Whilst I should technically have been listening to a lecture on Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge in my English class earlier today, I was instead thinking about Prince Fielder – and more specifically, the news that emerged earlier today that he had opted to undergo season-ending fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. With Fielder becoming the 17th Rangers player to hit the DL this year alone, I naturally began to wonder whether any team in baseball had been hit so hard in terms on injuries. My Reds have had a few notable ones for sure, injuries striking down arguably three of Cincy’s top five players in Joey Votto, Mat Latos, and Jay Bruce. Both the A’s and Brave’s lost a pair of pitchers to Tommy John surgery before the season even started. But there was only one other team, in one particular element of the game, that I could draw a truly accurate comparison of hurt with – the New York Yankees’ starting rotation.
After forty minutes of pretending to listen, but silently pondering, I still can not choose who’s in worse shape; the Rangers, or the Yanks. Let’s break it down;
At the head of each rotation is an unquestionable ace. For the Rangers, it’s Yu Darvish, he of the 2.35 ERA this year, a 2nd-place Cy Young award finish last year, and a mind-boggling array of pitches – wouldn’t you agree Torii Hunter?
For the Evil Empire, it’s their new Japanese Import and $155 million man, Masahro Tanaka, who has raced out to a 6-1 record with a 2.39 ERA while leading the league in strikeout to walk rate. He’s got some pretty nasty stuff of his own, as brilliantly detailed by Grantland‘s Shane Ryan earlier today. Little needs to be said about these two – ultimately they should both finish with top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young race this year, and cancel each other out in terms of our little contest.
It gets considerably dicier immediately after those two however, and all because of those pesky injuries.
It’s been a long while since he was as good as his reputation foretold, but C.C. Sabathia being out for six weeks with his degenerative knee problem might not especially hurt the Yankees considering how this year he has a 5.28 ERA in 46 innings. Losing Michael Pineda to first a suspension, and then a strained back muscle, has been a significant blow – the young righty had a 1.83 ERA in the four games he started earlier in the season. Ivan Nova too, after seemingly figuring it out at the end of 2013, is gone for the year after requiring the dreaded TJ.
What’s left isn’t scaring anyone. Hiroki Kuroda has been a shadow of his former self, and with a 4.61 ERA at 39-years-old, looks cooked. Vidal Nuno has been similarly awful, but doesn’t have the excuse of needing a stick to walk out to the mound for his disgusting 5.82 ERA. David Phelps is David freakin’ Phelps, whereas Alfredo Aceves (who is listed as their fifth starter by ESPN’s depth chart but is yet to start a game) is really just a poor man’s version of Phelps – lacking incredible velocity, with marginal stuff and shaky command, the sort of pitcher who profiles best to a long-man relief role. That’s a whole lot of David Phelps mentioned right there. Eeesh…
Texas on the other hand, lost presumptive no. 2 Derek Holland before the season began in a curious incident with a dog (in the night time – read the book, if you haven’t already). Matt Harrison returned after missing the majority of last season, but would only give the Rangers one additional quality start before bowing out spondylolisthesis, a forward displacement of a vertebra which causes severe nerve irritation, in the lumbosacral joint (L5-S1) in his lower back (yes, I googled that). To add to their starting pitcher availability woes, free agent signing Tommy Hanson didn’t make the team, Alexi Ogando couldn’t be stretched out from the bullpen in time, and Neftali Feliz was moved back into a relief role (and is at Triple-A).
All of which left the Rangers in their current situation, rolling out Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, and Scott Baker behind Colby Lewis and the aforementioned Darvish. Things have gotten so desperate in Arlington that Joe Saunders, who lasted 3.2 innings and gave up four earned runs in his only start of the year thus far, will immediately step into the rotation when he returns from the DL soon, the same of which can’t be said for Tanner Scheppers. I might just have to give this one to the Yankees, but by the slimmest of margins.
