It’s crazier than you can imagine at the UTK home office. As the season draws closer, there’s always those last second surprises, the trades of guys like Brady Clark or Jorge Julio, based as much on roster crunch as talent. Teams are already packing for home, making the information I need to thrive tougher, but not impossible to get. (Assuming sources pick up their cell phones. Speaking of cell phones, it’s 2007–do we really need instructions? Do you want to hear from someone who doesn’t know how to use voice mail? Give me a name so I know I dialed the right number and a quick “I’ll call you back.” Half the time I do this anyway.)

I also see people absolutely desperate to figure out their fantasy teams, begging for something, anything on the guy they just overdrafted. Here’s an e-mail from FR: “I hate you. When I read you, it’s like walking on ice that I’m not sure is going to hold. You’ve killed my team with Mauer, Kotsay, and Baldelli.” Umm, FR, I tried to warn you. Add in some conference calls and a cough I got that sounds like Doc Holliday in Tombstone, and baseball’s the ground for me, the center that holds. So powered by Peets’ and NyQuil (not together), on to the injuries:

  • Exhale, Cubs fans. If it was Michael Wuertz, Will Ohman, or even Bobby Howry, would you be in quite as much of a panicking, I-knew-this-wasn’t-going-to-work mentality as you are now that Kerry Wood has had a setback? I spoke to a friend who follows the Cubs passionately, and he seemed worse than he did when Wood snapped his elbow years ago. “It’s like getting back with that girl you used to date and you know it’s not going to work, but you do it anyway because you’re stupid and she’s so pretty and doesn’t look like she’s going to tear your heart out,” he said. I suggested turning down the drama dial a bit, but he had called to wallow in it. “How bad?” he asked.

    I’ll tell you what I told him. It’s bad, in that any setback is bad, especially to a shoulder we already know is both fragile and damaged. What’s not so bad is that sources tell me that pain is not in the back of the shoulder, but rather nearer the triceps where Wood has already had problems this spring. After seeing Wood’s last outing, it’s hard to see any mechanical difference–he’s still stepping across his body, and it still looks like scapular dyskinesis could be an issue beyond the triceps and damaged cuff. It’s still unclear how long this will sideline Wood, but Opening Day is out for sure. Whether he makes it back and can hold up as a reliever remains to be seen.

  • Mariners reliever J.J. Putz will push past any elbow problems he may be having and be in the pen for Opening Day. While there’s little doubt that there’s something more going on in his pitching elbow than the Mariners have said publicly, the key here is that Putz can pitch. It’s not known whether this is a Brad Radke style “push through the pain,” or simply an asymptomatic problem that Putz can pitch through. Nolan Ryan pitched for years with a UCL that doctors thought would snap and it never did, so even a known diagnosis isn’t destiny. Pitching is so individuated that making any sort of generality is tough. So far, we know Putz has a problem, has worked through it, and is available. He’s unbelievably risky and a perfect sell-high guy if you have a league mate that isn’t following injuries like he should, but that’s not to say that he can’t be effective all season either. Closers are already the high-risk roll of the dice in Fantasy; Putz is the hard eight.
  • The Jays are publicly comfortable with B.J. Ryan only getting in one game before they head north. Behind the scenes, there has to be some concern that this type of muscular issue in the lower back is likely to recur. The Jays really don’t have much in the way of bullpen depth with some decent arms, but none that scream “closer in waiting,” making their big money closer all the more important. On the plus side, despite questionable mechanics, Ryan hasn’t had serious health concerns since 2001. The caution the Jays have shown with Ryan reflects his importance and their investment. Whether this turns out to be a spring training “so what?” injury or the first sign that yes, he is going to pay for those mechanics is something we simply can’t know. His risk has always been high, so given the solid medical staff that Toronto has, I’d come down on the side that you should use the back injury to make Ryan a better value on draft day, or a trade candidate for someone panicking.
  • A friend of mine who’s an athletic trainer e-mailed me to remind me that the bone that Joe Mauer is having trouble with, the fibula, is a non-weightbearing bone. I knew this, but hadn’t mentioned it because I wasn’t sure if the squatting a catcher does would affect the stresses on the fibula. The same trainer answered my question, saying:

    When you are squatting as a catcher, your ankle is being maintained in an extreme dorsiflexed (toes pulled up, towards the shin) position; this is going to put significant tension on the peroneal muscle group as well as the posterior tibialis muscle–all of which have insertions at portions along the fibula. The tension on the muslce fibers attaching to the periosteum of the bone is typically what cause stress reactions/fractures. Plus, every time he has to explode out of his crouch position that is contractile tension being applied to the fibula as the peroneal fire to help plantar flex the foot.

    If you didn’t get all that, he’s saying that the stresses of catching aren’t just a negative for Mauer, it’s quite likely to be the cause of his stress reaction. My case for him moving to DH (or any other position) is starting to make more and more sense.

