Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star wrote a great article celebrating the 35th anniversary of Tommy John surgery, including how the whole thing got started:
When John’s left elbow gave out 35 years ago, he asked orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe to help salvage his career. Jobe took on the challenge, but it was no easy task. “I was nervous because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Jobe recalled in a phone interview.
Of course, Jobe was basically inventing the surgery, so he couldn’t guarantee that it would be successful. “John talked it over with his wife and his father,” Jobe said, “and came back and said, ‘Let’s do it.'” He said, ‘This is what I want to do because I don’t want to quit pitching. I can’t earn this much money in Terre Haute, Ind.'”
Three decades later Tommy John surgery has become commonplace, with an average of 2-3 pitchers on every team having undergone the procedure, and no one is surprised when a pitcher comes back stronger than ever. However, back then no one knew what to expect and it was considered a mini-miracle that following the surgery John pitched another 13 seasons in the majors and won another 164 games while three times finishing among the top five in Cy Young balloting.
Now the list of pitchers who’ve had the surgery looks like an All-Star team (or more accurarely several All-Star teams), with Chris Carpenter providing the most recent success story following his 2008 surgery. Of course, there are also plenty of unsuccessful examples, including most recently Francisco Liriano going from the league’s best pitcher as a rookie in 2006 to a mop-up man two years after going under the knife.
In terms of overall impact Tommy John surgery is arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history of sports, and Grathoff does a nice job describing the actual surgery, laying out the rehabilitation timetable, talking to pitchers who’ve had the operation, and examining the growing number of teenagers having the procedure done. Definitely worth a read.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.
Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.
Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.
Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.
Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.
Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.
The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that free agent reliever Joe Nathan, recovering from Tommy John surgery, plans to pitch in 2016 according to his agent Dave Pepe. According to Pepe, Nathan’s workouts are “going well” and the right-hander is “definitely planning on playing this year.”
Nathan, 41, got the final out on Opening Day (April 6) against the Twins before going on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow, causing him to miss the next 161 games. He will likely be able to contribute out of the bullpen in late May or early June if he has no setbacks. On a minor league deal or incentive-laden major league deal, Nathan could make for a low-risk gamble.
Over a 15-season career that dates back to 1999 (he did not pitch in the majors in 2001 or 2010), Nathan has 377 saves with a 2.89 ERA and a 967/340 K/BB ratio over 917 innings.
On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.