Cubs right-hander Alec Mills underwent a discectomy procedure on his lower back Wednesday, the team announced this morning. He’d been out since July 3 with a lower back strain and was moved to the 60-day injured list late last month.
The surgery obviously closes the book on Mills’ 2022 season, and it also raises the question of whether he’ll be back with the team in 2023 and beyond. The Cubs can control the 30-year-old righty for three more years, but he’d be due his first arbitration raise this winter after throwing just 17 2/3 innings this season due to that balky back. Mills also pitched 119 frames with the 2021 Cubs, logging a 5.07 ERA with more promising peripheral marks (6.6% walk rate, 51.3% grounder rate, 4.49 FIP, 4.33 xFIP).
Mills has now spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues, nearly all of which has been as a member of the Cubs. He’s tallied 256 1/3 innings of 4.95 ERA ball with a 19.5% strikeout rate, 7.2% walk rate and 48.5% ground-ball rate. At various points in his Major League tenure, he’s looked the part of a back-of-the-rotation starter and interesting reliever, offsetting a below-average strikeout rate with good command and above-average ground-ball tendencies. However, Mills has now also had three separate IL stints due to lower back issues over the past two seasons.
The general hope is that this week’s surgery will alleviate that issue for good. Only time will tell whether he’ll get an opportunity to continue with the Cubs. Chicago has Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Adrian Sampson and prospects Caleb Kilian and Hayden Wesneski as potential rotation options for the 2023 season, with lefties Drew Smyly and Wade Miley set to reach free agency. They’ll also hope for better 2023 health for former top prospect Adbert Alzolay. Still, as the team looks to take steps forward, owner Tom Ricketts has vowed to be “active” in free agency, and the rotation is a logical place for president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer to pursue fortifications.
Mills could certainly be retained as rotation depth, although he’s also out of minor league options, so if he’s tendered a contract he’d need to be carried on the Major League roster or injured list. Non-tendering him and re-signing him to a minor league deal is always a possibility, though all of those decisions will hinge on just how quickly he’s expected to recover from Wednesday’s surgery. At present, the Cubs have not provided a timetable for his rehabilitation.