Has Niemann Thrown His Last Rays Pitch?
In reality, it sucks what has transpired over the last few months for Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann. He fought and went down swinging this Spring in his battle for the Rays 5th rotation slot with former ace Roberto Hernandez. And as the “Tall Texan” went toe-to-toe with Hernandez, he somehow developed a glitch in his pitching delivery that forced his velocity to decrease to alarming levels.
It is like Niemann had to go through his own trial of Job this Spring before it was finally revealed by the Rays Medical staff that Niemann needed some R&R, or possibly surgery to repair the damage that reared its ugly head this Spring, and now might have cost him more than just the 2013 season.
You have to think this “down time” during his surgical rehab might be the final curtain for his Rays tenure, especially as Niemann will again go through the salary arbitration process this Winter, and with the advancement of the young talent down at Triple-A Durham, there might not be a place for Niemann on the Rays past the 2013 season. Of course this is just speculation right now that the young budding staff will remain healthy in 2013, but for all purposes, Niemann probably threw his last pitch ever as a Rays this Spring.
Throwing even more darkness on a hopefully return by Niemann after his rehab to returning to the Rays is the fact until he begins throwing possibly towards the end of the 2013 Rays campaign or during the Winter, there will be nothing but doubt and wonder if Niemann can regain not only a chance of playing again for this team, but get his velocity to a point that would warrant a longer look by the Rays staff in retaining him via the arbitration process.
We all know that the Rays value depth in their pitching corps, and possibly the only future path for Niemann to find a spot on this team’s roster past 2013 might be in his newly defined role in the Rays Bullpen as a long-reliever. Even in this instance, Niemann window of opportunity has dimmed a bit as the club did not get to utilize him in this new role and subsequently it would be a gamble on the Rays part baring a complete recovery to set a-side possibly $3-4 million dollars for a player who has question marks attached to them.
We all know Niemann has already completed the surgery portion of his recovery, but now comes the hard part for both sides as time will elapse and both the Rays and Niemann wait patiently until he can again begin some sort of throwing program to regain his strength and show progress or relapse capacities. I have gotten to know Niemann pretty well over his Rays years from his early rehab in the minors, the multiple Rays events he has attended.
I have confidence he will do whatever is needed to again step upon the clay of a MLB squad and throw that ball with vigor and vitality. I want to be confident Niemann will have a place, but the business of baseball might decide his fate and not the relationships and friendships he has established as a member of this team.
The worst thing is it might not be with the Rays name emblazoned upon his chest as the team might have to part ways with a guy who has embodied and lived his MLB career as a Rays and epitomizes the values and character needed to be a member of this franchise.