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April 3, 2006

Under The Knife

Play Ball

by Will Carroll

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Baseball's back. Kind of. I'm writing this as the Sox/Indians game is delayed by rain, so I'm not sure if we'll have an official game, but we do have an official injury.

The coverage early by ESPN2 was dominated by talk of the steroid investigation. The Mitchell Commission is more than simply a PR move: it's a backdoor attempt at bringing the non-analytic positive into baseball. MLB has had two chances to negotiate this type of policy into the drug testing procedures and either ignored it or failed. A non-analytic positive is something that most baseball fans won't know, so allow me to use Gary Wadler, the noted WADA member, to explain:

The world code makes it clear that a positive urine or blood test is not the sine qua non for a doping violation. Nonanalytic violations like trafficking, distributing or inciting others to use prohibited substances carry the same weight as positive tests. From a sports perspective, the hearing bodies will be the ones to decide what weight should be attached to e-mail messages, canceled checks and FedEx envelopes, and the criminal investigations will have their own outcomes. (New York Times, June 20, 2004)

The non-analytic positive has been used in track and field and upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In the case of arbitration between the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and Chryste Gaines, a sprinter, the non-analytic positive was based on information from the BALCO investigation. It is almost identical in substance and source to the information used in Game of Shadows, cited as the basis for this investigation. Now, this specter of punishment without positives has come to the American pastime. Only time will tell what the Mitchell Commission can accomplish, let alone what they hope to accomplish. The basic premise, however, is fatally flawed and in direct opposition to the values and spirit of the country baseball claims to represent.

Powered by the First and Fourth Amendments, on to the injuries:

  • It didn't look good for the Indians as C.C. Sabathia stared into the dugout. Lonnie Soloff and Eric Wedge came out to watch Sabathia make one attempt at a throw before taking himself off the mound. Sabathia showed visible discomfort in the replay of his last pitch. Early reports from the Indians have it listed as "strained right abdominal," though other sources indicate it's an oblique strain. Both aren't good, but at least it wasn't an arm or back injury. Sabathia had a strained oblique last season, hurting himself at the end of Spring Training and coming back in mid-April. That's a very good gauge for how much he might miss this time. This is the fourth straight season Sabathia has gone down with an early injury and in the five-man era, that makes it nearly impossible for him to get the 20-win season so many think he can put up.

  • The Adam Eaton finger injury is a strange one. Eaton himself keeps comparing it to a rock climbing injury, but I know baseball, not rock climbing. One team physician that has not treated Eaton tells me that the injury is extremely uncommon, one he's "not only never seen in the game, I've never heard of it in the game." Eaton has torn the "pulley," a tendon that pulls the finger down. Essentially, he's trying to throw with a middle finger that offers no resistance or pressure on the ball. Given that every pitch comes off the middle finger, you can see how devastating it is. Eaton will have surgery on Tuesday, a smart move. "This isn't going to heal on its own," the team doctor told me on Friday. Expect Eaton back around the ASB, though there's some chance of mid-June. There's already some speculation around baseball that Eaton's status might make him trade bait if the Rangers are out of it and Eaton shows a couple good starts by the deadline.

  • Pat Burrell is worrying the Phillies. His left foot problem is starting to cascade, leading to a left calf problem that some scouts think might be a knee injury. Given the David Dellucci trade, the Phillies now have a solid backup. Some are speculating that this is prelude to some kind of Bobby Abreu trade, but looking back at some of Pat Gillick's moves, you can see that he likes to hedge his bets with injuries and team depth. While my best Phillies source tells me that Burrell's leg problems aren't major, Gillick's move should keep everyone on alert and watching closely.

  • Hideki Matsui has been playing for a while with a bad knee. The injury, suspected to be a small meniscus tear, is one of the things that kept him from participating in the WBC. While the injury is minor, it is something that will affect him until he's able to get it taken care of. I'm surprised that the Yankees didn't have him get it taken care of this spring. As we've seen with Kerry Wood and Jason LaRue, players can come back from this surgery pretty quickly. Japanese players have a distinct aversion to surgery, so that may enter into the equation. Where it might affect Matsui most is in the field, but with Johnny Damon holding down CF, Matsui won't be asked to range too far, unlike last season.

