White Sox reliever Nate Jones has undergone nerve repositioning surgery in his balky right elbow, MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reports (Twitter links). Recovery from the procedure will drag into the offseason, so he will not return to the mound this year.
Notably, the 31-year-old does not have any damage to his replacement ulnar collateral ligament, per the report. But with nerve issues continuing to linger well after he had been expected to return, Jones did require another significant surgery. (He underwent a Tommy John procedure in 2014.)
It had already seemed certain that Jones wouldn’t be marketed this summer by the rebuilding South Siders, given the injury uncertainty. Now, it seems, he won’t become a trade option for quite some time. And Jones also won’t be an option to step into the closer’s role if incumbent David Robertson is traded. (Tommy Kahnle appears to be next in line at this point.)
The news also has a direct effect on Jones’s contract situation. He is guaranteed $3.95MM next year regardless. But his 2019-21 options will now give the team an opportunity to retain him for less than it could have if Jones had stayed off the surgeon’s table for his elbow. He can now be controlled for the league minimum (2019), $3.75MM (2020), and $4.25MM (2021), with a $1.25MM buyout applying to any of those three years.
That complicated extension — similar in concept to those signed by fellow relievers Sean Doolittle and Adam Ottavino — had made (and still makes) Jones an interesting asset for the Sox. After all, he has largely been outstanding when healthy. Those are tantalizing salary numbers for a pitcher who carries a 2.49 ERA with 10.8 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 over his last 101 1/3 innings. If Jones can make it back to full health, there’s reason to hope that his huge sinker and often-devastating slider will again make him a premium relief arm.