April 22, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann (34) walks back to the dugout after he pitched the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pitcher Jeff Niemann dropped from 40-man roster of Rays; becomes free agent

Injury issues have cost Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann the better part of the past two full seasons, and now, he is no longer a member of the Rays organization.

Jon Heyman of CBS reports that Niemann was dropped from the 40-man roster by Tampa Bay, and according to league rules, was then allowed to choose free agency over a minor league demotion. This adds another highly pedigreed right-handed arm to the free agent pool, as Niemann was once a top-5 pick in the MLB Draft who is only 30 years old.

During his last “full” season in 2011, Niemann threw 135.1 innings of quality ball, posting a 4.06 ERA with a very low walk rate of 2.46 per 9 innings. That allowed him to produce 1.5 fWAR despite the low innings total, and Niemann threw nearly 500 innings over a 3-year span with a sub-4.25 ERA in the American League.

Tampa Bay has been an organization with copious amounts of pitching depth, and that seems to be the other main reason (along with injury) for Niemann’s inability to stay in the rotation. With a fresh start, I could easily see him (if healthy) being one of the best 5 starters in a few organizations around the league, and I think he’ll latch on somewhere in short order.

Tags: Tampa Bay Rays

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