June 20, 2008
I'm going to see Francisco Liriano tomorrow. While I'm glad to get a close look at him, he's wasting away. Last year, Gary Huckabay wrote that there's a twist on the sabermetric "rule" that "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect." Huckabay wrote that, once a pitcher in the minors establishes dominance, there's no reason to have him shooting what might be a limited supply of bullets against a collection of minor league "talent." This isn't to say that many pitchers don't have some or many things to learn in the minors; I'm looking at you, Homer Bailey. What I'm saying is that teams should be using some very close approximation of the best ten to twelve arms in the system as their major league pitchers. There are exceptions, of course, mostly relating to experience and development, but also in regards to control and the injury nexus. Liriano has none of those concerns, and if the only reason to keep him down is his arbitration status, then the Twins are only hurting themselves. I'll report on what I saw next Monday.
On another front, J.P. Ricciardi stuck his foot firmly in his mouth when he questioned Adam Dunn's heart, but his backpedaling on the issue comes across as a bit weak to me. Ricciardi didn't just make something up out of whole cloth. General managers have scouts and advisors, what one consultant recently called a "posse" of people they trust. Someone inside Ricciardi's posse gave him the info that Dunn had makeup issues, and that came out, admittedly in the heat of the moment. I've heard these stories, not necessarily about Dunn, but about virtually every guy in baseball. One player that had been in a slump got mentioned in a conversation with an insider I trust. I asked if something was inside this player's head, causing the slump. The guy looked at me and said "Nothing's ever been in [player]'s head." It's funny, so it sticks in my mind, but I've heard similar things about hundreds of players. This one is dumb, but that one reads books without pictures. That one likes very young women, this one drinks too much on the road. One team I know keeps track of every conversation their front office has, hoping that one of those off-hand conversation tells them something that can be valuable later. Someone said to me today that tampering rules aren't in place to prevent tampering, but to prevent people from saying things as stupid as Ricciardi just did.
Powered by Mountain Dew Voltage (my new addiction), on to the injuries:
Carlos Zambrano (15 DXL/$1.0 million)
If nothing else, the Cubs should be happy that Geovany Soto watches his pitchers so closely, because Soto noticed something about Zambrano and didn't wait. Instead, he waved out the trainers while running out to see what was going on with Zambrano in the seventh. While Zambrano's control wasn't perfect, he's never really been the most efficient pitcher. Zambrano stated after the game that he "felt something" and is headed back to Chicago to have an MRI and an examination by team physicians. According to Gameday, Zambrano was between 91-95 on his fastball all night, and he was still in that range in the seventh. Zambrano has been very durable over his career despite that inefficiency and despite the workload. The Cubs have enough pitching depth to get by if this is just a short-term issue, but if it's not he's obviously irreplaceable. Reports have Zambrano taking a Magnetic Resonance Arthrogram today, rather than the expected MRI. Arthrograms are a common imaging used to visualize soft tissue, such as the labrum, bicipital tendon, and the rotator cuff. Knowing what the test will be suggests what the doctors are looking for. It's clear that Zambrano will miss at least one start. I'm setting his DXL at 15 because of the expectation of a DL stint, but I don't know yet how long he will be out, and yes, that injury cost seems low.
Chien-Ming Wang (90 DXL/$4.0 million)
No one knows feet like Dr. Philip Kwong of Kerlan-Jobe, so I'll just let him tell you about Wang: "It is unusual to have both a Lisfranc ligament sprain and partial tear peroneal longus together, and longer time will be needed for recovery (8-12 weeks if no significant instability occurs at the Lisfranc joints). The combined injuries represent greater rotational stress than would be experienced for each injury alone. Prognosis and time line for recovery will depend on the exact amount of ligament/tendon tear sustained and on the amount of tissue remaining to provide stability. Healing is the formation of scar tissue and not regrowth of the normal ligament or tendon tissue; consequently, future problems such as arthritis can occur at Lisfranc's joints or reinjury of the peroneal longus tendon." So as I'd expected, the additional damage beyond the Lisfranc is likely to add to the time Wang is out. It leaves very little wiggle room in terms of there being enough time for him to come back and throw meaningful innings, not unless the Yankees are right and Wang comes back at the extreme low end of expectations. I think the Yankees' record is going to dictate how this is eventually handled.
Jose Reyes (0 DXL/0)
The Mets are never going to be too distracted to to interfere with their keeping a close eye on Reyes' legs. When he has anything crop up, even just "stiffness" as he did on Tuesday, the team is almost always going to remove him as a precaution and begin the normal process of stretching and other modalities that have worked to keep him on the field and off of the DL over the past couple of years. Missing an inning here or there, even a game every now and again, should just be the cost of doing business if you have Reyes. The stiffness wasn't a problem once Reyes got back into the lineup, as his 26th steal shows, so it isn't slowing him down much. Now all he has to do is keep his new manager from stabbing him.
David Ortiz (35 DXL/$3.4 million)
The cast is off, but Ortiz went right into a splint. What's the difference? It's pretty significant, actually. Ortiz can now do more in the way of treatments, especially the ones that will work on his range of motion. In essence, he's cleared the portion of his rehab focused on rest and made it into the more active portion, leading back to baseball activities. The most important takeaway from the cast's removal is that there was a clear milestone for it: he's free of any pain. Ortiz is nevertheless still a couple of weeks away at best from swinging a bat, and remains in jeopardy of setbacks. We'll be watching for that next milestone and for signs that the wrist has lost strength, as it's a big factor in Ortiz's power and bat control. At this point, it still looks like Ortiz should be back around the All-Star break.