  • I’m not predicting that the Rays (not Devil Rays, I’m told by their PR staff, thank you) will be good. I think they’ll be better, just like next year’s jerseys will be better. They have to be. To be good, they’ll need a healthy season from Rocco Baldelli, a ROY campaign from Delmon Young, and a ton of pitching that I don’t see on paper. They actually have depth, with Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes fighting for jobs, but the one thing they couldn’t overcome is an injury to Carl Crawford. It worries me that Crawford is already having tightness in his groin since so much of his value is tied up in his legs, but the Rays medical staff and front office are more than likely being ultracautious in spring training with any sort of problem. It’s good that after using hot wax to treat his sore wrists than no one’s suggested it for the groin problem.
  • It’s no surprise–or shouldn’t be, anyway–that Juan Encarnacion is going to start the season on the DL. What’s a bit more concerning is that his rehab has been more stuttered than a BT remix. The latest bump in the road is a cortisone injection into his problematic wrist. We know that wrist injuries can linger, sapping both bat speed and control, so the need for an injection well before he cut loose with his swing has to draw his progress under question. The injury sapped his OBP last season, following the speed that’s been missing a couple seasons. At 30 and injured, Encarnacion has a lot to prove before you can consider him anything more than waiver bait. For the Cards, that means a lot of watching Preston Wilson and waiting for Walt Jocketty to work his deadline magic.
  • Things just got worse for Jason Repko. Not only will he start the season on the DL with a severely strained hamstring, he may just end the season there. Repko is likely heading for surgery to re-attach the muscle. The most recent example of this type of surgery was Armando Benitez, so Stan Conte has some experience. With today’s trade for Brady Clark and the presence of Matt Kemp on the L.A. doorstep, this injury could have the same effect on Repko that wrist problems did on Jayson Werth. Repko should be able to come back at some point without significant deficit, though he’ll certainly have to answer questions about his range when he does.
  • Catcher Toby Hall was a nice signing and looked to be a solid backup to A.J. Pierzynski. Then the White Sox thought they’d see if they could get a little more value out of him, trying him at first base in the spring. You know what position changes mean to risk and even in something as short term as an experiment, bad things can happen. For Hall and the Sox, that bad thing is a severely torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. As with pitchers, a torn labrum in a catcher is as bad as it can get, affecting both throwing and hitting negatively. He’ll see Dr. Lewis Yocum for the inevitable surgical consult while the Sox try to figure out if Wiki Gonzalez or Gustavo Molina (no, this one is Venezuelan, though he hits like a real Molina) can be adequate backups or if Sandy Alomar‘s phone is going to ring.
  • If you’re a real optimist and a Mets fan, you can make yourself think that Omar Minaya will get three big acquisitions this season without trading anyone away. Guillermo Mota should come off suspension in May, Pedro Martinez should be back in late July, and now, Duaner Sanchez will be back around the trading deadline. That’s one way to look at it, though I’d say the team is going to miss those guys in April. After a spring training filled with questions about his conditioning and professionalism, Sanchez is now facing more surgery related to his accident-damaged pitching shoulder. I don’t have any comps for a repair of the coracoid process so even the projections on an in-season return are a bit shaky. I mean, the dude’s about to have a screw inserted in his shoulder. Scott Schoeneweis just saw his value go way up.
  • If the Dodgers are expecting an immediate reduction in their DL time, they’re not getting it. Jason Repko is already going to rack up serious days on their tab, and now Hong-Chih Kuo is having problems. He’s been shut down with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. There’s not much information beyond this, but the symptoms (inflammation and pain in the back of his shoulder) could be many things, from a cuff problem to a labrum tear to simple tendinitis. There’s no use guessing here; the value is in knowing that he’ll be shut down for much of April. Watch to see if he can get back to a throwing program by mid-month. If this stretches into May, we’ll know it was one of the worse injuries. Kuo was already ticketed for Las Vegas (which sounds bad only to a Dodgers farmhand), so he’s lost whatever value he had for now.

Quick Cuts: Here’s an interesting thing I’m noting throughout Spring Training–players seem more likely to talk about their own injuries than team officials. Part of this is the new rule limiting access to medical staffs, but I’m wondering if there’s something of a new transparency coming with the players … Freddy Garcia will throw a bullpen session Tuesday. That will let us know if he starts the season on the DL … Looks like Mark Grudzielanek will make it back in time for Opening Day after a knee scoping. Both he and Bobby Kielty will have few limitations when they return … Carlos Quentin did hit off a tee on Monday. He’s still on track to be ready for Opening Day, but watch to see him in a game, which will be your tell … Very interesting. I’ve heard Tom House talk about his work with a major golf company. Just sayin’ … Why is everyone so down on Brad Penny? He could use a bit more efficiency with his stamina down, but I’ll take him as a fantasy #3 … This is not going to go well. Don’t think the timing isn’t orchestrated either. The rumored number of players is all over the place … Speaking of the Orioles, Jay Payton will miss a couple weeks after straining his hamstring on the bases. There’s a small chance that he’ll be ready in the first week of the season, avoiding the DL … If anyone’s looking for a minor league pitcher that can reach the mid-90’s and can throw a gyroball, I know where there’s one available. E-mail me for details.

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