With the (non-Australia games) regular season just a couple of days away, the last thing a team needs now is an injury to a key contributor. Tommy John surgery knock out two of your starters? An inconvenience sure, but if it happens fairly early on in Spring Training you still have time to stretch out a bullpen arm, or go out and bring in a free agent alternative like Ervin Santana. It’s when the injuries hit late that they really become a problem – see how Detroit has handled the Jose Iglesias situation, hastily trading away the newly acquired Steve Lombardozzi for Alex Gonzalez, a 37-year-old who was on the scrapheap less than two months ago.
The poor Texas Rangers have been particularly besmirched by injuries so far this spring, projected starters going down one after another. First it was starting pitchers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, pushing up Tanner Scheppers and Joe Saunders into the starting rotation (Scheppers is now due to become the first pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela to make his first career start on Opening Day by the way). Then it was Jurickson Profar – a lot more on him in a bit. Next up (down?) was catcher Geovany Soto, who will be out for 10 to 12 weeks with a torn meniscus in his right knee, leaving J.P. Arencibia – he of the .227 OBP in 497 PAs last year – as the regular backstop. Starting shortstop Elvis Andrus is still experiencing soreness in his shoulder and elbow after not throwing this offseason, making his presence against Philadelphia next Monday unlikely. And if that weren’t enough, Yu Darvish has now too caught the injury bug, his stiff neck also preventing him from making the Opening Day start.
If you weren’t counting, that’s six guys out, all of whom would normally be heavily relied upon by Texas. Of course, if you’re not a Rangers fan you might be a little bummed, but probably don’t especially care; their loss might well have helped your squad’s chances after all. You might only be concerned if you were to own one of the downed half-dozen on your fantasy team. Returning to my original point, when a player gets injured early, it’s manageable; the same applies in fantasy. You simply avoid Cole Hamels and his sore shoulder on draft day, or pick up Hisashi Iwakuma a few rounds later than normal on account of his hurt finger. It’s once you’ve drafted when you have a problem, especially if your disabled starter happens to be a middle infielder. Enter the aforementioned Profar.
Currently being selected 12th among second basemen per ESPN’s live draft results (and 24th among middle infielders, marginally behind Andrelton Simmons), a tear to the teres major muscle in his right shoulder, though not requiring surgery, will keep Profar off the field for 10-12 weeks – approximately half of your fantasy season. Let’s be clear, Profar wasn’t expected to be a fantasy stud in 2014 – ESPN’s 5×5 projection of 49/8/35/10/.269 proves as much – but his ceiling to potentially be among the 10 best middle infielders meant he was being drafted as a starter in standard leagues. Guaranteed playing time at second base thanks to the Rangers trading away Ian Kinsler during the winter, many owners were banking on an improvement from the part-time line (.234, six homers and 26 RBIs) the 21-year-old top prospect put up as a utility middle infielder last year; now though, they’ll have to hit the waiver wire in search of a replacement.
All well and good, but middle infield gets very thin, very quickly, meaning viable replacements are extremely hard to come by, let alone plug ins with any huge upside. Among second basemen, 20th ranked Anthony Rendon would represent the best replacement option, at least if you’re in one of the 28.1% of leagues where he isn’t already rostered; playing everyday in what could be a fairly potent Nationals lineup, the righty should at least accrue decent enough counting stats, and possesses the tools to hit for a plus average with middling pop. More likely available, the likes of Neil Walker (26.4% owned) and Omar Infante (17.%) both qualify for the category of less sexy stand-ins, but are at least somewhat dependable. Both veteran keystoners will, barring injury, play everyday for Pittsburgh and Kansas City respectively, and most likely rack up 50-60 Rs and RBIs apiece, with Walker offering more power and Infante a better average. Neither will contribute in terms of stolen bases, but project to be solid contributors, if below average in comparison to the rest of your league. Dustin Ackley, at only 11.1 owned, would perhaps represent the alternative with the highest ceiling – the much-maligned left-hander hit .304/.374/.435 after the All-Star break last year, and after a strong Spring Training showing, should be playing left field (but with 2B fantasy eligibility left over from last year) everyday for the Mariners this season. His likely spot in the lineup however, will limit his capability to put up above-average counting numbers, and with marginal speed, his value will hinge upon his ability to hit for power and average.
If you’ve the middle infield spot available, picking up a shortstop might actually be the better way to go. Even coming off his PED suspension in 2013, Jhonny Peralta would be a nice play if he’s available; the Dominican Republic native put up a 50/11/55/3/.303 fantasy line last year in just 107 games played in 2013, and despite his winter move away from the great offense of Detroit, St. Louis will provide ample opportunity to continue such production, meaning those 2013 rates aren’t at any real risk of decline (though his batting average will almost undoubtedly regress somewhat.) Somehow, Peralta is still only 63.8% owned, and being drafted behind Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Jimmy Rollins, all of whom seem (in my opinion at least) bound to provide less fantasy production in 2014, and are being drafted on name-value alone. Right behind Peralta in the SS rankings at 18th, Brad Miller is much more likely to be available (20.5%), and having beaten out Nick Franklin for the Seattle job, has a good shot to improve on his promising 2013 debut, in which he displayed a serviceable little combination of power and speed. Given full-time duty, Miller might give you a combined 25 HRs and steals over the season, but like Ackley, might struggle for the more traditional counting stats in a questionable Mariners lineup. Other functional substitutes (ie. players locked in to playing time in an at least average offense) include the Rays’ Yunel Escobar and Cincinnati SS Zack Cozart – though neither have much capacity to provide surprise output.
As put by Brett Talley on Fangraphs “The list of candidates to replace Profar is fairly long and uninspiring at this point.” There are options out there though, albeit boring ones. Just remember, while less attractive names such as Walker or Infante won’t win you your league, they’ll keep you afloat in the interim – either before Profar returns, or you can swing a trade.