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March 27, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
The Red Sox got the news yesterday they'd been trying to avoid for all of March: Nomar Garciaparra is going to need surgery and will be out for at least two months, and for as many as four.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of this loss. For the most part, teams and the media overstate the impact a single player has on a team's chances, which is the driving force behind a lot of bad analysis and questionable free-agent signings. Even pretty good players don't add more than four to six wins in a season over a replacement-level player. Only a handful are worth more than that in one season, and only the elite are worth more every season.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Garciaparra falls into that category, a .330 EqA guy who plays an acceptable shortstop. He's one of the half-dozen best players in the game, worth between seven and nine wins in a typical season. Losing him rips a hole in a Red Sox offense that isn't loaded for bear even with him.
Complicating matters is that the Sox don't have quality options to take Garciaparra's place. Neither Lou Merloni nor Mike Lansing is a major-league shortstop defensively. Lansing, of course, hasn't hit since 1964 or so. Merloni's Wilton projection in Baseball Prospectus 2001 has him at .284/.338/.409 for a .251 EqA. Those numbers:
Does this injury kill the Sox's chance to break the Yankees' stranglehold on the AL East? Well, my initial reaction is a qualified "yes." The problem is that it's hard to gauge just how much this is going to cost the Sox. If Garciaparra misses two months, comes back on June 1 and plays like Nomar Garciaparra the rest of the way, the Sox may survive the two- or three-game hit. If he's out until the All-Star Break, then scuffles a bit upon his return and simply has a good year, but one below his established level, that's just too much to make up.
Right now, though, I can say that this injury will cause me to change my pre-season pick in the AL East. It's just too much time lost by too great a player, with no expectation that the replacements will be assets.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.