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July 27, 2009

Under The Knife

Metastrophe?

by Will Carroll

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I've been toying with the concept of DXL for a couple of years now, and after discussing the success and shortcomings of the number over at Unfiltered, I'm going to do a bit of experimenting. Instead of DXL, I'm going to include a target return date. This is an estimate based on the best currently available information, and should not be taken as any kind of prediction. It's going to move backward and forward when there's new information to add, changes, setbacks, and shifts in the team context. I'm not sure how it will work out, but I decided it was better to try and make it better now rather than ride out the year with DXL. Players that aren't expected to miss time won't have a date (with Grady Sizemore representing a good example today).

Jose Reyes (8/10)
Gary Sheffield (8/4)
Carlos Beltran (8/20)

Another change I considered, but decided against for now, was changing this column to "Under The Mets." It's probably not a good long-term decision, since the team that's perceived as being the most injury-prone changes from year to year. Call it luck if you want, but I'll keep looking for the real reason. Anyway, the Mets are getting a bit of good news with Reyes, who has only one hurdle to clear before he's ready to start playing in games: running the bases at full speed. The turns on the bases are the hardest element of this, and of course the most sport-specific, testing the hamstrings and knees with their unbalanced and often awkward steps around the diamond's 360 feet. Reyes is expected to do this "any day now," and then move quickly into rehab games. Sources tell me that there's a bit of a debate as to how to handle it from there. There are some who want to give Reyes a week's worth of rehab games to make sure that there's no problem, while the others wants to get him back to New York quickly.

The story on Sheffield is a bit more confusing. After a week of not being able to play, Sheffield had a good workout on Friday, but the Mets then made the decision on Saturday to DL him. Stories came out that Sheffield was frustrated to the point of asking for a trade, but the simple fact is that this was a roster decision. "Cautious" is the word that the Mets used in describing the retroactive move, but this is really about needing a pitcher now, and wanting to have Sheffield at 100 percent. Add in the slight progress that Carlos Beltran is making, and the middle of August is going to be huge for the Mets in terms of reinforcing their roster. The question now is whether mid-August is going to be too late as the team slides, since they're already 7 back in the wild-card hunt. I'm getting reports that Beltran will shift from his non-weight-bearing work soon, so that the team can then figure out if he'll be back. I'm told that mid-August is when the team expects to know more, but I think they're going to be willing to see how Reyes' return affects the team before even considering shutting down Beltran.

Ted Lilly (8/15)
This one just reads odd: Lilly goes on the DL with a shoulder injury, and then has knee surgery? The fact is, it's not that odd. Every year, guys like Lilly start their offseason with a visit to the orthopedic specialist, perhaps for a cleanout of some joint, and then undergo a quick rehab that goes unnoticed because they're at home, not at the park. It's all a matter of timing. With three weeks of shutdown ahead of him anyway, Lilly and the Cubs just said 'why the heck not' with the knee repair. It should be noted that the knee was never a big deal; the shoulder, however, is. Sources tell me that Lilly has some sort of impingement, and that a previous situation a few years back in Toronto cleared up with rest. The downside here is that this is a chronic situation that may need to be addresed after the season. With Ryan Dempster due back tomorrow, the Cubs will juggle their rotation, meaning that Kevin Hart will stick as long as Lilly's only missing a handful of starts.

Kevin Slowey (TBD)
Slowey's season could be over because of bone chips in his wrist, but it's unclear if this is an instance of bone chips in the way that we normally think of them. Usually, bone chips are small fragments of bone, say, a bone spur that's broken off and is in the joint's space, causing irritation. (The last part is key; many pitchers probably have small asymptomatic bone chips in their joints.) Given the ball smacking off of Slowey's wrist and the careful wording coming out of Minnesota, some think that Slowey has a chip fracture that's irritated by the hard supination of his breaking ball. Sid Hartman of the Star-Tribune wrote that Slowey would need surgery in his column, but there's almost no other information there to go on. My sources would only indicate that it's a possibility, but that a final decision had not been made. As yet, we don't know what type of surgery this would be, so we can't know how it will affect him, but chips in the wrist? Doctors I spoke with say unless there was underlying damage, a quick cleanout of floating chips would only cost him a few weeks. This is the time of the year where, especially with pitchers, even a short time off and rehab can become a season-ending injury. The situation on this one is so unclear that I'm not even setting a target return date yet, but you should know how much I hate unknowns.

