Bittle's Future Remains Unknown

When Scott Bittle was selected 75th overall in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees, the popular opinion was that the decision to turn professional was an easy one.

Now five weeks later, the right-hander's status is still uncertain.

Bittle's contract negotiations appear to have stalled thanks to a possible complication in his right shoulder. The Yankees and Bittle agreed in principle to a deal worth more than $500,000, but that arrangement is now in jeopardy thanks to Bittle failing to be cleared by multiple doctors associated with the Yankees, according to sources.

Every player signing a six-figure deal is required to pass a physical, but the examination isn't performed until terms are agreed upon.

The sticking point is wear and tear that the doctors believe will require Bittle to undergo surgery in the future. Medical guesses have this injury advancing within 12 to 18 months. Meanwhile, Bittle is without pain and was given a clean bill of health by two independent opinions, one of which was delivered by well-respected orthopedic specialist James Andrews.

"Scott feels fine, and he definitely looked fine this past season," Mike Bianco said. "His velocity was up, and he struckout basically everybody against Missouri. I wish him the best in whatever he chooses.

"He will either be a valuable pitcher for the Yankees or the best pitcher in the SEC."

It is not being disputed that some wear and tear is present but rather the seriousness of the so-called injury. Multiple baseball minds around the situation have explained that any pitcher at this level or higher has some type of trauma present in the shoulder or elbow. However, there is no reason for it to cause pause unless pain accompanies the problem.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Yankee's next step will likely be to offer an incentive package where a lower signing bonus will be extended, followed by delayed portions of the original offer being available if Bittle remains healthy.

Should Bittle decline this offer, the Texas native's next move could be to return for his senior season at Ole Miss. If Bittle remains a Rebel, the Yankees would be compensated with the 75th pick in the 2009 draft. A new rule states that a professional team can decline to sign a draft pick if deemed unhealthy and recoup the same slot in the next draft.

If shoulder surgery is required in the future, the recovery time is approximately one year, and those in the organization advocating the signing of Bittle feel that his style of pitching is conducive to a productive career post-operation. There would be more concern if the player in question is a fastball pitcher and maintaining all the previous velocity is a must.

Unlike most elbow surgeries, operations on the shoulder usually aren't to "fix" the damage but rather to patch it up and improve the problem. Another concern is any lingering effects that could be present if Bittle declines to sign. With the unfortunate physicals in his past, the shoulder issues could hinder or impede him in next year's draft. Other teams may be wary of offering worthy money to a pitcher that didn't sign due to injury issues.

The Yankees and Bittle have until August 15 to reach an agreement.

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