The Rangers announced Friday that right-hander Max Scherzer underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. General manager Chris Young tells reporters that the team and Scherzer tried “multiple conservative treatments in pain management” before resorting to surgery (link via Kennedi Landry of MLB.com). Unfortunately, the last-resort option was apparently deemed necessary, and the operation will sideline Scherzer into June or even July.
“After returning to my offseason home in Florida, my discomfort in my back continued to get worse,” Scherzer himself said, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. “During this time, I received a diagnosis of a herniated disc. After several conservative treatments and consulting with multiple specialists, I made the decision to have the recommended surgery. Getting this procedure done now will give me the best chance to pitch as much as possible for the Rangers in 2024. I look forward to putting in the rehab work and getting back on the mound next summer.”
It’s obviously unwelcome news for the Rangers, who just gave up Luisangel Acuña to acquire Scherzer and cash from the Mets at last year’s deadline. As part of that deal, the Scherzer agreed to pick up his 2024 player option so that the club knew it was getting him for more than just a rental situation. Now he will miss at least half of the upcoming season that was obviously important to them.
These back problems aren’t coming out of the blue today. Scherzer was removed from Game 3 of the World Series after just three innings due to issue with his back, varyingly described as tightness or spasms. He was removed from the club’s roster prior to Game 4. Though the club was able to secure the title without him, it seems the issue lingered and ultimately required a significant surgery.
The club is now in a very peculiar situation in terms of their rotation, with the first half outlook wildly different than the second. Jacob deGrom underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could potentially return late in the 2024 campaign, depending on how his rehab goes. The club also signed Tyler Mahle just yesterday, who is on a similar timeline to deGrom, having undergone his own TJS procedure in May.
That means the club could welcome each of Scherzer, Mahle and deGrom back to the club over the course of 2024, but none of them will factor into the Opening Day rotation. For now, that leaves them with Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning as healthy options for the start of the season. Options for the back end would include Cody Bradford or Owen White, though they could also pursue external additions in the weeks to come.
This will likely give the club some interesting calculations to make. Last month, general manager Chris Young suggested their spending would likely be more modest this offseason, when compared to the big money they’ve recently thrown around on those aforementioned pitchers as well as Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Although the club just won the World Series and surely banked some extra playoff money, there’s uncertainty around their broadcast revenues due to the ongoing bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, the owner of the Bally Sports network. The club’s competitive balance tax figure is currently at $233MM, per Roster Resource, just barely below next year’s base threshold of $237MM.
Rosenthal took a look at their situation earlier today, noting that the club was still interested in Clayton Kershaw, who underwent shoulder surgery and is yet another pitcher slated for a midseason return. That column came out before the Scherzer news, so it’s unknown if the club would still want to use its limited payroll room to bring in yet another pitcher that will miss the first half of the season.
But Rosenthal also adds that, if ownership becomes more comfortable with adding payroll, they could pivot to a reunion with Jordan Montgomery or one of the top starters on the trading block. Even with Glasnow seemingly headed to the Dodgers, pitchers like Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber or Corbin Burnes could be available for the right price.
If the club plans to stick with their conservative offseason, it may involve taking a risk on having limited pitching depth in the first half while banking on the returns of those injured guys for a strong second half push. But improving that depth might require them to alter their spending plans and/or go into luxury tax territory.