By Jay Jaffe
As worthy of a national holiday to celebrate our emergence from a long winter nightmare as it may be, Opening Day is just one day on the baseball schedule, marking the first game that counts in a string of 162 before the playoffs start. Nonetheless, it's a milepost of which players, teams, media and fans are all aware, a snapshot in time that's recorded for posterity. With that date just over a week away (!!!), there's no shortage of players who are racing against the clock to be ready, but who may wind up on the disabled list instead, as well as plenty whom we already know will miss their team's opener but will be back on the diamond at some point in the not-too-distant future.
What follows is a pretty fair All-Star squad of players either definitively out of commission for Opening Day or in jeopardy of winding up on the outside looking in. It's by no means a comprehensive rundown of every absence; some positions are more decimated than others. I'll round up some of the remaining players in a post at a future date.
Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves (out). After slumping to .230/.300/.399 last year, the six-time All-Star underwent offseason surgery on his right shoulder to repair his torn labrum and remove a cyst. He hasn't appeared in a spring game but has been taking batting practice, and things are said to be going well. Nonetheless, he'll start the year on the disabled list, and the Braves have targeted April 16 — exactly six months since his surgery — for his return. In the meantime, Gerald Laird will take over as starting catcher, while 26-year-old Evan Gattis, who spent four years away from baseball battling drug and depression problems, is making a strong bid to stick as his backup.
First Base: Mark Teixeira, Yankees (out). Earlier this month, Teixera was diagnosed with a wrist strain that knocked him off the Team USA World Baseball Classic squad and was supposed to keep him out of action for eight to 10 weeks, into mid-May. Since then, new information has come to light, and it's not good: Teixeira's injury is actually a partially torn tendon sheath, which could hold him out of action into June. While the tendon itself is stable, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman conceded that there's only a 70 percent chance he recovers without surgery; going under the knife would likely cost him the entire season. With numerous other injuries, the Yankees haven't figured out exactly how they'll cover first base; Kevin Youkilis, Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson are the primary candidates to see time there.
Second Base: Daniel Murphy, Mets (doubtful). Murphy suffered an intercostal strain while taking batting practice on Feb. 18. After receiving a cortisone shot, he progressed as far as playing in a minor league exhibition last Friday, but was subsequently scratched from a follow-up game and has been limited to just a few swings since then. If he doesn't return to game action this weekend, manager Terry Collins said that he'll start the season on the disabled list. With backup Justin Turner nursing an ankle sprain, and possibly needed to cover third base if he's healthy and David Wright isn't ready, Jordany Valdespin is the mostly likely starter at the keystone come April 1.
Third Base: Chase Headley, Padres (out). Wright, the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie and the Giants' Pablo Sandoval alll retain shots at being ready for Opening Day, but Headley will start the year on the DL due to a fracture in the tip of his left thumb, which he suffered while sliding into second base this past weekend. He's expected to be out four to six weeks, putting his return in mid-to-late April, though he won't need surgery. Logan Forsythe is the most likely candidate to take over in his absence, with Jedd Gyorko and Alexi Amarista also in the mix. Manager Bud Black appears to be losing his mind with the possible permutations:
"If Gyroko makes the team and if Logan makes the team and if (Alexi) Amarista makes the team, there's a scenario that on a given night Amarista might play second and Gyorko might play third. And there might be a scenario where Logan plays third and Gyorko plays second. And there's a scenario where Gyorko plays second and Logan plays third. And there's a scenario where Amarista plays second and Gyorko plays third."
Yup, that should about cover it.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers (out). After jamming his thumb while diving for a ball in the World Baseball Classic championship game on Tuesday, Ramirez was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He'll undergo surgery that will sideline him for eight to 10 weeks, and it appears that his absence could even scuttle plans for him to play shortstop; because of his extended stint alongside former teammate Jose Reyes on the Dominican Republic WBC team, he has spent most of this spring at third base. The Dodgers initially planned to use Ramirez at short, with late-season breakout Luis Cruz at the hot corner, but Cruz or former prospect Dee Gordon may instead cover short, with Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe and/or Nick Punto filling in at third.
Leftfield: Logan Morrison, Marlins (out). After slumping to .230/.308/.399 in 93 games last year, Morrison underwent surgery in September to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, an injury that had lingered since May. He is now hitting off a tee and barring a setback, he could begin a rehab assignment around April 15 and be back with the Marlins around May 1. Casey Kotchman is on track to take over in Morrison's absence.
Centerfield: Curtis Granderson, Yankees (out). Granderson suffered a fractured left forearm during his first plate appearance of the Grapefruit League season, which will knock him out until early May. Furthermore, it appears as though his absence will prevent the Yankees from going forward with a plan to shift him from centerfield to leftfield, where he has played just 22 games during his major league career. Brett Gardner will cover the middle pasture in his absence, with Rivera, mid-spring pickups Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco, and rookies Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte in the mix to handle leftfield
Rightfield: Cody Ross, Diamondbacks (doubtful). Since leaving a March 3 Cactus League game with a calf strain, Ross has been slow to recover; he wasn't able to run on a treadmill or take batting practice until this past Tuesday. It's possible he could get into a simulated game or minor league exhibition that would allow him to face live pitching without having to run the bases or play defense, but his window to be ready by Opening Day may have closed. Even if he can't show sufficient grit to accelerate his recovery, the Diamonbacks are well covered, because rookie Adam Eaton has secured the centerfield job, which makes fourth outfielder and former Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra available to cover rightfield.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox (out). Limited to just one game after July 16 due to a strained Achilles tendon in his right foot, Otiz suffered a setback a couple of weeks ago due to inflammation in both heels. He has taken swings in a batting cage in each of the past three days, but there's no timetable for him to resume running or return to game activity. He'll likely start the year on the disabled list and eye a return sometime in mid-to-late April. In the meantime, the Sox are giving strong consideration to promoting top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. to play left or centerfield, with Jonny Gomes handling DH duties. If they don't want to add Bradley to the 40-man roster or start his service clock, they could opt to use Daniel Nava in left.
Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana, Mets (out). After ending last season on the disabled list and taking most of the winter off, Santana came to camp in no shape to begin his normal throwing regimen, let alone participate in the World Baseball Classic as he had hoped. When the Mets ordered him to take things slowly lest he risk further shoulder fatigue, he threw a minor fit as well as what the New York Daily News termed "an impromptu and angry bullpen session." Though he's said to have smoothed things over with the brass, he hasn't thrown from a mound since then, and it's a given that he'll start the year on the disabled list. On Thursday, Collins named Jon Niese as the Mets' Opening Day starter. Jeremy Hefner is the likely replacement in Santana's absence, joining Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and hopefully Shaun Marcum in the rotation, though the latter received a cortisone injection due to shoulder impingement earlier this week, and could be scratched as well.
Closer: Ryan Madson, Angels (out).
After missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, Madson is making progress towards his return. He experienced tightness in his elbow last week, but recovered sufficiently to throw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Thursday, and will toss another bullpen session on Sunday. He'll star the year on the DL but should be back in late April, with Ernesto Frieri
and Scott Downs
handling the closing chores.