Mahle has Tommy John surgery, potentially ending Twins tenure

May 23rd, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tyler Mahle saga in Minnesota has come to the toughest conclusion possible for both player and team. The Twins announced on Monday that Mahle successfully underwent Tommy John surgery.

The Twins had high hopes when they traded three Top 30 prospects to the Reds to acquire Mahle at last season’s Trade Deadline to become a top-of-rotation fixture for their stretch run and for their 2023 team. Instead, Mahle only made nine starts with Minnesota -- of which three were cut short by injury -- and because he’s an impending free agent, this could be all for his career in the Twin Cities.

“I wish I was able to contribute like I thought I would, like the team thought I would when they traded for me,” Mahle said. “I never thought I'd be in this position getting Tommy John and all that. It's part of the game. It happens. It's very disappointing. It's kind of not something I necessarily did to cause it. It just happened over time from throwing and everything.”

Dr. Keith Meister performed the surgery on Monday in Dallas, and Mahle was expected to return home to Southern California to begin his recovery process.

Mahle was surprised to hear that he needed Tommy John surgery when he sought a second opinion on the right elbow issues that sent him to the injured list on May 3, following an early exit from his April 27 start against the Royals. Mahle was confused because his pain didn’t present like what would be expected for TJ, as his arm felt fine when he reared back while throwing; rather, he felt a pinch in his elbow during his extension at the end of the delivery.

The Twins originally diagnosed Mahle with an impingement in the rear of his right elbow and a flexor pronator strain, and it was only after his most recent shutdown that they began to realize the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) could be in play.

It’s not that Mahle’s UCL was fully torn; instead, the normally tight ligament had loosened to the point of destabilizing his arm and putting more stress on other muscles in the area -- like the flexor pronator. In turn, continuing to throw would have put even more stress on the UCL.

“It was an easy decision just because it was so obvious, after the second opinion, what I should do for my longevity and my future health,” Mahle said. “I wasn't going to be able to come back this year and pitch effectively.”

Though Mahle also missed most of last September while dealing with weakness and inflammation in his right shoulder that limited him to four starts following the trade, the Twins felt his shoulder was in a good place entering this season, and that the need for Tommy John surgery was an unrelated result of the overall stress and strain on Mahle’s arm throughout his career.

“Felt really good about where he was at with [the shoulder],” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “It’s unfortunate for him that something else crops up. Pitching injuries, unfortunately, are part of the game.”

And while the Twins have struggled with a handful of trades for subsequently injured pitchers under this front office -- Sam Dyson in 2019, Chris Paddack in ‘22 and, now, Mahle -- Falvey affirmed his belief in his group’s process in evaluating trades and injury risk, noting that he views each of those cases differently and that Minnesota felt good about the risk it took on with Mahle last summer.

“I feel good about the process, and I feel good that we take risks when it's the right time to take them,” Falvey said.

And ultimately, the Twins are still in a fine place with their starting rotation, having built up enough quality depth to weather two significant injuries -- and perhaps more. Bailey Ober has stepped seamlessly into the rotation, as expected, and Louie Varland, the two-time reigning organizational Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has shown electric stuff in his return to the Majors.

The Pablo López trade of last offseason also looms large, to give the Twins another top-of-rotation presence, the type they hoped Mahle would be -- and they still feel good about where they stand.

“I like having more guys than we need -- that’s always a good feeling,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think every team would like to have that. We’ve dipped into it, of course, but I think we’re doing OK.”

Patrick Donnelly contributed to this report.