Kris Medlen and Insurance (or lack thereof)

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves almost certainly did not have insurance against Kris Medlen re-injuring his elbow

A lot has been said and asked about whether or not the Braves will receive any insurance payouts should Kris Medlen (as seems likely) miss a substantial portion, if not all, of this season. Here I will lay out the reasons why it is incredibly unlikely the Braves will receive anything from an insurance company as relates to Kris Medlen.

Kris Medlen was on a one-year contract. Teams virtually never buy insurance on a single year contract player who is still in the team controlled part of his career. Almost all insurance policies for baseball contracts in the event of injury are three-year policies. Anything shorter than that typically isn't covered, anything longer than that typically requires a new policy to be issued at the end of the three year span. I've never heard of a team insuring a player on a one-year contract, or otherwise in the team control portion of their career. The reasons are multiple:

  1. Virtually all insurers require a 90-day period that the team must cover completely. The baseball season is 220 days long, meaning that even if a player was injured prior to the start of the season, insurance wouldn't kick in until the 90th day of the season, meaning only 130 days would be covered. Any injury that happened with less than 90 days remaining wouldn't be covered at all. So, with a single year contract player, you're at most only able to cover a little over half the season.
  2. Insurance contracts can only be signed once the player has a contract agreement. Since insurers typically won't cover any pre-existing injuries, this means that what will be covered for players on single year contracts is drastically reduced. Any injuries that could be linked to the previous season, or even something that may or may not have happened in the off-season wouldn't be covered. This provides little incentive for teams to insure single year contracts.
  3. Most teams can handle one year of risk of a player's salary. Especially the middling sums of players who are typically on one-year contracts.
  4. Insurers require the major league minimum (or more) to be deducted from the amount they must cover. For pitchers, usually only 50-60% of the contract will be covered. Again, this gives little incentive to teams to insure single year contracts.

So, as we see, even before we get into the specifics of Kris Medlen, it's already incredibly unlikely that he would have his contract insured at all in the event of injury (teams do typically take out life insurance policies on their players, which is a completely different matter, and isn't terribly expensive). Now, let's look into the specifics of why Medlen, and this specific injury, take away virtually all doubt as to whether or not the Braves will have part of his contract covered by insurance.

Insurers these days typically will simply refuse to insure pitchers' elbows and shoulders. They view these sorts of injuries as so ordinary as to be something that insurance, which is primarily to avoid unanticipated costs, shouldn't cover. Occasionally you can find an insurer who will issue a policy covering an elbow, but it is usually incredibly expensive, with the premiums often times being roughly half the player's coverable salary per year. So, even when insurance can be bought on elbows, it's usually prohibitively expensive. Further, when a previous injury happened to the body part in question, it's all but completely impossible to have it covered by insurance.

Because Medlen is on year-to-year contracts, even in the incredibly unlikely scenario where the Braves would have purchased an insurance contract on him following his agreement to this year's contract, it would not have covered a re-injury to his elbow, given his previous Tommy John surgery.

If, as seems likely, Medlen will miss most or all of this year, the Braves almost certainly won't be getting any financial relief in the form of insurance payouts.

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