Jacob deGrom is leaving behind a lasting legacy for himself. The question is, which legacy will that ultimately be? Will it be that of dominant pitcher, or will he be remembered as someone plagued by recurring injuries, constantly sidelined throughout his career? Better question currently is, what's next after the shocking Tommy John diagnosis he received today?

On Tuesday the Texas Rangers announced that the two-time Cy Young award winner would be undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. It will be deGrom's second Tommy John procedure of his career, with this being the second time deGrom has undergone procedure in his career. His first procedure took place in October 2010 when he was coming up as a minor leaguer with the New York Mets.

Of course, this type of surgery will put deGrom out for the rest of the 2023 season, and possibly well into next season.

From dominant to deflated

For as dominant of a player that deGrom has been throughout his career, his greatest opponent has been himself, specifically, his health. He hasn't started more than 15 games since 2019. Over the last three seasons, and not accounting for the 2020 pandemic season, deGrom has only played in a total of 32 games. Starting from 2014 through 2019, deGrom averaged 30.5 games per season. He also won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019, pitching over 200 innings in each campaign with a 1.70 ERA in the former and a 2.43 mark in the latter.

His career has been nothing but a constant start-and-stop; victory and defeat. Every time he starts to gain a little momentum, like he was beginning to with his new Rangers team this season, it all comes to a striking halt. This time, hearing the worst news any pitcher wants to hear, with a Tommy John diagnosis.

What's next for deGrom?

What's next for Jacob deGrom and how can he recover from yet another devastating setback? The 34-year-old just signed a record deal with the Rangers in the offseason, five-years, $185 million. However, it does include a Tommy John clause with a sixth-year club option worth between $20 and $37 million, dependent on award voting and inning totals. But would the Rangers even want to exercise that option if and when the time comes? It wouldn't be surprising if they have a bit of buyer's remorse right now.

Typically, a second Tommy John surgery involves a more extensive rehabilitation process and carries higher inherent risks compared to the initial surgery. With that being said, can deGrom even fully recover to any sort of resemblance to his dominating form he's shown in the past?

Even if deGrom wants to get back before the end of next season, there's no way the Rangers, or deGrom for that matter, should risk putting him back on the mound that quickly. This is a player that essentially needs a “fragile” label on his jersey instead of a sponsorship or team logo. The earliest that deGrom should touch a mound is spring training in 2025… maybe. But even then, the Rangers would need to find a way to get deGrom plenty of reps, possibly in the minors for a bit to reinsure his health.

A new role for deGrom

By the time deGrom returns, he could be nearing 36. With his long history of repeated injuries and the Rangers attempting to maximize every bit of the $185 million they spent for him, would it be out of the realm of possibility for them to consider him in a new role?

Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time but earned those accolades by beginning his career as a starting pitcher and moving later on as a closer. It was due to a troublesome elbow that Smoltz had to have surgery in 2000. The Atlanta Braves weren't sure if Smoltz could withstand working close to 200 innings a year any longer as a starter, so they moved him into the closer role where he finished his career with 154 saves.

It wouldn't be the worst of ideas if deGrom took on a role much like what Smoltz did at the end of his career. It would certainly take a lot of the strain and pressure off that comes with being a starting pitcher, mentally and physically. deGrom has the ability to use any number of his pitches effectively, but in the closer role, he could definitely take advantage of his 99mph four-seam fastball, along with his 92mph slider, even mixing in his changeup if he needed to.

The biggest hurdle Jacob deGrom simply has to get through right now is getting and staying healthy, though. That's his priority. The Rangers priority, however, needs to be seeking ways to continue their hot streak, getting back to the playoffs without their ace.