The only thing that seems to be happening in baseball right now? Some of the best pitchers in the world are headed for Tommy John surgery.
Last week, former White Sox ace and current Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale joined the lengthy list of hurlers who need the procedure, and this time, it’s New York Mets star Noah Syndergaard.
New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery in the near future, sources tell ESPN. The procedure will keep him out until at earliest April 2021 and likely into the summer months.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 24, 2020
With the 2020 season a complete and total unknown, there's a silver lining for pitchers slated to miss the next year of baseball due to Tommy John: No one is playing baseball for the time being. So while a year of their prime is still lost, at least they won’t miss as many games as they normally would have. Their absences will be less impactful on their teams’ chances at winning a championship.
But as we glance over at the White Sox rotation, you’ll notice that most of these pitchers have already had the surgery.
Michael Kopech is ready to return from his lengthy Tommy John absence. Carlos Rodon along with pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert will be good to go at some point this season, too. Lucas Giolito already had Tommy John surgery. And so has Dylan Cease.
While it’s not unheard of for pitchers to undergo a second Tommy John surgery or to be waylaid by another serious injury (just ask Rodon, who had shoulder surgery at the end of the 2017 season), the White Sox can certainly add this to the list of reasons the future looks so bright. Their young fireballers have been through these long recoveries already.
Take the Mets, who had plans to compete for a championship in 2020. And why wouldn’t they? They have some impressive young hitters, like reigning NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, and a menacing 1-2-3 in the rotation with Jacob de Grom, Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. But now, Syndergaard won’t pitch at all in 2020, and that pokes a pretty huge hole in the team’s ability to compete.
To make matters worse for New York, Syndergaard is only under team control for another two seasons. And if his recovery extends into 2021 (as Passan hinted it could), that turns a two-year window for the Mets to capitalize on Syndergaard into as little as a few months.
In the case of the White Sox, they’re looking at a four-year window in which they’ll control Giolito, Kopech and Cease. Kopech is under team control for five years, Cease for six, and the clocks haven’t even started on Dunning and Lambert yet. And every single one of those pitchers has a Tommy John surgery in the rear-view.
Obviously, the hope would be that no player ever needs Tommy John surgery. But for the White Sox, the silver lining here is that they have a long period of time in which they control young, hard-throwing pitchers who are already over the Tommy John hump. Which means it’s way less likely that the injury will derail a potential World Series-caliber season.
Anything can happen, but the White Sox should be extremely relieved that they'll likely be able to keep their contention window open for as long as it’s contractually scheduled to be.