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August 15, 2008

UTK Wrap

Major Breaks

by Will Carroll

Last night I heard an announcer say that the pennant races are "starting to get interesting." I immediately replied to the computer screen: "where the [bleep] have you been, buddy?" It's been interesting all season long, and with just a few weeks left, the tension is mounting, as eleven teams fight for five playoff spots that are up for grabs. (The Angels are at 99.88 percent according to our Playoff Odds Report, so I'll consider that one wrapped up.) In each of the other races, injuries to key players will have an effect. Whether it's David Ortiz's wrist or Evan Longoria's wrist, Francisco Liriano's elbow or Bobby Jenks', Ryan Braun's back or Kerry Wood's, whether it's Ryan Church's head or Manny Ramirez's, injuries look to be a major factor in deciding who'll be playing baseball in October, and who will be playing golf. It's been like that all season, pal, and in ways and places we didn't expect. That's what makes this game so great.

I hope to see some of you in Tampa/St. Pete on the 29th as we do another Ballpark Event. We'll have a Q&A session with GM Andrew Friedman, and who knows, that could be the night that the Rays cross the threshhold and win their 81st game, or that we get to see David Price pitch. If you're in the area, it's going to be well worth the low ticket price to be there.

Evan Longoria (21 DXL/$2.1 million)
It's not really a wrist fracture. According to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, this isn't the case at all, and Longoria's fracture is actually at the distal tip of the ulna. What we have here is a failure to communicate; a nomenclature problem. The specific small bones that make up the anatomical wrist are one thing, but we also reference a general area which includes the distal tips of the radius (lateral) and ulna (medial) bones of the forearm. The ulna, much larger than the smaller bones of the wrist, should heal more quickly and fully, and there's little ligament involvement, suggesting that any resulting weakness in the wrist could be reduced, though still present. The differing opinions on the films also indicate that the fracture may already be making union; one doctor indicated that it may have been an old fracture, and according to radiologists I spoke with today it would be difficult to differentiate from a fresh union. This information on the location of the fracture is the most positive news I've heard for the Rays in days.

Even when he's able to come back, wrist injuries tend to linger, sapping some power and bat control. The drop-off in run production from Longoria to Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist is pretty steep, so getting Longoria back once he's past the danger of a re-break is the smart play, and as one source told me, the Rays realize that while they may not be able to replace Longoria with equivalent offense, "a run saved is like a run earned." Ben Franklin meets Pythagenpat? Perhaps they're looking ahead to when David Price joins the pitching staff, or some improved defense. With rumblings of a waiver-wire deal, the Rays have to hope that when Longoria returns in mid-September he'll look more like the RotY candidate he's been all year than post-injury David Ortiz. (Yes, it's a bit odd to use Big Papi as the downside comparison, but he has a 694 OPS since returning from the DL.)

Also, I like this Injury Cost figure more than any other I've seen all year. I hoped that this would be a simple measure that would show lost value in an easily-comparable way, and I don't think anyone would argue that this figure isn't the best available measure of the value the Rays are losing short of a more technical retrospective analysis.

Chris Carpenter (10 DXL/$0.4 million)
Watch in this MLB.com video as Carpenter reaches back and touches the area where he felt the pain. Also note that Joe Morgan is saying that he thought he saw Carpenter drop down a bit on his previous pitch. Gameday doesn't agree with Joe-something he should be used to by now-showing that Carpenter was at a very similar release point throughout the game. The images showed a low-grade tear (strain) in the back of his shoulder at the origin of the triceps (the view is from the back), an area very near the small muscles of the rotator cuff, which could lead to some confusion. The Cards are going to be cautious, skipping a start for Carpenter while he undergoes therapy and strengthening and getting Adam Wainwright ready to move back into the rotation. We won't know for a few days whether Carpenter will just miss the one start, or if they'll DL him. There's some chance that they'll shut him down, though it seems early for that kind of conservative play.

Rick Ankiel (0 DXL/0)
The Cardinals are always interesting to watch when they're dealing with a mid-level injury. They tend to manage things creatively, showing a bias towards using players in whatever capacity is available-as they've done using Ankiel as a pinch-hitter for the last two weeks-rather than DL'ing them and pushing up a minor leaguer. With new management in place, it's pretty clear that this is a Tony La Russa preference, and likely goes hand in hand with his penchant for veterans. He'd rather play with a guy he knows at a reduced capacity than with one he doesn't at a theoretical 100 percent. Ankiel is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday, though he'll play left field rather than center, an attempt to reduce his workload slightly. The abdominal strain is not yet healed up, but they feel comfortable putting him back in on a near-normal basis.

Joba Chamberlain (25 DXL/$2.1 million)
Is this a smokescreen? The Yankees pushed back the start of Chamberlain's throwing program from Wednesday to Friday, with the explanation from Joe Girardi that it was simply a matter of location. One source told me that the rehab was going to be so short that he felt that the delay was to set him up for slotting back into the rotation. We won't really know for a week or so, but with the Yankees sliding back, there's also a chance that this is nothing more than conservatism. Once Chamberlain is throwing, the program he's on will tell us pretty much everything we need to know. Is he throwing full-out, or is it a light session? Is he using all of his pitches, or is he being limited in some way? They'll also be looking for a return of any pain or tension in the shoulder. It's a binary situation-once he throws, we'll know. I'm not going to read anything into this delay... yet.

