Of course, MiGo having only inflammation is great news and news that we hope is accurate. We can certainly still remember that MRIs can be hard to read and the Orioles have had pitchers originally noted as suffering from inflammation who wound up getting Tommy John (i.e., Dylan Bundy). That said, this article is still a pretty decent thought piece and provides some useful summary of Tommy John surgery.
As of Tuesday evening, the Orioles were waiting on the results of the 31 year old Miguel Gonzalez' MRI on his shoulder. He experienced soreness in his shoulder last weekend and that transitioned to pain in his elbow. The greatest concern is whether he will need to go under the knife and have his second Tommy John surgery (his first was in 2009). Surgery success and cost to retain him in the organization are the two biggest concerns.
The return rate after a player's first Tommy John surgery is likely somewhere in the low 80% area. You will find studies ranging from 75 to 87%. Younger pitchers tend to have a slightly higher rate of return (think 85%) while pitchers in their early thirties are a little lower (think 75%). Of course, success rate is a variable term. If we think of success as throwing a single pitch in the majors, then that number is accurate. If you think of success as being good enough to say through 50 IP, then that rate falls to about 65%. Slide to 100 IP, then you go down to 60%. Age remains an important variable during this time. A limitation is that relievers are in this bundle, so I think making general conclusions past 100 IP is highly problematic.
A second wrinkle is that this will be MiGo's second Tommy John surgery. Again, the studies range a bit. The return rate (measured by simply throwing an MLB pitch) ranges from 66% to 79%. The major caveat here is that the number of pitchers with second Tommy John surgeries is quite low. Additionally, the numbers are so few that age is difficult to control as a variable and it may well be the decreased amount of success might be more a product of that than recovery from a repeat surgery. My educated guess would be that both play into a likely decreased rate of return, but it is difficult to tease them apart. However, the "look" of the data makes it appear as much more of an age issue.
I would also like to note another positive is that it appears Miguel Gonzalez does not use tobacco products. It is something that many people do not recognize as a potential confounder in recovery from many surgical procedures. For Camden Depot writer and current Pittsburgh Pirates employee Stuart Wallace wrote in Beyond the Box Score
Although the research is thin, the data "lend credence to the idea that smokers might need more time to recover from Tommy John surgery and that perhaps those who suffer a second tear so soon after their first UCL injury might have enough of a history of smoking (or tobacco use in general) that would facilitate a medical staff to take a more conservative, more time appropriate course of rehabilitation in order to compensate for the deleterious effects of smoking on the repair mechanisms of the body."Again, this concept has not been well evidenced, but it makes sense. Anyway, it appears unlikely to affect Gonzalez as he has never publicly used tobacco products and likely does not do so in private.
The second issue is the time it takes for recovery from Tommy John and what cost that presents to the Orioles. The optimistic view is that a return is 11 months away from the date of the surgery, but it can take longer. That means if the Orioles retain Gonzalez, he could reappear in the Majors mid-August if everything goes right for the 31 year old. That is optimistic and, I think, difficult to assess. It is more likely to assume that he is a meaningful member of a MLB organization in 2017. For the Orioles to retain him, he will likely require a two year investment (his remaining years under control before free agency) through arbitration, which likely would mean an investment of about 10 or 11 MM.
Considering age, a 31 year old pitcher stands roughly a 55% chance of returning to the Majors and putting in 100 or more innings. Let us be polite and assume that those 100 innings are MLB average, that Gonzalez would be able to put in a full 2017 worth about 2.5 WAR. In other words (again, we are being optimistic), there is a 55% chance that the Orioles would have a 2.5 WAR pitcher in 2017 for the price of 10 MM. That is a value of 7.3 MM per win when considering probability and performance.
Is 7.3 MM per win a fair amount? To answer that, we need to consider what the free agent market bears for wins. With the Orioles' rather weak farm system, help will likely have to come from outside the organization. He are the offseason costs of free agents for each upcoming season since 2012:
2012 - 6.5 MM / WAR
2013 - 7.4 MM / WAR
2014 - 7.6 MM / WAR
2015 - 8.0 MM / WAR
Those numbers are based on average, which is largely inflated by elite player contracts. With Gonzalez being a mid-level pitcher, we need to provide a correction. That is roughly 20%. With that assumption, we see the following:
2012 - 5.2 MM / WAR
2013 - 5.9 MM / WAR
2014 - 6.1 MM / WAR
2015 - 6.4 MM / WAR
Our expectation would then follow that the cost per win in 2017 would be roughly 7 MM.
To summarize, if we are optimistic about Gonzalez' ability to perform at a MLB average level when he returns in 2017 then the club would be paying a slight premium for him. I think there is certainly an argument that scarcity of pitching might make it useful to retain rights of Gonzalez through arbitration, but I find that wasteful for a club that truly needs to maximize its resources in order to compete.
My suggestion would be to sign Gonzalez to an extension. My preference would be to sign Gonzalez to a 2 year contract worth 10 MM with a 1 year option at 8 MM or a buyout of 2 MM. This would enable the club to retain Gonzalez while promising him 12 MM and providing the club the opportunity to retain a potentially useful pitcher at a bargain rate of 8 MM. I would presume wiggle room on the dollar amount of the option, but I would be largely fixed on 12 MM as the amount of money to dedicate to Gonzalez. If that is unworkable, then I would non-tender him.
In the end though, I think it is preferred by all parties that the MRI comes back clean and Miguel is ready to go in 2016.