Curt Schilling (180 DXL/$6.7 million)
After a setback in his rehab, Schilling has announced that he'll undergo the surgery that was discussed and decided against at the start of the season. This could well be the last we see of him since, much like John Smoltz, the extensive rehab necessary is going to make it tough for Schilling to return. And for what? Schilling has done everything he can, on and off the field, to build a great performance record and create a reputation that borders on legendary. The course taken with his rehab was appropriate, but I'm sure Dr. Craig Morgan will remind us all of his initial suggestion. I'll remind him that Schilling came around, and that it seemed possible for him to return; it was bad luck and a shoulder that simply couldn't hold together long enough to get him back to the big leagues this time around. If Schilling doesn't come back, he has plenty of interests, a great family, and he's always seemed to me like the kind of guy we'd want filling the ex-player slot at BP.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (15 DXL/$1.1 million)
Things are much more positive for Matsuzaka. The rehab start went perfectly, getting through five innings on 65 pitches, the best indication that Matsuzaka had no problems with his arm or with Triple-A hitters. He showed good velocity and control, as well as movement that had one IronPig asking me what a gyroball should look like via text. Assuming that he recovers well, Matsuzaka's next start will come for the Red Sox, likely on Saturday against the Cardinals. Matsuzaka's rehab start and the efficiency he showed in it is interesting. While I think it was more a function of competition than a real change in style-there's not much hitting talent in the Pigs' lineup, and the two solid hitters on the team went 5-for-8-throwing less pitches would not only take some wear off Matsuzaka's arm, it would decrease his frustration by allowing him to get deeper into games.
J.J. Putz (30 DXL/$1.8 million)
Players are seldom good sources of information about their own injuries. However, every once in a while they'll say something that gives us some insight. Putz admitted that he'd changed his delivery slightly after his rib injury in order to take stress off the area. It wasn't that the ribs were painful, according to Putz, but that he was thinking about them. That "guarding" and the associated mechanical changes could be a part of why his elbow got new stresses. I'm a bit hesitant to give that all of the blame/credit to this since Putz "slammed closed" his elbow, and that hard hyperextension is not often the result of a mechanical change. The difference is so noticeable that pitchers normally quickly alter things unless they simply cannot make the necessary adjustments. Some have been confused by the "slammed closed" description that I've used, but it's simply taking the elbow joint to its fullest extension, with the arm straight. The "closed" part refers to the bones and their spacing, not the joint's extension. Due to the mechanism on this, I'm not sure that the root cause is addressed yet and am worried that this will become recurrent, causing further wear and tear to the muscles and ligaments of Putz's elbow.
Rafael Furcal (60 DXL/$4.6 million)
Whatever's going on with Furcal's back, it's not getting better. The Dodgers don't think they'll have Furcal back in action until the All-Star break, and it doesn't sound as if they're sure about even that. ESPN is reporting that Furcal has a bulging disk, though earlier reports, including examinations from back specialists, never mentioned this condition. The complicating factor has always been Furcal's shoulder, but if there is a bulging or herniated disk at the heart of this, and since this has been such a slow-healing and complex issue, then surgery would become a consideration. None of my sources have indicated this is the case, so I'm not ready to latch on to the idea that the problem is disk-related. In the meantime, Furcal continues to have treatment, with the goal of getting him back in the lineup around the All-Star break, a goal that seems very aggressive given the current pace.
Jeremy Bonderman (120 DXL/$7.8 million)
As expected, Bonderman had surgery to remove a section of his first rib in order to free up space for the blood vessels leading to his arm. He'll miss what's listed as four months by the Tigers, but we'll just call it a season-ending injury and leave it at that. The surgery has not tended to be a problem for players coming back from it, so Bonderman profiles well for next season from that standpoint and gets the "benefit" of having gotten rest on his heavily-worked arm. The Tigers have done everything that is known to do to keep him healthy and effective, and even then, he's still had some issues. I hope that Bonderman actually shows us that, no matter what, the five-man rotation is no more effective at keeping pitchers healthy than any alternatives.
Rocco Baldelli (100 DXL/$4.2 million)
Baldelli is hitting in A-ball, but his talent isn't the question. It's his ability to recover and to hold his stamina. The metabolic condition that he suffers from appears to be under control, though how remains a bit of a mystery. The assumption is that it's medication, nutrition, and awareness, but there are no details. (If you're interested in learning more, I've made the BPR episode where we discussed metabolic syndrome available on the radio page.) Baldelli is going to use the entire 20-day rehab allotment, but to give you an idea how much support he's getting, just check the faces of the Rays: they're all growing beards (including some really shabby ones!) in solidarity.
Quick Cuts: A second opinion yielded the same result-Travis Hafner saw Jim Andrews about his shoulder, and was told (again) that the strengthening program is the way to go. ... The Rays sweep the Cubs? That's a statement series if ever I saw one. ... Michael Young's 1-for-31 slump is bad, but at least his groin injury seems to be healing up. He has to be on base if Josh Hamilton is going to have a shot at the AL MVP Award. ... Hank Blalock will start a quick rehab assignment after carpal tunnel surgery. With Chris Davis mashing, Blalock will need to show something, and soon. ... If you have Jim Thome, don't be too excited to see him at first base if that's what Ozzie Guillen decides to do with Paul Konerko on the DL. The last time Thome played there, he ended up stiffening up and missing games. I think the Sox have been too smart about keeping Thome healthy to risk it. ... Jason Isringhausen's control is solid, and the idea that longer outings will help him is an interesting one. He should have the closer role back soon. ... Dave Roberts will start a rehab assignment soon, but don't think he'll be a stolen-base threat after extensive knee surgery. That shouldn't stop you from tying to talk him up and see if one of your competitors bites, though. ... Eric Gagne is expected back at the end of the month, but won't immediately close for the Brewers. ... Don't forget the New York Pizza Feed at Foley's NY coming up on June 30!