Neither staff is especially helped by their home park. Yankee Stadium is infamous for its short right field porch, and undeniably augments home runs – just ask Phil Hughes, who having escaped to the cavernous Target Field in Minnesota is looking like the solid pitcher many expected when he was a Yankees farmhand many moons ago. Globe life Park in Arlington too, is incredibly friendly to power hitters, particularly when it heats up. One of the biggest reasons why many predicted Prince Fielder would rebound this year was the fact that he’d be playing half his games in the Texas heat. Presumably this would not only aid his fly balls out of the park, but help him lose a little weight in the process while rounding the bases. All looks equal here then.
But the defense, oh the defense. To the left side of the infield in Texas, the combination of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus gobble up ground balls. J.P. Arencibia is (mercifully) gone from behind the plate, and their outfield defense is stellar. In the Bronx on the other hand, though the outfield is solid, the infield is dire; Yangervis Solarte is a utility player manning third base, and Brian Roberts a statue at the keystone. Mark Teixeira is a long way removed from his gold glove caliber days. And then there’s Derek Jeter.
Boy, the baseball Gods are in a vengeful mood this year. Anyone have any idea what has upset them? It’s evidently not Yasiel Puig‘s bat-flips like some of the old curmudgeon sports writers would have you believe – he’s still standing after all. Still, they’re smiting down other young, exciting, and crucial players at a depressingly prolific rate right now. It’s getting ridiculous – just ask the poor Texas Rangers, who can barely cobble together a starting rotation anymore. Is there a player we can send as some sort of sacrifice offering to appease them? No one would miss Josh Lueke I’m guessing – probably not even the Rays. Fine, too drastic a measure. Until you come up with something better to end the madness though, here’s a quick rundown of some of the more important figures who were sidelined over the past weekend, and a reason perhaps why the higher powers don’t want them taking the field.
In the case of Gio Gonzalez, the logic of the Gods is easy; in a year in which nearly every team has a starter missing from the rotation, why should one team allowed to be fully healthy? Boosted by the return of Doug Fister (who turned in a very nice seven innings of one run ball in his second start last Thursday), the Nationals had all of eight days with a fully healthy starting staff before Gio Gonzalez was given the special treatment. After being rocked for 7 earned runs in just 4.1 innings in his previous start against the Athletics, Gio was once taken behind the woodshed on Saturday, allowing 5 runs to the Mets of all offenses, lasting just 3 innings to boot. After telling the club he was struggling to find any consistency with his arm slot – a precursor for shoulder trouble – he was given an MRI on Sunday morning. The results came back negative however, so for now the 28-year-old lefty is only on the 15-day DL with slight shoulder inflammation, joining the likes of Bryce Harper, Adam Laroche and Ryan Zimmerman in watching from the bench.
It’s dubious exactly why, but poor Will Middlebrooks seems to have had the worst of injury luck in his young career. Maybe his two trips to the DL already this year are a form of karmic retribution for taking Jenny Dell away from us on NESN Red Sox broadcasts, but permitting a sixteen-year-old to take her to prom should surely make up for something. Anyhow, after seeing his promising rookie year cut short by a wrist fracture caused by a HBP, suffering through torn cartilage in his rib cage and lower back problems in 2013, and then injuring his calf earlier this year, Middlebrooks will once again be making himself comfortable in the Boston training room for a while after sustaining a non-displaced fracture of his right index finger during Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ian Kinsler‘s scorching line drive apparently left the digit bent and discolored, and it will now be immobilized in a split for the next five to seven days. No return timetable has been set of yet, but batting .197 at the moment, maybe Middlebrooks needed some extended time off anyway. He gets to spend more time with Jenny now too, so it can’t be all that bad.
Oh, Andrew Cashner… My fingers are sincerely crossed that you aren’t the next young, hard-throwing pitcher to have caught the Tommy John plague, but I’m very concerned. You’ve tempted fate all year with that 2.35 ERA, 143 OPS+ and 2.76 K/BB ratio; we should have learnt by now that as baseball fans, we aren’t allowed nice things (see Harvey, Matt last year). So of course, with the Padres looking like coming around somewhat, the Gods were going to pick you next to reminds us of our cruel mortality. It would have been Nate Eovaldi, but that dreadful mullet you sport, and the fact they’ve already taken Jose Fernandez from the Marlins this year, swung it in your (dis-)favor. Hopefully your sore elbow will require nothing more than the 15-day DL stint set out for you, but with a history of injuries (albeit shoulder ones), you’re not giving us much reason for hope here.