Carlos Lee (50 DXL/$2.5 million)
It didn't take long before Astros fans were wondering if Barry Bonds could help their team after learning that Lee was down for the season. (It certainly couldn't hurt.) Lee's fractured finger has ended his season and leaves a giant hole for both the Astros and many fantasy rosters. He could return in the last week or so, but I think the team realizes that there's little value in his doing so. There's no carry-forward on this, and it's just one of those traumatic injuries that happens, heals, and allows the player to move on. Lee's hot streak aside, it's yet another data point in my fight for protective gloves like these to become standard equipment. Seriously, how many times do I have to say it? Or how many more millions of dollars will owners waste on DL days that might have been avoided?

Tim Lincecum (0 DXL/0)
My guy Chris Vernon in Memphis questioned me about Lincecum's size and and any role it might play in any possible injuries, but I had to point out that his size and unique pitching mechanics had nothing to do with him being hit by a comebacker. He wasn't in bad defensive position, and it's simply luck-the bad kind-when a pitcher is hit. The ball ricocheted off of Lincecum's knee, leaving him with a bruise, but no fracture; as you can see in this MLB.com video, he was hit as his right leg was coming around. The leg wasn't planted when it was hit, another positive that contributed to his coming away with a bruise and not a break. Lincecum is expected to make his next start, though the team will be very conservative here, so don't be surprised to see his next start delayed if he shows any signs of pain or mechanical alteration on his throw day.

Orlando Hudson (50 DXL/$3.0 million)
It's deja vu for the D'backs, as Hudson dislocated his wrist on a freakish play, had surgery on Saturday night, had a second surgery on Tuesday to try to deal with the ligament damage, and is done for the season. Last year, Arizona made it to the playoffs with Augie Ojeda at second base. Hudson should be able to come back from this in plenty of time for next season, though as a free agent, he may have played his last game in Diamondbacks ... red? Orange? What is that color? For whoever looks at him next season, the injury shouldn't be a lingering problem, with the surgery correcting whatever internal damage there was. Hudson might lose some power, but that's never been his strong suit anyway.

Jose Contreras (50 DXL/$1.5 million)
Contreras came back and promptly went down again, putting his 2009 and possibly even his career in jeopardy after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Many asked if this had any connection to his previous DL stint, and the answer is no. It's a confluence of weakness and odd positioning that ends up with Contreras heading for extensive surgery on his landing leg. Some sharp e-mailers have asked whether having tendonitis in one part of his body could affect another in regards to medication, but while cortisone can weaken tendons, it's a very local drug, so this is another unlikely factor. At best, Contreras will be back around Opening Day of next season, but that's a very aggressive plan, especially given his age. He's under contract and has worked in relief in the past, so that could be an option for him.

C.J. Wilson (60 DXL/$1.5 million)
Wilson elected to have surgery to remove chips from his pitching elbow, ending his season and leaving the closer's role during the tail end of the Rangers wild-card chase to Eddie Guardado. Wilson's second-half problems can likely be blamed on the elbow and his mechanical adjustments, so there's no reason to think he can't come back and continue in whatever role is needed. He's not a typical closer, but the Rangers understand that an elite closer comes with an elite pricing. They're perfectly willing to go with cheap options like Wilson or Guardado until something better comes along, such as one of their power pitchers like Tommy Hunter or Blake Beavan (assuming his fastball returns) shifting to the pen. Even then, Wilson will be one of the better lefty relievers around, just as he was in 2007.

Quick Cuts: Brad Penny heads to the DL with an aggravation of his previous shoulder problems. This one looks more serious than the last DL stint. ... Billy Wagner looked solid (even if he was late arriving) for his rehab outing. He'll have one more and is expected back early next week. ... Chris Young heads to the DL with a strained forearm, which is always worrisome. There are indications that he'll be shut down, and many are wondering if the Padres might do the same with Jake Peavy in September. The problem is that they don't really have anyone to take his place. ... Aramis Ramirez came away from an awkward slide with a bad bruise on his hip that could cost him a few days of playing time. ... Travis Hafner came away from a batting cage session feeling very positive. He could be days away from a rehab assignment, although there's some discussion of putting him right back into the DH slot. ... Jhonny Peralta was hit on the hand, and results of his imaging were unavailable at deadline. ... Maicer Izturis has re-injured his thumb, but there's no word yet how significant the problem is. ... Jason Bartlett is expected back at shortstop for the Rays, but he told reporters that his finger is still causing his throws to sail. I hope Carlos Pena's ready to jump! ... Dan Giese was placed on the 15-day DL, adding to the Yankees seasonal totals. If there's one thing that the Yankees might look at upgrading this off-season, it's their team health. ... Aaron Cook made it through a side session without further back problems and should start this weekend against the Nats. ... Yorvit Torrealba has a small tear in his meniscus and will need surgery in the future, though he'll try and play through it after a couple of days off. ... Scott Downs sprained his ankle rushing to back up a throw. The Jays are quietly blaming the weather, but hope that Downs can avoid the DL.

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