The Pirates announced today that right-hander Jameson Taillon underwent his second career Tommy John surgery. Taillon had been slated for surgery to repair his right flexor tendon, which was initially expected to sideline him for seven to nine months. However, according to the Pirates, it was determined during the course of that procedure that he required a UCL revision in his right elbow. Taillon is expected to miss the entire 2020 season and return to competition in 2021.
It’s a brutal loss for the Pirates, who just a couple of months ago were hoping that Taillon would be able to return at some point in 2019. Now, they’ll be without their best pitcher not only for this season but the entire 2020 campaign as well. That’ll leave the Buccos with a rotation mix comprised of Joe Musgrove, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and well-regarded prospect Mitch Keller. Pittsburgh also hopes to have Chad Kuhl back in 2020, when he’s recovered from his own Tommy John surgery, and other options are present on the 40-man roster in the form of Dario Agrazal, JT Brubaker, Yefry Ramirez and Rookie Davis. Still, it’s a largely non-established group that could well be in need of offseason augmentation.
Taillon, 27, was the No. 2 overall draft pick back in 2010 and long rated as one of baseball’s elite prospects. Injuries, headlined by a prior Tommy John surgery and a frightening battle with testicular cancer, stalled his development and delayed his path to the big leagues. However, upon arrival, Taillon quickly demonstrated why he’d received such lofty fanfare, and in 2018 looked to have cemented himself as a front-of-the-rotation piece in Pittsburgh. After a pair of solid seasons to begin his career in 2016-17, Taillon broke out in 2018 with 191 innings of 3.20 ERA ball. Along the way, he averaged 7.2 strikeouts, 1.9 walks and 0.96 homers per nine innings pitched to go along with a grounder rate just a hair under 50 percent.
Taillon will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter and figures to receive a relatively small raise given that injuries limited him to 37 1/3 innings of 4.10 ERA ball in 2019. Whatever price he and the Pirates agree on will quite likely be his salary in 2021 as well, given that it’s common for arbitration-eligible players who miss an entire season due to injury to simply re-sign at the same rate. Taillon will get a bump into seven figures to reflect the contributions he’s made in his career to date, but the potential $4.5-6MM salary he might’ve received with a healthy 2019 campaign now looks firmly out of the question.
The Pittsburgh front office will have a tall order when it comes to replacing the value lost with a full season of Taillon. While the roster has several rotation alternatives, there are few, if any, with Taillon’s ceiling among them. (Keller, perhaps, stands out as a notable exception.) The worst-case scenario in the rotation comes at a time when other members of the lineup — namely Josh Bell and breakout rookie Bryan Reynolds — have stepped into the spotlight and given the Pirates hope that each can be a core piece around which to build. Now, with new core assets emerging, Pittsburgh will see one of its most crucial core members fade from the picture for the foreseeable future.