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June 12, 2006

Under The Knife

Heads Will Roll

by Will Carroll

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The Jason Grimsley case continues to percolate. Behind the scenes, the owners and Players Association are prepping for a fight over the retiring Grimsley's pay and the likely 80-game penalty that will be levied against him. The names in the document are starting to leak--Mike Sweeney is said to be just one of the players who "have been made aware" of the names--and the whispers may end up more damning than the truth. As we look at the document, some errors are starting to show up. Grimsley is alleged to have stated that his steroid use began after shoulder surgery in 2000. That would make sense, if he'd had shoulder surgery. Grimsley had elbow surgery to remove bone chips after the season and multiple checks confirm that this is the case. Bone chip removal is one of the simpler operations for a pitcher and would not be affected by steroid use in the recovery. HGH after shoulder surgery? Sure. Tommy John? Again, sure, since studies show HGH has the benefit of affecting cartilage while steroids do not. It's a small error for a pitcher that many describe as "not intelligent" but perhaps it's not his error. It's just one thing in a long document; enough to cause some to question the accuracy of Jeff Novitzky's leaked affadavit.

It's interesting to see the reactions around sports to this, including comparisons of baseball's policy to those of other sports (short version: baseball's is stronger) and for the reaction to Congressional calls for blood testing (short version: baseball may end up being the only union that may not fight it). This week's BP Radio heartened me. After spending the first hour focused on the draft, our local call-in hour centered on the Grimsley case. Not one call came in, an unusual occurrence. I'd normally be bothered by that, but I think we've gone past the point of most people caring. Absent big names or more solid evidence, I doubt my statement that "This is the big one."

Finally, the intriguing part of ESPN's HGH story is buried at the bottom. According to the story, MLB has allowed therapeutic use waivers for testosterone. While there are valid medical uses for testosterone, none of those seem to meet MLB's stringent standards for waivers. Cases like pituitary tumors make sense, though that isn't the most common condition, especially in baseball. While I respect the right to privacy, I'd be very interested in hearing why baseball approved any waiver for testosterone or other anabolic agents. A great article in the NY Times helps explain why this fight will be so tough.

Powered by respect for Jim Leyritz, on to the injuries:

  • It's not looking good for Rich Harden. The oft-injured pitcher is reportedly headed for Tommy John surgery, ending his season and damaging the hopes of the Athletics, though there is no official confirmation. The team is celebrating its sweep of the Yankees, but behind the scenes, the team is trying to plan out how it will deal with the loss of their co-ace. Harden left just four innings into his return from the DL, injuring his elbow in a return from what is now being reported as an avulsion of his oblique rather than the previously indicated lower back injury. (I wonder what the A's put on the Standard Form when Harden was placed on the DL.) I'm not ready to compare Harden to someone like Steve Karsay or even Mark Prior, but it's interesting to note the rapid increase in pitching injuries for the A's over the past two seasons. No matter what the prognosis on Harden, it won't make the A's any more (or less) likely to deal Barry Zito.

  • The Cubs took the series this weekend against the Reds, but didn't get much healthier. Some are whispering that Kerry Wood has seen the end of his Cubs career as a starter, with Dusty Baker and the Cubs frustrated over Wood's inability to recover within the normal five-day period. A creative solution would be to test him in the bullpen, or to reconfigure the rotation to allow him extra rest. The Cubs are hoping to have Mark Prior in the rotation in the next ten days, though he still has to get through rehab starts and hasn't shown more than the occasional low-90s fastball during his rehab. The good news for the Cubs this weekend is the return of Derrek Lee--he'll begin swinging on Tuesday and should come fast--and a nice Sunday start from rookie Carlos Marmol, who used a 94 mph fastball and 82 mph breaking ball against the Reds in his first major league win.

  • The Dodgers have nothing to lose letting Eric Gagne stay off the DL. He's likely to hit the list sometime this week, but the DL is more Chris Kahrl's business than mine. It's a transaction, a way to use the rules to make sure that the impact of injury is abated. Yes, the DL is a nice way to keep track of the most significant injuries, but it's hardly the most effective. Unfortunately, there's almost no other consistent way of tracking things, leaving me to fall back on it until we can get a better handle on day to day changes in the ability of any given player to play.

  • The Red Sox continue to try and figure out their pitching situation. Injuries are taking down most of the expected rotation while the transition to "the next generation" is going more seamlessly than could have been planned. While Tim Wakefield deals with back spasms and David Wells tries to come back from knee problems, the Sox are more concerned than ever with Matt Clement. Clement was pushed from his weekend start due to spasms in the bicep of his pitching arm, an injury I've never heard of before. The team thinks the problem is due to increased side work, the result of trying to fix his mechanical problems. Since there's no real comp for this, I don't have any way of gauging how someone will come back from it. On the surface, there doesn't appear to be much to be concerned with aside from some stamina questions. Paired with the rest of Clement's recent problems, it could be more of an issue.

  • The Astros have one of the stranger health records in the majors. They had a relatively healthy season last year, helping them go deep into the postseason, though the injuries they did have were significant. This season, trying to keep up with them is maddening. The macho mystique is in more effect than ever with Craig Biggio still the undisputed soul of the team. The team values "gritty, gutty" players that hide or fight through injuries, a characteristic that shows up in their results. We don't see the small injuries with this team. Chris Burke pops his shoulder out swinging? Fine, he'll pop it back in. Roy Oswalt has spasms that he describes in terms of a sledgehammer, forcing him to the DL? Fine, he had no problems with a bullpen session this weekend despite being in obvious discomfort, according to observers. There's value to the type of character that the Astros show, but on occasion, it will bite them.

  • The Jays got Gustavo Chacin back just in time to miss him again. Just a couple starts after returning from the DL, Chacin's elbow is acting up again. The sprain is not yet at the Tommy John level, but it will take at least eight weeks before it is ready to start taking the strain of pitching. The Jays have been very patient in the past with pitching injuries, to the point of protectionism, but this is a different Jays team, one expected to contend. The mindset changes with circumstance, add this to the Burnett situation, and it will be interesting to see if those changing circumstances manifest themselves in injury management tendencies.

  • A hip problem for a catcher is about as bad as it gets. The Phillies are getting to see what next year looks like, when they'll almost assuredly begin life without Mike Lieberthal. The team is without a de facto #1, mixing and matching a series of backup catchers in and getting some production. Lieberthal is headed for an MRI to see exactly what's going on inside his damaged left hip. The injury is more severe than the strain that the team has acknowledged, leading some to question if it could be career-threatening. This injury is clearly related to the leg and knee problems that have plagued Lieberthal this season (and hindered him over most of his career). Like the Phillies, fantasy teams relying on Lieberthal need to be looking at other options.

  • Quick Cuts: Interesting to see that QuesTec was installed at US Cellular and that the White Sox are blaming it for what they see as a changed strike zone at home. Anyone seen references to other new installations? The Pirates fans might be getting fed up with the long run of losing seasons. Signing Sean Casey, who's still not 100%, won't help that run end A.J. Burnett will start his comeback with a rehab start on Tuesday at Triple-A Syracuse Kip Wells looked very solid in his first rehab start, going six innings. He should be back by the end of the month Josh Willingham will miss more time with an injured hand, though the injury shouldn't be a longer-term problem. Hanley Ramirez won't miss much time with a minor back injury Darin Erstad has re-started his rehab process. The Angels are going to let him play to pain tolerance and will use the next few games to test that limit.
I'll be back Wednesday, taking tomorrow off to make a quick trip east.
Related Content:  Gutty,  Back,  Mlb The Show,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  The Call-up

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