There are only two ways to win in real or fantasy baseball: get talent and keep it on the field. If you drafted any of these players, you're probably not in first place now. Some were risky, while others are surprises to be DL denizens. With two months of the 2011 season behind us, it's easier to see now who's costing us our precious auction dollars and who might still make our investment back for us. (Dollar values courtesy of TG Fantasy)
The Twins insist that Mauer is a catcher in the long term, but it's that fact that not only put him on the DL, but has kept him there. Mauer's various ailments -- legs, back and shoulder -- are all related to the stresses on his body. The Twins fouled up the rehab from his minor offseason knee surgery and allowed Mauer's famous work ethic to work against him. The most worrisome thing about this season's injuries is that for the first time, it really seemed to be affecting his bat as well. The team won't move him, so fantasy owners might have to start thinking about it.
Two Twins already? There's a reason why this team has been compared to the '62 Mets. Getting Morneau back is one step, but until recently, his nerve problem has kept him from getting full extension at the plate. His power has seemingly vanished, but continued attempts to cure him of what amounts to an impingement (similar in symptoms to a stinger) have started to yield results. Morneau can be a streaky hitter, so he can make up value in a hurry. But it's important to remember that this condition will linger through the season, so a setback is as likely as a streak.
It's hard to take the long view on injuries as a fantasy owner, but the Phillies had to be patient. While Utley could have been rushed back for the start of the season, the team decided to get control of a situation with his knees. Their program of maintenance and close monitoring is more about keeping Utley healthy next month and next year as it is about getting him healthy today. The process has been without a significant setback, and sources tell me that Utley's no riskier now than he was last season. "He'll lose a year off the back end of his career," said one team source, "but he'll only lose a day here and there under this contract, which gives the Phillies another couple runs at rings." He's a buy-low candidate if some owner's not paying attention. Try to catch him after Utley's taken a scheduled day off.
The injury-prone Hardy isn't having any better luck in Baltimore at staying healthy. He has shown flashes of power, but chronic problems with his wrist, back and obliques has left it as flashes. Worse, Hardy's a bit exposed with Cesar Izturis out, forcing him to play more than expected. If you drafted him based off his 100-game season in Minnesota, you must have known that it was likely that Hardy was more likely to repeat those disappointing numbers than get back to his Brewers heyday. At this stage of the season, Hardy's not even on pace to get to those '10 stats.
The Nats wouldn't be much better off in the standings if Zimmerman had played all season, rather than struggling to diagnose and then rehab from a sports hernia. The Nats are about 2012, when they'll have Stephen Strasburg back and possibly add Bryce Harper to the mix. Zimmerman will be the elder statesman of the team, but while Nats fans can finally hope that their team wins before Teddy does. Zimmerman should be back by mid-June, and abdominal injuries like this don't tend to recur, due to new techniques and substances used to hold things together. Zimmerman won't be able to make up for lost time, but he should be able to put up a good half-season or so.
Broken back? Well, yes, but not like you normally think of it. Wright has a small fracture of a piece of his vertebrae, one caused by an overextension. While he tried to play through it, he would occasionally break it again, putting the healing back at Step 1. The pain wasn't significant and came off as back spasms, until finally weeks of this led the Mets' medical staff to take some images. A couple weeks off should heal up the issue enough to let him come back and play, which gives the Mets plenty of time to showcase Wright for a possible trade. Just don't call him soft. The guy played through a broken back and still has the fourth-highest OPS on his team.
Oblique injuries aren't new. Baseball players didn't just grow a new muscle. Digging through the archives earlier this year, I found reports of Mickey Mantle missing time with a "side injury" and Walter Johnson leaving a game with "pain above his hip after a hard fastball." Theories on why the strained oblique has gone viral haven't found a cause, though the focus on the core (and getting abs like that guy on Jersey Shore) may be the issue. Longoria came into the season with lofty expectations. Missing a month to a muscle strain and then trying to find his swing isn't going to help him or his fantasy owners in the final analysis.
Holliday certainly hasn't been bad, barely deserving discussion among the rest of the high-dollar losses here. His only fault is that the team's situation (and his toughness) saddled fantasy owners with the dreaded "injury hang." (Without going on the DL, a player who can't take the field just leaves the fantasy owner hanging, clogging up a valuable bench slot. Tony La Russa has been playing mix-and-match around the series of injuries. The creative lineups have kept the team in the NL Central race, but a healthy Holliday would do a lot more. Unfortunately, he's headed for the DL due to his recurrent quad strain.
