The Indians announced this afternoon that right-hander Danny Salazar will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. He’ll go 12 to 16 weeks without throwing, according to the announcement.
It’s not entirely clear what damage was found during the procedure, which was announced by the team last week to be exploratory in nature. At the time of the initial announcement, it was not clear when or if Salazar would be able to return, though today’s update provides further clarity in that regard. Presumably, the Indians will have further updates on Salazar’s shoulder prior to tonight’s game.
Salazar’s 2018 season, then, will come to a close without throwing a single pitch at the big league level. It’s a disappointing outcome for a pitcher who, at his best, has looked like one of the more talented arms in the American League. However, Salazar’s career has been punctuated by arm injuries. He’s had issues with his right arm dating back to the 2012 season in A-ball, and he’s missed time in four of the past five seasons owing to some type of arm trouble.
Last year, Salazar was limited to 103 innings by shoulder discomfort and, later in the year, inflammation in his right elbow. Cleveland moved him to the bullpen late in the season, and he was ultimately shut down for the year in mid-August.
In his peak form, Salazar has the ability to overpower opposing lineups. He’s averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in the Majors, and he was among the league leaders in both xFIP and SIERA from 2014-15 (min. 200 innings). Salazar’s considerable arm troubles, though, make it unclear as to whether he’ll ever truly be able to tap into his clear front-of-the-rotation potential.
The Indians will be faced with at least somewhat of a decision in the coming offseason. Salazar agreed to a one-year, $5MM deal to avoid arbitration last offseason, and he won’t throw a single pitch in 2018. By the time he’s up for arbitration again this offseason, he’ll be more than 15 months removed from setting foot on a Major League mound. While Salazar won’t get a raise in arbitration, the typical outcome for players who miss the entire season is to agree to the same salary they had in the injury-ruined year. In other words, Salazar is likely looking at a $5MM salary for the 2019 season as well.
It still seems likely that Cleveland would simply non-tender Salazar, but that could depend largely on the information that was gathered from today’s surgery. If the rehab program is expected to cut into the 2019 season, or if the Indians simply feel his shoulder to be unlikely to ever fully recover, it’s possible that they could simply move on — be it via trade or non-tender. That scenario would be somewhat reminiscent of the Marlins’ decision to non-tender Henderson Alvarez at a similar price point a few years back, though Alvarez had undergone multiple shoulder surgeries, and the Indians don’t face the same level of payroll constraints that have handcuffed the Miami organization.