SEPTEMBER 2: Alvarez indeed underwent Tommy John surgery this week, the Giants announced.
AUGUST 25: Giants left-hander Jose Alvarez’s 2022 season is over due to a setback in his injury rehab, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Alvarez hasn’t pitched since mid-June due to a pair of injured-list stints, first for a back strain and then elbow inflammation that Slusser reports was later diagnosed as a UCL strain. The problem is serious enough that Tommy John surgery is likely necessary, though Alvarez will probably seek out a second opinion before making his final choice about surgery.
Due to the usual 12-15 month recovery timeframe for TJ surgery, Alvarez seems likely to miss the entire 2023 season. On the off chance that Alvarez does find a favorable second opinion, it would still seem like he’d be facing a lengthy absence that might make him questionable for the start of the 2023 campaign, and there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t eventually end up getting a Tommy John surgery anyway in the event of another setback.
It’s a tough outcome for the 33-year-old, who will end his 10th Major League season with just 15 1/3 innings pitched and a 5.28 ERA. Alvarez signed a free agent with San Francisco prior to the 2021 season that ultimately paid him $2.55MM over the 2021-22 seasons, after the Giants exercised a club option on his services for 2022.
As such, the left-hander will now head into free agency with a lot of health uncertainty hanging over his market. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Alvarez won’t be able to find a new deal this winter, as several pitchers in similar TJ situations have signed two-year contracts, with only a minimum salary for the first year of the contract in the understanding that the pitcher will miss most or all of the year rehabbing.
Alvarez had a solid track record of success as a member of the Angels and Phillies bullpens from 2015-19, posting a 3.36 ERA/3.80 SIERA over 295 innings in those seasons. Alvarez wasn’t just a left-handed specialist, as he delivered good numbers against right-handed batters in addition to dominating left-handed batters. His solid run was interrupted by an injury-plagued 2020 season, as he tossed only 6 1/3 innings for Philadelphia due to a groin injury.
It made for an ill-timed platform season as Alvarez was eligible for free agency for the first time, and the Giants ended up with a nice bargain for their modest $2.55MM investment. Despite a 4.42 SIERA in 2021 and one of the lowest (15.8%) strikeout rates of any pitcher in baseball, Alvarez outperformed his peripherals to post a 2.37 ERA over 64 2/3 frames last season, benefiting from a 50.5% grounder rate, lots of soft contact, and a .251 BABIP.
This performance made it a pretty easy call for the Giants to exercise their club option, but Alvarez unfortunately again finds himself heading into free agency as a big injury question mark. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants re-sign Alvarez to another low-cost two-year deal, even if there’s naturally more risk attached to an older pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery.