The Dodgers were dealt a massive blow on Monday when the team announced star shortstop Corey Seager has a UCL sprain in his right elbow and will need Tommy John surgery, requiring him to miss the remainder of the 2018 season.
This isn’t a “Justin Turner out for two months” kind of injury, this is a season-altering injury for a team that had already been under-performing – and Seager had been one of the main under-performers.
In fact, going back to last season, Seager has been not hitting like himself. The first report of any kind of elbow injury came on Aug. 29, when he missed a game against the Diamondbacks with the injury. So, let’s use that as one of the endpoints, even though he hadn’t been hitting for much power leading up to the end of the month. On Aug. 29, Seager was riding a 15-game hitting streak, but had just a double as his only extra base hit during the streak.
From Aug. 29 of last season until his last game on Sunday, Seager hit a collective .234/.313/.359 with a dreadful 87 wRC+ and a .125 ISO in 208 plate appearances. For a guy who was a career .312/.381/.512 hitter with a 140 wRC+ and .201 ISO, it was clear something was up with Seager. He missed the National League Championship Series with a back injury after a 3-for-11 (a triple and four walks) National League Division Series against the Diamondbacks. He returned for the World Series. Aside from what now looks like an improbable opposite-field home run in Game 2 against Justin Verlander, Seager wasn’t much of a threat in the series.
Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register first reported on Sept. 4 that Seager’s elbow ailment might require offseason surgery:
“Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager began a throwing program before Monday’s game.
But an MRI of his right elbow taken before he was shut down a week ago showed inflammation – and maybe more. Seager hinted at the possibility of post-season surgery to deal with the problem.
‘It’s probably something in the off-season I’ll have to address more,’ Seager said Monday. ‘I’ll probably get another MRI and see if things got better or worse or different. It’s something that I’m not really trying to think about. Just go out and play.’
One possibility is a bone spur or bone chips that are causing the irritation in Seager’s elbow. That could be addressed with a debridement surgery following the conclusion of the season. Seager would have plenty of time to recover before spring training.
Seager was not specific but did acknowledge surgery was a possibility that would be ‘discussed’ after the season.”
Surgery should always be the last option, and it seems like that’s what the Dodgers were doing here. Instead of opting for surgery, the hope was for Seager’s elbow to heal without an invasive procedure. Perhaps they thought the procedure was more than just cleaning up bone chips/spurs, which is what it ultimately ended up. There’s no telling if he had the first surgery that he wouldn’t ultimately have needed Tommy John. And if they had opted for Tommy John, the recovery time for a position player is typically 9-12 months.
“Where we were in the calendar at the time, it made sense to take a conservative approach, and see if that would alleviate the symptoms,” general manager Farhan Zaidi told reporters Monday, per Andy McCullough of the LA Times. “It obviously worked for a while. Things deteriorated now to the point where it’s clearly surgical.”
Best-case scenario would have put Seager back in August. Missing Seager for four months would have hurt but having a 100-percent healthy Seager for the stretch run would have been preferred to what is reality. This is the part when you cite hindsight and 20/20 vision, or something.
But man, this still sucks. Seager has been the Dodgers’ best player in his first two full seasons and losing him for the rest of the campaign is going to be a tough obstacle for this team to overcome. Turner should be back in the next month or so, but there’s also no reason for him to rush back and jeopardize the rest of his season.
Folks want Manny Machado – and rightfully so. He’s one of the game’s best players. Of course, the Dodgers won’t be the only team with interest in the Orioles’ superstar and the fact he carries a hefty price tag, as Eric pointed out earlier today, means his acquisition isn’t terribly likely.
Dodgers were already at ~$182-183m in luxury tax payroll, before accounting for Maeda's bonuses. It would take some creativity to fit Manny Machado (~$13m remaining rest of year) and stay under the $197m threshold— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) April 30, 2018
For now, the Dodgers are going to keep things in-house, with Chris Taylor set to get the lion’s share of the playing time. Kiké Hernandez will take over primary center field duties, but he should also get a look at shortstop from time to time.
The Dodgers are a deep organization. I’m not sure they’re deep enough to overcome the loss of Seager, even if he wasn’t 100 percent. One thing’s for certain: This won’t be like last season. The Dodgers are going to have to claw their way up the standings if they hope to win their sixth consecutive NL West title. Hell, they’re going to have to that just to be in contention for a Wild Card spot.
This has been a frustrating start to what was supposed to be an promising season. A little adversity is good, but this might be too much for the team to overcome.