A surprise it wasn’t. Still, there was an undeniable sadness to the news Monday night that the Dodgers did not tender a contract to Hong-Chih Kuo.
Kuo is coming off his worst season (1-2, 9.00 earned-run average, zero saves), and staggeringly, his fifth elbow operation. He never could quite overcome his second career battle with anxiety disorder last season, nor an elbow you always feared was one pitch away from the knife.
The Dodgers did tender contracts to their three remaining arbitration-eligible players: Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier and James Loney. All were expected, though Loney left things slightly uncertain after his arrest last month for suspicion of driving under the influence.
Kuo, 30, had been in the Dodgers organization for 11 years, since he first appeared in one game in 2000 for Class-A San Bernardino. It was a game in which he blew out his elbow and later required the first of his two Tommy John surgeries.
Kuo always seemed to be making a comeback, battling back from surgeries and the yips, erasing the latest round of doubts.
Yet, the left-hander continually came back and in 2010 put together his finest season, with a 3-2 record and a team-record 1.20 ERA. He was dominant, ultimately taking over the closer’s role from Jonathan Broxton and earning his first selection as an All-Star.
A year later, it all came undone.
It’s difficult to write off Kuo for good. He has come back so many times. Still, you have to wonder if it hasn’t all taken a final mental toll, or maybe wonder how it possibly hasn’t.
He has talked about wanting to open a restaurant, and who knows, maybe he gets and accepts a non-roster invite to the Dodgers’ spring camp. General Manager Ned Colletti said Monday he was still interested in re-signing Kuo in some fashion.
How that plays out is unknown. What is known is, Kuo deserved a better ending.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo works against the Angels during an interleague game in Anaheim. Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times