In December of 2006, Jeremy Bonderman was 24 years old, coming off the finest season of his career. He debuted at age 20 in '03, but put it all together in '06 by making 34 regular season starts and striking out 202. He added three postseason starts to his resume that year. Bonderman's extension bought out his final two arbitration years for $13MM, and a pair of free agent seasons at $12.5MM apiece.
Unfortunately, injuries set in for Bonderman after he signed the contract. He dealt with a blister and elbow pain in '07, and learned of thoracic outlet syndrome in '08. Shoulder soreness lingered into the '09 season, limiting him to 51.3 pro innings.
Bonderman came to Spring Training pain-free in 2010, and reclaimed a rotation spot when the Tigers traded Nate Robertson. With a 4.43 ERA, 8.2 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 in 40.6 innings, it appears on the surface that Bonderman has regained his '06 form. There are notable differences though. Bonderman is throwing 89.4 mph on average this year, as compared to 93.3 in '06. He's throwing more fastballs and fewer sliders, and he's no longer a groundball pitcher. Manager Jim Leyland explained to MLB.com's Stephen Ellsesser: "He's not the overpowering guy he was. He's adjusting to the pitching style, throwing a split now." It should also be noted that Bonderman's stat line would look a lot worse had a rainout not wiped out a lousy start a few weeks ago.
The 2010 version of Bonderman is still getting it done, but potential free agent bidders will have the luxury of adding his next 20+ starts to the sample. Bonderman's age, 28, will be a number other free agents can't beat. He may be looking at a contract similar to Rich Harden's one-year, $7.5MM deal assuming teams remain intrigued by his upside but wary of his health.