(AP) — Kendall Graveman is surrounded by new faces while he travels a tedious road back to the majors.
Graveman signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs in December after his 2018 season with Oakland was cut short by reconstructive elbow surgery. It's a chance to use major league facilities to rehab a major injury under the care of a top-notch medical staff, but it's also potentially awkward trying to get to know a new group of teammates without taking the field with them right away.
The 28-year-old Graveman is attacking the problem with an entrepreneurial spirit, enriching himself while he bonds with the rest of Chicago's pitching staff.
"I've sat down and had a couple of conversations with Kyle Hendricks about the way he pitches," Graveman said. "Been able to watch some bullpens of Cole Hamels and (Yu) Darvish and some of these guys. So I'm really in a learning process. ... I'm trying to just be a sponge and soak up everything.
"To get close to these guys by talking pitching and then also working hard and letting those guys know that whenever I come back and pitch I want to help this team win," he said. "I think that means a lot and goes a long way."
Tommy John surgery is a common procedure throughout the major leagues, but working through the rehab process with a new team is unusual. Drew Smyly was in the same situation last year with the Cubs, but Trevor Rosenthal chose a different direction before signing with the Washington Nationals.
It's a chance for a patient team to bring in a potential bargain. Graveman, who started for the A's on opening day last season, signed a $575,000, one-year contract in December that includes a $3 million club option for the 2020 season. Graveman's 2019 salary increases to $2 million if he spends one day on Chicago's active major league roster, and he can earn performance bonuses based on total starts.
But it's also a tricky prospect in some ways.
"The makeup factor is significant when buying low on an injured player because it takes the proper work ethic, self-motivation, and mindset to execute a long drawn-out rehab away from the bright lights of the major league team," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.
Smyly has been a member of three different organizations since his last major league pitch in 2016 with Tampa Bay. He was traded to Seattle in Jan. 2017, but got hurt in spring training. After the Mariners declined to offer him a contract, he signed a $10 million, two-year contract with the Cubs.
The 29-year-old Smyly had Tommy John surgery on July 6, 2017. The left-hander struck out the side in a rehab appearance in August, but the contending Cubs ran out of time to get him into a game. He was traded to Texas in November.
"It's weird going from team to team, especially when you're injured," Smyly said. "It's no fun being the injured guy in the locker room, especially when you're trying to make friends and get familiar with the team. Everything happens for a reason. And now here I am."
Smyly never considered finishing his rehab on his own.
"That was a reason I signed with the Cubs, because they seemed very eager to sign me, even though they traded me before I pitched for them," he said. "But they have amazing resources over there and I knew it was a good spot for me."
Rosenthal made the All-Star team when he had a career-high 48 saves for St. Louis in 2015. But the 28-year-old right-hander had Tommy John surgery late in the 2017 season and was released by the Cardinals that November.
He held a showcase for teams last October, and then finalized a $7 million, one-year deal with the Nationals in November that could be worth $30 million over two years if he becomes the closer and regularly finishes games.
"Really what it was, we figured my value was going to be higher when I was healthy rather than trying to negotiate a contract when I was just fresh off the scalpel," Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said some teams expressed interest while he was out, but he was comfortable going through the rehab process on his own. He worked out in St. Louis with Keith Sanders, a physical therapist who has helped several pitchers come back from injuries.
"Everybody's different. Everybody responds a little bit differently," Rosenthal said. "A lot of guys like coming into a team atmosphere, having a more structured setup. For me, I do really well coordinating my own, being on my own. I really enjoyed it. It couldn't have gone any better."
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