12:10pm: Angels GM Billy Eppler tells reporters that Heaney was examined by multiple doctors, with opinions ranging from “normal wear and tear” to “some degree of tear.” (Twitter links via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register) For the time being, at least, Eppler said that Heaney will not undergo Tommy John surgery. Heaney, instead, is “opting for conservative care like other pitchers have done.”
MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, meanwhile, tweets that sources tell him that Tommy John surgery for Richards is “inevitable” due to the degree of the tear in his elbow.
9:26am: In a stunning bombshell that casts considerable doubt on the Angels’ ability to contend this season, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports that both ace Garrett Richards and left-hander Andrew Heaney have damaged ulnar collateral ligaments in their pitching elbows. Richards has a tear in the ligament and is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery, Passan reports, while Heaney has some damage to the ligament and is hoping to rehab and avoid the same surgery at this time. Richards and Heaney entered the season as the Halos’ top two starters.
The news comes as a dagger to what has already been an injury-depleted Angels rotation. Left-hander C.J. Wilson has yet to pitch this season as he recovers from elbow surgery to remove bone spurs, and Heaney has been on the shelf since early April with what has been termed a strained flexor muscle. Jered Weaver, meanwhile, has struggled to a 5.40 ERA while averaging a career-worst 81.9 mph on his fastball. To make matters worse, left-hander Tyler Skaggs, on his way back from his own Tommy John surgery (late in 2014), has seen his rehab slowed by biceps tendinitis. The Halos had originally patched up Heaney’s spot in the rotation with right-hander Nick Tropeano, but with the club now facing the remainder of the season without Richards and perhaps Heaney, in addition to another six or so weeks without Wilson, it’s difficult to envision the club climbing back from its current 13-15 record and factoring into the mix in the American League West.
Richards, 27, has stepped up and cemented himself as the Angels’ top starter since Opening Day 2014. The former No. 42 overall pick has worked to a very strong 3.11 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 52.5 percent ground-ball rate across 410 2/3 innings in that time. While his 2014 campaign was cut short by a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, Richards rebounded to throw a career-high 207 1/3 innings last season and was expected to front the Angels’ rotation with a similar workload in 2016. Instead, his season will come to an end with just 34 2/3 innings of 2.34 ERA ball under his belt. In a best-case scenario, he’d return to the club in early May of 2017, but targeting a June or July return next season is more realistic.
Richards agreed to a $6.425MM contract this winter to avoid arbitration in his second trip through the process. As a Super Two player, he’ll be eligible in each of the next two offseasons before hitting free agency upon conclusion of the 2018 season. Because he threw just 34 2/3 innings this season, the raise he can expect upon that $6.425MM salary is minimal, though the quality of said innings should give him somewhat of a bump. Even at $7MM, he should be an easy call for the Halos to tender a contract, however, especially considering the fact that doing so entitles them not only to a partial season in 2017 but a full season in 2018.
As for Heaney, there’s no telling exactly how long he’ll remain sidelined until the specific nature of his UCL damage is known. However, even if the Angels and Heaney continue down the rehabilitation path, it seems likely that the UCL damage will lead to a prolonged absence. Masahiro Tanaka, for instance, elected to rehab a minor tear of his UCL in his rookie season but still didn’t set foot on a big league mound between July 8 and Sept. 21.
If the Angels choose to go outside the organization to add some pitching depth, there are a few options available. Tim Lincecum, of course, is slated to host his much-ballyhooed showcase today, though it seems unlikely that he’d be able to step into a rotation with any sort of immediacy, as he’d need some work in the minors to re-acclimate himself with pitching in a game setting. Kyle Lohse, too, is said to be auditioning for teams. His workout hasn’t generated the fanfare of Lincecum’s, of course, though Lohse notably has been a vastly superior pitcher to Lincecum across the past five seasons. Left-hander John Danks is set to be released by the White Sox following his DFA, and the Twins recently placed a viable back-of-the-rotation candidate, Tommy Milone, on waivers.
Looking internally, the Halos unfortunately thinned out the upper levels of their system this winter by trading lefty Sean Newcomb and right-hander Chris Ellis to the Braves in exchange for Andrelton Simmons. That removed two near-MLB arms from the picture, though the team does still have a somewhat intriguing arm at the Triple-A level in the form of left-hander Nate Smith. The former eighth-round pick has a 3.79 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 through his first 35 2/3 innings this season, and both MLB.com and Baseball America rated him third in a weak Angels farm system while writing that he could be a fourth or fifth starter. Obviously, that doesn’t make up for the loss of an arm like Richards or Heaney, but he could reasonably provide the club with an option to at least turn in competitive innings on a regular basis.