I don't remember exactly where I was the first time I saw Lance Lynn's ulnar collateral ligament, but I seem to recall it was underneath his skin, connecting his forearm to his humerus, and he was exerting a horrific force on it by pitching a baseball.
Yesterday, Lynn's UCL was removed via Tommy John surgery, and he was likely removed from at least the 2016 season. So it seems like a good time to look back at what we've seen from Lynn and speculate a little about what we might see when he returns.
Lynn made his big league debut in an emergency start for Kyle McClellan, on short rest, in June of 2011. He made two fairly rough starts before moving into the bullpen, cranking up the velocity, and becoming an integral part of the relief corps that would be largely responsible for pitching the Cardinals to their 11th World Championship. Lynn made ten appearances in the 2011 postseason, although for several of those I probably thought he was Mitchell Boggs.
In 2012, Lynn moved into the rotation and began a run of four straight seasons where he would rack up more than 175 innings, with an ERA in the mid-to-upper 3's and peripherals to match.
As good as the results have been, the aesthetics of Lance Lynn have not always charmed Cardinals nation. I've likened watching a Lynn start to watching your Dad fix the car in the driveway on a hot summer day. There will be a lot of sweating and swearing. You'll feel uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, the car will be fixed.
Lynn's attitude on the mound - the slumped shoulders and "where's my socket wrench?" grumbling - was largely responsible for the #Lynning meme that dogged him his first few seasons. He gained a reputation for starting strong, but imploding in a storm of frustration when the first signs of trouble hit, often around the 5th inning.
But again, that was all just aesthetics. There are many different types of pitchers. There are lithe, young arms with windups so graceful that they look beautiful even when they are getting shelled. Then there are burly guys who grimace and heave the ball as hard as they can. Lynn was more in the Son of a Plumber mold.
After two straight seasons of more than 200 innings pitched, Lynn came into 2015 with the official designation as a workhorse™ and the talk about his results finally seeming to outpace the talk about his process.
But after looking much like himself over the first couple months of the season, Lynn went on the DL with the ever-alarming "forearm pain" in June. He returned and pitched fairly well into July, but then his peripherals began to tank. Many wondered if the forearm/elbow was still bothering him, and I suppose now we have our answer.
18 months is the recovery time usually thrown around for Tommy John surgery. That would put Lynn on-track to return at the start of or very early in the 2017 season. But as routinized as injury rehab is in major sports, it's worth remembering that these are still human bodies that don't always recover in a uniform pattern. This isn't a video game where the red cross disappears after the exact specified number of games.
That's important because Lynn's time under (his current) contract with the Cardinals is ticking away. He signed a three-year deal before the 2015 season. He will be paid $7.5 million while he rehabs next season. He will make another $7.5 million in 2017, though likely be unable to reach the potential bonuses in the contract based on number of starts.
When Lynn returns to the mound, it will be in a contract year. Not only will he have to manage his own health, he will have to showcase the kind of talent he's flashed over the past few years in order to convince the Cardinals or some other club to sign him once he hits free agency.
The Cardinals tried to sign Lynn to a longer contract that would have bought out a few years of free agency, as they did with Jaime Garcia, but Lynn was not receptive. I wonder if the team might try to reopen those talks now, with the injury and uncertainty taking a bite out of Lynn's market value. Given the results he has shown in the past and the generally strong results of pitchers returning from Tommy John, I think it could be a smart move.
The more pressing concern will of course be 2016, and I'm sure Lynn's injury is throwing gasoline on the Buy David Price / Zach Greinke / Whoever fires. Derrick Goold tweeted a response from Mozeliak that suggested the team may be more open than ever to a big free agent contract for a pitcher.
Still just 28-years-old, we haven't seen the last of Lance Lynn. But given this injury, the time running out of his contract, and the possibility his absence prompts the team to go in another direction, we may not see much more of him in a Cardinals uniform.