Masahiro Tanaka

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka removes his cap as he leaves the mound in the fifth inning of the American League wild card baseball game against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium in New York,

By Ryan Hatch

We learned Tuesday afternoon that Yankees‘ ace (right?) Masahiro Tanaka had surgery on his right elbow to remove a bone spur that had, apparently, existed since his days playing in Japan.

It’s the middle of October. Even if he skipped all of 2016 spring training (which the Yankees pointed out to say Tuesday that he won’t), Tanaka isn’t going to be required to throw a meaningful pitch until early April next year. That’s over five full months away. There is noneed to freak out.

But is this how the Yankees want to start the off-season? Especially considering the rotation finished 2015 with right-handerNathan Eovaldi out with elbow inflammation, lefty CC Sabathia in rehab, right-hander Michael Pineda a question mark,Ivan Nova ineffective, Luis Severino still brand new to the league, and Adam Warren maybe sliding into a starter’s role?

Tanaka, though perhaps not convincing anyone he’s worth $155 million, was at the very least reliable in the last four months of the 2015 season, missing just 10 days toward the end of the year because of a strained hamstring suffered when laying down a bunt in a National League park.

He finished this season with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts, maybe good enough as a No. 3 starter on a championship team, or an ace on an average team, which the Yankees proved to be.

But this is Tanaka’s third major issue with his arm since signing that lucrative deal with the Yankees before the 2014 season. (The recovery time is six weeks.) First was the scariest, the torn ulnar lateral ligament suffered midway through ’14 that kept him out for more than two months. Then earlier this season when he had wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain that caused him to miss 41 days.

Now this. Again, perhaps Tanaka’s fine, and this is nothing more than a minor setback, but his arrival to spring training with more scars and sores is becoming routine. And it casts further doubt on a rotation that already looks mightily suspect.

Maybe they sign hard-throwing free agent righty Jeff Samardzija to sure up those doubts. But Samardzija is 30 with a 4.96 ERA and allowed the most hits in the American League this season. Is that someone you want to hand a longterm contract to?

The Yankees, barring trade, will field largely the same lineup next season, as well as the same starting pitchers. Tanaka’s latest injury only dampens what little optimism may have existed to begin with.

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