Twins starter Chris Paddack underwent Tommy John surgery today, the team informed reporters (including Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press). It’s the second such procedure of his career, as he previously went under the knife as a Padres prospect back in 2016.
It’s obviously a disappointing development for both pitcher and team. Minnesota just acquired Paddack on the eve of Opening Day, relinquishing closer Taylor Rogers and corner outfielder Brent Rooker to secure three years of his services (as well as reliever Emilio Pagán). The hope was that Paddack would add some depth to a rotation that had its fair share of injury concerns, but his first season in Minnesota comes to a close after five outings.
Paddack presented something of a health red flag himself, however. In addition to his prior Tommy John surgery, the righty landed on the injured list late last September due to inflammation in his throwing elbow. That proved a season-ending issue, but Paddack returned to open this year. He left his May 8 start because of renewed elbow inflammation, and reports thereafter suggested surgery might prove necessary.
The 26-year-old Paddack has proven enigmatic from both a health and performance perspective. He was lights-out as a rookie, tossing 140 2/3 innings of 3.33 ERA ball in 2019. His production ticked downwards in both of the following seasons, as his ERA jumped north of 4.70 in both years while he struggled to keep the ball in the park. The Friars continued to stockpile starting pitching talent over that time, and Paddack fell outside the top five or six arms on the rotation depth chart.
San Diego explored multiple possible Paddack deals in Spring Training. He and Pagán were involved in talks with the Mets that might’ve offloaded some of Eric Hosmer’s contract to New York while sending Dominic Smith to Southern California. Mets’ brass eventually pulled out of that possible deal, and San Diego pivoted to talks with Minnesota instead.
From a performance perspective, Paddack had shown signs of turning the corner in his early run in the Twin Cities. He posted a 4.03 ERA across 22 1/3 innings, striking out 21.5% of opponents while walking just two of the 93 hitters he faced. The Texas native saw slight dips in his fastball velocity and swinging strike rate, but neither seemed especially alarming until he was pulled mid-start with the elbow concern.
Paddack is making $2.25MM this season, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration twice more. With his limited innings total, he’ll only accrue a marginal raise on that salary for 2023. He’ll certainly miss the bulk of the 2023 campaign as well, so his final arbitration raise will probably also be muted. It’s unfortunate timing for Paddack, but that affordability probably means the Twins will tender him a contract with an eye towards the end of next season and the 2024 campaign.
In the meantime, Minnesota will have to make due with their other starting pitching options. Joe Ryan and Chris Archer are the only two who have taken all seven turns through the rotation. Dylan Bundy missed some time with COVID-19, but both he and Sonny Gray — who had a brief IL stint for a hamstring strain — are back. Bailey Ober shouldn’t be far behind after making a rehab start with Triple-A St. Paul over the weekend, and well-regarded prospect Josh Winder has produced in a swing role.
That’s likely to be the primary group, although there’s a fair bit of performance and injury uncertainty with the veteran options at the back end. Kenta Maeda is hoping to make a late-season return from his own Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last September. Still, rotation help looked to be a possible midseason target for the division-leading Twins even if everyone were healthy. Paddack’s loss only figures to spur that pursuit as we move nearer to the trade deadline.