Mariners right-handed reliever David Phelps suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and will miss the season, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. He’ll need to undergo Tommy John surgery, Greg Johns of MLB.com adds (Twitter links).
Phelps suffered the injury on the final pitch of his outing last Saturday, per Johns. It’s yet another significant arm problem in Phelps’ short Mariners career, as he previously underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow last September. That procedure came after a lengthy absence because of an elbow impingement. Phelps’ issues limited him to just 8 2/3 innings with Seattle last year after it acquired him from Miami in late July.
As was the case when they traded him for him in 2017, the Mariners were counting on Phelps to play a major role out of their bullpen this season. And for good reason, too, as the 31-year-old was among the majors’ premier relievers from 2016-17. Phelps made 108 appearances during that span, the third-highest total in the league, and pitched to a 2.69 ERA/3.12 FIP with 11.11 K/9, 3.97 BB/9 and a 46.4 percent groundball rate over 133 2/3 innings.
This injury comes at an especially inopportune time for Phelps, given that he’s in a contract year. He’ll make $5.5MM this season and could have put himself in line for a sizable multiyear deal in free agency next winter. Instead, he’ll head to the open market off a major surgery, and because of the 12- to 15-month recovery time that follows Tommy John surgery, it’s likely he’ll miss at least some of the 2019 campaign.
The Mariners, meanwhile, will have to go without arguably their best reliever as they attempt to break a league-worst 16-year playoff drought. Seattle still has other proven options on hand (depth chart), including closer Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent, yet this is certainly an enormous blow with the season just over a week away.
With Phelps no longer in the mix, it’s possible general manager Jerry Dipoto will now seek to bolster his bullpen from outside, potentially via trade (his signature route), free agency or the waiver wire (which he utilized earlier Wednesday). There are a few household names remaining on the market, including Greg Holland (he’d come at a high price and would cost the Mariners a draft pick), Chad Qualls, Jason Grilli, Joe Blanton and Huston Street. Unfortunately for the Mariners, though, anyone from that group would have a hard time approaching Phelps’ recent production.