Below is a partial list of Los Angeles Angels pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery within the last four years:
Rough. That’s an awful lot of pitching talent lost to elbow reconstruction. Unfortunately, it appears Shohei Ohtani will soon join this list as well.
Wednesday afternoon the Angels announced an MRI revealed new damage to Ohtani’s right elbow ligament, and Tommy John surgery has been recommended. It is important to note surgery is not set in stone yet. The team can recommend surgery but can’t force Ohtani to have surgery any more than your employer can force you to have surgery. Ohtani will presumably go for a second opinion, but, generally speaking, once Tommy John surgery is recommended, it’s a matter of “when” and not “if.”
Ohtani missed one month as a hitter and nearly three months as a pitcher earlier this season with a Grade 2 elbow sprain. The Angels signed him knowing he had a Grade 1 sprain and was receiving treatment. The sprain progressed to Grade 2 at midseason and now it is apparently even worse, hence the Tommy John surgery recommendation.
When healthy, Ohtani was a star:
- Hitting: .276/.355/.547 (144 OPS+) with 16 doubles and 16 homers in 274 plate appearances
- Pitching: 3.31 ERA (128 ERA+) with 63 strikeouts and 22 walks in 51 2/3 innings
On a rate basis, Ohtani hit like Nelson Cruz (143 OPS+) and pitched like Charlie Morton (127 ERA+). He and Babe Ruth are the only players in history to hit 15-plus home runs and throw 50-plus innings in a single season in baseball history. The sample sizes are small, obviously, but the production was great and the talent is undeniable.
Ohtani’s power to left-center is unreal. How many hitters can do this against Corey Kluber?
Assuming he does undergo Tommy John surgery, Ohtani will miss the entire 2019 season as a pitcher, though it’s unknown how the team will handle him as a hitter. The Tommy John surgery rehab timetable is typically 14-16 months for pitchers. There’s no getting around that. For hitters though, the timetable is usually 6-8 months.
Would Ohtani be able to hit next season before he’s cleared to pitch? That’s a No. 1 question right now.
Even if he can DH next season, the fact remains the Angels will now only get one full season of healthy Ohtani paired with Mike Trout, the game’s best player, before he’s scheduled to reach free agency. Ohtani’s MLB debut was abbreviated this year due to injuries. He won’t pitch next year following surgery. So, the best-case scenario is a full season of Ohtani alongside Trout in 2020, which happens to be Trout’s contract year. He’s currently scheduled to become a free agent during the 2020-21 offseason.
The Angels go into Wednesday’s game with a 67-72 record and no real shot at the postseason. They are 19 games back in the AL West and 15 1/2 games back of the second AL wild card spot. For the sixth time in Trout’s seven full big-league seasons, the Angels will miss the postseason, and in the one year they did make the playoffs, they were swept in three games in the ALDS. The prime of one of the greatest players ever is being wasted. It’s a shame.
Now with Ohtani likely heading to Tommy John surgery, it’ll be that much more difficult for the Angels to contend next year, one of the two precious seasons remaining on Trout’s contract. A strong case can be made that, when healthy, Ohtani is the team’s best pitcher and second-best hitter. He won’t pitch next year. He might be able to hit! But, if he does, how often will he be able to hit and will he be compromised at all? Those are unanswerable questions right now.
It seems that, anytime something bad happens with the Angels, there are immediate calls to trade Trout. Trade him to a contender for a godfather package and begin a rebuild. It’s happening again in the wake of the Ohtani Tommy John surgery news.
I get it. I totally do. The Angels could trade Trout for maximum value right now — the longer they wait, the less they get in return (see: Machado, Manny) — start a rebuild, and move forward with a healthy Ohtani as their organizational centerpiece beginning in 2020. He’s not Trout, but you could do a heck of a lot worse than building around Ohtani. Get gobs of young talent for Trout, then rebuild. A viable plan, no doubt.
Personally, I don’t think the Angels should trade Trout. It is a heck of a lot easier to rebuild a farm system than it is to have the best player of his generation on your roster in the prime of his career. Angels GM Billy Eppler realizes this as well.
Trade Trout? No way. I say sign him to what amounts to a lifetime contract and build around him and Ohtani going forward. That was the original plan! Ohtani’s elbow injury and seemingly inevitable Tommy John surgery doesn’t have to derail that.
I can’t see the Angels trading Trout, even after another postseason-less season. Never say never, but yeah, it seems very unlikely. The Astros are great and the Athletics are up-and-coming, and now it’ll be that much harder for the Angels to contend next season because they won’t have Ohtani. He’s a great player — not a good player, a great player — and maybe they’ll have him at DH, but they won’t on the mound.
It stinks. It stinks for the Angels, it stinks for Ohtani, it stinks for Trout, and it stinks for baseball fans.