John surgery instead of risking that his compromised UCL would tear sooner rather than later upon his return. The doctors who evaluated Tanaka all suggested the PRP and rest treatment for a tear that was said to be less than 10% of the tendon. Given that any surgery is risky, it's understandable that the team and likely Tanaka himself would prefer to avoid going under the knife if there was hope for recovery without such extreme measures.
The injury caused Tanaka to miss from July 9th until his return on September 21st against the Blue Jays. Although he lasted only 5.1 innings, the results of five hits and one run were very promising. Rust from the long lay off might have not totally been a thing of the past after Tanaka was roughed up in his final start of the year against the Red Sox. He gave up seven runs in under two innings before departing. Results at that stage were not nearly as important as his health, and it seems like Tanaka was fortunately able to come away with that.
If the Yankees are to be competitive in 2015 they will need Tanaka to be healthy. He has undoubtedly become the ace of the pitching staff and his dominance gives the team that stopper that every team needs. It's possible that the worst happens and Tanaka has to undergo Tommy John surgery, but being able to return at the end of this season for two starts at least gives some hope that surgery won't be necessary the minute he exerts himself in a start. Resting for an entire offseason to continue to let the minor tear in his UCL heal can't hurt either.
Even despite missing time with the injury, Tanaka gave the Yankees everything they could have wanted in the first year of his contract. It's easy to wonder what if about Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards and what might have been if he stayed healthy, but hopefully 2014 won't be the last time he is in consideration for big awards at the end of the season. Tanaka is vital to the outlook on next season in the Bronx, and having him on the mound and healthy will go a long way in making the team postseason contenders in a year where they would be trying to avoid sitting home in October for the third year in a row.
On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about the durability of Tanaka's elbow heading into 2015?