Nady, Wilson brothers in arm surgeries

Nady, Wilson brothers in arm surgeries

Veteran catcher Vance Wilson knows better than anyone the long rehab road that Xavier Nady has followed, and he's rooting for the would-be Chicago Cubs outfielder to pass medical muster this week and then find success at Wrigley Field.

Wilson and Nady are on a short list of Major League position players who have undergone multiple Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries, and as of Thursday morning, Nady was just a physical exam away from a one-year free-agent contract with the Cubs. Considering that he's fewer than seven months removed from surgery, the work-up is no sure thing, but if he gets medical clearance, Nady could be introduced by the club before the end of the week.

Wilson, meanwhile, has a Minor League contract and an invite to Royals camp, and he will try to win a job backing up Kansas City catcher Jason Kendall. Wilson went to the World Series with the Tigers in 2006 and signed a two-year deal after that season, but needed Tommy John surgeries in 2007 and again in 2008.

"I know what he's been through," Wilson said of Nady. "When I had my second, I remember asking the doctor what my odds of coming back were. He thought it was about 20-25 percent. You get real down on it.

"That's why most people retire after the second one. Mentally, it's a grueling rehab. I don't want to question any other guys' toughness, but it takes something to come back from this twice. You have to have family support behind you. I give 100-percent support to my wife [Bridget], who said, 'You're going to come back, and you're going to do something great."

Outfielder Jay Payton, who signed a Minor League pact with the Rockies last week, also mounted a comeback from two Tommy John surgeries early in his professional career. Now, Nady is similarly committed, and his agent, Scott Boras, told FoxSports.com last week that Nady was on schedule to be ready for the start of Spring Training.

Nady's last healthy year was 2008, and it was a productive one. He hit .305 with 25 home runs and 97 RBIs for the Pirates and Yankees. In Chicago, he could serve as fourth outfielder and part-time starter in right field, and perhaps in left.

Nady underwent his first Tommy John surgery -- a procedure in which doctors use a tendon from a different part of the body to replace a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow -- on Sept. 29, 2001, when Nady was still a San Diego Padres prospect. In Nady's case, the tendon came from his right lower leg.

For pitchers, such procedures regularly require 12 months of rehab the first time, and as long as 18 months the second. However, it can be a much quicker recovery for hitters, and Nady was back on the field the following April for Opening Day. He went on to bat .281 in 2002 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs between Class A Lake Elsinore and Double-A Portland.

The Padres promoted Nady to the Majors for good in 2003, and he was subsequently traded to the Mets, then to the Pirates, and then to the Yankees. He played seven games for the Yankees in 2009 before re-injuring his elbow in April. He underwent another surgery on July 8.

"Nady has some things going for him," Wilson said. "When I had my [surgeries], I blew out the ligament and had a torn flexor tendon, too, both times. He's also in a different situation than I am because he's an outfielder, and once he's able to make long throws, you're pretty much good. As a catcher, I have to make as many throws as the pitchers during a game, just not as intensive. So there's a lot more throwing.

"If he had his second one last July, the biggest thing he's probably going through right now is recovery. He'll have days where it aches, and really, until you get to 12 months, or even 18 months, every day is a battle to recover."

That's the physical toll. There's a mental one, too.

"You look for things to be wrong," Wilson said. "If you're a baseball player, your arm never felt very good before blowing out [because of how much] we throw. When you blow out the first time, you expect to come back and be pain-free, even though you weren't really pain-free before surgery. Then, when you blow out the second time, you start poking little things and wonder, 'Gosh, it hurts right there. I wonder if I did it again.' You have to get over that mental hump."

Wilson, who is five years older than Nady, returned to action last June, just short of 12 months removed from his second Tommy John surgery. He nearly signed a Minor League deal with the Red Sox, but Boston's medical staff said he was too great of a risk, so he hooked on instead with the Royals. Kansas City took a chance but knew the odds were long; Royals director of Minor League operations Scott Sharp said one trainer told him that players who undergo a second Tommy John surgery only have about a 10-percent chance to get back to their previous level, whether that's rookie ball or the big leagues.

For Wilson, it was an especially convenient fit because Kansas City's Double-A Northwest Arkansas club is just a few miles from Wilson's Springdale, Ark., home. He appeared mostly as a designated hitter with the Royals' farm club but did catch in 18 games.

"He did really well,' Sharp said. "He was trying to find a place where he could rehab [and] have a chance to play. He just walked into the most ideal situation. And he liked the organization and wanted to come back [for 2010], knowing what our Major League needs are in catching. He feels like if he's healthy he has a chance to play in the big leagues for us."

Nady, Payton and Wilson could compare scars this spring because the Cubs, Rockies and Royals all train in the Cactus League. Nady, of course, must pass his physical first. According to the Associated Press, if finalized his contract with the Cubs would guarantee $3.3 million in 2010, with $2.05 more available in incentives for games played.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.