The Mets have been viewed by many as a potential Wild Card contender in 2015, and it’s largely due to the strength of their rotation. Unfortunately, they’ll be down one talented member after some bad news broke Monday morning.
An MRI on Zack Wheeler’s right elbow has revealed a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. Although the right-hander hasn’t officially decided to undergo Tommy John surgery yet, it’s viewed as inevitability.
General manager Sandy Alderson recently revealed that Wheeler dealt with tendinitis in the elbow often in 2014 and was given multiple MRIs over the offseason. For that reason, he wasn’t terribly surprised by the findings of the latest exam.
"The diagnosis is not surprising," Alderson told MLB.com. "We had been forewarned by the doctors that his elbow was a concern, and that it was going to have to be managed over the course of this season. It wasn't clear that the ligament was involved at that time, but we understood that we were going to have to manage his medical condition over the course of the season. When the elbow is involved, anything can happen."
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Wheeler will obviously be sidelined for the duration of the 2015 campaign, and he’s almost surely going to miss the start of 2016, as well, even if he undergoes surgery soon. Slated to turn just 25 in May, Wheeler boasts a career 3.50 ERA and 8.5 K/9 ratio over his 49 big league starts. Losing him is certainly a blow to the Mets, but there might not be another club better equipped to handle an injury to a starting pitcher.
Dillon Gee’s name was mentioned often in trade rumors over the winter, and the Mets are undoubtedly now happy that they resisted dealing him. Gee will slide into Wheeler’s spot in the rotation and is a perfectly viable back-end starter, holding a 3.91 ERA over his 639 2/3 career big league frames. The depth doesn’t end there, as the Mets will have young arms Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero lurking at Triple-A should a need arise.
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Lee Won’t Have Elbow Surgery... Yet
The Phillies placed Cliff Lee on the 60-day disabled list Monday due to a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee, however, is not ready to have surgery on the elbow. Not yet, anyway.
The veteran left-hander has already unsuccessfully tried twice to rehab the ailment without surgery and realizes that it’s the longest of long shots that it will work this time. That said, an operation would knock him out for the rest of the season and possibly his career. Slated to turn 37 late in the season, Lee figures he might as well give rehab another shot.
"It's tough to stay positive about it but it kind of is what it is," Lee told MLB.com. "There's nothing I can do. To me, it came down to either have the surgery, or don't. I'm going to give it a chance. The doctor wanted me to have the surgery and recommended it, but I can still do that two to three months from now if I'm not able to pitch."
Rehab for the operation Lee would need takes 6-8 months, so if he ends up going under the knife in 2-3 months as he suggests, he could still conceivably be ready for spring training next year. But, the rehab process could take longer than expected given his age, and there’s always the possibility Lee just decides to retire.
The question of who takes Lee’s spot in the Phillies’ rotation is still very much unanswered. Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang (assuming he’s over his back issues), Jerome Williams and David Buchanan should slot into the first four spots in the rotation, while Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Kevin Slowey, Paul Clemens and Joely Rodriguez are competing for the No. 5 spot. Philly would surely like to see Gonzalez, who they gave $12 million to late in 2013, run away with the spot, but he’s struggled when used as a starter and holds an 11.25 ERA so far this spring. Whoever wins the spot will eventually give way to Chad Billingsley (elbow), who is due back in late April.
Reds Move Cingrani to Bullpen
Whether it’s because they doubt his ability to hold up physically or they simply think he’ll be more effective in smaller doses, the Reds have decided that Tony Cingrani is a better fit for their bullpen than their rotation.
"It means that we're going to get (Raisel) Iglesias stretched out, and as of right now, we're looking at Tony as more of a relief option than as a starting option," manager Bryan Price told MLB.com. "We have to find a way to get out of the gates strong, and at this point in time, the feeling was that organizationally, Tony's better suited for us at the moment as a relief pitcher."
Cingrani has often had trouble going deep into games and was plagued by shoulder issues last season, so it’s certainly possible he’s better off in the bullpen. That said, the Reds traded away much of their rotation depth this winter in dealing Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, which means they could begin the season with retreads like Paul Maholm and Jason Marquis in the rotation. Price indicated Monday that both veterans could be sitting pretty for a rotation spot.
"The thing is, when we have veteran guys like Marquis and Maholm, you're not going to use them for one start," Price said. "If they're going to be on our team, the hope is that they're on our team for an entire season, if not longer. And that's how we have to look at that. … You can back-and-forth a young guy. You can start a game or two and then go down to the Minor Leagues or go to the bullpen and help us as a long guy. So Marquis and Maholm are looking more like long-term, start-to-finish options for us."
With Homer Bailey (elbow) slated to get a late start to the season, Marquis and Maholm could grab two of three open rotation spots. Also competing for the gigs are Cuban import Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani, who was acquired from the Marlins in the Latos deal. Fantasy owners will certainly be pulling for the latter two righties to win rotation jobs.
Morrow Impressing in Padres’ Camp
Brandon Morrow entered camp without a guaranteed spot in the Padres’ rotation, but he’s off to a good start as he looks to lock one up.
Morrow fired four scoreless frames against the Cubs on Monday, striking out a pair without issuing a walk. Through his first nine Cactus League innings, Morrow has allowed only one run while posting a 7/2 K/BB ratio. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was told by scouts that the former Blue Jay “looked tremendous” during Monday’s outing.
Of course, the stuff has never been an issue with Morrow. The problem with him has been throwing strikes consistently and staying off the disabled list. The right-hander has made 30 starts just once in his career and has been limited to just 87 2/3 innings over the last two seasons due to injury.
Morrow’s chief competitor for the fifth spot in San Diego’s rotation is Odrisamer Despaigne, who posted a surprising 3.36 ERA in 16 starts for the Padres last season but who lacks the upside that Morrow possesses. Despaigne is unscored upon in his 4 2/3 frames this spring.
Morrow is certainly a poor bet to stay healthy for a full season, but he’ll now be facing a pitcher instead of a designated hitter for the first time in his career and will be calling the league’s most pitcher-friendly park home. He certainly makes for an intriguing late-round flier for fantasy purposes.