The Rays got two pieces of bad news today, with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times relaying both (Twitter links). Right-hander Shane Baz will undergo Tommy John surgery which will keep him out of action through the end of the 2023 campaign. Furthermore, Brandon Lowe won’t return here in 2022 due to an ongoing back issue.
Baz will end his 2022 season with only 27 innings pitched over six starts, as arthroscopic elbow surgery and then an elbow sprain (which has kept him on the injured list since July) limited his ability to get onto the mound. Unfortunately, those elbow problems have now resulted in the worst-case scenario of TJ surgery, and Baz now faces another completely lost season in 2023.
It was just over a year ago that Baz made his MLB debut, making three starts for the Rays at the end of the 2021 season and then getting another start in their playoff rotation during the ALDS. While entrusting an inexperienced pitcher with a big postseason start didn’t work out well for Tampa Bay, it was a sign of just how much faith the Rays have in Baz as one of the key arms of their future. The righty had become one of baseball’s top pitching prospects during his excellent 2021 minor league season, and thus entered 2022 as a favorite for AL Rookie Of The Year honors.
Instead, Baz will now be out of action until Opening Day 2024. It is a testament to the Rays’ pitching depth that they are still in prime position to return to the playoffs even without Baz or several other notable injured hurlers (such as another Tommy John patient in Tyler Glasnow, who has missed all of 2022 but might be close to returning for some bullpen work late in the regular season or in the postseason). Still, losing Baz to TJ surgery is naturally a blow to the Rays’ present and future plans, given how young and controllable pitching is such a key plank of Tampa Bay’s strategies.
Between 2022 and 2023, Baz will bank two full seasons of Major League service time while on the injured list, though he still isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2024 season. Assuming he is able to return from rehab in good form, he can use 2024 as a platform for a decent arb payday, but obviously Baz’s first priority is just getting healthy.
In regards to 2022 alone, having Lowe for only 65 games was an even bigger short-term problem for the Rays than losing Baz, given how Lowe is an established big league talent. After top-10 finishes in AL MVP voting in each of the last two seasons, Lowe hit only .221/.308/.383 over 266 plate appearances, as he was limited by three separate stints on the IL. One of those absences was a minimal 10-day stint due to a biceps contusion, but Lowe was mostly hampered by his lower-back problem.
It remains to be seen if Lowe might require a surgical fix to fully solve his back problems, and if so, such a procedure might impact his readiness for the start of the 2023 campaign. Arbitration isn’t a factor for Lowe, who had two guaranteed seasons remaining on a six-year, $24MM extension he signed back in March 2019, and he is owed at least $15MM more on that deal (which includes two club options). Given how the Rays are always open to dealing veteran players, it would seem like Lowe’s injury and down year would certainly lessen the chance of a trade, but a move cannot be entirely ruled out.
Such a decision would hinge on how comfortable the Rays are with their other options at second base. Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls, Jonathan Aranda, and Vidal Brujan have handled most of the workload with Lowe out, with varying degrees of success. Walls is a premium defender who hasn’t hit much, while Paredes has shown some pop in his first season with the Rays, and Aranda has gotten off to a solid start in his first month in the big leagues. Tampa will now be counting on this mix to help them in the postseason, with Lowe no longer a possibility.