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January 28, 2004

Under The Knife

Goin' South

by Will Carroll

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I'll head down to Orlando this week to the ASMI Baseball Injuries conference. I'm really excited to hear the best and the brightest in the field discuss the state-of-the-art and the future of sports medicine. It will be another occasion where I'm the dumbest guy in the room, but those situations seem to be the ones where I learn the most. On a somewhat related note, unfortunately, the Orlando Feed has been cancelled. Apologies to those who had RSVP'd.

Powered by more of that great Peet's coffee, on to the injuries...

  • It seems there's one case like this every year, but I can't remember one that had the potential to be as significant. With Aaron Boone down and likely out for the season due to a significant tear to his left ACL, the Yankees are scrambling to not end up with Drew Henson at the hot corner. The Yanks will be calling all the usual suspects looking for some help, but Brian Cashman seems ready to play hardball to get some financial recompense. According to the AP, Cashman is ready to invoke a clause in the standard player contract that specifically cites basketball as a prohibited activity. The Yankees are reportedly waiting for final results, but since Boone damaged his knee nearly two weeks ago, this sounds like a stall.

    While I'll leave the fallout to the Yankees lineup to others in this site, I'll look to the injury itself. The most similar injury I could find was the near complete tear of the ACL suffered by B.J. Surhoff in the early days of 2002. Surhoff missed the entire season, but was able to return for spring training 2003. Expect a similar timeframe for Boone.

  • The Yankees got better news on Steve Karsay. After shoulder surgery last year, Karsay was able to throw from a mound over the winter, but won't throw breaking balls until pitchers and catchers report. That will be his big test and will determine whether Karsay will be immediately penciled in as one of the Yanks top set-up men or whether he'll miss the start of spring training. Even if healthy now, Karsay remains one of the bigger risks in pitching.

  • There was finally some indication this week about the recovery of Mark Mulder. While the A's are still not commenting on the specifics, Mulder was having difficulty playing golf normally due to continued problems with his hip. Trainer Larry Davis is quoted as saying there are no restrictions on Mulder, but it will take seeing him on a mound to convince me.

  • Johan Santana got a thumbs up at his last checkup before spring training. After minor surgery on his pitching elbow to remove a bone chip, Santana has full range of motion and full strength. Bone chips often recur, but over a period of years, not months. Santana should have no problems going into spring training as one of the Twins top starters.

  • A.J. Burnett is one of few pitchers who, when healthy, can throw the ball 100 miles an hour. That makes it easy for me to figure out how hard he was throwing in his first session from a mound following Tommy John surgery. At a reported 75%, Burnett threw both fastballs and changeups, but is not ready for breaking stuff. Burnett continues to insist he's going to break camp in the rotation, but while it's looking more and more likely he'll be back in the rotation before the ASB, April is probably far too soon. The important question for Burnett is has he corrected the mechanical problems that led to his injury?

  • John Smoltz will see Jim Andrews one more time before letting it go in spring training. After having scar tissue cleaned out of his elbow at the end of last season and an amazingly gutty performance in the playoffs, Smoltz should be back as one of the best closers in the game at the start of the season. While some worry about his elbow, those concerns should be minimal. There are an extremely small number of pitchers who have required more than one Tommy John surgery in their careers. It's far more likely for there to be shoulder problems as they work on fixing their mechanics in the 24 months post-surgery, something Smoltz has never had.

  • While the Cardinals were very on-message in saying they thought Albert Pujols would be a Gold Glove first baseman at the Winter Meetings, circumstance might not have him there to start the 2004 season. Desperately short of outfielders and pursuing Travis Lee, the Cardinals are likely to put Pujols back in left field and use Lee or Steve Cox at first. Pujols is reportedly angry with the move, having been told he'd move to first in order to protect his damaged throwing elbow.

  • The Diamondbacks went from an old team to a young team in a hurry, but they're still hoping two of their older players, Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez, will be their leaders as they fight for the NL West title this season. Johnson looked great at a recent pitching camp, giving hope that offseason Synvisc treatments have taken. The question now is how long will his damaged knee hold up, and that's something only time and Johnson's pain tolerance can answer. Gonzalez is making a normal comeback from Tommy John surgery. The timeframe for recovery is shorter for a non-pitcher, so while teams might be well-advised to run on Gonzalez from time-to-time, it shouldn't greatly diminish his value.

  • Lots of questions this week about Jon Lieber. I guess everyone's starting to look for sleepers in their fantasy drafts. It's really no secret that Lieber was ready to go at the end of last season, but the Yankees really had no place for him to pitch. Instead, he was able to shut down for a couple months before heading back to his offseason home in Mobile. Some of my best moles are Jaguars, and Lieber's been working hard and seems back to where we last saw him, pitching well at Wrigley Field. Lieber is only expected to be a four or five starter this season, and he should be one of the best in the league again.

  • The tryout of Maels Rodriguez in El Salvador went about as poorly as it could have gone for the Cuban defector. Not only did he not break 90 on the gun--a must for him to get the big-dollar free agent offers--two scouts who I spoke to noted that he seemed to have difficulty in his follow-through. With reports of cervical disc problems in addition to the disputed shoulder injury, Rodriguez is not only going to have to look more effective in his next workout, he's going to have to pass a serious physical before cashing a check.

  • Preseason Quick Cuts: Tony Womack, recovering from late season Tommy John surgery, was signed by the Red Sox. Womack and Pokey Reese? Looks like Bill James is working on defensive metrics again...Better news on Pedro Martinez, reported to be in better health than at this time last year...Jeremy Affeldt is going to be given another shot at starting, but don't expect him to have a long leash. At the slightest sign of blisters, he'll be back in the closer role for the Royals...Scott Erickson showed off good velocity and a new splitter in a recent audition. The Reds and Mets are considered the front-runners for Lisa Guerrero's fiancÚ...Scott Sauerbeck failed two physicals and will have shoulder surgery, ending his 2004 season, and putting his career into jeopardy...

Happy birthday to my brother, a big thanks to Derek Zumsteg--who was a guest-host for BPR last week--and best wishes to good friend of UTK, Joseph Heidenreich. Our prayers are with you, pal.

Related Content:  Gutty,  The Who,  Tommy John Surgery,  Surgery

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