Twins right-hander Tyler Mahle will undergo Tommy John surgery, manager Rocco Baldelli announced to reporters Thursday (Twitter link via Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com). Mahle, who’s scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end, will miss the remainder of the 2023 campaign and the early portion of the 2024 season as well.
It’s a brutal blow for a Twins team that traded three prospects to acquire the final year-plus of Mahle’s arbitration eligibility at last summer’s trade deadline. The 28-year-old Mahle has pitched well for the Twins when healthy, notching a 3.64 ERA in nine starts, but shoulder troubles limited him to just four appearances post-trade last year and he’s now done for the season in 2023 after just five starts. Given his impending free agency, it could spell the end of Mahle’s time with the team entirely — hardly what the front office had in mind when sending Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Steven Hajjar to Cincinnati in that swap.
There’s still the possibility that the Twins could try to work out some type extension that’d keep Mahle in Minnesota beyond the current season. They’ve previously shown a willingness to work out that type of deal with pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Michael Pineda’s original two-year, $20MM free-agent deal with the Twins was signed knowing he’d miss the bulk of that first year recovering from a Tommy John operation. Minnesota also extended right-hander Chris Paddack — another trade acquisition who wound up requiring Tommy John — on a three-year deal earlier this year. Paddack won’t return until this summer.
Regardless of where things go with Mahle’s contract status, his injury leaves an unquestionable hole in the Twins’ rotation. Minnesota is deeper in starting pitching this season than at any point in recent memory, but Mahle will now join Kenta Maeda on the injured list. Right-handers Bailey Ober and Louie Varland began the season with Triple-A St. Paul and might well have been guaranteed rotation spots with many other clubs, given their 2022 success. They’ll both likely be locked into the Twins’ starting staff now, following a strong trio of Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray.
Further injuries to the group could truly begin to test the Twins’ depth. Prospects Simeon Woods Richardson and Brent Headrick have had tough starts in St. Paul — though Headrick excelled in a brief big league look — and former top prospect Jordan Balazovic is just now moving back into a starting role after his 2022 season was ruined by a knee injury. Prospects Josh Winder and Cole Sands were rotation options last year in Minnesota, but both have been primarily working out of the bullpen in 2023.
As it stands, the Twins’ starting five still looks like a strong group. Ober has been brilliant in 2023 (0.98 ERA and 18 1/3 innings through three starts) and now boasts a career 3.51 ERA in 166 2/3 MLB frames. Varland has a 4.32 ERA through three turns and, paired with last year’s handful of starts in his debut season, carries a 4.01 ERA in 42 2/3 big league innings. The previously mentioned Paddack isn’t yet ready to join the group, but he’s nearing the one-year anniversary of his own Tommy John operation. He could be ready for a return mid-summer, and the team is also hopeful that Maeda can avoid a prolonged stint on the injured list — though they’ve not yet placed a hard timetable on his return.