Seriously though, why did you have to take down Jose Abreu though – is leading the major leagues in home runs as a rookie not sacred anymore? I can understand wanting to get Paul Konerko some extra playing time in his final year, but wouldn’t just Abreu having a tight back for a couple of days be sufficient? Instead, it had to be posterior tibia tendinitis in the ankle, a nagging injury that will likely plague the 27-year-old all year long rather than heal completely during his short time on the disabled list. Do you know how important the back foot achilles is to power hitters? Just look at Ryan Howard (though he wasn’t great to start with). Is this all some part of a weird Cuban vendetta? First it was Aroldis Chapman taking a liner to the head, then Fernandez, and now this.
Maybe Puig should be looking out for himself after all…
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 7, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 7! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-1 last week, 26-12 overall) → Over their last 17 games, the Tigers have just 3 losses, and have swept away both their closest AL Central challenger (Kansas City), and the AL East leader (Baltimore). If they extend their winning streak to six tonight at Fenway Park, you can add the defending World Series champions Boston to that list too. Cleveland and Texas better look out this week, because Detroit are rolling…
- Oakland Athletics (5-1, 27-16) → … as are the Athletics, who have now won 8 of their last 9, outscoring their opponents 58-15 during that time. 58-15! Given how they’re an unglamorous team that plays in a sewer bowl though, no one is watching the Athletics no matter how good they’ve been of late – only 10,120 fans went to their Monday game at O.co Coliseum against the White Sox. At least they’ll be used to a lack of crowd noise for when they travel to play in front of empty seats at Tampa Bay this week.
- Los Angeles Angels (5-2, 23-19) ↑ Mike Trout is ‘struggling’ in May, not that it stopped him from hitting a three-run, walk-off home run against the Rays, or 41,959 fans (including over 4000 from his hometown of Millville, NJ) coming out to see him in his first trip back to Philadelphia. He’s still second in the AL WAR standings too, with 2.8, trailing only Josh Donaldson (3.3), and remains on pace for a career high value. Must be real hard being Mike Trout right now eh?
- Baltimore Orioles (2-5, 22-19) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 22-19) → Masahiro Tanaka notched his first shutout in the US on Wednesday against the Mets, and in the process moved to 30-0 since the beginning of 2013. That $155 million contract that Brian Cashman handed out to the 25-year-old Tanaka is looking like more and more of a steal with every start he makes.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 23-21) ↑ Hands up if you had Drew Hutchison throwing a three-hit shutout and out dueling Yu Darvish on Friday night? Liars… In other news, after injury marred 2012 and 2013 seasons, Jose Bautista appears to be back in vintage form. His .998 OPS thus far is actually marginally better than his 2010 mark, a season in which he famously hit 54 home runs, though he still has a little way to go to match his 2011 total (1.055). Either way, along with Edwin Encarnacion, a healthy Bautista gives Toronto one of the most fearsome middle-order duos in all of baseball – which should help whenever Hutchison’s deal with the baseball Gods expires.
- Boston Red Sox (2-4, 20-22) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (4-2, 21-21) ↑ Mike Moustakas apparently didn’t appreciate all the speculation regarding whether he should be demoted – if you haven’t yet heard the audio from his post game ‘interview’ after Wednesday’s game, I’d recommend giving Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast from Friday a listen (skip to the end for Moustakas’ incredibly childish non-response to questions). I’d have sent him down just for that.
- Seattle Mariners (1-5, 20-22) ↓ Is it selfish for me to be praying that Seattle somehow have their schedule messed up a bit this week so that either King Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma gets pushed into starting against the Angels on Memorial Day? Otherwise it looks like I’ll be watching Chris Young pitch when I venture north to visit Safeco Field.
