Free agent Ross should be in high demand

Non-tendered by Padres after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, righty offers significant upside

Free agent Ross should be in high demand

This year's class of free-agent pitchers was unremarkable to begin with, and that was before Jeremy Hellickson accepted a qualifying offer, and Rich Hill, Bartolo Colon, and others signed.

One name stands out among those who remain available: Tyson Ross.

Ross wasn't expected to be a free agent until next offseason, but in a move that came as a surprise to many, the Padres non-tendered him on Dec. 2 rather than go through the arbitration process. That's because Ross, who made $9.625 million in 2016, missed all but his first start of last season with shoulder problems and underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in October. The right-hander would have been an expensive and risky piece for a rebuilding San Diego club.

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With that said, Ross should be in high demand throughout MLB as pitching-hungry teams pick through a thin market. After all, this is a 29-year-old who as recently as 2014-15 was one of baseball's 25 best starters, by at least some measures.

Ross strikes out 11

Of course, interested teams also have to acknowledge the reality of Ross' situation, which is that he might never regain his pre-injury form.

Surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome -- which includes the removal of a rib to relieve pressure -- has a four-to-six month recovery time. That would put Ross' return somewhere between roughly February and April, but there are no guarantees. There also is little precedent for Major League pitchers returning to pitch at a high level after the procedure. The best example is another former Padres righty, Chris Young, who came back to post a 3.40 ERA for the Mariners and Royals from 2014-15 before struggling this year.

That risk might scare off some potential suitors, but consider the upside that Ross would bring.

In 2014-15, Ross' only two full years as a big league starter, he posted 7.6 wins above replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs. That ranked 21st in the Majors, right behind Stephen Strasburg (7.9) and Gerrit Cole (7.7), and just ahead of Garrett Richards (6.9).

All three of those comparable pitchers also dealt with significant injury issues this past season but almost certainly would draw a ton of interest if they were on the open market. The same could be said of Matt Harvey, who underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in July.

Ross' first career shutout

Ross always has flown a bit under the radar, though. He has played only for the A's and Padres and didn't nail down a full-time big league rotation spot until 2014, when he was 27. Yet his performance over the ensuing two seasons was impressive as Ross established himself as a pitcher who could generate both strikeouts and ground balls.

Ross' 2014-15 MLB ranks in some key categories (min. 300 IP)
• 3.03 ERA (17th)
• 117 ERA+ (23rd)
• 3.11 FIP (18th)
• 24.9 K% (15th)
• 59.2 GB% (2nd)
• 12.5 swinging-strike% (7th)

Ross also has a great pitch in his arsenal, a slider that according to FanGraphs was an MLB-best 42.8 runs above average over that span. In 2015, Statcast™ measured the pitch's average spin rate (2,425 rpm) as the third highest among regular starters, behind only Richards and Corey Kluber.

Those numbers should put Ross on top of the free-agent pile, even given his health issues. No other available starter has even one season with 3.0 FanGraphs WAR since 2014, compared with Ross' two seasons.

Total 2014-16 fWAR for 10 select free-agent pitchers
• Ross 7.7
Jason Hammel 5.5
Colby Lewis 4.3
Jorge De La Rosa 3.8
Doug Fister 2.8
Jonathon Niese 2.5
Brett Anderson 2.3
Ivan Nova 2.3
Jered Weaver 2.0
Jhoulys Chacin 1.9

In that context, Ross' ceiling will have wide appeal. At last week's Winter Meetings, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that Ross is likely to look for a fit based on teams' reputations for dealing with rehabbing pitchers. The Padres still could re-sign him, according to Rosenthal, who also listed the Cubs, Indians, Pirates, Twins, Mariners and Giants as sensible options.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.