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September 25, 2008

Under The Knife

Tune-ups and Shut-downs

by Will Carroll

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Everyone thinks they're a GM, so with the offseason approaching for 22 of the 30 teams, here's a contest to find out how good you really are. I have three people inside the game ready to judge—an assistant general manager, a scouting director, and a baseball ops guy who have all worked on hundreds of trades. Enter your best ideas for an off-season deal in "Comments," and the winner will receive a free month of BP Premium, plus the respect of your peers. You'll be judged on whether or not your trade is realistic, the "win-win" nature of the deal, and its creativity. Each judge will rate the entries on a 1-10 scale, and if anyone hits a 30, I'll figure out a bonus prize. Powered by Amp Traction, on the the injuries:

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
In the first inning, Zambrano looked about as I expected: better than his last outing, worse than his no-hitter stuff. I was watching his arm slot, and while normally this isn't that important to me where most pitchers are concerned, for Zambrano it's the external sign of how his shoulder is feeling. When the cuff is inflamed, he drops down and has to sling the ball to get a few extra mph on it. Pitching to Jose Reyes, he was in the lowest of the good slots, but he consciously dropped down slightly to get the ball past Daniel Murphy. By the time he faced David Wright in the fifth, he was forced to again drop down just to get above 90. Sadly, this is what is expected in this scenario, and it puts Zambrano's effectiveness for the playoffs into question. While he will be available, the Cubs have hinted that he'll not be making the first start in the NLDS that he expects to. What the Cubs can expect from him next week isn't much better than what they got from him on Wednesday.

J.D. Drew (0 DXL)
Drew returned to the lineup for the Red Sox in Wednesday's win, but he only played into the third inning. Drew was pulled as a precaution but, when asked after the game, he said that he felt that things went well. He was tested in the field and on the basepaths, and other than some fatigue, he had no problems, and no issues with his back. He'll be used judiciously for the rest of the week, and it's not clear whether he'll be asked to play a full game before the playoffs. The Red Sox are most concerned with his ability to recover and keep the back from tightening up, so he'll be spending a lot of time with the Sox medical staff. Given all of their problems this season and their relative lack of impact on the team's fortunes, I'm not sure if the medical staff or the front office is the team MVP this season.

Carl Crawford (50 DXL)
Troy Percival (5 DXL)

Crawford won't be able to make it back in time to play during the season, but he is likely to get some batting practice in. While he's unlikely to hit enough to convince the Rays to put him on the post-season roster, there has been some discussion about the value of his legs and defense. The Rays have a number of options, and they'll use the remaining games to evaluate some of them; they may wind up with a very interesting playoff roster. With good outfield depth and multi-position players like Ben Zobrist and Eric Hinske, the Rays could put together one of the most flexible post-season rosters since the '02 Angels. One interesting idea that was thrown around by a front-office type is that Percival is going to need to show that he can go on back-to-back days or the Rays may be inclined to leave him off of the roster, instead going with a shorter bullpen and a power arm like David Price who can go more innings. Percival is expected back on Thursday, but may actually get a "start" in order to make sure he can go on consecutive days. The Rays are still playing for the division and for home-field advantage, but if both of those are off the table this weekend, look for Joe Maddon to get creative.

Rafael Furcal (120 DXL)
The Dodgers activated Furcal from the DL after back surgery and a series of setbacks. With just a few games remaining, Furcal is going to have to show Joe Torre that he's their best option at shortstop. Given his competition, that shouldn't take too much, but he was feeling radiating pain in his legs as recently as a week ago, so Furcal's inclusion on the playoff roster involves some risk. He's unlikely to play any full nine-inning games at shortstop just to protect him. No one seems quite sure what Torre will be looking for, aside from some sign that he can play a decent short and hit more than Angel Berroa. If Furcal is ready, the Dodgers will likely drop Berroa and use Chin-Lung Hu, the better defender, as their middle infield backup, though Nomar Garciaparra is also an option if they elect to be really risky and focus on offensive value.

Ben Sheets (5 DXL)
Yovani Gallardo (0 DXL)
CC Sabathia (0 DXL)

Sheets won't start today due to continued pain in his arm, so instead it will be Gallardo. It's a bit of a surprise, but I tipped people to this on XM's Fantasy Focus earlier this week. The thing is, Gallardo won't be making a normal start; yes, he'll start the game, but he's essentially acting as a long reliever at the beginning of a "bullpen game." He'll be on a hard pitch limit, and is unlikely to throw more than 50 pitches. Sheets remains a possibility for a start or in relief, but only as part of the Brewers' kitchen-sink approach to pitching over the last week. Sunday will be Sabathia, again on short rest, after he won his Wednesday start (throwing 108 pitches). The Brewers are certainly getting their money's worth out of Sabathia during his stint in Milwaukee, but the move will leave them without the big man available to start in any of the possible tie-breaker scenarios.

John Maine (30 DXL)
Maine declared himself ready to go after having only "normal soreness" after his simulated game. The Mets aren't quite so quick to decide, though indications are that Maine will be activated today. Once again, Jerry Manuel appears to be the one who's not excited by the idea of adding Maine to the bullpen, just as he's resisted the idea of using Pedro Martinez as his closer. In a game where managers stay safe by being unoriginal, Manuel's insistence on going with what's available seems foolhardy. While Maine isn't going to make a huge difference and may not be a significantly better option, there's no reason to not at least activate him to make him available. Comparing the non-use of Maine to the use of Luis Castillo certainly brings some questions to mind, and using six pitchers behind Oliver Perez begs that many more questions as well.

Maicer Izturis (75 DXL)
One of the tougher things to do is follow players who won't be available in the first round of the playoffs. They often don't stay with the team, electing either to stay at home or to go to the instructional leagues to keep up with some baseball activities. Izturis is just getting back into the swing of things, and at best will be available for the World Series if the Angels make it that far. His thumb injury has kept him out since July, and while a mid-October return is possible, it will depend on the Angels' needs at that point.

Todd Jones (1 last DXL)
Jones has chosen to hang it up rather than have surgery on his shoulder. He announced it in his Sporting News column, and he did it with self-deprecating style. While you may have cursed his white-knuckle saves or his old-school ways, he still had quite the career. I wouldn't want to be Todd Jones, but I sure would have liked to have been in his shoes. Good luck, Todd, in whatever you choose to do next. Sadly, there's always going to be some creaky closer that will fill the space in UTK.

Quick Cuts: Thanks for all of the participation in UTK Interactive. It seemed to work out well, so I'm sure we'll see that one again from time to time. ... Mark DeRosa left Wednesday's game with a strained calf after getting some big hits. No word on the severity, but I'll be watching this closely. ... Edinson Volquez is done for the season after being scratched from his latest start with a sore knee. ... Andy Pettitte will miss his last start with a sore shoulder. ... Chipper Jones will only pinch-hit for the rest of the season. ... Aaron Cook has been shut down. ... Todd Helton will have a microdiscectomy next week and is expected to be ready for spring training. ... Willy Taveras is done for the season with a stress fracture in his shin. ... Paul Maholm only lasted six in his last start of the year, coming up one inning shy of the Verducci Effect; his control problems reflect some of the attendant issues. ... Adam LaRoche was back in the Bucs lineup, but still appears bothered by his hamstring. ... Cliff Lee will be shut down unless their game against the White Sox is significant, but there's no injury. ... With the season ending soon and fantasy players on edge for position, I'll be doing a normal UTK tomorrow rather than a Wrap. I get e-mails from time to time about how UTK has helped people win (or lose) their leagues. I'd love to hear from more of you via e-mail, especially the winners.

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