Tommy John surgery isn't a death sentence for Strasburg

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Be prepared to hear a lot of people use Mark Prior in the same sentence as Stephen Strasburg in the days and months ahead. Please don’t listen to them. This would be a far worse scenario if we were talking about Strasburg’s shoulder. Thankfully, we aren’t.

Though today’s news is a very tough blow for the Nationals as a franchise, it doesn’t mean Strasburg’s career is over. Far from it. There are numerous examples of pitchers that have come back from Tommy John surgery to enjoy success in the major leagues. Here’s just a few of them.

Josh Johnson: Maybe the most significant example of a young pitcher thriving post-op, Johnson was 12-10 with a 3.50 ERA over his first 39 games (29 starts) in the majors before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2007 at the age of 23. He’s been even better since his return in July of 2008, going 33-11 with a 2.98 ERA. Among starting pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched during that time, he ranks 10th in ERA and 11th in strikeouts and wins.

Chris Carpenter: Carpenter has endured numerous arm problems throughout the course of his career, but he has re-emerged as one of the best pitchers in the sport after missing most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Carpenter is 4th among major league starters with a 2.55 ERA since his return in July of 2008.

Ryan Dempster: Dempster is an interesting case. He was primarily a starting pitcher before requiring Tommy John surgery in August of 2003 at age 26. He was released by the Reds and then picked up by the Cubs, who used him almost exclusively as a reliever all the way until the start of the 2008 season. Since then, Dempster ranks 13th in MLB with 527 strikeouts in 585 2/3 innings.

A.J. Burnett: Some Yankees fans will scoff at this, but Burnett is a significant example of a pitcher who has found sustained success after TJ surgery. Burnett underwent the procedure in April of 2003 when he was with the Marlins at age 26. Since he returned in June of 2004, Burnett is 79-64 with a 3.95 ERA, averaging 8.5 K/9. He had some setbacks with his elbow and shoulder during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but Burnett ranks seventh among starting pitchers in strikeouts since 2004.

Francisco Liriano: I’m going to throw this one out there as a little bit of a devil’s advocate. For the rosy pictures I’ve painted above, Liriano is an example of a pitcher who struggled to find his footing after Tommy John surgery.  Liriano was regarded as one of the brightest young arms in the game when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 games (16 starts) as a 22-year-old rookie with the Twins in 2006. He went under the knife in November, missed the entire 2007 season and showed a lack of velocity in 14 starts with the Twins in 2008. Back as a full-time starting pitcher in 2009, Liriano struggled again, this time posting a 5.80 ERA in 29 outings (24 starts). It wasn’t until this season, nearly four years later, did Liriano begin to show the velocity that made him an emerging ace as a rookie. Through 25 starts, the now 26-year-old is 12-7 with a 3.41 ERA and ranks third in the American League with 171 strikeouts.

Though all the pitchers I mentioned above have found success in the major leagues again, they have all taken very different routes to get there. And at various points in their careers, to boot.

Here’s a few more recent notables: Tim Hudson, Billy Wagner, Brian Wilson, Hong-Chih Kuo (twice), Shaun Marcum, Joakim Soria, Carl Pavano, C.J. Wilson, Rafael Soriano, Jaime Garcia.

This doesn’t mean Strasburg will be a slam-dunk. Take a look here and you’ll see a list littered with names of could-have-been’s and never-were’s. The important thing is that like the pitchers I mentioned above, Strasburg already has elite skills to fall back on. The actual act of repairing or reconstructing the ligament isn’t going to make him a better pitcher, necessarily, but his rehab from the surgery is the key. The scary part for major league hitters is that he has the potential to come back from the surgery even stronger than he was before, if that is even possible. 

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.