Michael Pineda: How Will His Torn Labrum Affect the Yankees?

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Michael Pineda: How Will His Torn Labrum Affect the Yankees?
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Michael Pineda: See you in 2013.

The news just came down that Michael Pineda, the centerpiece of the Yankees’ offseason, has a torn labrum and will miss a minimum of a full calendar year following surgery on Tuesday. Ironically, there had already been a fervid debate on Twitter today as to whether the Yankees or Mariners were “winning” the trade, inspired by Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi’s article in favor of the Mariners.

Morosi’s take: “The statement is cold but true. Montero is playing. Pineda is not. Advantage: Seattle.”

Morosi wrote that before the labrum tear was announced, so even though he looks prescient, the analysis was premature. As my Pinstriped Bible and BP colleague Jay Jaffe pointed out,

Coming into the season, the Yankees had five years of remaining club control over Pineda, and six years of such control over Campos, six years on which the clock won’t even start until he reaches the majors (if he ever does)… Not only are the Mariners not winning the trade, one can even argue that they’re losing — apart from their performances to date — merely by squandering Montero’s service time… Which doesn’t mean that the Yankees are, mind you, not with Pineda possibly looking down the barrel of shoulder surgery.

An example of surgery on the labrum.
You and Your Shoulder (via hss.edu)

Well, he’s not looking down the barrel anymore—the gun has gone off in his face. Labrum surgery is a far more daunting problem for a pitcher than, say, Tommy John surgery. The labrum is just not in a very accessible spot and often requires open shoulder surgery. In Pineda’s case, the tear should be approachable via arthroscopic means, by definition, a less invasive procedure. Still, there is no guarantee that Pineda will recover and be the proto-ace that the Yankees thought they were getting—consider that Mark Prior is one of those that had labrum surgery in the past.

Now, Prior also had surgery on just about every other part of the arm you can have surgery on, so don’t overreact to that cautionary tale—he’s the everything bagel of defective pitchers. His teammate, Kerry Wood, had labrum surgery in 2005, and he’s had a career since then, just not the same career as a dominating starter. Then there is Erik Bedard, Ted Lilly and Brandon Webb, halfway to a Hall of Fame career

The key here is, there are tears and there are tears, and as things go, right now, the thought is that Pineda’s is the former rather than the latter. More will be known after the surgery has been performed and doctors have better visualized the injury.

The Yankees say there is no question of damaged good that Pineda underwent more than one MRI and the labrum tear was not seen. Cashman:

In no way do I believe, or do the New York Yankees believe, that the Seattle Mariners had any knowledge of any issues here with Michael Pineda prior to the trade or anything of that nature… He was a fully healthy player we acquired. We had full access to his medicals, which were clean.

As a cancer survivor who has undergone numerous MRIs, usually in a state of terrified claustrophobia, I can tell you that they aren’t prescient. They can spot things that are there, but not things that aren’t, and as finely detailed as they are, there are some anomalies that escape their notice. In other words, an MRI wouldn’t necessarily have shown Yankees or Mariners doctors that Pineda was going to be hurt, just that he was or was not hurt. Were his second-half 2011 or spring training struggles indicative of a incipient problem? We will never know.

As I joked on Twitter earlier, the Yankees entered Wednesday night’s game on a pace to win 95 games without Pineda. Yankees starting pitching has been mediocre so far, but they are leading the league in runs scored per game, so they have some leeway in terms of support, and the bullpen has been the best in the league. They would undoubtedly be better

Should the starters, particularly back-end rotations pitchers Phil Hughes (pitching against the Rangers as these words float gently to the page) and Freddy Garcia continue to struggle, the Yankees have plenty of alternatives. First in line is the veteran Andy Pettitte, rebuilding his strength at Double-A Trenton as I write these words. Rookie David Phelps, who has pitched quite well in long relief, is another possibility.

Further down the line, touted prospects Dellin Betances, currently getting raked at Triple-A, Adam Warren (likewise), Manny Banuelos (on the Triple-A DL with a sore back) and sinkerballer D.J. Mitchell, who looked terrific during spring training, could get chances. None of them, including Pettitte, are likely to be the pitcher that Pineda was in the first 15 starts of his major-league career (2.45 ERA, 94 strikeouts in 95.2 innings), but they don’t have to be; they just have to be a little better than average and let the offense do the rest.

As for the trade itself, now more than ever open to second-guessing, I’ll have more on that in a subsequent post. For now, suffice it to say that a team always gambles when it trades a position-player prospect for a pitcher; both get hurt, both fail to develop, but the latter fall of the high wire a lot more often than the former.

Still, if you’re going to make that kind of deal, Pineda is the kind of pitcher a team should look for—young, with great stuff, under team control…and, as far as you know…healthy.

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