  • The Yanks are also dealing with minor injuries to Carl Pavano and Aaron Small. While Small's injury is more of a procedural move, Pavano's back problems were exacerbated by a fall on a fielding play. Pavano has been shut down for now, a further setback that will push his return well into May. Pavano continues to be a near-total loss for the Yankees, while the injury forces them to try and wring some value from Jaret Wright. One source that saw Pavano this spring told me "I thought Kevin Brown retired. Instead, he's just wearing Pavano's jersey. Same miserable look, same broken-down back and arm."

  • It's been a bad final weekend of spring training for closers. Todd Jones heads to the DL with a moderate strain of his left hamstring. The Tigers have options, especially if they're willing to give young fireballer Joel Zumaya a chance. Armando Benitez also goes to the List, still hobbled slightly by a bad left knee. The Giants are being conservative early with Benitez, still within range of that terrible hamstring injury from last year. The reports are a bit confusing regarding Eric Gagne. The Dodgers say that Gagne is taking antibiotics for an ear infection, while other reports indicate that Gagne had ruptured his eardrum, possibly affecting his balance. It looks like the infection is the most likely situation. Gagne otherwise had a good week, passing the dual tests of back-to-back games and Angels hitters.

  • The Nationals have enough problems without losing another pitcher. Pedro Astacio is likely headed to the DL with what is being called a forearm strain. The Nats claim it's a precautionary move, but we've often seen "forearm" problems used to hide elbow problems. Astacio has a history of problems going back years, so something this early can't be completely unexpected. With Astacio out, the Nats will turn to a healthy-for-now Tony Armas Jr. in the fifth slot.

  • When players are placed on the DL, the Standard Form is turned in, signed by a doctor. The form is very simple and usually glossed over, but the line that says "disabling condition" is actually taken quite seriously. Reports that the Royals were trying to claim "weight issues" for Runelvys Hernandez is downright laughable, though it would be interesting to know if they did actually try and file a form or if they merely used that as a tool for getting into the pitcher's head. Many are wondering what the condition is for Zack Greinke as well, though mental and emotional issues are given a wider passage.

  • Ben Sheets was placed on the DL. It's no ideal situation, but Sheets' prognosis is positive. Sources at his last outing in Arizona say he looked fluid, adjusting to his new musculature and regaining the hop on his mid-90s fastball. Sheets may not be the pitcher he was before his lat problems started; he might be better.

  • The Reds are in much the same situation, placing Paul Wilson on the DL despite good progress in his last simulated game. His stamina is coming along, though his velocity is not close to what it needs to be if he hopes to contribute. He's still on track to rejoin the Reds in mid-May.

  • There's not going to be a DMPU (Daily Mark Prior Update) this year if I can help it, though really, it's only Prior and the Cubs that can put an end to this budding tradition. Prior's making progress, slowly, towards a May return. Flat ground throwing is a very early stage. Start taking more note when he gets back on the mound, something we're still weeks away from. Kerry Wood, on the other hand, is doing extremely well. A bad first week from a weakened rotation and the Cubs will be less conservative with a pitcher who told one source that he's "ready yesterday."

  • Quick Cuts: Baseball isn't fair David Wells is on the DL, but only because the Sox won't need him until April 12 Kenny Lofton hits the DL, as much due to the roster as his strained calf Shin splits for Felix Hernandez? No big deal, which is why I ignored it all last week. Panicked emails are fun More good news for M's fans--Jeremy Reed should start on Opening Day Jason LaRue isn't going to make his goal of Opening Day, but he's not far off. He'll likely avoid the DL Yorvit Torrealba will start the season on the DL, giving J.D. Closser another chance to establish himself People with knowledge of the situation are claiming parallels between Jeff Bagwell and Ryan Klesko. The Padres are hoping that Klesko will have surgery on that shoulder, opening up an insurance claim.

Friend of BP and ESPN Announcer Jon Sciambi let me know about a charity that he's helping. A friend of his, Tim Sheehy, is dealing with Lou Gehrig's disease and is not only suffering physically, but financially. If you're in the New York area, Jon's putting on a dinner and concert featuring Hootie & The Blowfish. For more information, check projectmainst.org. There are plenty of organizations and causes that need your help, from disease to poverty, but when something like this strikes close to the BP family--as we've recently experienced with MS and melanoma--I can't pass up the opportunity to at least get the word out.

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Prospectus Hit List (04/03)

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