The White Sox have activated reliever Nate Jones, per a club announcement. That’ll leave the club’s 40-man roster fully occupied.
Jones hit the DL in mid-June with a pronator muscle strain that ended up sapping much of his season. It’s the latest in a string of maladies in the elbow/forearm region of his right arm. Last year, Jones required season-ending nerve repositioning surgery. Previously, he missed virtually all of the 2014 season and part of the 2015 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
It’s not a particularly promising run of arm health, but it’s hard to ignore the results that Jones has produced in-between DL stints. In particular, he worked 70 2/3 innings of 2.29 ERA ball, with 10.2 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, in an excellent 2016 season. Though he has thrown only 36 1/3 MLB frames since, Jones has allowed only ten earned runs in that span. He’s still getting swings and misses while pumping upper-nineties heat, though it’s fair also to note that he has also walked five batters per nine.
In the aggregate, as MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently explored, there’s good reason to imagine the White Sox expect to pick up Jones’s option. It’ll cost $4.65MM, though there’d otherwise be a $1.25MM buyout to pay. For a reliever of his upside, it’s likely a reasonable risk, especially since the deal includes future option seasons as well.
Importantly, while there has been some belief that Jones might be available to the White Sox at a lower price, MLBTR has learned that will not be the case. His contract contemplated two scenarios at its back end. If Jones needed Tommy John surgery before the end of the 2018 season, then there would be a MLB minimum club option in 2019 followed by $3.75MM and $4.25MM club options. If, on the other hand, TJS did not take place, Jones would be controllable via successive club options of $4.65MM and $5.15MM, with a $6MM mutual option for the 2021 campaign.
Now, any uncertainty about the contract values has been resolved: the latter scenario will govern from this point forward. That means that the cost is somewhat higher and, perhaps more importantly, that there are only two more seasons available for control via club option (with the third being a rarely exercised mutual option).
That certainly makes for a tougher decision and raises the stakes somewhat for Jones’s late-season return. Barring a truly worrisome performance, though, it seems fair to guess that the White Sox are rather likely to roll the dice that Jones will be able to stay on the mound in 2019.