Thinking Out Loud: The Tommy John Bullpen


(Madson via The Cincinnati Enquirer; Soria via Getty)

It’s been a pretty rough month for big name relief pitchers. Not only did Joba Chamberlain suffer an open dislocation of his right ankle, but both Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria blew out their pitching elbows. Those two guys will have Tommy John surgery in the very near future. Forgive me while I indulge myself a bit, but wouldn’t it be something if the Yankees bought low on both Madson and Soria next offseason? We can all dream a little.

* * *

Based on how he’s been talking in camp, Mariano Rivera is likely to call it a career after this season. It’ll be a very sad day whenever Mo hangs ‘em up, but it is inevitable. The Yankees do have two ready-made closer replacements already in-house, specifically Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Who knows what we’ll be saying ten months from now, but at the moment those two are more than qualified for ninth inning work. The Yankees will still have to replace a dominant reliever though, and both Madson and Soria qualify as dominant relievers when healthy.

Madson, 31, signed a one-year pillow contract with the Reds this offseason, so he’ll again be a free agent next offseason coming off elbow surgery. Needless to say, the big multi-year offers won’t be rolling in. Soria, 27, is at the whim of the Royals. They can either pick up his $8M option for 2013 or cut him loose and let him become a free agent for the first time in his career. Again, it’s safe to assume those big multi-year contract offers won’t be rolling in for the Mexecutioner. Sucks for them, but that’s how this baseballing thing works.

This is Soria’s second Tommy John procedure, and the two-timers don’t have a great track record of recovery. Chris Capuano and Hong-Chih Kuo are the two most notable success stories. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Kansas City decides not to sink 15-20% of its payroll into Soria and lets him walk. The Yankees could look at both guys on one-year contracts, allowing them to re-establish themselves as dominant late-game relievers before hitting the open market after the season in search of that big multi-year deal they won’t get next winter. One-year pacts would still allow the Yankees to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014.

Let’s say they could get both Madson and Soria on one-year, $3M contracts with incentives. Add in David Aardsma, who the Yankees can retain in 2013 for just $500k, and that’s three Tommy John guys in the bullpen. Joba could make it four depending on how the ankle injury impacts his elbow rehab schedule. Now, not all of those guys would work out. We may think it’s routine, but elbow ligament replacement surgery is a serious procedure. Two of those four guys may flame out and be completely ineffective, but if the other two guys get back to being their pre-Tommy John selves, the Yankees would still come out ahead in the whole production vs. cost thing.

Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud. Everyone loves the idea of landing a super-talented player on the cheap as they come off injury (hence all the Grady Sizemore-related mailbag questions this winter) but that’s because we’re not the ones assuming the risk. The team has to pay them real money to pitch real innings, and coming off serious surgery like that is no piece of cake. A bullpen staff of Madson, Soria, Joba, Robertson, Soriano, and Aardsma is drool-worthy regardless of who ends up closing, and there’s no harm dreaming about it. We are Yankees fans, after all.

Categories : Musings


  1. Paul VuvuZuvella says:

    Makes you realize just how absolutely incredible Mariano is. We’ll never see another like him.

    • Steve S. says:

      Mo had ligament enhancement (not full TJS) while in the minors (94?). So while he’s been healthy since it’s not as if he never had any elbow troubles of his own.

  2. Steve S. says:

    We may think it’s routine, but elbow ligament replacement surgery is a serious procedure. Two of those four guys may flame out and be completely ineffective, but if the other two guys get back to being their pre-Tommy John selves, the Yankees would still come out ahead in the whole production vs. cost thing.

    I get your point about only needing half of these guys to work out to still be ahead financially, but it has to be noted that TJS has around an 80% success rate.

    What I really like is the timetable on both guys. Having blown out their elbows in March , assuming they both have surgery right away they’ll be around the 12 month mark to begin 2013, and the time frame for full recovery is typically 12-18 months. Both should be back to 100% at some point next year.

    • RetroRob says:

      Joe Nathan had a full year off too and it took him most of last season to regain command. Pitchers can, and often do return within a year, but many don’t regain their effectiveness for up to eighteen months. It could be 2014 before both these guys are back to peak, if ever.

  3. Cashman Adviser says:

    trade soriano!

  4. Steve S. says:

    All of a sudden, one of the most panned offseason contracts (Paps to the Phils) doesn’t look quite as bad, considering the alternative. I had wondered if the Phils had any inkling of Madson’s elbow troubles, and that was why they shifted gears and went after Paps. But they (reportedly) offered Madson 4/44M, so it doesn’t appear they knew anything was up.


    Looking at his BP player page, there’s nothing elbow related there.

  5. 28 this year says:

    I would love for this to happen but I feel like the Yankees might not necessarily be the best place to go. They would start behind Drob and Soriano in the pecking order and I doubt they would all go to one place as they would be taking opportunities away from each other. It’s a great dream and I could definitely see one of them in the Bronx but definitely not both.

  6. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Just go all out: New Yankee pitching coach Tommy John.

  7. emac2 says:

    Soriano has the option on next years deal and with only one more year I think it’s likely he opts out.

    Either way I don’t think I’m terribly excited about an injured NL reliever who has never been that good and a 2 time TJ survivor. If we’re talking 500k each of course you take the chance but otherwise I prefer arms over names.

    Even without Mo and Soriano you have a reasonable group of guys for next year already under contract


    Add in the 3 or 4 guys you’ll be able to add from the farm by next year and I think I would rather shoot for getting down to 189,000 a year early then to waste millions on old, injured relievers.

    • nsalem says:

      Why do you think it is likely Soriano will opt out next year? He is due 14 million dollars for the 2013.
      Even if he can get a 2 year deal elsewhere I don’t think he would get much more than 14 for 2013 and 2014. In all likelihood next year will be the biggest contract he will ever see, What is his motivation to give it up?

      • RetroRob says:

        Considering his injury history, his motivation will be every guaranteed dollar above $14 million. Too many question marks right now, though. He needs to show he’s the top reliever he was prior to 2011, he needs to stay healthy, and then Boras will need to read to reliever market next year. 50-50 right now. I hope he leaves, even if he has a great year.

    • RetroRob says:

      Madson actually was quite good. The only off year he’s had in eight seasons was when they tried to make him a starter. His ERA+s the last five years were 151, 144, 129, 161 and 164. If Mo retires, and is they’re lucky enough to have Soriano opt out (his contract is backloaded and is scheduled to make $14 million next year), they’ll realize $29 million in new found money. They can afford to give Madson a couple million.

      Right now, I’m more concerned about Joba. He hadn’t even completed his recovery from TJS, and now he won’t be able to do the proper exercises to continue rebuilding his arm because of the foot injury.

  8. Plank says:

    What’s Eck up to? I bet he could be signed on the cheap. Maybe he has something left in the tank.

  9. Plank says:

    The second TJS for Soria is worrisome. I would let another team take the risk on him his first year back. I like the idea of doing a one year deal with Madsen. I love the Aardsma signing even though I completely forgot about it until yesterday.

  10. jjyank says:

    I love the idea of signing these guys next year. I’m all about high-risk, high reward. As long as the high-risk part doesn’t involve unnecessary multi-year contracts, that is.

    Madson was my top closer on my fantasy team though, so I am not a happy camper this morning!

  11. Kosmo says:

    There is always the possibility of NY converting one of their SP prospects into a reliever but as it stands now who are the 3 or 4 best relief pitching prospects within the NY org.?

  12. Greg says:

    Pineda topping out at 90.

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