SIDNEY — North Star native Craig Stammen entered 2015 with the Washington Nationals as an effective and established right handed reliever who had worked in 163 games from 2012-14.
The 2015 season was off to a good start with four scoreless innings over five appearances. However, he also had three walks within that small sample size, and his arm didn’t feel right.
The diagnosis was a torn flexor tendon below his pitching elbow, necessitating immediate surgery that would likely end his season but not threaten his career. The surgery was declared successful and his gradual rehabilitation began.
By mid-November he was throwing again as his team faced a contract decision for Stammen’s final season before potential free agency. That deadline was Dec. 2 and was preceded by negotiations and an offer from the club to retain his services for 2016 with a guaranteed major league contract.
The offer represented a 20 percent cut from his 2015 base salary, which gave Stammen the right to reject the offer and immediately become a free agent a year earlier than anticipated. Stammen felt good with his rehab progress, and his agent anticipated strong demand in the open market. Neither side budged, and he was released.
Though interest has been high, the Versailles High School and University of Dayton graduate was still searching for his next pitching destination when he keynoted a combined Rotary/Kiwanis service club luncheon at the Sidney Moose on Monday. A large throng enjoyed hearing from and interacting with the soon-to-be 32 year old. He delivered opening remarks followed by an ample question and answer session that filled a combined 45 minutes. Some stayed later for even more baseball talk.
Stammen opened by stating how important his faith had been in guiding him from Versailles to UD to professional baseball.
In the final regular season game of his high school career, he pitched very well against traditional power Coldwater. At the time, no college team was recruiting him. However, one of the Coldwater assistant coaches liked what he saw and recommended Stammen to a friend on the Dayton staff. They pursued him and offered some scholarship money when others, including Michigan, became interested. After three seasons with the Flyers, he was drafted in round 12 by Washington and turned pro. In 2009 he joined the major league club.
He won’t work from a pitching mound until Jan. 18, two weeks after his Sidney appearance. That workout will be videoed and sent to over half of the teams in Major League Baseball, representing those who have shown interest. Some may then opt to see him in person.
He and his agent believe that a successful mound workout will be the catalyst to generate multiple offers of a guaranteed big league contract. If there’s no guaranteed offer, many clubs would likely invite him to spring training with an opportunity to pitch his way to such a contract and a regular-season roster spot.
Where might he end up? He’s already thrown on flat ground for both the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers with the White Sox showing the most interest. Stammen admits he’s always wanted to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds, and they are staying in touch. Though the Reds have entered a youth movement, Stammen is not expensive and could be a fit in the Queen City as an experienced bullpen addition who might also have trade value down the road. Both the White Sox and Reds train in Arizona, which would be a new experience for him.
“My arm feels great,” Stammen said. “I’m ready for a new challenge with a new team.”
Teams will want their pitching candidates to report to spring training around Feb. 18. Exhibition games begin about two weeks later.
Stammen lives in Cincinnati, loves to attend University of Dayton basketball and gets home frequently during his baseball offseason. This Saturday he’ll again host the seventh annual Diamond Club fundraiser at the Versailles Knights of Columbus where he will headline an interview panel including Reds reliever J.J. Hoover, former Nationals and Reds reliever Ryan Mattheus along with Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker.
The previous half dozen Diamond Club events have provided the money to revamp the Versailles baseball field and also assist scholarship efforts in Tiger country.
“Sounds like we’ll have another sellout on Saturday,” he said before heading to North Star on Monday afternoon. “I’ve enjoyed these and so have the baseball guests who came to help the cause. We’ve gotten great support from Versailles and other communities.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.