Tagged: Injuries

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…

 

The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate

 

The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…

 

Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest.  The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…

 

Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…

 

On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…

 

Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…

 

Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
third floor.

What To Do In A-Rod’s Absence?

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Alex Rodriguez absence of six to nine weeks is certainly
doable for the Yankees, especially when the first three weeks will be swallowed
up the balance of spring training. With the kind of starting pitching and
improved defense the Yankees have assembled, they should be able to survive the
loss of Rodriguez for what will amount to about six weeks of regular season
play.

 

So what now? Should the Yankees stand pat and just wait out
A-Rod’s triumphant return, or should they take a more aggressive approach and
try to shore up the infield, whether it be third base specifically or the
utilityman role? If Brian Cashman is to be believed, the Yankees will not be
“proactive” in searching for reinforcements. I hope that Cashman is either
kidding with this remark, or just posturing so as to discourage teams from
trying to extract a king’s ransom–pardon the unintended pun–for a mediocre
infielder. If Cashman’s is being sincere, then he’s awfully shortsighted. While
I’m fairly confident that Cody Ransom, with his power and athleticism, can do
an acceptable job at third base, I’m shuddering at the thought of Angel Berroa making
this team in any role. (I have clearly not joined the Angel Berroa Fan Club.) But
barring a trade, Berroa will almost certainly
make the Opening Day roster. With just one more ill-timed injury, the
Yankees could be looking at a nightmare scenario that features both Ransom and
Berroa as prominent members of the starting infield.  

 

The Yankees would be well advised to shore up their infield
depth, which was already a concern with a healthy
A-Rod. There is no one in the system who is ready to help at either third,
second, or shortstop, leaving the trade market and free agency as the only
options. The key will be finding a player who can help in the short term, while
A-Rod is hurt, and contribute to the
team after the superstar’s return in mid-May.

 

The free agent market offers two possibilities. One name
that keeps popping up is Mark Grudzielanek, the former Royal who is 38 but not
yet ready to retire. Though primarily a second basemen, Grudzielanek has
experience at third base and can also play shortstop (his original position) on
an emergency basis. He has little speed or power, but did reach base 34 per
cent of the time in 2008 and would represent an upgrade over Berroa. One
potential drawback with Grudzielanek involves compensation. He’s a Type-B free
agent, requiring that the Yankees surrender a second-round draft choice.
Frankly, I think this is a non-issue. When you’ve invested as much money as the
Yankees have in this year’s team, you go all-out to win and don’t worry about
the possibility of a second-rounder making the major leagues four years from
now.

 

The other free agent option is 37-year-old Ray Durham.
Unlike Grudzielanek, Durham
has no experience at third or shortstop, but he is the better player, more
adept at drawing walks and stealing bases. Durham could be used in a platoon with
Ransom, but that begs the more important question: does he have the arm strength
to make the throw from third base? To that question, I have no idea. Yankee
scouts will have to help out on this one.

 

So how about trade options? As is usually the case, better
players are available through trade, but they’ll cost something in terms of
prospects or established talent. Two teams, in particular, could be matches for
the Yankees because of their surplus of infielders. One is the Royals, who have
decided to move starting left fielder Mark Teahen into the role of
super-utilityman. The Royals insist that Teahen, 27, will be a backup
outfielder, third baseman, and second baseman (the position he’s learning this
spring), but I have a hard time believing that they will pay him over $5
million to serve as a utility player. That’s a costly proposition for a
non-contending team, but a workable proposition for the Yankees, who could use
Teahen as a backup this year and then move him into the starting outfield in
2010, by which time Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, and Hideki Matsui could all be
gone as free agents. The Royals could use some of the excess relief pitching
the Yankees have to offer; a package involving Humberto Sanchez and Anthony
Claggett might be tempting to the Royals.

 

The Brewers, already linked to the Yankees in winter trade
talks, could be another source of infield help. The presence of veteran Mike
Lamb and two minor league prospects makes Bill Hall very available. The
29-year-old Hall, who has had two disappointing seasons in a row, will make
$6.8 million this year, too. How could Hall help the Yankees? Though he’ll
never duplicate his career year of 2006, he has plus-power, above-average
speed, and the versatility to play any of the infield positions, along with
center field. In terms of trade value, he’d likely carry a cheap price tag,
someone like Kei Igawa and a low level minor leaguer in return. And like
Teahen, Hall would remain valuable even after Rodriguez returns from hip
surgery.

 

Clearly, Cashman has several options in trying to minimize
the damage caused by Rodriguez’ absence. We’ll soon find out if he explores one
of those options, or chooses to live up to his latest words.

 

 

The A-Rod Aftermath

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I think the Yankees are being foolish in having Alex
Rodriguez, their most valuable and expensive player, gut out a season of
uncertainty with a faulty hip in need of surgical repair. Rather than face six
months of regular season doubt, the Yankees would be better off with A-Rod
undergoing surgery and being fully healthy for the second half of the season. If the surgery
timetable is correct, Rodriguez would miss four months, including March,
allowing him to return to action in early July. That would give the Yankees nearly
three months of a healthy A-Rod. Those three months would coincide with the
time when most pennant races are won and lost, in July, August, and September.

 

That kind of a plan would force the Yankees to hold the fort
until mid-season. I think that’s doable, but not with utilityman Cody Ransom
and a non-factor like Angel Berroa. The Yankees need to consider trade
possibilities, not necessarily for big ticket third basemen like Adrian Beltre
and Scott Rolen, but for smaller names who would cost less in potential trades.
Here are three suggestions:

 

 

*Martin Prado: He’d be my first choice for the Yankees. A
slick fielder who is also skilled at reaching base, Prado could fill a
potential gap at third base and then assume an important bench role if A-Rod
returns later. Prado, 25, can play both third and second. The Braves need
outfield and relief help, two areas of depth for the Yankees. How about Melky
Cabrera and Dave Robertson for Prado? The deal could also be expanded to include
someone like Xavier Nady from the Yankee side; the Braves still need outfield
help, even with the recent signing of Garret Anderson.

 

*Dallas McPherson: The
onetime top prospect for the Angels is currently buried behind Jorge Cantu on Florida’s depth chart.
McPherson, 29, has defensive limitations and will never be the player that the
Angels once forecast, but he has Death Valley
power and draws walks. A left-handed batter, he could platoon with Ransom
during an A-Rod absence. A Grade-C pitching prospect (someone like Triple-A
right-hander Steven Jackson) would likely be enough to entice the Marlins.

 

*Mark Teahen: The Royals are giving Teahen some time at
second base this spring after a stint in the outfield, but third base remains
his best position. He will never be a top-tier player like the Royals once
envisioned, but he would form a viable platoon with Ransom in the Bronx while also bringing versatility to the Yankee
bench. Teahen will cost more in a trade than either Prado or McPherson, perhaps
a package including some combination of young right-handers Ian Kennedy, Humberto
Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett.

A Smattering of Intelligence–Joba, Revised Rotations, and Madrigal

Earlier this season, Yankee fans and members of the New York media tripped over themselves trying to come up with catchy nicknames for the prized pitching triumvirate of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Well, I’ve got one now. How about the “Tissue Paper Triplets?” These three, who were all counted on to play major roles in 2008, have had all the durability of cheap facial handkerchiefs this summer. With Chamberlain now officially on the 15-day disabled list with what has been described as “rotator cuff tendinitis,” all three pitchers have spent time on the shelf. Hughes (fractured rib) and Kennedy (lat strain) are currently trying to work their way back on minor league assignments, while Chamberlain will be shut down for at least a week before being allowed to even touch a baseball. And if anybody suggests that any of these three prized right-handers has even been slightly overworked, I will reach for the nearest airsick bag, Chamberlain, who has been treated with the softest of kid gloves, has thrown a high of 114 pitches in a game this season. Hughes and Kennedy have also been on strict pitch counts during their first two major league seasons. No, not even the most severe of pitch count limits can protect pitchers from doing what they’ve always done–and that’s getting hurt…

The Yankee rotation now features Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, and Dan Giese. If you had envisioned that assemblage at the beginning of the season and simultaneously thought the Yankees would somehow be ten games over .500, you ought to pursue a career as a fortune teller. In spite of a barrage of injuries–the latest being Ivan Rodriguez, who left Wednesday’s game after a nasty home plate collision–the Yankees are still within three and a half games of the Red Sox, but can probably forget about catching the Rays, who are showing no signs of a second-half slowdown…

On a lighter note, Rangers rookie right-hander Warner Madrigal is taking his rightful place on baseball’s all-time hair team, thanks to a bushy wide-body Afro that sticks out awkwardly from both sides of his cap, making him look like a Latino version of Seth Rogen. And for those who have seen the cover of the latest GQ, which strangely features the not-so-dapper Rogen, you know that’s not a good look! Somewhere, former Orioles, Reds, and Indians left-hander Ross Grimsley must be proud.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Durham, Posada, and Holtzman

If the Milwaukee Brewers don’t make the playoffs, Ned Yost will surely be fired. That’s one of several conclusions that can be drawn after the Brewers announced their second major mid-season trade on Sunday. The acquisition of Ray Durham, coming on the heels of the pre-All-Star break addition of CC Sabathia, gives the Brewers needed depth and versatility. Although Durham has played almost exclusively as a second baseman throughout his career, I could see the Brewers using him as a Tony Phillips-like superutility player. The switch-hitting Durham could platoon with the disappointing Rickie “Hands of Stone” Weeks at second base, while also filling in at first base and perhaps even the outfield, assuming that Yost is willing to be daring. Durham’s ability to get on base, coupled with his occasional power, makes him a useful player. He also helps balance a lineup that leans far too much to the right side. Other than Prince Fielder, the Brewers haven’t had much left-handed hitting. Durham, a stronger presence from the left side, gives them a little bit more.

The Brewers really have no excuses now if they fail to make the playoffs. It’s debatable whether they’re as good as the Cubs, but they certainly have more talent than the Cardinals, whom they are currently trying to catch in the wild card chase. With All-Star talents like Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Sabathia, and Ben Sheets, the Brewers should beat out the overachieving Cardinals. If they don’t, the Ned Yost bashers will have their most convincing evidence yet that it’s time to make a change in the Brewers’ dugout…

Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news on the Yankees? The good news involves their standing in the AL East; they’re only two and a half games behind the Red Sox and four and a half games behind the Rays. The bad news is that their roster has been rendered a M*A*S*H unit, with Jorge Posada back on the disabled list, where he joins Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang, and Phil Hughes. With Posada’s right shoulder continuing to bark, the Yankees are looking at the real possibility that he won’t play again in 2008. Even if he does manage to suit up, he can forget about doing any catching the rest of the season. That leaves the Yankees in a quandary. As good as Jose Molina has been defensively, he is the kind of offensive non-entity that the Yankees can no longer afford to carry.  With their offense already devalued by Matsui’s injury and the wear-and-tear to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, the Yankees need a catcher who can hit at least a little. Some of the available candidates include Baltimore’s Ramon Hernandez, the Rangers’ Gerald Laird, Cincinnati’s David Ross, and the Padres’ pair of Josh Bard and Michael Barrett. Brian Cashman won’t have to break the bank for any of those receivers, but he will have to part with at least one prospect in any deal, something that he’s been reluctant to do up until now…

In a year that has already seen the passing of Eliot Asinof, W.C. Heinz, and Jules Tygiel, the baseball world lost another writing giant over the weekend. Jerome Holtzman, the unoffficial dean of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, died after a long illness. He was 82. Holtzman is best remembered for spearheading the invention of the save statistic, but his legacy encompasses far more than that. For years, he successfully covered both the Cubs and the White Sox as the guardian of the Chicago baseball beat. He wrote a terrific oral history, No Cheering in the Press Box, which chronicled the memories of some of the game’s early writers. He also provided some unique memories to other members of the BBWAA, as they delighted in watching him verbally spar with Dick Young, the dean of New York City baseball writers. Holtzman and Young might not have liked each other, but they were both impressive old-school chroniclers of the game’s history.