Over the weekend, Angels starter C.J. Wilson publicly revealed that he had been pitching through bone spurs in his elbow, and that the pain had gotten too intense for him to continue. The Angels put him on the Disabled List and announced that he would be having surgery and would miss the rest of the year. It's a powerful blow to a club struggling to stay in both the AL West and Wild Card races.
Almost immediately, there were whispers that some Angels were pretty upset at Wilson's decision. MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reported:
Privately...several Angels players expressed frustration in Wilson's decision, with some believing he should've continued to try to pitch through the issue.
Wilson was adamant in saying he can no longer push through it.
"I've been pushing through it for a couple months," said Wilson, 8-8 with a 3.89 ERA in 132 innings. "I've thrown 100 innings in this condition, and it's just consistently getting worse. As it gets worse, the risk of blowing my shoulder out and being completely done with baseball increases, and I'm not willing to take that risk."
Look, I've resigned to the fact that we're never going to eliminate all of baseball's machismo problem. Any environment dominated by male athletes is almost destined to devolve into a morass of idiotic posturing and violence in response to that posturing. Try as you will, you'll never stop all of the beanball wars, or the bench-clearing incidents, or the pressure to tough out injuries. The best we'll be able to do is to minimize them.
Still, I think we're making progress. Or, I hope we are. At least enough progress that when a guy says he's been pitching (mediocrely) through elbow pain for a half of a season, and that he needs surgery, players would understand the decision to shut it down. After all, we're not just talking about Wilson and the Angels' season here. We're talking about Wilson's career. We're also talking about his earning potential, given that he will be a free agent after 2016. And a good, healthy performance will determine whether he gets a multi-year deal or has to go year to year in his late 30s.
It's also pretty clearly better for the Angels from a competitive standpoint to have an injured Wilson on the sidelines. While he'd had a strong July, Wilson's final start was a awful four inning outing where he gave up six hits, walked three batters, hit another two, and allowed two homers. Six runs were charged to him. His velocity is down compared to previous years, and he's clear that he doesn't think he has the ability to throw effectively.
Meanwhile, Andrew Heaney has emerged as a very good third starter behind Hector Santiago and Garrett Richards, posting a 1.97 ERA and a 3.04 FIP while limiting walks and homers. He's not the ace his ERA suggests, but he is a good pitcher with a good defense behind him, and is well positioned to take advantage of that even after his .238 BABIP allowed comes back to earth. Also, Matt Shoemaker has rebounded from a rough start to 2015 to post a 2.72 ERA with 49 Ks in almost 60 innings in his last 10 starts. Finally, the club needs a rotation spot when Jered Weaver finishes his rehab assignment later this week.
So it's not like the Angels were going to go out and trade for a starter anyway. They don't have the prospects to land an impact arm, for one thing, and they have all five spots essentially filled already. There's no urgent need for Wilson at this point, especially a Wilson pitching at even 75 percent effectiveness. So stow the tough talk and let the guy heal the way he needs to. Because an injured C.J. Wilson won't help you now, but a healthy one might just help the Angels make another run next year.