- Minnesota Twins (5-1, 21-20) ↑ After surprisingly jacking seven home runs and stealing seven bases during April, I can’t say I was expected Brian Dozier to get better. But improve even further he has, pasting a further 4 long balls and pilfering another 6 bags so far in May, and batting .318/.420/.545 after an April in which he hit just .226. Factor in his tremendous defense at second base, and fellow keystoner Jason Kipnis‘ 2014 campaign being limited by injury thus far, and Dozier may well find himself playing an additional game at Target Field later this summer.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 19-25) →
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 21-23) ↑ Jose Abreu hits the disabled list with tendinitis in his left ankle, as some evil genius out there strives to take away every exciting young player in baseball during half a season.
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 20-23) ↓ After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including a pair of 3-hit shutouts, it did seem odd that Martin Perez would suddenly allow 19 runs in the 13 1/3 innings that constituted his next three starts – almost as weird as how the San Diego Padres could abruptly pepper Jose Fernandez. Well, like Fernandez, an MRI showed that Texas’ 23-year-old sophomore also has a torn UCL, and will require Tommy John surgery. The season-ending procedure will be administered this Monday by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. In another devastating blow to the Ranger’s rotation, Matt Harrison may require career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery. After being limited by injury to just six starts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, it unfortunately seems that we’ve likely seen the last of Harrison on the mound. Throw in Prince Fielder needing a nerve-root injection yesterday due to a herniated disk in his neck (ending his consecutive games streak at 547), and the deluge of injuries that first began in Spring Training has officially drowned Texas’ chances in 2014. A lost season if there ever was one, and it’s only May 18th – sorry Rangers fans.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 19-24) ↓ From jumping three levels of the Indians organization in 2013 and pitching in the Wild-Card game, to surrendering a a 5.53 ERA and barely lasting five innings a start to begin 2014, the Danny Salazar rollercoaster ride continued on this week with the 24-year-old being sent back to Triple-A Columbus. On the plus side of things, his demotion will mean we should get to see Trevor Bauer again this week, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his seven starts so far down at Columbus. He’s slated to square off against Justin Verlander and Detroit on Tuesday though, so it won’t exactly be a cushy re-introduction back into major league competition.
- Houston Astros (4-2, 15-28) → Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Astros just have a winning week? You betcha!
ESPN’s Stats and Info group knew something was up:
Jose Fernandez: averaged 94.6 mph with fastball in first 4 innings of last start, 90.7 mph in last 2 innings
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 12, 2014
How else could the abysmal San Diego Padres offense, Jedd Gyorko in particular, suddenly be able to touch up one of the game’s best pitchers? Something had to be wrong. Of course, Ken Rosenthal broke the news:
Sources: Jose Fernandez expected to be placed on disabled list. Exact nature of injury not known. #Marlins
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 12, 2014
The exact nature of the injury was in fact, the dreaded elbow discomfort. Miami’s ace was placed on the 15-day DL, underwent an MRI scan in LA., and sent back to Florida. Cut to the five stages of Fernandez-related grief…
Jose Fernandez MRI reveals God, wrapped inextricably around right elbow ligament. “truth be told we kind of suspected as much,” says doctor
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) May 12, 2014
WHICH ONE OF YOU BROKE JOSE FERNANDEZ — keithlaw (@keithlaw) May 12, 2014
Placing myself on the 15-day disabled list with emotions about Jose Fernandez
— Ben Lindbergh (@ben_lindbergh) May 12, 2014
I knew Jose Fernandez shouldn’t have flown so close to the sun. — Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 12, 2014
All we know for now, thanks to Marlins manager Mike Redmond, is that the MRI revealed a right elbow sprain. ‘Sprain’ would imply ligament trouble, as opposed to a ‘strain’ more commonly associated with muscle injuries. If the worst is later confirmed, and Fernandez joins the epic list of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery this season, robbing us of one of the game’s most exciting young talents (way more so than Matt Harvey last year I’d argue, well, Dan Symborski has the appropriate response covered:
Jose Fernandez MRI and disabled list. If the worst case scenario, all Marlins fans are allowed 4 hours of crying and 1 overturned car. — Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) May 12, 2014
Please, Lord, say it ain’t so. Don’t take away Jose.
