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Have Tigers Already Decided To Cut Ties With Joel Zumaya?

Had the Detroit Tigers already decided that this would be Joel Zumaya’s last year with the team, regardless of what happened with either his rehab program or exploratory diagnostic surgery for his sore right elbow?

Perhaps it’s a moot point now, given that Zumaya opted for surgery on Wednesday, effectively ending his 2011 season and possibly ending his Tigers career. Zumaya can be a free agent after the season, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on a pitcher who can — when healthy — throw 100 mph. But it appears that won’t be the Tigers.

SI.com’s Jon Heyman included this note in his Wednesday column before Zumaya announced he’d have surgery on his elbow:

• There is still no timetable on Joel Zumaya (shoulder), who really isn’t even on the Tigers’ radar at the moment. Whether or not he makes it back to the mound, the Tigers have decided this will be his last year in Detroit.

Maybe Heyman had already received word of Zumaya’s decision when he included this note in his column. But it kind of got lost when news of the surgery was released. It’s also interesting that none of the local reporters who covered the Tigers mentioned this in their stories. Is this a development that just wasn’t reported locally or did Heyman have a scoop?

Of course, the question is whether or not this is a big deal. How could the Tigers not have written Zumaya off in their future plans by now? The offseason signing of Joaquin Benoit was a pretty big indication of that, not to mention the drafting and acquisition of several middle relievers over the past few years.

The possibility of Zumaya being healthy again and added to the bullpen was an always tantalizing prospect. 2006 was such a special season in Detroit, and Zumaya was a big part of that. He pitched in 62 games, compiled a 1.94 ERA, and struck out 97 batters in 83 1/3 innings. Closer of the future seemed a certainty. And fans throughout baseball are always captivated by a flame-throwing pitcher racking up triple-digit readings on the radar gun.

Alas, it hasn’t worked out that way, as we all know too well. Zumaya’s body just didn’t let him build on that breakout debut, as injuries cut short each of his last four seasons. And this year was a non-starter. Zumaya’s spring training was over almost as soon as it began. Each setback is yet another reminder that a human arm probably isn’t meant to throw a baseball that hard. And for some fans, the last image they may have of Zumaya is him on his knees at Target Field last June, holding his elbow in excruciating pain.

But even if this is it for Zumaya in Detroit, it was a hell of a run. The flame tattoos, the “Voodoo Child” entrance music, the hijinks in the bullpen. All of it added to his persona. The man was a rock star. Despite the disappointments and the heartbreak of seeing him break down year after year, very few players have been as fun to watch in recent memory.

(Hat tip to MLB Trade Rumors)