The deadline for teams to offer contracts to players with fewer than six years of service time is less than two weeks away. An entirely new batch of free agents will hit the market as clubs non-tender guys they a) don't want, b) can't afford, or c) usually a combination of both. One player that's on the bubble was one of the game's most electrifying rookies just a few years ago, Joel Zumaya of the Tigers.
Zumaya burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old in 2006 with a season that was straight out of a video game. He threw 83 1/3 innings of relief, striking out 97 batters and allowing just 18 earned runs to score (1.94 ERA) before chipping in another six innings of relief work during Detroit's march to the World Series. His fastball routinely exceeded 100 mph and batters mustered just a .187/.287/.270 batting line against. Zumaya did, however, miss some time in October after suffering tendinitis in his wrist while playing Guitar Hero, and it was pretty much all downhill from there.
The 2007 season featured a lengthy (107 days) stint on the disabled list because of a ruptured tendon in his finger, and when Zumaya was on the mound he pitched to a 4.28 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. The righty then separated the AC joint in his throwing shoulder after the season while helping his father move boxes as wildfires approached the family home in San Diego. Zumaya started the 2008 season on the DL but made it back in June, pitching to a 3.47 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. He ended the year like he started it, on the DL with a shoulder injury. This time it was a stress fracture.
Zumaya started the 2009 campaign on the DL but was activated in late April. He threw 31 innings through mid-July (4.94 ERA), but his season ended there because of another stress fracture in his shoulder. This one required surgery. Zumaya was healthy enough to start the 2010 season with the Tigers, and he boasted an impressive 2.58 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 38 1/3 innings through June. His fastball was again humming in the triple digits and Detroit had one of the game's best setup men in their bullpen. But again, it did not last. Zumaya's season ended on June 28th in Minnesota, when he fractured the olecranon in his elbow throwing a pitch, an injury that was particularly horrifying to watch live.
Since that stellar rookie campaign, Zumaya has been able to make more than 30 appearances in a season just once (31 in 2010), and he spent more days on the disabled list (450) than on the active roster (278). All the while his salary climbed from $327K in 2006 to $915K in 2010, and he's about to enter his final season of arbitration eligibility.
GM Dave Dombrowski recently told MLive.com's James Schmehl that Zumaya would be ready for Spring Training, which seems to indicate that the now 26-year-old's rehab is going well. We also know that the Tigers are looking to add pieces to their bullpen, evidenced by the contract they just gave Joaquin Benoit. Normally you'd expect a pitcher as unreliable as Zumaya (because of the injuries, not his actual performance) to get non-tendered, but his salary is reasonably low (even with a slight raise) and Detroit did shed approximately $70MM off of 2010's payroll thanks to expiring contracts.