The Braves announced Wednesday that right-hander Luke Jackson underwent Tommy John surgery this morning. It was a widely expected move after Atlanta’s prior announcement that their longtime reliever had been diagnosed with a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. The Braves had already placed Jackson on the 60-day injured list, but today’s surgery formally closes the book on his 2022 season and, potentially, on his time with the organization. Jackson will be a free agent at season’s end.
Jackson’s loss is a notable one for the Braves, as the 30-year-old righty bounced back from a career-worst campaign in 2020 to post a career-best season in 2021. In 63 2/3 frames out of Brian Snitker’s bullpen last season, Jackson logged aa career-low 1.98 ERA with a 26.8% strikeout rate against an 11.1% walk rate. He yielded just six home runs on the season and racked up 31 holds on the year — second-most in all of Major League Baseball (behind Los Angeles’ Blake Trenen).
Notably, the Braves and Jackson haven’t even agreed on the right-hander’s salary for the 2022 season. A strange wrinkle from the 99-day lockout this offseason, there are still a handful of players throughout the league who exchanged figures with the team but have not yet settled on a deal. Jackson is among them, filing for a $4MM salary against the Braves’ filing of a $3.6MM sum. Arbitration salaries are based entirely on prior performance — they’re typically sorted in the offseason — and a potential arbitration hearing would only factor in Jackson’s prior performance rather than his current injury status.
Of course, one might wonder whether the Braves would try to now reengage on the possibility of a multi-year deal aimed at keeping Jackson at a lower price point in 2023 (and perhaps into 2024) than he’d have otherwise commanded. That’s purely speculative, but the Braves did put together a similarly structured deal for veteran reliever Kirby Yachts this past winter.
If Jackson indeed simply reaches free agency as scheduled, he’d hit the open market at a time when teams know he could very well miss a month or two of the 2023 season. That doesn’t necessarily stop a Tommy John pitcher from securing a solid contract (as Yates and many others have provided), but it’d be an obvious dampener on what could’ve been some notable earning power for Jackson.
Even without Jackson, the Braves still ought to have a strong bullpen. Newcomers kenley jansen and Colin McHugh will join holdovers Will Smith, Tyler Matzek and AJ Minter as experienced late-inning options. The aforementioned Yates is expected to rejoin the club at some point this summer, adding another All-Star-caliber arm to the mix. That’s not to diminish the importance Jackson held, but the Atlanta front office is surely glad to have bolstered the relief corps over the winter now that last year’s top setup option is done for the year.