Jeff Niemann elects free agency

Leon Halip

After being outrighted by the Rays from the 40-man roster, starting pitcher Jeff Niemann has elected free agency.

Niemann missed most of 2012 with a broken right leg of a come-backer to the mound, which was a disappointing interruption to what had been eight starts of 3.08 ERA ball, featuring a 21.8% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate. He returned Sept. 1, but left that game with shoulder issues and didn't return. The Rays attempted to move the Big Nyquill to the bullpen in Spring Training, but the transition gave way to labrum and rotator cuff issues.

The Rays elected surgery was the best course of action, and after a second opinion, Niemann underwent a procedure to repair his labrum and rotator cuff. The surgery was performed by Texas Rangers team doctor Keith Meister, and involved using a spinning razor to rip apart the muscle and scar tissue in both areas to allow his throwing shoulder to heal anew.

Recovery would be lengthy, and Niemann will certainly not be who he was before on the mound -- for better or worse. According to mlb.com's Alden Gonzalez, that time line is nine to twelve months from last April, which has Niemann currently playing catch, but not throwing off a mound:

The 6-foot-9 right-hander has been rehabbing hard near his Houston home five days a week and is playing catch from 90 feet, hopeful of being healthy by the start of Spring Training.

Niemann, 31, was drafted fourth overall by the Rays in 2004. He was project to earn ~$3.5M next season, more than Jeremy Hellickson, so the decision to designate the oft injured starter was expected.

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