Nate Jones is out for the season after having surgery Monday to repair a tear in his flexor mass in his right forearm.
Unfortunately for a guy who at times during his career has looked like a potential shutdown reliever, his terrible health luck has continued. This is his eighth major league season, and he’ll finish it having averaged just 35 appearances a year.
It might not be the end for Jones, as general manager Rick Hahn was sure to point out. But is it the end for Jones on the South Side? He’s spent his entire big league career to this point with the White Sox, who picked up a team option on Jones’ contract ahead of this season. There’s one of those for next season, too. But how likely is it the White Sox would pick that up for 2020?
That decision won’t be made until the season’s over, at least not publicly, so don’t expect any definitive answers on that from White Sox brass while we’re still waiting for summer weather to arrive.
"I believe this is his third, possibly his fourth procedure in the last four or five years,” Hahn said. “Obviously a great competitor and someone who's worked very hard to get back each time, to now undergo another setback is, I'm sure, very discouraging.
“As Nate and I talked about a few weeks ago when it looked like it was heading down this path, there's been a decent number of very fine relievers in the last several years who have had this and been able to be productive into their mid, late 30s. Certainly there's no reason to think Nate can't be one, as well. Get this behind him, get him healthy and see where it goes.”
Jones is a likable guy, and certainly the White Sox don’t want to rudely end his tenure at this early stage in the season. But thinking about their long-term plans, it would figure that a team looking to get younger as it approaches its transition from rebuilding to contending would perhaps move on from a 33-year-old with persistent health issues.
Had Jones turned in a healthy 2019, the value would have been fairly obvious. He could have helped strengthen the back end of a bullpen already strengthened over the offseason by the additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera. All that veteran presence in the highest leverage of situations could have aided the continued development of the young arms that could make up the relief corps of the future. A really good few months might have even led to a midseason trade, like the ones Hahn has used in recent years to add to the farm system.
Instead, Jones is out for the year just a month and a half into the season. And with another layer of uncertainty heading into 2020, the chances that the White Sox pick up that option would seem to get slimmer.