Noah Syndergaard’s 2020 season is over.
He will have Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on Thursday — which, of course, originally was supposed to be Opening Day — the Mets announced Tuesday. The injury is a massive blow to the team’s hopes to contend this year and next and to Syndergaard’s chances of stabilizing his career before reaching free agency.
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Syndergaard experienced “discomfort” in his elbow before spring training was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. An MRI revealed the UCL tear, and a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache (the Dodgers’ team physician and an elbow expert) confirmed that surgery was Syndergaard’s best option.
Dr. David Altchek, the Mets’ medical director, will perform the surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s West Palm Beach, Florida, location.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis temporarily prohibited elective procedures due to the COVID-19 outbreak — which also has delayed the baseball season indefinitely — but a Mets source said Syndergaard’s “condition fits the essential surgery guidelines.” In addition to the UCL tear, he is suffering from “acute compression of his ulnar nerve,” the source said. Left untreated, nerve compression can cause long-term damage.
The Hospital for Special Surgery's website lists "ligament tears in which timely treatment is necessary" and "significant nerve injury or problem" among surgeries deemed essential.
“Noah is an incredibly hard worker and a tremendous talent,” Van Wagenen said in a statement released by the team. “While this is unfortunate, we have no doubt that Noah will be able to return to full strength and continue to be an integral part of our championship pursuits in the future.”
Tommy John surgery typically requires 12 to 15 months of rehabilitation, which makes an early 2021 return to a major-league mound a best-case scenario and a mid-2021 return more likely. That would leave Syndergaard with just a partial season before his scheduled free agency in the 2021-22 offseason.
For Syndergaard, 27, this is the latest in a series of hurdles and hassles in a career that once seemed destined for greatness. Including 2020, he has suffered notable injuries in three out of the past four seasons — and the only healthy year in that stretch, 2019, was the least effective of his career. He had a 4.28 ERA and 1.23 WHIP and lost his feel for the hard slider that had been so important for him in seasons past.
In five major-league seasons, Syndergaard has a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and the highest fastball velocity among starters (97.7 mph in 2019).
“Every year has had a different tone,” Syndergaard told Newsday this month. “For the most part, I feel like anybody would be pleased with the career I’ve had so far. But me, to be honest, personally, I haven’t been living up to my expectations, my standards, my ability.”
For the Mets, losing Syndergaard erases their rotation surplus. They entered spring training with six starters for five spots, but now there is room for both Steven Matz and Michael Wacha, in addition to Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Rick Porcello.
After remarkable rotation health in 2019 — using their primary starters in 154 out of 162 games — the Mets already are worse off in 2020. That will put greater pressure on their offseason bets on Porcello and Wacha, whom they added on one-year deals when they needed to replace Zack Wheeler (who signed with the Phillies).
And if the Mets lose another starter? Their top depth options include righthander Walker Lockett, who is competing for a bullpen spot; lefthander David Peterson, a former first-round pick, and righthander Corey Oswalt, who spent parts of 2018-19 with the major-league Mets.
“We’re probably,” Van Wagenen said in December, “the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball.”
Not quite as deep anymore.