The Washington Nationals' reputation for being willing to draft players with injury concerns led to them being matched up with the pitcher they did eventually select with their first-round pick, Erick Fedde, a 21-year-old right-hander out of UNLV who suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow this season and underwent Tommy John surgery just days before his selection at no.18 overall.
Before this past week's edition of the MLB Draft went down, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo addressed the franchise's willingness to take these risks.
"You really do have to balance the risk and the reward," Rizzo explained last weekend. "What we've looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury. Usually we really weigh elbow injuries a lot more favorable than shoulder injuries, so that goes into it. And a lot goes into the character of the player and the type of makeup that he has. The rehab process is not a simple one, so you have to have the right character and makeup to go through it and to come out the other end better than when you started it."
"We don't take hollow chances," Rizzo explained further after the first round. "We do a lot of research. We do a lot background checks. Obviously we're hand in hand with our medical team here. We think our medical team are some of the finest in the game. We've had very good success in rehabbing these types of players. Each situation is individual and different."
As for Fedde in particular, the Nationals' General Manager said it was a case of the potential reward far outweighing any concerns.
"We just felt, again," he said, "the upside of this, a guy that we feel is going to be a front of the rotation-type of right-handed starter if the rehab goes well and if he returns to form, we felt that the risk at 18 in the draft was worth the possible reward."
Some of the talk of risk has been overblown, however, as Rizzo explained it.
Some of the prospects that the Nationals have selected in the process of building their reputation for being willing to gamble weren't as much of a risk as they were thought to be, with 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon being the prime example.
"Anthony Rendon we felt that there was no risk whatsoever with Rendon," Rizzo said in spite of the fact that five other teams passed on the Rice University third baseman who was widely considered the best hitting prospect in his class before a shoulder injury limited him to DH duties in his final collegiate campaign.
"We knew his shoulder was fine," Rizzo recalled this past Thursday. "We did the research on it and when he got to us at six, we were extremely comfortable with it."
And then there is 2012 1st Round pick, Lucas Giolito, a prep school right-hander who might have gone no.1 overall if he hadn't suffered a torn UCL in his senior year at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles.
"Lucas Giolito," Rizzo said, "we knew going into it that we were going to get a young, 17-year-old power pitcher that's going to need Tommy John surgery and hopefully he rehabs from it and becomes the pitcher that we saw pre-injury and we're hoping the same thing here [with Fedde]."
The Nationals' second-round pick this season, 21-year-old left-hander Andrew Suarez, suffered a labrum tear in 2012 that required surgery.
FBB 2014 MLB Draft Coverage:
Nationals' Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Scouting Operations Kris Kline said on Friday that Suarez projected as a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter, and pitched without issues in each of the last two seasons, satisfying any concerns the Nationals might have had about his shoulder.
The procedure to repair the labrum, Kline described as a, "minor surgery when he was a freshman in college."
"He has not missed any time since then," Kline said, "so that gives us comfort level and our doctors comfort level in taking the player."
"Tremendous competitor," he continued. "He had a really good year this year. We're never going to take a hurt guy, whether it's a guy like [Erick] Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick. Suarez fits that criteria. And he's healthy right now. 100%."
Having drafted Fedde, and taken the risk that he has the right character and makeup to work his way back from Tommy John and fulfill the potential that led to his being considered a potential Top 5 pick according to Kline or, "...certainly as a Top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that," as Rizzo said, the Nationals will now have to negotiate a deal with him and his representative, Scott Boras.
The top 5-10 picks of the draft have recommended bonuses of $3,851,000 million (no.5) to $2,970,800 (no.10). Will Fedde and Boras be looking to get a bonus commensurate with where the right-hander would have gone before he suffered the elbow injury?
Rizzo was asked Thursday night if his previous deals with Boras and his clients over the years made him more comfortable going into negotiations?
"Obviously we've dealt with [Scott Boras] several times before," Rizzo responded. "I wouldn't know if that's a comfort level, just because we're comfortable dealing with each other. We're not sure. We're going to begin the process and see if we can get him signed and get him rehabbing so he can take the next step towards seeing him pitch out here at Nats Park."
Fedde, for his part, said he would leave the negotiating to his representatives and the Nationals.
"I'm not really too worried about the business process," Fedde said. "I know it will work itself out, I'm just worried about getting healthy and going from there."