They were afterthoughts in press releases. They were countermoves. Footnotes.
The Mets signed Taijuan Walker officially over the weekend and were thoughtful enough to throw into the first paragraph that the corresponding move to gain a 40-man roster spot was to place Noah Syndergaard on the 60-day injured list.
On Monday the Yankees announced Brett Gardner’s signing, and you had to wade through his 2020 stats, career achievements and biographical details before: “To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Luis Severino was placed on the 60-day injured list.” The Yanks were at least kind enough to bold Severino’s name.
Severino and Syndergaard are coming attractions in spring, promises for summer.
Severino will mark the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery this Saturday, Feb. 27. A month later, March 27, Syndergaard will reach the 12-month mark. Yet, Syndergaard is already working off a mound with fastballs and changeups while Severino is still throwing from 120 feet to build up toward reaching the mound in about two weeks. There is no rush. The 60-day IL designations codified that neither Syndergaard nor Severino can be reinstated to the majors before May 31.
Sandy Alderson has targeted a June return for Syndergaard. The Yanks shun ETAs, feeling burned over time by players too aggressively trying to honor the date or by setbacks that turn the proposed return date into a punch line.
Plus patience is more a facet of Tommy John rehab than even the recent past. Not long ago, pitchers competed to be the quickest back, eyeing 12 months (or less). Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner knows the downside firsthand. He needed Tommy John as a Mets pitcher in August 2013, followed the then accepted protocols to try to pitch late in 2014 and re-tore the ligament and needed the procedure again.
Teams now deploy data to better track a pitcher’s post-surgical progression and high-speed cameras to dissect biomechanics to clean up elements in the delivery that might have caused stresses that contributed to the ligament tear. Sleeves are worn that detail the effort needed even to play catch. So asking a pitcher to throw 50 percent effort is no longer a guesstimate, and deciding readiness is no longer determined by just watching the pitcher.
“We’ve learned faster is not always better long term,” Hefner said by phone. “Guys can still get back in 11 or 12 months, but you are risking revision. We are not serving the pitcher by rushing them.”
A June return would provide Syndergaard at least a 14-month rehab. The Mets deepened their major league rotation and their upper minors with an eye on better withstanding a difficult season to fill innings because pitchers had limited (or no) workload in the 2020 pandemic campaign. That makes it easier not to rush Syndergaard.
Still, there is a human equation. This is Syndergaard’s walk year. Free agency beckons. Will his showcase be 18 starts or 14 or … ?
“He’s an ace,” Hefner said of what he anticipates Syndergaard offers upon his return. “Stick him on any of the 29 clubs, he is going to fit at the top of the rotation. … He has really good stuff and wants to be great. He can be like trading for a guy at the [July] deadline to give us a playoff boost, but we may get him back in June. He is a difference-maker.”
Of course, the Yanks feel similarly about Severino.
“You can’t overstate what [Severino’s return will] mean,” Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake said by phone. “Heading into last year, he was our ace before we signed Gerrit Cole. We don’t take that lightly. Put him in a room with Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, he’s not just another guy in there. He’s a superstar in the league. It is important to remember that. He can take our team to another level.”
The Yankees probably do not want to push anyone (even healthy) past 150 innings except Cole. Like Severino (five starts in 2019-20), Kluber and Taillon have hardly pitched the past two years, Domingo German did not pitch last year, Jordan Montgomery has Tommy John surgery in his past, and Deivi Garcia has never pitched a full season, nor has Clarke Schmidt, who already is hurt.
In the best scenario, Severino comes at a time when one or more of those guys needs to be backed off.
For now, though, Severino and Syndergaard are transactions on press releases about others. They are coming attractions, promises of potential summer blockbusters to come.