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September 23, 2009

Under The Knife

Making a Run for the Border

by Will Carroll

Aroldis Chapman
Remember, I am not a scout, but with the news that Chapman will soon be a free agent, there have been a lot of questions. I've only seen him in video, but what I've seen seems good. He's obviously got good stuff and clean-ish mechanics, but without more information I'm not willing to buy high. At 21, he's in the reddest of red zones, and with an estimated valuation of $50 million, a team is not likely to be patient with him. Assuming that he is 21, he's going to be asked to pitch at a high level from day one, likely without much-if any-minor-league time. Putting him in a high-stress situation wouldn't be unlike what the Rangers did with David Clyde. The Cubans that have made it over have generally been older and more seasoned, and while there are questions about Chapman's age, this is a situation where if he were 24 or 25, I'd feel a bit better about the situation. Even Daisuke Matsuzaka was in his mid-twenties when he came over. I'm curious whether the "Joba Rules" will affect how a team will handle Chapman, or if his handlers will steer him to a team with a track record for developing young pitchers. Then again, if he gets the money many are predicting, whether he's healthy or not won't matter nearly as much as it does to someone coming through the draft.

Wagner Mateo
The word "tragic" seldom applies to baseball, but Mateo's story might be. He's gone from a talented 16-year-old to a Dominican millionaire almost overnight, but now with news that he has a serious degenerative eye condition and his contract has been rescinded, he's gone in the opposite direction faster, leaving him not with a pile of cash, but a future that will include severely limited vision. Instead of coming to America in the near future to pursue a dream with his future in the bank, Mateo will now have to adjust. The details of his condition aren't clear, but then again, neither are the details of how this will play out. I can't fault the Cardinals for this action, but I can only hope that they don't just drop him. Baseball means so much to the Dominican Republic, and is a way out of poverty for only a few. Mateo may never be a player, but the Cardinals and baseball should take this chance to make a difference somehow.

Andy Pettitte
Monday night, Andy Gresh asked me how important Pettitte's latest start for the Yankees was. My immediate answer was "not very," but it did make me think about the issue. At 37, Pettitte's been an effective mid-rotation starter (with a .519 SNWP), but the consistency in his workload over the years is astonishing. Aside from two seasons with arm problems in 2002 and 2004, Pettitte's always been a workhorse. He's put up four straight years of 200+ innings, and if he gets 16 more innings this season, he'd have his 11th season with 200+ IP. At 215 wins, Pettitte's unlikely to hit the 300-win milestone, but he's also an interesting case for the Hall of Fame. The Yankees are far enough ahead in the standings that they can do things like give Pettitte a week off to rest up, and given his results last time out, it appears that worked. While Bobby Abreu is certainly the bargain of the '09 free-agent crop, Pettitte's deal should be in the discussion. The age and workload may have worn him down a little, but the Yankees are smart enough to get him the needed rest.

Zack Greinke
Wondering if Greinke is healthy? How about a 98 mph fastball in the first inning? How about a 96 mph heater in his last frame in the sixth? Greinke put it to the Red Sox as if that comebacker off the bat of Miguel Cabrera was a mosquito bite. There was nothing wrong with him as he nailed down his case for the AL Cy Young Award and making the decisions of the Royals last week, allowing him to continue to pitch after being hit, look irrelevant. They're not, though-the pursuit of a record, an award, or a number is not more important than Greinke's long-term value to the team. That they dodged a bullet doesn't make it a sound strategy.

Tim Wakefield (9/28)
Junichi Tazawa (10/4)

The Red Sox have two starters locked in for post-season assignments, but behind those two there are a lot of question marks. Daisuke Matsuzaka has had two solid starts after a nearly-lost season. Clay Buchholz has established himself, but he's also well over a 30-inning increase (including all levels) and would push the 200-inning mark while pitching in the playoffs, but he has also been his best over the last five starts, going 5-0 with an ERA under 3.00, showing that he's not too fatigued. Tazawa has been shut down due to a groin strain and the desire to not overextend the young starter in his first American campaign. That leaves the Sox hoping that Tim Wakefield would be someone they could turn to, but he showed a lack of touch his last time out, walking seven. That isn't uncommon for a knuckleballer after a layoff, but sources say that Wakefield was sore after the start, both in his back and his calf, his recent pair of problem areas. There's no official decision on whether Wakefield will get another start, but the Red Sox hope that he can get back out there. Expect his next start to be off-turn in order to get him a little extra rest. If he can't go, they'll need to have an extra bit of faith that their top two starters, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, can carry them through.

