When Koda Glover reported to spring training and immediately had a recurrence of the shoulder pain that ended his 2017 season, the Nationals wasted no time acquiring a replacement right-hander for their bullpen.
On Feb. 19, they signed Joaquin Benoit to a one-year major league contract that guaranteed the veteran reliever $1 million. The insinuation was clear: They weren’t confident in Glover’s health, and they were confident Benoit would instantly take over a significant role in their opening day bullpen.
But after three Grapefruit League appearances, the final one on March 13, Benoit was shut down with what the team announced was a strained forearm. Even then, the 40-year-old was confident it wouldn’t be long before he was ready to pitch for his new club.
“I hope so,” Benoit said March 21. “A small thing can turn and be a big thing. But I never take anything too serious. I’m not concerned about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. We’re working on it, trying to take care of everything. Hopefully sooner than later I’ll be back with the team.”
One week later, the Nationals broke camp and headed north to begin the season. Benoit, along with Glover and other rehabbing players, stayed back in West Palm Beach and tried to get better.
Glover finally made it to Washington in early August and wound up with a 3.31 ERA and one save in 21 appearances. Benoit never made it out of West Palm Beach, spending the entire season on the disabled list with a “strained right forearm.”
Every once in a while, Benoit’s name would come up, and everyone would wonder what happened to him. Club officials occasionally were asked for an update and offered up minimal detail. At one point when asked out of the blue about Benoit, manager Davey Martinez paused for a second before answering only with: “He had a minor setback.”
And then, at long last, on the final day of the season, general manager Mike Rizzo explained what happened, why Benoit never threw a pitch for the Nationals.
“He came to spring training and had that shoulder injury and could never recover from it,” Rizzo said. “Probably if he was a younger pitcher, he would’ve had season-ending surgery a long time ago. But at his age, he felt he wanted to try to rehab through it. And he just couldn’t answer the bell. Every time we ramped him up, it just got to the point where he couldn’t do it.”
Thus did Rizzo reveal what had been suspected all season long. It wasn’t a simple forearm strain that prevented Benoit from pitching. It was a shoulder injury, one that required surgery.
Benoit, who turned 41 in July, wasn’t about to go under the knife, go through a long rehab program and attempt to come back in 2019. So he gave it a last-ditch attempt without surgery. And he couldn’t do it. He hasn’t officially retired from baseball, but the insinuation at this point is pretty clear.
Benoit will retire with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves in 764 career big league appearances with eight different franchises: the Rangers, Rays, Tigers, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays, Phillies and Pirates. Those eight franchises paid him a grand total of $54,532,500 over 16 seasons.
The Nationals paid Benoit another $1 million for what they believed would be his 17th big league season. Alas, his total contribution to them came in the form of three Grapefruit League appearances.