Los Angeles Dodgers fans will probably have to wait a few weeks before seeing their team become fully operational.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed to reporters Saturday at DodgerFest that All-Star starting pitcher Walker Buehler will not open the season on the active roster after missing all 2023 due to a second Tommy John surgery:
"It's fair to say it's going to be a late start to the season for Walker. I don't have a timeline — I don't think anybody has a timeline there. He's going to be a late arrival, but the rehab, the work looks great, and I expect Walker to have a heck of a year."
Just an hour earlier, Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes was less committal:
"We'll continue to have those conversations with Walker to see how he's going and see what's best for the team and Walker. His bullpen the other day was outstanding."
Buehler underwent the surgery in August 2022 and hasn't pitched since. There had been some speculation that he could return last season, but those hopes were officially dashed in September. Now, it appears that Buehler won't be ready to pitch in an MLB game even after 19 months of recovery.
A long time off the mound isn't out of the norm for pitchers who undergo a second Tommy John. While the surgery is mostly seen as a year-long layoff for pitchers, who usually return just as effective, a second reconstruction of the UCL comes with a notoriously brutal rehab process and no guarantee they'll be just as good.
The good news for the Dodgers is they don't urgently need Buehler as they are currently constructed after the most expensive offseason in sports history. Even with Buehler sidelined, Clayton Kershaw still a free agent, Shohei Ohtani working as only a hitter in 2024 and Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May still recovering from Tommy John, the team should have a full rotation heading into this year.
Returning are young pitchers Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan, who will be joined by trade acquisition Tyler Glasnow (signed to a five-year, $135 million extension) and free-agent acquisitions Yoshinobu Yamamoto (12 years, $325 million) and James Paxton (one year, $11 million). Swingman Ryan Yarbrough could also provide additional depth.
In addition to Buehler's return date, the biggest question remaining for the Dodgers' rotation is whether Kershaw will return. The future Hall of Famer isn't expected to be ready until the summer after undergoing shoulder surgery last year and is no guarantee to pick the Dodgers once he decides he's ready to sign with a team.
Roberts said he's still in contact with the left-hander and the team hopes he returns, per Dodgers Nation's Noah Camras:
“I talked to Clayton a few days ago, by way of text … We’re gonna keep in touch.
“He’s always been a Dodger. That’s our hope as well.”
However that works out, the Dodgers are still seen as a top World Series contender heading into 2024. BetMGM currently has them as a +360 favorite to win the title this season, ahead of the Atlanta Braves (+600) and Houston Astros (+850).