At 30, Hamilton has mileage on his body, but has really only had four-plus seasons in the bigs. If you concede that in the time he was in baseball exile his talent was still there, he's been this good since '99, when he was the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft. Josh Beckett, drafted just behind Hamilton, isn't young anymore. Ben Sheets has had his career come and go. Only five players from that draft are still in the bigs. Hamilton isn't lightning in a bottle, but he is a bit fragile. It's hard to get a true read on him, but with his style of play, he's going to always have things like this season's broken arm, or muscle strains. Then again, he's so talented that he's likely to do a slow fade like Brian Giles than just burnt out.
Heyward has been suffering through a neck/shoulder injury similar to the one that has held Morneau back. The jarring pain is known as a "stinger" in football, where it's a common injury. Baseball hitters don't get their heads forced to the side by a tackler, but the full effort of a powerful swing, combined with the turned head, does stretch the nerve in some cases. The worst-case scenario in the long term means minor surgery, but most situations resolve themselves. For fantasy owners waiting on the HRs they expected from last year's RoY runner-up, that's a long, hard wait.
Not too long ago, Scott Boras had to get creative. He gave the Tigers an out clause if his client, Ordonez, had problems with his knees. Ordonez had just had a procedure done on the knees to help clean them up that wasn't available in America, a fact that took several teams out of the running quickly. The ultrasound procedure went well and wasn't the microfracture-like procedure that some thought it was. Ordonez held up well in the first year, making the out clause a smart business move. Six years later, the knees are still good, but Ordonez has had trouble coming back from a broken ankle. Angels fans will nod, Giants fans will cringe, but Ordonez, like Kendrys Morales, just hasn't been able to come back from ankle surgery. At 37, he might never be a fantasy star again.
Liriano only hit the DL this week, but aside from one magical night where he was unhittable, he has looked like he was headed to the DL all season. Liriano has simply lost his release point, something that he did a few years ago while coming back from Tommy John surgery. This is unusual in that Liriano is still in the "honeymoon" period, where the elbow is actually stronger after the surgery. The confounding factor here is his slider, one of the most effective pitches in baseball. It requires precision, repeatability and predictability. Without everything working, Liriano doesn't have any more clue where that pitch is going than hitters usually do. Additionally, the Twins seem to have a much harder time than most teams bringing pitchers back from surgery. All in all, Liriano has to correct his mechanics, but he has to get healthy before he can do that.
Wainwright was polite enough to blow out his elbow before fantasy owners bid on him this spring, but it's reasonable to assume that he would have been worth somewhere around the $23 that his teammate and Cy Young competition Chris Carpenter was worth. Instead, he'll spend the year rehabbing from elbow reconstruction. That zero value hurts, but the track record of Tommy John survivors is so good that it might be worth trading for Wainwright now, if you have the DL or bench slots to handle it in keeper leagues.
The loss of Bailey was anticipated, in a way. The problem is that the solution to one problem became a problem in and of itself. Brian Fuentes wasn't the guy who could put up with the "unorthodox style" of manager Bob Geren, and he wasn't as effective as the fill-in closer up the coast, Brandon League. Bailey made it back just before the calendar flipped to June, though he hasn't been given his closer slot back just yet. But it will be his soon, and he'll start racking up the saves as he has previously. Given that Fuentes pitched poorly and got 11 saves, it's not hard to see Bailey reaching 25 with ease.
After Broxton struggled and lost his job last season, it shouldn't be as much of a surprise that he's having the same problems this year. The surprise should be that the Dodgers weren't able to find and correct a problem. Then again, Broxton doesn't have an injury that could be corrected surgically, such as bone chips or a sprain. He's injuring himself every time he throws, bashing the bones of his arm together as his elbow "locks" on pitch after pitch. That's a mechanical issue that results from the follow-through. It's correctable, but like any mechanical change, there's a chance of cascade issues, reducing effectiveness at the same time the injury risk is reduced, and that's nothing to mention about the difficulties in changing an activity that's been ingrained over years. Broxton can get his stuff back and be healthy enough to hold the closer's job, but that's not to say that he will.