Dayton Moore continued his assault on the free-agent market by signing right-handed pitcher Kris Medlen, who sat out all of 2014 following his second Tommy John surgery. The talented 29-year-old will earn $2 million in 2015 and $5.5 million the following season. Medlen could earn another $10 million in 2017 with a mutual option and will receive a $1-million buyout if either side declines. Former prospect Johnny Giavotella was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Medlen rose to fame, particularly in the fantasy community, during the latter half of the 2012 campaign while pitching for the Atlanta Braves. After starting the season in the bullpen, Medlen shifted to the starting rotation on July 31st and would finish the season without losing a decision, winning nine games in the process. Over that stretch he made 12 starts and posted a dazzling 0.97 ERA while striking out 84 batters in 83.2 IP. He pitched all of 2013 as a member of the Braves starting rotation and went a strong 197 innings, averaging 7.2 K/9 to go along with a 121 ERA+. Between the two seasons, he would accumulate an impressive 7.8 WAR.
Medlen went down with a torn UCL in spring training prior to the 2014 season and underwent his second Tommy John surgery on March 18. Rather than pay him close to $6 million in 2015, the Braves chose not to tender Medlen a contract earlier this month, making him a free agent. Now that he’s signed with the Royals, there are two main questions.
When Will Medlen Return?
First off, it’s not absolutely certain that Medlen will return. A recent study published by Jon Roegele in The Hardball Times indicates that pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery had a recovery rate of approximately 90% in recent years. This leaves a ten-percent chance that the Royals will get nothing out of Medlen and the deal will be a write-off. Current thinking holds that although this is his second such surgery, he stands an equal chance of recovery.
Assuming that Medlen does indeed recover, that same research recommends considering the median and mode for return time, which gives a timeframe of 12-13 months. This means that Medlen could be eligible to return at the beginning of the 2015 season.
However, the Royals have already stated that their medical staff has outlined a program for the righty and are targeting June or July for his return. Assuming he suffers no delays or setbacks, it seems most likely that Medlen will be added to the 25-man roster sometime early in the second half.
What Will His Role Be?
Medlen’s track record indicates that, when healthy, he can be an asset both out of the bullpen as well as starting games. Based on the above, the Royals seem almost certain to begin the 2014 season with a starting rotation of Ventura, Duffy, Vargas, Volquez, and Guthrie, should they all be healthy.
Of course, Medlen is most valuable as a starter, and that’s where he’ll almost certainly end up. He will either supplant one of the team’s currently projected starters (read: Jeremy Guthrie), if they all remain healthy, or he could join the rotation to replace a substitute like Johan Pino.
The Royals were remarkably fortunate in the injury department last year, particularly regarding their pitchers. In fact, Shields, Ventura, Vargas, and Guthrie each made more than 30 starts, while Duffy made 25 of his own. Duffy faltered down the stretch, exiting after only a single pitch against the Yankees on September 6 with what would later be diagnosed as rotator cuff inflammation. The left-hander would make his final two starts of the season but appear only in relief during the playoffs, working a total of 4.2 innings. Following the playoffs, the Royals would cite a stress reaction in his ribcage, suffered during his final regular season start, as the reason for his absence from the playoff rotation. Their good fortune is unlikely to continue and Medlen will almost certainly be filling a hole in the rotation that doesn’t exist going into spring training.
The precise timeline for Medlen’s return to the big club remains to be seen. Regardless of when he joins the Royals, his signing should further energize the fanbase. He’s a top-three starter who, at $8.5 million guaranteed over two years, could wind up being the bargain of the off season. Over the last week, Dayton Moore has made a substantial investment in the 2015 Royals and has sent a clear signal that he believes the Royals will compete for a playoff berth again this season. After years of slamming GMDM and “The Process” only to see his vision finally succeed, maybe this time we should listen.
Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com
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