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RCG Mailbag: What Is Going on With Jeff Niemann?

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Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, where we take some of those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and attempt to give you some answers.

The easiest way to submit a question is to fill out this Google form–our topic for today comes from the first person ever to fill it out. Otherwise, you can comment on any of our posts here or on Facebook, email us at rayscoloredglasses at gmail dot com, or tweet me @RobbieKnopf.

Mac M. asks: Can you tell us what Jeff Niemann‘s current status is? Has he retired? Thanks!

Thanks for the question, Mac. Niemann has not retired–according to MiLB.com, his current status is “inactive.” That is the same status as other players, such as Barry Zito, who are free agents but have not yet signed.

Niemann is still a free agent because his recovery from shoulder surgery has not gone as planned. He underwent the procedure, which was described as “debridement of rotator cuff and labrum,” on April 10, 2013, and he is still not all the way back. We know how sketchy shoulder surgery can be, and unfortunately, Niemann has not been able to come back from it yet.

Will Jeff Niemann ever return? For encouragement, he can look at the journeys of J.P. Howell and Scott Kazmir. Howell also underwent shoulder surgery–in his case, in May of 2010–and has since returned to being an excellent lefty reliever. He missed all of 2010 and was a disaster when he came back in 2011, but by 2012, he was mostly back to normal.

Of course, Howell is a reliever while Niemann is a starter, but a return to the major leagues in a relief role is certainly a possibility for Niemann. Ironically enough, Niemann’s surgery came right after the Rays had converted him to relief, but his shoulder issues that began in September of 2012 contributed more to his surgery than anything else.

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As Niemann told the Associated Press, his shoulder had been bothering him the whole spring, but his time between starts helped him manage the injury. Once he moved to relief and had to prepare to pitch more often, though, he didn’t have the luxury of as much rest. That doesn’t sound like a great situation no matter how you slice it. The good news for Niemann is that now, after the surgery, dealing with his shoulder should not be as much of a consideration as he pitches.

The case of Kazmir is worth noting as well because he came back after nearly two full seasons away from the game. Kazmir didn’t have as clear of an injury, but he still needed to head to Independent ball and then Winter Ball before he was able to find himself again. Niemann may be a year behind that timetable, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in Indy ball as well as he hopes to prove that he is healthy.

Jeff Niemann is not giving up yet and he continues to hold out hope that he will return to the major leagues. Hopefully we will hear about him pitching somewhere–even if it is Independent ball–at some point this year and we will see him ink a minor league offer next season.

Next: Takeaways From Rays' Winter Ball Results Part 2

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