Grady Sizemore
Let's go over this one again. Sizemore will need surgery to correct the situation in his elbow, but it's relatively simple surgery that will take about eight weeks to recover from. If the Indians played all the way through October-unlikely, I know-Sizemore would be fine for spring training. He could wait until late January to have the surgery and be fine for camp. It's that timing and the knowledge that he's not going to hurt it worse by playing that has the Indians and Sizemore waiting. Why didn't he get it fixed earlier, you ask? I'm told that it's not the surgery but the swing that would be the problem. "If he has the surgery, then all of [spring training] to get his swing right, no big deal," said a source. "If he has it in June, maybe he gets his swing right in Akron or Columbus, but maybe he doesn't. It's not nearly as controlled." The only real risk seems to be the discomfort that Sizemore is in, and the chance that it alters his swing and gets him into bad habits, the very thing that the Indians were trying to avoid. There's still a chance he gets shut down, but that might be hard to do if the Indians trade off other pieces over the next couple of weeks.

Matt Harrison (10/4*)
Vicente Padilla (7/28)

Someone joked on Twitter that the Rangers were collecting the complete set of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome action figures. It's weird coincidence that the team has had so many, since there's no reason for it, and it's not that common; between the Rangers and Tigers, you could have them all. Harrison has been fighting problems for a while, and the hope is that this surgery will correct what may have been the underlying cause all along. Then again, it's a reminder to all teams trading for prospects that even a guy who was almost a dealbreaker in one of the biggest deals in recent memory might not pan out. (Seriously, are there more than five or six pitchers anywhere that you wouldn't trade straight up for Roy Halladay?) Harrison is expected back for spring training, though with this surgery it's probably unlikely that he'll be full-go come that time, especially if there's competition. The Rangers are also dealing with a diagnosis of H1N1 flu-popularly known as swine flu-for Padilla. They'll use all necessary precautions, but he is expected to start Tuesday's game.

*The season is scheduled to end on October 4th this season, so for all season-ending injuries this will be noted with this as their targeted return date. It's not that Harrison will be ready on this day, but for behind-the-scenes purposes, there needs to be a closing date for all injuries.

Ryan Hanigan (7/28)
With Ramon Hernandez already out with knee surgery, Hanigan was getting the chance to start full-time. Except he then came up with a stiff neck, missing both games this weekend and leaving the catching chores to Craig Tatum. That's not an ideal situation, but Hanigan is in a tough spot here. "There's a lot of catchers who are just backups," one front-office type explained to me. "They can't hold up for one reason or another, or there's some glaring weakness in their game. Some, like Gregg Zaun, have one strength and not much else." Assuming he can stay healthy, Hanigan was getting a chance to show that he's not just a backup, as Hernandez will be a free agent after the season. The Reds hope that Hanigan can make it so they just need to find a backup on the market and not a starter, but that leap is often a big one. There's still a couple of months left, but they could be long ones for the Reds if catcher becomes another position that they're getting no offense from.

Quick Cuts: As noted in the Lilly segment, Ryan Dempster will come off of the DL and start on Tuesday. He's shown no problems with his broken toe in simulated games. ... The inflammation in Erik Bedard's shoulder is said to be "diffuse and internal." That doesn't sound good. ... John Danks will start Monday. His blister has healed, but could be a problem still. ... Brett Gardner broke his thumb on a slide, but stayed in the game. Now he'll stay in a cast for a couple of weeks, and could miss a month. ... I'll be at a Tweetup with Peter King in Indianapolis on August 10; it should be fun, so see you there. ... Edinson Volquez will throw Monday, dialing it up to somewhere between 92 and 96 percent. ... Micah Owings left his Sunday start with a sore shoulder; this bears watching. ... Randy Johnson will have an MRI on Monday to gauge the progress with his sore shoulder. ... Lance Berkman says he won't rush his rehab, but wants to be back for the playoff hunt; I doublechecked, but he is on the DL with a calf strain, not delusions. ... There are moments where John Smoltz looks like JOHN SMOLTZ, but not many. I can see why Boston would have seen him throw and decided to sign him. ... The Cardinals now have a lot of outfield options, which lets them rest Colby Rasmus while he's got a sore heel, said to be just a bruise but painful. ... I re-read Bill James' "Breaking The Wand" essay from his last Baseball Abstract, when he quit because people were sending too many questions and complaints-via letter. Good thing there wasn't Twitter back then.

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