Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard lead All-Star hitters trying to return from injury
Last week, we took a look at Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun among a list of established stars with something to prove coming into camp this spring. Many of Braun's issues from his performance-enhancing drug use and resulting suspension, but he also played in just four games after June 9 last year due to the combination of that suspension and a nerve injury in his right hand. That puts him and Kemp, who missed 89 games last year due to a variety of injuries and had surgery on his left shoulder and left ankle in October, on the list of former All-Star hitters who are attempting to come back from major injuries. Here are nine others, listed in order of games missed due to injury in 2013.
Games missed in 2013: 162
An All-Star in 2008 and 2010, Hart hit .279/.343/.514 for the Brewers from 2010 to 2012 while averaging 29 home runs per season, but missed all of the 2013 season after his recovery from January surgery on his right knee led to problems with his left knee. A free agent this winter, Hart received a one-year deal from the Mariners that guarantees him $6 million and will pay a total of $10.65 million if he makes 650 plate appearances in the coming season. The move to Seattle isn't the most beneficial for Hart, however. Hart moved from right field to first base in 2012 after Prince Fielder left Milwaukee, but the Mariners have Justin Smoak at first base and will thus ask Hart, who will turn 32 later this month, to return to right field (though he'll surely get days off at designated hitter and perhaps first base as well). What's more, Hart is moving from one of the best ballparks in the majors for right-handed home run hitters, Milwaukee's Miller Park, to one of the worst in Safeco.
Games missed in 2013: 162
A hot start earned Furcal his third All-Star selection in 2012, but he turned ice cold the moment the calendar flipped to June, hitting .215/.278/.265 over his final 309 plate appearances that season, finishing the season on the disabled list due to an elbow injury. That was followed by Tommy John surgery the following March that wiped out his entire 2013 season. Furcal has thus been on the disabled list for his teams' last 193 regular season games. Now 36, Furcal signed a one-year deal with the Marlins this offseason to start at second base, something he has done in just 30 major league games over his 13-year career, the last coming in 2002. The position switch does make some sense, however, as the position will require less of his surgically-repaired throwing arm. Second base was also Furcal's primary position in his first two professional seasons, but those seasons were 1997 and 1998. From 2009 to 2012, Furcal hit .267/.332/.380, which is roughly league-average production for a second baseman. Given his injury, the resulting rust and his age, Furcal doesn't look like a good bet to keep the Marlins at or above average at the keystone this season. However, he does lurk as a potential short-term solution to shortstop, where the hitting standard is lower and incumbent Adeiny Hechavarria ranked dead last in the majors among non-pitchers in Baseball-Reference.com's wins above replacement last year.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
Games missed in 2013: 147
Teixeira tore a tendon sheath in his right wrist in spring training last year, then, 15 games after returning from the injury in early June, he tore it again, ending his season. Prior to that, Teixeira, who will be 34 in April, had exhibited clear signs of decline at the plate. His on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+ all declined every year from 2008, when he hit .308/.410/.552 (152 OPS+) for the Braves and Angels, to 2012, when he hit .251/.332/.475 (115 OPS+) for New York. He also missed 30 games in late 2012 due to a calf strain. Given all of that, expectations for Teixeira's comeback must be tempered. The switch-hitter who averaged 36 home runs and 117 RBI from 2004 to 2011 is likely gone for good. The Yankees, who still owe Teixeira $67.5 million over the next three years, would be fortunate to get 130 games and 25 homers out of him in any of those seasons, as he hasn't reached either mark since 2011.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Games missed in 2013: 145
The fact that Derek Jeter has already announced his retirement after the coming season tells you almost all you need to know about how likely he is to return to his All-Star form after a season in which he managed to play just 17 games due to a variety of leg injuries, the most problematic being the twice-broken ankle he first fractured in the 2012 Division Series against the Tigers. The following takes care of most of the rest: Jeter will turn 40 on June 26, making this his age-40 season. Only three players in baseball history age 40 or older have qualified for a batting title while playing at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop: Omar Vizquel, who did so in 2007, hitting .246/.305/.316; Luke Appling in 1947 and 1949, and Honus Wagner from 1914-16.
