As the Royals begin on their first full week of spring training, club officials continue to express hope that left-hander Jason Vargas will be able to log innings for the Kansas City pitching staff in 2016.
Vargas, 33, underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 5, 2015 after blowing out his ulnar collateral ligament in late July. The general recovery timeline for the surgery could challenge the Royals’ optimism.
In most instances, pitchers are sidelined for 12 to 14 months after Tommy John surgery. The Royals are often cautious in their approach to rehab. Right-hander Luke Hochevar underwent Tommy John surgery on March 18, 2014; he did not return to the big leagues until May 7, 2015. Left-hander Danny Duffy had the operation on June 13, 2012. His first outing back came nearly 14 months later, on Aug. 7, 2013.
If the Royals adhere to the 13- or 14-month protocol, Vargas would not be ready to return until at least September. If the Royals are in the thick of another pennant race, the timing could be problematic.
“We’ll see,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “You hate to jump to any conclusions before they start going through the different phases (of rehab). But right now, Vargy is doing great.”
As of Sunday, Vargas was in the fifth week of a rehab throwing program. He has played catch from 75 feet for 15 throws, he said, and the program will intensify in the coming weeks. In addition, Vargas said he has had no setbacks during the recovery. Still, he is months away from stepping on a mound. He prefers to focus on the present.
Vargas is in the third year of a four-year, $32 million deal signed before the 2014 season. He is slated to make $8.5 million this season. The club, however, has an insurance policy on the contract that would cover $6 million of this year's salary if Vargas is unable to pitch in 2016.
“Everything is kind of going in the right direction,” Vargas said. “It’s kind of a slow process, but we haven’t had any issues where we’ve had to slow things down.”
If Vargas’ return is a long shot, the Royals added insurance to the starting rotation on Friday, signing left-hander Mike Minor to a two-year deal. Minor, who is coming off shoulder surgery last May, will likely miss the first two months of the season. But he could offer rotation depth in the second half, something Vargas might be unable to do.
“We’ll see how he does,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’re not going to rush him by any stretch of the imagination.”
For now, Vargas said, he has not given up hope of helping his club in 2016. He has put his focus on his next throwing session and put his fate in the hands of the Royals’ medical staff.
“I think it all just has to do with how things progress, and how I’m able to recover, and how far along we are in the rehab,” Vargas said. “When I’m able to throw enough innings to compete, and be at a level where I can be effective and help … we’re a long ways away from that. The goal every day is just for the next throwing session.”
Minor arrives at camp, participates in workout
On his first full day at camp, newly acquired left-hander Mike Minor took part in a morning workout and donned a Royals practice jersey for the first time. Minor, 29, signed a two-year, $7.25 million deal on Friday. He is expected to miss at least the first two months of the regular season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Minor, who had surgery last May, has already begun his rehab throwing program. After Friday’s workout, Minor said he was already throwing long toss up to 120 feet.
“I don’t really want to put a timetable on anything,” Minor said of his recovery. “And they haven’t really told me anything besides one day at a time, one week at a time, to see what we’re looking at.”
Royals position players set to report on Monday
After three days of pitchers and catchers workouts, the Royals’ other position players will officially report to spring training on Monday. The first full-squad workout is on Tuesday.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Friday that only designated hitter Kendrys Morales was at risk of not being in camp by Monday. A slew of regulars, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Christian Colon and Omar Infante, are already working out in Arizona.