Cliff Lee is almost ready to make the next step in rehab from elbow injury

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Cliff Lee has now been sidelined for over a month with a flexor strain in his throwing elbow. While there are still some important hurdles to cross, the Phillies are beginning to map out a plan for his return.

According to Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com, Lee is scheduled to throw his third bullpen session tomorrow. It will be an “up-and-down” session to essentially get him back in the groove of downtime between innings. If all goes well, he’ll progress to a simulated game this Saturday. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg indicated that the next step could be a minor league rehab assignment.

“I don’t know if it’s one or two [rehab starts], but I would think it would be something more than a simulated game,” Sandberg said.

“He’s progressing fine, passing all of the tests. His first bullpen was quality with location and stuff, and rebounding from it the next day with the way he felt. All positive.”

If Lee stays on schedule and makes a pair of rehab starts, he could potentially be activated on July 13 against the Nationals. That’s the final day before the All-Star break. Of course, they could always give him a little extra time and bring him back for the start of the second half on July 18 against the Braves. Either way, he’ll only have a brief window to prove his health and effectiveness leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Lee, 35, had a 3.18 ERA and 61/9 K/BB ratio in 68 innings over 10 starts prior to hitting the disabled list. He’s owed $25 million in each of the next two seasons.

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.