Alex Reyes to undergo Tommy John surgery; miss 2017 season

I was hoping to start the spring off with a hopeful missive. But Cardinal fans received fateful news yesterday afternoon. Alex Reyes had felt discomfort during a side session at home last week and told the team. Then during his physical on Tuesday, the team medical staff decided to have an MRI done. Today the fears were realized when the team confirmed that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending his 2017 season on just the second official day of spring training.

Yet again the injury bug bites the Cardinals before the season even begins. Over the last decade that list has included Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and that’s just off the top of my head. Now the list also includes Reyes.

Reyes, 22, struggled in the minors this year, but posted a 1.57 ERA over 46 innings of work in St. Louis last season, becoming one of the bright spots of a lost season. He is currently ranked #1 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101, #4 on Baseball America’s Top 100, and #6 on Pipeline’s Top 100.

Going into the 2017 season, Reyes was a wild card. There was perhaps no player who could shuffle the deck for the Cardinals’ pitching staff more than Reyes. He was supposed to be in a battle for the fifth rotation spot with Michael Wacha and a long shot Trevor Rosenthal, even though it was likely Wacha’s spot to lose all the way.

It was much more likely that Reyes would be penciled into a relief role for the Cardinals to begin the season, following in the footsteps of Carlos Martinez. Instead, he’ll spent the season on the disabled list.

The loss of Reyes impacts not only 2017, but conceivably the following seasons as well.

The injury will push his development back at least a season, maybe two. Not only will he miss the 2017 season, but the 2018 season will be hampered as well. While pitchers are usually healed and physically ready to pitch within 12 months after Tommy John, it usually takes them much closer to 18 months to get back the feel for their pitches and their velocity.

Beyond that, he threw just 111 innings last season and has floated around that number over the past three seasons. He will likely be in salary arbitration well before he can be expected to throw 200+ innings in a season as a starting pitcher. That means a much more limited window for him to demonstrate his value to the Cardinals.

And of course, he will accrue service time.

If you’re a procedure nut like myself, you were wondering if there is a loophole that the Cardinals could use to option him to the minors and keep him from accruing Major League service time this year, thus giving the team another year of team control on the back end. If you’re injured in spring training, the answer is obvious. But if you essentially showed up to spring training injured?

In short? The answer is no.

Article XIX, Section C of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement covers assignment of players on the disabled list. Paragraph 1 is very straight forward when it says, “Players who are injured and not able to play may not be assigned to a Minor League club.”

However, Paragraph 2 does provide some exceptions for when a player can be sent to the minors while injured. The first exception is following the conclusion of the regular season and the filing of the Major League Reserves List, or 40 man roster (which was November 20th this offseason). The second is from the filing of the Major League Reserves List until 15 days before the next season begins.

Reyes’ injury would fall into that second exception, which leaves a four part test, laid out in the CBA, as to whether the Cardinals could option Reyes to the minors before placing him on the disabled list.

  1. The Player has less than three years of Major League service; (Yes)
  2. the contemplated assignment would not be the the Player’s second (or subsequent) career outright assignment since March 19, 1990; (Yes)
  3. the Player had no Major League service prior to the championship season; and (No)
  4. the Player was not selected by the assignor Major League Club in the immediately preceding Rule 5 Draft. (Yes)

As you can see, Reyes fails on the third test since he has 55 days of MLB service time from last season. That means Reyes will accrue a full year of MLB service time while on the disabled list next season.

The rule is basically designed so that a player’s MLB service clock is not started by a trip on the disabled list. But once you make it to the Majors and your clock has already started, the same concerns are no longer applicable. 2016: The gift that keeps on giving.

The team will have do 2017 without one of it’s top prospects and then make a decision for what they intend to do with the starting rotation for 2018. There will be an open spot with Lance Lynn destined for free agency. Will it go to Reyes or will it go to someone who established this year that they deserve that opportunity?