High-powered Marlins reliever Carter Capps will undergo Tommy John surgery today, the club has announced. The 25-year-old right-hander will have his UCL replaced by surgeon James Andrews.
Both team and player had been holding out hope for a better outcome from yesterday’s visit with Andrews. It would appear that the famed elbow repairman advised in favor of the procedure, which will knock Capps out for the entirety of the 2016 season and — depending upon his recovery timeline — a piece of 2017 as well.
The news is enormously disappointing for all involved. It’s hard to overstate just how good Capps was last year — when he was healthy — and Miami surely had visions of him forming a high-quality 1-2 punch with A.J. Ramos. Indeed, there was some talk of sliding Capps into the closer role, in part to help manage his usage but also in reflection of the fact that he led all of baseball with a 0.87 SIERA on the strength of an absurd strikeout-to-walk ratio (16.8 K/9 vs. 2.0 BB/9).
It’s perhaps even more disappointing for Capps himself, who had only just reached arbitration eligibility. Despite his dominance last year, his relatively low innings count in 2015 and underwhelming prior results held him to a $988K salary. Another big season — especially if utilized in the 9th — would have set Capps up for a major raise.
Instead, he’ll enter next winter with expectations of receiving a repeat of his current-year earnings. The Marlins will surely feel that price is worth the risk, and will also control Capps for a final arb-eligible season in 2018 before he qualifies for the open market.
It remains to be seen what Miami will do to address this loss. Surely, a replacement that would match Capps in quality won’t be available (at least, for anything less than an exorbitant rate). The club still has plenty of big fastballs in the pen, but will likely be looking to add depth. Whether or not an immediate move is explored, there ought to be plenty of options as camp battles are won and lost late in the spring.
It’s worth noting that Capps landed as the tenth most likely Tommy John patient in all of baseball in the recent statistical study undertaken by MLBTR contributor Bradley Woodrum. As Woodrum has explained in that post and in his appearance on last week’s MLBTR Podcast, the bottom-line predictive value of his work is relatively low (although still surprisingly powerful), so the placement of Capps and other higher-risk arms shouldn’t be viewed as an expectation of surgery so much as an indication that such pitchers may be worthy of increased attention and caution by their respective teams.