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 6, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 6! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-2 last week, 22-11 overall) → For the season, Victor Martinez has 8 home runs, 7 intentional walks, and just 5 strikeouts. Before Monday’s game against Houston, he’d gone 154 games without being called out on strikes (his streak went back to May 21st of last year, with Jarred Cosart finally getting him with a 94-mph fastball). That’s ridiculous. AT 35-years-old, V-Mart’s now batting .328/.381/.588, making his free-agency at the end of the year all the more interesting. The Tigers meanwhile, after facing a creampuff schedule last week, will be tested more sternly in the next seven days with trips to first Baltimore, and then Boston on the docket.
- Oakland Athletics (4-3, 22-15) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-1, 20-14) ↑ A great week on the field for the Birds was only marred by the ongoing Matt Wieters injury saga. While it at first appeared they dodged a bullet when it was cleared up that Wieters would not need Tommy John to cure his right elbow ailment (the track history of the surgery on catchers is brutal), just maybe some rest days at DH rather than behind the plate, the 27-year-old was this morning placed on the DL. Perhaps it was due to him going 1-13 in his four games as the DH, a move which forced Nelson Cruz to play the field, but losing Wieters’ production at the dish (.308/.339/.500, 130 OPS+) for any longer than the 15 days his stint mandates will be a huge blow to Baltimore. The return of Chris Davis to the lineup today however (he’d been out with a strained oblique), should go some way to mask the loss of their All-Star catcher.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 18-17) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 19-16) → After being taken deep 3 times during his 5.1 innings against his former team Milwaukee yesterday, C.C. Sabathia was today banished to the DL with a mysterious ‘fluid in his right knee’ problem. The injury seems a little odd given how a MRI showed no meniscus tear (and Sabathia’s incredible weight loss), but if some rest gets him back on track, it will be well worth it for New York. In the meantime, their rotation is paper-thin all of a sudden; behind the excellent Masahiro Tanaka, with Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, Alfredo Aceves, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have all been pushed into starting roles. Such rough starting pitching isn’t going to cut it for long in the AL East.
- Boston Red Sox (3-2, 18-18) →
- Texas Rangers (3-4, 19-18) → Despite their winning record, Texas have the second worst run differential among Junior circuit teams (-25), and lousy playoff odds (19.1%, 4th worst in the AL). Yu Darvish‘s one hitter was pretty darn impressive mind you, blown call and all.
- Seattle Mariners (6-2, 19-17) ↑
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 18-19) ↑ After missing the first six weeks of the season due to a back injury that he originally suffered at the end of spring training, 32-year-old closer Casey Janssen was activated from the DL today. Hopefully for those north of the border, he’ll shore up the Toronto relief corps – entering Sunday, the pull pen had the fourth highest ERA in the majors, with a mark of 4.77.
- Kansas City Royals (3-4, 17-19) ↓ That the Royals are even close to .500 speaks to their crappy division and solid pitching, because their offense is truly abysmal. Twice in their last three games, they’ve scratched just four hits, shutout on Thursday by the combination of Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney, and limited to just one run by Chris Young yesterday. Chris Young!
- Tampa Bay Rays ↓ (2-4, 16-21) For a team that prized itself on its organizational depth, and for years brought up non-heralded pitching prospects who achieved instant success, Tampa Bay are really struggling for decent innings right now.
With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb out, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer underwhelming, and David Price somewhat languishing, the Rays have only got 12 quality starts so far in 2014 – 28th in the majors. If things don’t pick up soon, which seems unlikely considering their tough upcoming schedule, the Rays are at risk of falling even further down these rankings.
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 17-20) ↓ John Axford was removed as closer after Friday’s blowup in a move which came about a month later than I originally expected. On the bright side of things, Asdrubal Cabrera had himself an encouraging week, batting .321 over the last week – all nine hits coming in a three-game span. With Francisco Lindor presumably on track to take over the shortstop job next year, would it be a surprise to see Cabrera moved at some point this summer if he keeps on hitting? Does anyone even care about baseball in Cleveland anymore now they have Jonny Football?!
- Chicago White Sox (5-5, 19-19) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (3-4, 16-19) ↓ In absolutely terrifying news, top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his left wrist in the next few days after reinjuring it on a slide on Thursday. Considering the blah season the Twins are currently enduring, anymore bad news about their vaunted corral of prospects (Miguel Sano is already out having had TJ surgery remember) might just turn Minnesotans off baseball for the rest of the year.
