JULY 14: A setback in Hicks’ Tommy John rehab played a part in his decision to opt out, manager Mike Shildt revealed Tuesday (via Saxon). Hicks is dealing with inflammation and would not have been able to pitch until at least September had he decided to play this year.
JULY 13: Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks has opted out of the 2020 season, citing preexisting health concerns, the Cardinals announced on Monday. Hicks, who has Type 1 diabetes, is also recovering from Tommy John surgery and was expected to open the season on the injured list.
“We respect and understand Jordan’s decision to opt out this season,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said in a statement announcing the news. “We wish him well as he continues his recovery from elbow surgery, and we look forward to seeing Jordan back on the mound for the 2021 season.”
Hicks becomes the 13th Major League player to opt out of the 2020 season, joining a growing list that figures to have more additions between now and Opening Day. While most have been veteran players with considerable career earnings already under their belt, Hicks and White Sox hurler Michael Kopech have bucked that trend, joining Nationals righty Joe Ross as younger players on the opt-out list.
Notably, The Athletic’s Mark Saxon tweets that Type 1 diabetes is listed by MLB as a preexisting condition that would allow a player to opt out and receive service time and salary. Hicks isn’t yet arbitration-eligible, so he’ll take home a prorated salary worth only a bit more than the league minimum, but the service time he accrues this season will push him to three years — making him arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. He won’t have much of a platform to earn a considerable raise, but that will bring him one step closer to free agency in the 2023-24 offseason, so it’s certainly of importance to both player and team.
Hicks is baseball’s hardest thrower, averaging a ridiculous 101.6 mph on his fastball prior to injury. After a solid rookie season in 2018, he looked to be elevating his game to another level in 2019, when he pitched to a 3.14 ERA with 9.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9 and a massive 67.2 percent ground-ball rate in 28 2/3 innings. Hicks went 14-for-15 in save opportunities last year before his injury, firmly seizing the ninth-inning job in manager Mike Shildt’s bullpen.
From a pure baseball perspective, it’s a tough loss for the Cardinals, who have also seen setup man John Brebbia undergo Tommy John surgery while top setup man Giovanny Gallegos has yet to report to Summer Camp. There’s been talk of again using Carlos Martinez as a late-inning option, though the right-hander’s preference has been to start. Mozeliak has also previously mentioned right-hander Ryan Helsley as a potential ninth-inning option in absence of Hicks.