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September 15, 2009

Under The Knife

September Shutdowns

by Will Carroll

Justin Morneau (10/4)
It wasn't just a simple back injury Morneau-imaging discovered a stress fracture of his L5 vertebrae, in the middle of his back. As a result, Morneau's season is done, but he won't need surgery. He will spend the next three months with limited activity, so this won't be a typical offseason for him, though there's really no reason to think he won't heal completely and be ready for spring training. The injury occurred slowly, but seems to have been exacerbated by a dive into first last Friday, so my look at the stat line yesterday makes even more sense with that information. Morneau indicated that the pain wasn't so bad that he didn't think he couldn't play through it, but that the Twins elected not to take any chances with the former MVP. The Twins will keep Michael Cuddyer at first base with Delmon Young taking up the at-bats in Morneau's absence.

Clayton Kershaw (9/22)
Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times dropped a bomb into his notes column on Monday, casually mentioning that Clayton Kershaw's glove-side shoulder is separated, not bruised. Now, shoulder injuries are often a matter of semantics, so I'm not putting 100 percent faith in this, but I also doubt that Hernandez suddenly decided to change the description of the injury without reason. I wasn't able to get a response from Hernandez to get more information and the Dodgers of course cannot comment on an injury, so we have to take this as a data point rather than a cause for panic. Let's assume that it was a mild separation, which would present and function as a severe bruise. The treatment would be the same, aside from the possible treatment via immobilization. Joe Torre said initially that Kershaw's only problem was with reaching for the ball, but there was also some question about balance and how the change might affect his mechanics at a dangerous innings mark for him. The Dodgers have been smart with him and found a way to get him some rest in advance of the playoffs. Kershaw's playing catch again, so the new information doesn't really change his timeline, which is for his probably coming back sometime next week.

Joba Chamberlain
"Joba's going to have to learn to go as hard as he can for as long as he can." That's the quote that was credited to Dave Eiland by a twitterer named Big League Screw. In the modern age of journalism, that's not a great source. Assuming Eiland said that, and that it's reflective of some kind of new Yankees plan for Chamberlain, it's nevertheless interesting. The "snicker plan" as one front-office type I spoke too called it-"long and hard"-would be more fitting for a reliever than a starter, which almost by definition has some level of pacing. Most starters that convert from a relief role see a reduction in velocity, with the reverse true as well. If the Yankees indeed want Joba to be a sprinter, he's going to be a max-effort guy who's never going to last much more than the three- or four- inning stints we're seeing here. If it's some training technique, no one seems to have heard of it. As always, we'll just have to watch and no that so far, the Yankees haven't blown Chamberlain out. Comparing the way they've used him and value they've received compares well to Clay Buchholz. (Chamberlain has contributed 6.6 WARP in just over two years of service time at the end of 2009 season, compared to 3.0 WARP for Buchholz, who should finish with about a half-year of service time.) Knowing that, the question is whether the value will be the same over the course of team control. Joel Sherman has a brilliant breakdown of the so-called Joba Rules today that's a must-read.

Alfonso Soriano (10/4)
Angel Guzman (9/15)

The Cubs are going to have an offseason filled with questions. Clearly built to win now, the team was hoping to close out the TribCorp era with a World Series trophy, bu didn't. Answering why is going to be difficult, and even if they could, we have no idea what kind of resources the team will have to try again. There's a chance that the Cubs will try to sell off some of its now-bad contracts for pennies on the dollar, leaving themselves to test a farm system that's below-average at the upper levels. Soriano was already going to be tough to trade, but he'll be even more so after he has surgery on today. While it's a simple clean-out, the surgery will remind many that Soriano's not the same speed/power guy the Cubs signed just a few years ago. Soriano can come back from the knee surgery without much question, but if he can't stay healthy aside from that knee, he'll do more damage to the Cubs than their opponents. The news is a bit worse for Guzman; the pitcher seemed to have finally found a niche in the pen, even though Lou Piniella never trusted him with the closer role. Guzman is a good data point for recovering from a labrum procedure, though his continued shoulder/triceps problems shade that, and unfortunately he's having those again. At this stage, the Cubs would do well to just shut him down, but instead the Cubs think he'll be available as soon as today.

Joe Crede (10/4)
Jason Kubel (9/15)

With Morneau done for the season with his back injury, Ron Gardenhire is going to have to shuffle his lineup a bit. The problem is, he's already been shuffling due to injuries to Crede and Kubel. Crede's likely done for the season despite a valiant effort to come back; he was in significant pain after his latest start, and the team doesn't feel he can contribute at this stage as a pinch-hitter. Kubel's situation is a bit more fluid, as his injured neck kept him out of the starting lineup, but he was able to come in and hit a pinch homer in the Twins' win. As much as any current Twin, Kubel could be helped by the switch to a grass field next season, although he could also be hurt by the cold. He should be back in the lineup soon, with his split between playing the outfield and DHing staying roughly the same.

Jose Valverde (9/18)
Roy Oswalt (9/15)
Tim Lincecum

Oswalt will get the ball today after back spasms had kept him out a week. Imaging showed the same bulging disc he's dealt with off and on for the past couple of years, but nothing more. The doctors recommended swimming as part of his routine, and Alyson Footer confirmed for me that the team has had a SwimEx installed at the park, just as most new parks feature. While a back injury might seem inevitable for a pitcher who puts as much force out of his body as Oswalt, it's the ending quotes in Brian McTaggart's article that sound almost like a direct message to Tim Lincecum. Meanwhile, Lincecum looked perfectly healthy in his return, striking out 11; his mechanics looked normal, or at least normal for him. To bring this back to the Astros, the news is more straightforward with Valverde-he has a fever and the team kept him away from the rest of the team. With the concern about H1N1 flu, this isn't a surprise, and there's no solid timeline for his return.

Quick Cuts: I've always been proud to be part of the Football Outsiders team, but this article by Bill Barnwell is just brilliant. I only wish I knew someone that could do the same thing in baseball. ... Jose Contreras threw a good bullpen session, but there's no date for his return to the rotation. ... The Rockies hope things go as well for Huston Street, who will throw a simulated game today. ... There are some rumblings that Aaron Cook isn't as shut down as first indicated, and that he's hoping to come back before the end of the season. ... The Royals seem to be shutting down Gil Meche for the season. ... There's no word on tests for Mark Teahen's lower back; look to see if he's back with the team later today. ... The Orioles have seen enough from Brian Matusz to know he'll help them next year, so it's not a big deal that he's being shut down. ... The Astros aren't doing Bud Norris the same favor, despite a huge increase in innings over a couple of levels. ... Randy Johnson went 53 pitches in a side session, and continues to hover around a return. ... Delwyn Young injured his back swinging on Sunday, and will miss a couple of games.

Related Content:  A's,  Back,  The Who,  The Week In Quotes,  Year Of The Injury

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