Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers, out of nowhere, announced that Walker Buehler would be undergoing season-ending elbow surgery, which delivered a huge blow to a roster that, while succeeding, is incredibly thin on pitching.
Buehler is the Dodgers’ postseason ace. He’s overtaken that role from Clayton Kershaw these last few years. Unfortunately, fatigue in 2021 prevented him from being his usual self (only one of his four outings was adequate and it resulted in a loss), and surgery this time around will have him watching from home. That’ll now be two years without Buehler at his usual October self.
What’s even worse, though? It could end up being three! At this juncture, Dodgers fans still don’t know what kind of surgery Buehler will be forced to undergo next week. Here’s the latest from ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez:
"“The Dodgers were vague in their description of Buehler’s injury because an initial MRI did not provide enough clarity, a source with knowledge of the situation said. The Dodgers won’t learn the specifics until Dr. Neal ElAttrache conducts the procedure on Aug. 23.”"
If this is Tommy John (the second of his pro career), Buehler is more than likely out until 2024, which would be brutal for a front office that needs to make a ton of momentous decisions this offseason.
What kind of surgery is Dodgers’ Walker Buehler going to have?
The uncertainty here is concerning, especially since Buehler already underwent elbow surgery in June to remove bone chips. Did the doctors not see anything unusual when they were already in there operating?
If Buehler needs the most invasive procedure, it’ll be the second time he’s gotten Tommy John in his baseball career, with the first coming right after he was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. You’d have to imagine that’ll play a role in future contract talks, too. That’s one time as a 20-year-old and a potential second time as a 27-year-old.
Buehler’s contract year is 2024, which will be the season he’s getting back up to speed after missing the better part of two full years.
Prior to the 2021 season, the Dodgers and Buehler avoided arbitration with a two-year, $8 million contract. As a “Super-Two” candidate, Buehler will have four years of arbitration, with 2023 and 2024 remaining. His salaries in 2023 and 2024, should he miss all of next year due to surgery, will be in the same ballpark as his $6.25 million 2022 salary. Then, he becomes an unrestricted free agent heading into his age-30 campaign.
At the very least, the Dodgers will be in wait-and-see mode if they’re hit with a worst-case scenario, and can instead shift their more urgent focus to Julio Urías, who hits the open market after 2023.
Still, though, being down your ace and not being able to properly envision a future with him has to be a nightmare scenario the front office wasn’t planning for, now that it might coincide with Clayton Kershaw’s departure/retirement.