- Houston Astros (1-6, 11-26) → Picking no. 1 overall in the upcoming draft is becoming more of an advantage by the day it seems; what with top amateur prospect Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina RHP) needing Tommy John surgery and UNC working LHP Carlos Rodon to disgusting pitch counts (former Tar Heel Matt Harvey‘s opinion on their ethics might be interesting), the number of potential top picks is dwindling. Unfortunately for fans of the rebuilding Astro’s though, Houston are on pace for their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and worst record yet. Even the promise of the first two #SpringerDingers of the year can’t mask the fact that Jeff Luhnow’s experimental tear-down job is taking a lot longer than originally thought.
Finally, there appears to be some resolution in the nation’s capital. After saying on Sunday that Ryan Zimmerman merely had inflammation in his right shoulder, not structural damage, and that he expected the 29-year-old to remain at the hot corner for the remainder of the season, new Nationals manager Matt Williams admitted to 106.7 The Fan FM on Monday night that his third baseman actually has an arthritic shoulder, and might soon see time at first base if the move were to keep him off the DL.
Williams’ admission came off the back of another ghastly throwing error by Zimmerman in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, an errant toss that allowed Andrelton Simmons to reach on what was an otherwise routine grounder, a run to score on the play, and the floodgates to open; Stephen Strasburg would allow another run in the frame on a Julio Teheran single and four more in the fifth, knocking him from the game as the Nats fell to their 15th loss to the Braves in their last 21 games against their division rivals.
That particular play on Saturday was a microcosm of the struggles Zimmerman has experienced since undergoing major shoulder surgery in November 2012. Previously an excellent defender – he averaged 11.1 UZR per year between 2007 to 2010, winning the NL Gold Glove award in ’09 – Zimmerman’s fielding value had already dropped off from its Evan Longoria/Adrian Beltre-like peak to a more league-average level during 2011-2012, before falling off a cliff last year; his horrific 2013 mark of -14.0 UZR in 1245.2 innings wasn’t far off the -16.8 number put up by the statuesque Miguel Cabrera, the loopy throws resulting from his sidearm motion frequently pulling Adam LaRoche off the first base bag – and occasionally putting the first couple of rows of spectators in danger too. Playing shallower in order to shorten his throws to first didn’t help his rating much either; as Davey Johnson picked up on last year, Zimmerman’s taking a couple of strides closer to the batter has severely diminished his range, allowing more ground balls to get by than ever, and additionally dragging Ian Desmond further over from short.
Within a couple of years then, the Nationals have witnessed their star groundball-vacuum become a complete defensive liability. It’s not like the Nats can simply bench Zimmerman either. Since becoming the first player the Nationals took in the draft after the team relocated to Washington, chosen out of the University of Virginia with the fourth overall pick in 2005, he has been the rock of their lineup, collecting two Silver Slugger awards on his way to a career .286/.352/.477 triple slash line. Throw in his six-year, $100 million contract extension – signed after an injury-shortened 2011, but only kicking in this past week – which will lock him through his age-34 season too, and it’s clear Washington aren’t about to declare Zimmerman simply a sunk cost.
All things considered, there’s never been a greater time to move Zimmerman to first base; positional incumbent Adam LaRoche isn’t the player who the Nats re-signed after a monster 2012, and is in the last year of his contract. Anthony Rendon played third in college, so could feasibly slide around from second. Danny Espinosa, benched last year in favor of Rendon, could ably fill in at the keystone. On days facing lefties, such a construction might actually be an improvement given how Espinosa has hit southpaws better than LaRoche (he has a .258 average, .332 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage as compared to LaRoche’s .244/.300/.429 line).