Games missed in 2013: 78
In the first two years of his five-year, $125 million extension, Ryan Howard has averaged 76 games per season and hit a total of 25 home runs while hitting .244/.307/.445. Howard missed the first half of the 2012 season recovering from the ruptured left Achilles tendon he suffered on the final play of the 2011 Division Series. Last year, he missed the second half following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Howard has hit the disabled list just two other times in his career, but those two also were the result of left leg injuries. Now 34, that left leg looks to be the weak part of the foundation that has been carrying around a 240-pound slugger for ten years. Without a regular opportunity to rest at designated hitter, it seems very likely that Howard's left leg will give out again in some way, large or small, this season. As with Teixeira, 130 games and 25 homers would represent a successful season for Howard at this point.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
Games missed in 2013: 61
I have more optimism regarding Pujols, whose 2013 season came to an end on July 26 due to the torn plantar fascia in his left foot, than I do regarding his fellow 34-year-old first basemen Teixeira and Howard. As I wrote in July, that plantar fascia had been a problem for Pujols since 2004 and had led to issues in his right knee stemming from him favoring his left foot. Forced to rest and heal after averaging 155 games over the previous 12 seasons, Pujols could return rejuvenated. True, he, like Teixiera, saw his OPS and OPS+ decline in every season from 2008 to 2012, but Pujols was descending from such heights that his 138 OPS+ in 2012 (based on a .285/.343/.516 line) was better than any OPS+ Teixeira or Howard has posted since 2009 (when they both put up a 141).
Games missed in 2013: 39
Mauer didn't miss nearly as much time as the six players above him on this list (or Braun or Kemp) in 2013, but his injury, a season-ending concussion resulting from being hit in the mask by two foul balls on Aug. 19, has already had a greater impact on his 2014 season and his career than those of the players above. That is because that concussion has ended Mauer's days as a catcher, making him the Twins' everyday first baseman in 2014. That raises a host of questions about how how well his bat will translate to his new position (Mauer has hit more than 13 home runs just once in his ten-year career) or how this position switch will impact Mauer's Hall of Fame candidacy (he was almost there as a catcher according to JAWS), but before we get to any of those, we have to make sure his head is clear and that a minor impact, such as a dive for a ground ball, doesn't bring back his symptoms. If Mauer, who turns 31 in April, is able to avoid a recurrence and continues to produce in accordance with his career .323/.405/.468 line (which he bettered last year before his concussion), he should more than clear both hurdles.
Games missed in 2013: 38
A bruised hip shelved Bautista in late August of last year and a wrist injury all but ended his 2012 season just after the All-Star break. Neither managed to undo his progress as a hitter, however. Though he has averaged just 105 games played over the last two years, he still hit .251/.358/.510 over those two seasons while hitting home runs at a rate of 43 per 162 games and making the All-Star team both years. Bautista is now 33, but there's no pattern to his injuries and thus no reason to expect him to get hurt again this year. Prior to 2012, Bautista had hit the disabled list just once in his career, that coming in 2007 when he was spiked on a slide. Bautista led the majors in home runs in his last two healthy seasons and has hit three already this spring in just eight games. Expect more of the same from him in the coming season.
Games missed in 2013: 32 A sprained middle finger on his right hand ended what could have been Gonzalez's finest season in early August (he appeared in seven games in September but didn't come to bat in any of them). Despite coming to the plate in just 102 games, Gonzalez compiled more home runs (26), stolen bases (21 while being caught just three times), and triples (6) than he did in either of the previous two seasons and his 144 OPS+ was a career best, thanks in large part to his hitting an uncharacteristic .332/.381/.606 on the road. Now 28, Gonzalez will look to repeat that success outside of Coors Field over a full, healthy season. If he does, he'll be a top candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player.