For the fourth straight year, Jimmy Nelson is back with the Dodgers on a one-year deal, per multiple reports, trying to make his way back into a major league game for the first time in at least 20 months.
It will be a major league contract for Nelson worth $1.2 million, with bonuses of up to $4 million, per Fabian Ardaya at The Athletic and Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times. Nelson has a locker in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, reported Ardaya on Wednesday morning.
The Dodgers in November declined Nelson’s 2023 club option that was worth $1.1 million.
Much like the not-yet-finalized one-year deals for outfielder David Peralta and reliever Alex Reyes, the Dodgers will need to make a corresponding move to make roster room for Nelson. But they also have pitchers Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, and J.P. Feyereisen who won’t be available for several months while rehabbing from surgery, making them likely to be placed on the 60-day injured list. Reyes himself, who had shoulder surgery last May, might even be a 60-day IL candidate as well once he’s officially in the fold.
Nelson spent all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair in his right elbow in August 2021, having last pitched in a game in July 30 of that season. He did not pitch in a minor league game.
It’s been an injury-plagued five years for Nelson, who received Cy Young Award votes in 2017 with Milwaukee. But he missed the next year after shoulder surgery, and after a brief comeback in 2019 was non-tendered by the Brewers. That began a string of one-year contracts with the Dodgers:
- 2020: $1.25 million, missed the shortened season after back surgery in July; Dodgers declined his $2-million club option for 2021, instead paying him a $500,000 buyout.
- 2021: $1.25 million; this was a minor league deal and he made the team out of spring training; missed time with forearm inflammation and a lumbar strain before requiring the aforementioned surgery in August.
- 2022: $700,000, began the year on the 60-day injured list and stayed there all season; Dodgers declined his club option for 2023, with no buyout.
- 2023: $1.2 million
All four Nelson contracts with the Dodgers contained incentives based on games and innings pitched. He did not reach any of those bonuses in the previous three deals, coming 12 games shy of a $250,000 bonus for pitching 40 games in 2021.
In last year’s season review of Nelson, I noted how because of those previous deals we should have seen this return coming:
The rubric for a potential new Nelson contract with the Dodgers is there, and it’s entirely possible he might want to return, having familiarity with the organization and most notably, the pitching department and medical staff. But depending on health, it might take a minor league contract or perhaps a deal closer to spring training for Nelson — who turns 34 in June — to return for a fourth time with Los Angeles.
While on the mound with the Dodgers, Nelson was fantastic, with a 1.86 ERA, 2.15 xERA, and a 38-percent strikeout rate in 2021, holding opposing batters to hitting just .143/.270/.184. But due to all those injuries he’s been limited to just 92⅓ innings in the majors and minors over the last five seasons.
The good news for Nelson, who last pitched in an even year in 2016, is that 2023 is an odd year.