Angels right-hander Garrett Richards has opted to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, tweets J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group. The news comes on the heels of a recent announcement from the Angels in which they revealed that an MRI had identified some damage to Richards’ right UCL. He was presented with both surgical and non-surgical treatment plans and had been weighing the decision over the past 24 hours.
Richards’ UCL tear comes at the worst possible time for the right-hander (not that there’s ever a “good” one), as he’d been slated to hit free agency at season’s end. The 30-year-old had previously rehabbed some UCL damage without surgery back in 2016, opting instead for stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma treatment (much in the same vein as Ervin Santana and Masahiro Tanaka, each of whom has avoided going under the knife entirely, to date). While that appeared to stave off a significant enough UCL tear to require surgical repair, though, Richards missed nearly all of the 2017 season with a biceps issue.
The 2018 season had been a largely healthy one for Richards, at least in terms of his right arm. He missed about three weeks due to a hamstring strain but had otherwise pitched well. However, in his just his second start back from that hamstring issue, he departed after three innings due to ever-ominous “forearm irritation” — a symptom that has increasingly proven to be a precursor to ligament damage.
Richards, now, will miss the remainder of the 2018 season and most, if not all of the 2019 season as well. He’ll still garner interest on the free-agent market, of course, but what at one point might’ve been an annual salary of $12MM+ on a multi-year deal may now drop to something along the lines of the two-year deals signed by Drew Smyly ($10MM), Michael Pineda ($10MM) and Nathan Eovaldi ($4MM) while each of those respective hurlers recovers from his own Tommy John procedure.
Alternatively, Richards could simply follow the route that both Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal have taken — opting not to sign a deal at all in the coming offseason and then auditioning for teams to demonstrate his health the following offseason. Either way, it’s quite possible that Richards has tossed his final game as a member of the Angels.
Devastating as the news must be to Richards, Hoornstra notes that the right-hander is approaching his latest injury with about as positive an outlook as possible (Twitter link).
“I’ll be back,” Richards said.“I’ll be ready. Everything will be fine. I’ll get through this. I’m going to be positive about this. I’m not going to dwell on the negative stuff. This is what was presented to me, and this is what I’ve got to deal with. Just try and tackle it.”
For the Angels, the move comes as a crushing blow. With just three weeks remaining until the non-waiver deadline, the loss of Richards will only further the seemingly inevitable reality that the team will need to look beyond the 2018 season and sell off short-term assets on the trade market this year. However, Richards was the top short-term asset the Angels had to market to other clubs, and he’ll now be taken off the market entirely, thus depriving the the team of the possibility of recouping any kind of prospect return for the loss of one of their longtime top starters.
Beyond all of that, the Angels will continue to face scrutiny for the rampant injury troubles that have permeated their rotation in recent seasons. In the last three years alone, the Angels have had Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Nick Tropeano, J.C. Ramirez, Keynan Middleton, Blake Wood and John Lamb undergo Tommy John surgery, and that already plentiful list doesn’t include the current UCL tear through which Shohei Ohtani is playing (while serving only as a designated hitter). Meanwhile, others such as Alex Meyer, Nate Smith and Matt Shoemaker have gone under the knife for myriad other reasons.
Certainly not all of those injuries can be pinned on the Angels. Meyer’s shoulder troubles, for example, date back to his days with the Twins, while Lamb has had injuries of his own and was only briefly in the organization before requiring surgery. Ohtani was known to have some UCL damage at the time he was signed, though reports following the Angels’ recent announcement suggested this to be a new tear. Regardless, the barrage of pitching injuries the Angels have faced in recent years is undoubtedly something that’ll prompt a deep dive from the front office as it seeks to determine if there’s more than sheer coincidence and misfortune at play.