Yes there are downsides to such a plan – the team would be dreadfully thin in terms on infield depth, LaRoche would be wasted, and there would be extra pressure on Zimmerman’s bat at the less physically-, but more statistically-demanding position of first – but at this point, after putting off such a move last year, the transition is long overdue. . Putting his shoulder, and therefore his bat, and thus the $100 million still owed to him, back at third is a recipe for disaster – and not just for those fans behind first. Even with the ascension of Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, not to mention the addition of Jayson Werth, the Nationals still need Zimmerman; though he might not be the franchise cornerstone of a couple of years ago, he is still a vital part of their offense – and someone crucial to their chances as a postseason contender.
Williams’ words today then mark a welcome recognition of an inconvenient truth. Whether he follows through in committing to such a less-than-ideal situation remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure; the ticket holders behind first base will be grateful if he does.
Pittsburgh’s top pitching prospect reportedly first began feeling pain in his elbow with two weeks remaining in spring training having been re-assigned back to minor league camp, and was at first prescribed two weeks of rest. Upon resuming throwing activity however, further pain led to additional examinations of the joint, during which it was discovered that the prized righty had a partially torn ulner collateral ligament. Though not fully ruptured, the UCL was deemed by Dr. David Altchek to be too damaged to possibly repair and rehabilitate without going under the knife, meaning the Pirates will now be without Taillon for not only the entire 2014 season, but likely some of 2015 too.
Selected with the 2nd overall pick of the 2010 MLB amateur draft out of The Woodlands High School (Texas), the Pirates gave Taillon a then-franchise record $6.5 million signing bonus. Handled incredibly carefully during his three years in the minors, the heralded prospect progressed slowly, but deliberately – his pitch repertoire and mechanics drawing comparison to Stephen Strasburg along the way. In 2013, he split time at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, making 25 starts (and one relief appearance) and throwing 147 1/3 innings en route to a 3.73 (and a 8.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9), and was due to initially resume 2014 at Triple-A Indianapolis with a view to his major league debut coming later in the season. Obviously, such a timetable has now been set aside.
Taillon’s 12-18 month absence will not only be an unfortunate bump in his promising development though, but a colossal blow to the Pittsburgh’s best laid plans, the 22-year-old’s stint on the shelf presumably leaving them a little short in quality rotation arms for 2014. With A.J. Burnett gone to Philadelphia (the circumstances of his departure remain fairly dubious – Burnett having said he would retire, only to later renege on his word), the Pirates were counting on the Canadian American’s high-90s heat being available to call up mid-season, his arrival figuring to provide a similar boost to that which Gerritt Cole provided in 2013 – a move which propelled the Bucs back into the postseason after a 20-year drought. Now however, given how unlikely it seems that they will acquire another quality arm from outside of the organization, in their push to make it back to the playoffs, the club will be extremely reliant upon Cole’s continued ascension, Francisco Liriano to remain Matthew Berry’s ‘Fantasy Kryptonite’, Edinson Volquez to be a Liriano-esque success of a reclamation project, Wandy Rodriguez‘s health, and Charlie Morton.
Given how poor my Cincinnati Reds and (barring the Cardinals) the rest of the NL Central have looked so far, Taillon’s absence might not hurt so much during the regular season; as well as the aforementioned five starters, Pittsburgh can still call upon Stolmy Pimentel, Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton as alternatives, or even stretch out Jeanmar Gomez from his relief role every now and again as they work their way through the rest of the season. The playoffs however – should the Pirates make it back again – would likely be the arena in which the loss of the Taillon’s potential impact would be felt most. We saw just last year how valuable a prospect’s live arm can be in such a setting; aside from Cole in Pittsburgh, Sonny Gray was arguably Oakland’s best chance in the ALDS against Detroit, while Michael Wacha similarly provided St. Louis with some impressive postseason pitching. Losing the 10th best pitching prospect in the game (per Baseball America‘s 2014 prospect rankings) and what ESPN writer Christina Karhl called “mid-90s gas and big-breaking benders” then, will severely deplete what damage Pittsburgh once might have stood of inflicting come October.
So while the modern frequency and recovery rate of Tommy John surgery would suggest we’ll see Taillon back on the bump at some point in 2015, the present prognosis for Pittsburgh isn’t quite so sunny; with the ace up Clint Hurdle‘s sleeve rendered moot, the Pirate’s chances of playoff success just got substantially lower.