Rays right-hander and 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow last week and is expected to be sidelined until mid-to-late May, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The 26-year-old Hellickson struggled through his worst season in 2013, posting a career-high 5.17 ERA and yielding a .274/.325/.450 batting line to opposing hitters. Hellickson, the Rays and agent Scott Boras all said that there were no physical ailments following the season, according to Topkin, but something flared up in his elbow when Hellickson began throwing in late January.
The Rays have the rotation depth to overcome an injury to Hellickson, as Jake Odorizzi now seems likely to step into the rotation alongside David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer. It already appeared likely that the Rays would hang onto Price for at least one more season (contrary to what many pundits believed earlier this winter), but the loss of Hellickson may further strengthen that standpoint. The Rays have added payroll this offseason by re-signing James Loney to a three-year deal, signing Grant Balfour and acquiring Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan (and extending the latter), so it seems unlikely that they'd shift from those win-now moves by dealing Price — especially with depleted rotation depth. As Topkin notes, Enny Romero and Alex Colome represent additional rotation options, but Colome himself is recovering from an injury.
Of course, the team could also look to the free agent or trade market to add another starting option. However, they already project for a record payroll (roughly $76MM, including league minimum players), so adding significant dollars seems unlikely. Adding a veteran with starting experience on a minor league deal could make some sense.
Hellickson has seen his own name raised in speculative trade talks coming off a down season, but this surgery eliminates the already unlikely scenario that he would find himself dealt to a new team. He and the Rays sidestepped arbitration this offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $3.625MM. He'll be arb-eligible twice more before becoming a free agent following the 2016 season, but this injury will prevent him from accumulating some valuable innings and counting stats in 2014. That will suppress his 2015 arbitration payday, which would subsequently keep his 2016 salary down as well.