The worst kept secret of success is that it must inevitably come to an end. Those who appear to experience consistently high levels of success have simply learned to manage their lows and more easily, and more swiftly, return to the highs. This is, in essence, what teams ask themselves before acquiring a new player: what is his track record of success? Has he experienced any low points? How low were they, and how long did it take him to return to a higher point of success? Has he even been able to make that return yet? Since Jerry Dipoto seems to have a Pavlovian response to bounceback candidates, these questions are crucial in determining which players are worth taking a risk on. Tyson Ross is one such candidate, and absolutely worth the risk for 2017.
In 2013, after being traded from the Oakland A’s to the San Diego Padres, Ross was worth 1.9 fWAR. In 2014 he was worth 3.2 fWAR, and in 2015 he was worth 4.4 fWAR. This was Ross’s longest period of success in the major leagues, and it was a trajectory that did not appear unsustainable. His walk rates and his strikeout rates weren’t flashy but they were remarkably consistent, vacillating by no more than three percentage points, and always with an upward trend. Ross is a 6’6" righty with somewhat funky mechanics that reflect his elasta-human frame. He relies primarily on three pitches: a slider, a fourseam fastball, and a cutter, though he also has a changeup which is rarely thrown. Batters most frequently whiff at his slider, which has become his go-to pitch, and when hitters do make contact they produce a high number of groundballs. The development of this slider, the usage of which jumped drastically in 2013 (25.3% to 32.3%), is largely credited with contributing to Ross’s success. He’s largely a groundball pitcher and another good example of why ERA should not be trusted: in 2015, with the appalling Padres defense behind him, he had a 3.26 ERA, but a sub-3 FIP. The 2017 Mariners look to have one of the stronger defensive infields in the league, and a pitcher like Ross could really take advantage of that strength.
Ross had three sustained years of success but unfortunately for him, when the inevitable low came it was very, very low. He made one catastrophic start against the Dodgers in 2016 and he did not make another major league start. The Padres placed him on the DL with "shoulder inflammation," which was later diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. TOS occurs when the nerves and/or blood vessels between the collarbone and first rib become compressed or irritated. It is difficult to diagnose properly, but can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Unfortunately, if symptoms persist, surgery is often necessary and recovery time is anywhere from four to six months. Mets fans will be familiar with TOS since it’s what shut Matt Harvey down this season, but it should also ring a bell for us Mariners fans because Chris Young (former Princeton tiger, towering wizard of fly balls, and Mike Zunino’s dad) is the surgery’s most recent success story. Young underwent surgery in the summer of 2013 and ended the 2014 season as MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year. In anticipating Ross’s recovery rate and potential success it’s important to note that Young had had multiple arm and shoulder injuries prior to his TOS surgery, and was also four years older than Ross. Knocking on wood and bearing in mind the games that life likes to play with us, the likelihood of Ross’s successful return seems high. He underwent surgery in October and likely wouldn’t be ready for Spring Training, but on the low end of things he could be much-needed starting pitching depth and on the high end he could be a solid arm in the starting rotation for 2017.
There’s a reasonable chance that the Padres attempt to resign him at a lower cost. Ross had a good rapport with pitching coach Darren Balsley, and AJ Preller has been vocal about wanting him back in San Diego. There were also rumors that the Cubs, who previously attempted to acquire him, were interested as were the Indians, Pirates and Giants, as per Ken Rosenthal. In my mind the Pirates are one of the more likely landing spots, given their success rehabilitating and revamping pitchers, but I’m also not quite sure what they’re looking to do with this offseason. Maybe they’re too distracted with offers on Andrew McCutchen? Regardless of the competition, the Mariners should seriously consider signing Tyson Ross this offseason. One Rob Whalen does not good pitching depth make.
Hearing Tyson Ross' asking price is $9-11 mm range & may not include incentives. High price for guy who might not be ready to start year— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) December 7, 2016
I was going to put some potential contract ideas in at the end, but then Evan Grant had to come rain on my parade. This feels like a bit of an overpay if you're not getting a full season, and I'd be surprised if that's what he ultimately signs for, particularly given that he wasn't even deemed worthy of hanging on to as a trade piece. Estimating and evaluating contracts are one of my weak points, so what say you, all-knowing internet readers?