The Padres announced earlier tonight that pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza will undergo Tommy John surgery. Espinoza was acquired last summer from the Boston Red Sox for Drew Pomeranz. He made seven starts down the stretch at Fort Wayne last season, but hasn’t pitched at all this year, held back for precautionary reasons. Espinoza will have the surgery next week in Dallas, Texas.
Here are some thoughts on the matter.
1. Get well, Anderson Espinoza
We often think about how an injury like this affects the Padres. That’s only natural, of course, but it’s important to think about Espinoza here. The Padres will be fine. On the other hand, Espinoza’s a 19-year-old who hasn’t pitched a minor-league game in 11 months, and who now has to deal with a significant surgery and a long, grueling recovery, one that certainly doesn’t guarantee a return to previous form.
Espinoza signed for $1.8 million back in 2014, so he’s doing okay. Once you factor in buscones, taxes, and living on a paltry minor-league salary for a few years, though, he hasn’t really earned the big bucks yet. He still has a bright future, we hope, but it’s hard not to feel for someone who’s right arm, gifted as it is, has failed him. The most important thing here is that Anderson Espinoza gets healthy for Anderson Espinoza. If that happens, the Padres will be beneficiaries, and so will we.
2. Why did the Padres wait so long?
Chris Paddack had Tommy John surgery on August 15 of last year, and he might make it back to the mound for fall instructs at the end of this season. A smooth return from TJ generally takes a year to 14 months, and the Padres will likely be in no rush with Espinoza. That means, at best, he makes his next professional start sometime at the end of 2018, and there’s a good shot he doesn’t make it back until 2019.
Since the Padres waited so long to make the decision with Espinoza, he’ll essentially miss two full seasons without throwing a competitive pitch. If the Padres made this decision back in April or May, or even earlier, Espinoza would have likely been back by the middle of next season. In a sense, the decision to delay his surgery could push his return back by 10 months, once you factor in the offseason.
I don’t have data to back this up—not yet, anyway—but it seems like missing two full seasons would make a full comeback from TJ more difficult than missing one or one and a half seasons. It’s just a long time to go without pitching. Espinoza made his last start of 2016 on August 31. If he doesn’t pitch again until, let’s say, April of 2019, that’ll be 31 full months without throwing a pitch in a real game. Tack that extra long layoff on to the already difficult task of returning from TJ, feeling comfortable throwing again, finding command, etc., and it might take Espinoza a while to approach the level of performance he was at earlier in his career.
We don’t know what kind of information the Padres had, or why they made the decision to hold off on surgey. It’s never easy to make the TJ decision, and it’s not something that teams or players take lightly. Then again, given the medical report snafu the Padres had at the deadline last year, plus various problems diagnosing and/or communicating injury-related stuff over the years, it’s fair to wonder whether the medical side is an organizational weak spot.
3. Hey, Red Sox: shut up
Last we heard, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox were still fuming about that Pomeranz-Espinoza trade from last July. You know, the deal that netted the Red Sox an above average big-league starter who’s already made 20 starts this season and the Padres a pitching prospect who just went down with Tommy John after sitting out the first four months of the season.
I get it. The Padres probably messed up there, and it’s not necessarily fair to look at the results over the process. Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Red Sox had some idea that arm problems would be in Espinoza’s near future. Further, the whole thing, with the White Sox and Marlins chiming in, felt like the good ol’ boys GM club rejecting—or at least picking on—A.J. Preller. Now that Espinoza has officially been diagnosed with a torn UCL, one player acquired from each of the complaining teams (Espinoza, Paddack from the Marlins, and Erik Johnson from the White Sox) have all suffered the same fate, and they made a combined 14 starts in the Padres organization before getting shut down.
Maybe that’s just bad luck, or karma, or the fragile state of the pitching elbow, but c’mon, it’s over. Let it go. The Red Sox had their chance to play take-backsies, didn’t, and have gotten more than they could have expected from Pomeranz. The Marlins gave back Colin Rea and took back Luis Castillo, who they used to trade for Dan Straily. The White Sox, well, who cares about the White Sox. They willingly traded Fernando Tatis Jr. for James Shields, and their farm system is still currently loaded.