Trevor Story’s injury-riddled Red Sox tenure continues.
The 30-year-old, who was aiming to be the team’s starting shortstop in 2023, underwent an internal bracing procedure on the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow Monday, putting his season in jeopardy.
“We’re not ready to put a timetable on [Story’s return] yet,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “I certainly would not rule out a return sometime during 2023, but it’s also not something, at this stage, that we want to bank on.”
Story’s procedure was performed in Arlington, Texas, by Dr. Keith Meister, the Rangers team physician and considered one of the best elbow surgeons in the country. Internal brace is viewed as an increasingly appealing option by orthopedic surgeons when the tear in a UCL is modest in size and the tissue remains relatively healthy.
Rather than performing Tommy John surgery, which takes a tendon from elsewhere and grafts it to the bone to serve in place of a ligament, the internal brace uses small plastic anchors with a collagen-dipped super-tape between them to reconnect the healthy ligament to the bone rather than reconstructing it.
That process has yielded much faster recovery times than the typical 12-18 months for Tommy John. Lefthander Rich Hill underwent an internal brace procedure in the fall of 2019 and was ready to pitch in July 2020. Outfielder Brandon Guyer also underwent a successful internal brace procedure in 2019.
The return to games is not as simple, however, as figuring out when Story will be able to swing and throw at full strength. At that point, which might take 5-6 months, he’d still need to work to regain his game stamina and timing.
“He has to hit and he has to throw if he’s going to play in the middle infield at the major league level. That requires a good amount of throwing and force. It’s not like you play two games a week. It’s a lot,” said Dr. Jeffrey Dugas of the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, who performed the first internal brace procedure on an elbow in August 2013 and estimated he performed 170-180 such repairs in 2022. “I would think it would be somewhere in the 6-9-month range. That would be a fair range.”
Any time missed is a concern for a team with a significant hole up the middle following the departure of Xander Bogaerts. Bloom said the Sox hadn’t made any decisions who would fill Bogaerts’s void at shortstop, but Story expected to play the position.
“That’s something that he was vocal with us about wanting to do. Obviously, his hope was that [when] Xander left, it would be an opportunity that he would get,” Bloom said.
When Story felt pain in his elbow during his ramp-up prior to Christmas, both player and team agreed surgery was the best option.
The Sox losing Story means they have “more to do,” Bloom added. He mentioned Kiké Hernández as an option at shortstop, but Hernández was the primary center fielder each of the last two seasons, potentially creating another hole to fill.
Either way, the position-player depth is thin. It’s imperative the Red Sox add.
“Frankly, that was my expectation even before this,” Bloom said. “Whether that’s through free agency or trade, you know, I don’t know yet. I don’t know what that looks like, who it is.
“Obviously, now, we’re a man down, so we’re going to have to fortify ourselves further, but our expectation was always — in some way, shape, or form — we would have outside additions joining our position player group and so that’s still the case.”
Bloom wouldn’t get into specific details regarding potential interest in Carlos Correa, the All-Star shortstop who is reportedly finalizing a six-year, $200 million contract with the Twins, the team whose deal he opted out of in October only for agreements with the Giants and Mets this winter to fall apart due to concerns about his right leg. However, the Sox’ leader did make it sound as if they at least made a push.
“You can bet that when there’s impactful players in positions of need that we’re, you know, staying engaged and staying connected. That’s about as far as I think it should go with that,” Bloom said.
Story’s elbow also gave some teams pause prior to the Red Sox signing him to a six-year, $140 million contract last March. When Story did play last year, he was a power threat and a sure-handed and athletic second baseman, on pace to potentially win a Gold Glove. But he played just 94 games, missing 38 in July and August with a right hand fracture following a hit by pitch, then the final 21 of the year with a left heel contusion.
His arm strength has been an issue in recent years. According to Statcast, Story averaged just 79.1 miles per hour in 2021 from shortstop as a member of the Rockies, which ranked 52nd of 58 at the position. Now, it’s clear why.
“The arm strength had been trending not in a good direction,” Bloom said. “Hopefully this will enable him to be even stronger moving forward.”