Brett Myers (9/29)
An MRI showed that Myers has a mild strain of his lat. The large muscle of the back is one that doesn't often get involved in pitching, but we've seen it show up as a kinetic chain injury, most notably with Ben Sheets. It's almost always a situation where there were previous injuries and the subtle changes to their mechanics bring the lat under more stress and activity. Myers' strain is not serious, with the Phillies saying that it's Grade I; they expect him to throw again early next week and could have him back in the bullpen for the last week of the season. Charlie Manuel definitely wants to get a good look at him in the pen before setting his playoff roster and determining people's roles.

Bobby Jenks (10/4)
"I felt it pop." That's never a good quote, but that's what the White Sox heard Jenks tell reporters that after last night's game, but it wasn't in-game when he re-injured his calf, it was sometime during warmups that he strained it, the same one that had kept him out of action since late last week. The initial injury wasn't considered serious, but overexertion caused the already weakened muscle to give way. With little time left in the season and the Sox well behind, there's not much reason for him to come back, but this is more than just a minor injury. If there was baseball to come back to, Jenks would likely miss somewhere near a month with this; we'll see if this was the end of his time in Chicago.

Ted Lilly (9/27)
Milton Bradley

The Cubs will skip Lilly in the rotation due to some shoulder soreness he's having, but the team thinks he'll be ready next time his turn comes around. In the meantime, his start will be taken by Jeff Samardzija, but Lilly's penciled in for a weekend start against San Francisco. Lilly has been solid since returning from knee surgery, but remember that he was also shut down at that time with a similar shoulder problem, one that opened up the chance for Lilly to have that knee surgery. The resulting down time gave him the rest he apparently needed to calm things down, but since it's back in just a handful of starts, this is something the Cubs will have to watch out for next season.

There's some chatter about a clause in Milton Bradley's deal. According to the contract, Bradley's 2011 salary reverts to a club option with a buyout in the event that he ends the season on the DL with a "specific injury" and not on the active roster on April 15, 2010. While the Cubs refused to discuss the contract clause, the provision is there in large part because of the injury protections written into the deal. A season-ending injury is often difficult to time out, unlike an in-season injury. For that, Bradley had a 75-day limit. In essence, this amounts to a "saved by the bell" protection for the team. It's likely that the specific injury that goes unnamed is his knee, though other players with clauses like this have the issue spelled out: J.D. Drew signed a deal that had a shoulder-related codicil, while Magglio Ordoņez had an opt-out based on his knee. While Bradley's knee issues lately could have pushed him to the DL, it's unlikely that the team could have started him on the DL next season without creating an even more tense situation. Players have a right to a second opinion, and it's very unlikely that a team would try to push a player in this way without an immediate recourse, rather than having him steam for all of 2010.

Quick Cuts: Carlos Gonzalez left Tuesday's game with a sore hamstring. He'd tripled on a cold night, a tough combination, but there's no word at deadline on the injury's severity. ... Brian McCann was hit on the wrist, but images showed no fracture. He will miss a couple of days, I'm sure. ... Jose Reyes hasn't been shut down yet. There's still some talk of a late-season game being played, but we've heard "soon" since July, so I'm not expecting it. ... It's not just Ted Lilly who will be making a start this weekend; Lou Piniella says that Rich Harden will be back for the Cubs as well. ... Freddy Sanchez has a torn meniscus and is done for the season. ... Troy Glaus is not with the Cardinals on the road and may be done after an oblique strain. ... The Royals aren't rushing David DeJesus back from a sprained ankle, but it's not serious. ... Chris Snyder will have microdiscectomy surgery, but he should be ready for next year. ... Ross Ohlendorf's season is over after he hit an innings cap. ... Xavier Nady is progressing well; six months is enough time for him to be healed enough to DH, but he'll have to be careful on outfield throws. An AL team could end up with a bargain in Nady with the right type of deal.

Related Content:  Will Myers,  Year Of The Injury

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