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Two of my favorite network TV shows of all-time, 24 and Lost, are nearing the end of their final seasons. Many people would argue that "24" is like the aging slugger, a couple years past its prime and looking like a shadow of its former self. On the other hand most Lost fans, myself included, are heartbroken to see the show end. We know the show is probably quitting while it's ahead, but like our favorite sports stars, we quietly wish it would stick around for at least one more season.
The one thing that these shows do have in common is that when they started, fans had high expectations and the programs almost immediately delivered. Jack Bauer instantly became a pop-culture icon and the first season of Lost had fans and critics alike saying, "We thought this might be good, but Holy Smoke, Monster!"
The beginning of Jason Heyward's career has been very similar. The hype surrounding the 20-year-old prospect was off the charts, and his eight home runs and 26 runs batted in have silenced the harshest critics. Like Jack Bauer, he's become an instant legend. Like "Lost" he's even wowed his biggest supporters.
It's hard to imagine that a few short months ago, when Lost and 24 were beginning their farewell tours, the conventional wisdom had Heyward starting the year in the minors. This week, following news of Heyward's groin injury, his fantasy owners are panicking like CTU when Bauer goes rogue.
No need to worry. Heyward hasn't been captured by the Russian mafia or the Dharma Initiative; he has a minor groin pull. However, the Braves will not rush their prized rookie back. His story has a long way to go before its ultimate chapter and Atlanta won't risk anything.
Fantasy managers shouldn't overreact either, and they definitely shouldn't look to the Braves for a short term replacement. Outside of Heyward, the Braves offense has been nearly invisible, especially the outfield. Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera and Nate McClouth are all batting .200 or under and have combined to hit two HRs and drive in 15 runs.
Heyward will be back and healthy by the next episode of 24, or at the latest the next episode of Lost (next Monday or Tuesday for non-fans).
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Before Heyward became baseball's up-and-coming action star, Mauer held that title. Like Heyward, Mauer isn't expected to land on the Disabled List with his bruised heel, but he will miss a couple more games and will probably DH for a few more when he is ready to return. That means Wilson Ramos will continue to see action behind the plate for the Twins. Ramos is an excellent catching prospect in his own right, and started his major league career with a four-hit game. Mauer owners shouldn't hesitate to add Ramos, and if they can afford to, hold onto him even after Mauer returns. He's also a decent temporary fill-in for AL-only leagues.
Andy Pettitte, SP, New York Yankees
Anytime the words "starting pitcher," "elbow," and "MRI" are used in a sentence, the odds are that a sentence containing the letters "D" and "L" will shortly follow. Especially in the case of a 37-year-old starter who is off to his best start in years. Pettitte is 4-0 with a 2.08 earned run average in six starts. The MRI revealed only minor inflammation in his elbow and the Yankees are saying that he may make his next scheduled start next Tuesday. I'm doubtful he makes it back by then, and his fantasy owners should prepare for a retroactive DL move before his next outing. It's uncertain who will start in Pettitte's place if he does land on the DL.
Fortunately for the Yankees, as Pettitte's elbow flares up, closer Mariano Rivera is almost fully recovered from stiffness in his left side. He should be ready for the weekend series against the Red Sox.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees
Granderson's groin strain forced him to the DL effective May 2. It's a four-to-six week injury, but given the circumstances, he'll probably be out for at least the full six weeks. Granderson's game at the plate and as a center fielder relies heavily on quickness and explosiveness. Strains, groin strains maybe more than others, require time to heal and then strengthen. Until it's 100 percent, the injury will slow Granderson down.
Brett Gardner, who currently is second in the league in steals, will start for Granderson in center, while Marcus Thames and Randy Winn will fill the open lineup slot. Thames has some power. In Detroit he hit 13 HRs in 87 games last year and 25 in 103 games in '08. Winn will probably hit for a better average with more speed. Both are worthy of fantasy roster spots in AL-only leagues. Owners should be aware that Winn will see more time against right-handed pitching and Thames will face more lefties.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
Ellsbury is eligible to come off the 15-day DL whenever he is ready, and the good news for Red Sox fans and his fantasy owners alike is that he's getting close to being ready. Ellsbury took batting practice this week and did so without any pain from his fractured ribs. We may see him this weekend against the Yankees considering the importance of the series and the fact that Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, Jonathan Van Every and Bill Hall were seeing significant time in the outfield. Mike Cameron (sports hernia) may also be ready for the weekend. Both will be back soon, even if they can't take on New York. Their return marks a temporary end to any fantasy value for Hermida, McDonald, Van Every and Hall.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even though there was plenty of finger crossing going on in LA, it's no surprise that the Dodgers decided to place Furcal on the DL with a strained left hamstring. It's also pretty apparent that he'll be ready to hit the field as soon as he's eligible (stint is retroactive to April 28). Furcal has already seen some improvement with the injury after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma injection late last week.
While Furcal rests, the light-hitting Jamey Carroll is the starting shortstop. Since any healthy player with a roster spot has NL-only value, Carroll's definitely worth an add, especially since he's also eligible at second, third and outfield. Plus his average won't kill you and he'll steal an occasional bag.
Obviously, Carroll isn't much of an option in shallow mixed leagues. With Yunel Escobar and Jimmy Rollins also sitting on the DL, there is plenty of fantasy need for a reliable shortstop. Unbelievably, Cliff Pennington, Orlando Cabrera and Ian Desmond are all available in more than half of all mixed fantasy leagues. Pennington is producing like a Top 10 fantasy shortstop and can be added in nearly three-quarters of all leagues.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies have sent Rollins to Clearwater, Fla. so the All-Star shortstop can take part in extended spring training. This is the most encouraging news on Rollins' recovery from a calf strain to date. What Rollins will do during his time in Florida is unknown, but according to David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News, it could involve live at-bats and fielding. He has yet to sprint since the injury occurred and it's looking like a mid-May return is the most likely scenario. The Phils return to Citizen's Bank Park on May 17 after a road trip, and that homestand looks like the most reasonable return.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Atlanta Braves
Escobar ended up on the DL Tuesday with a strained left thigh. The move is retroactive to April 30. While the injury isn't considered serious, Escobar has been struggling to start the season and some time off may be a good thing.
While Escobar is out, Omar Infante is filling in and doing quite well. In 16 games, Infante is batting .320 with nine runs scored and two Stolen Bases. Infante hit .305 in 203 At-Bats last year, and won't kill your fantasy team as a temporary fill-in. I'd still recommend Pennington, Cabrera or Desmond over Infante.
There are more injured players than there are storylines in Lost, and I don't have six seasons to explain them all. Here's a quick rundown of the Ice bucket list.
Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen missed Tuesday's game against the Cubs with a sprained ankle, but returned and went 2-for-4 Wednesday with a double. The injury initially looked scary, however, it doesn't look like it will cost him any more time. ... Manny Ramirez (calf) should be back for the Dodgers on Sunday, the first day he's eligible to come off the DL. ... According to the Baltimore Sun, Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones (hip) is expected to start Thursday night after missing Wednesday's game. It would be pretty odd for the last place O's to rush Jones back into the lineup, so it's safe to assume he's pretty healthy. ... Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens is on the 15-day DL with a hamstring strain as of April 30. Kris Medlen, who has a 2.55 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 17.2 innings out of the bullpen, will start in Jurrjens' place on Saturday against the Phillies. Medlen has an excellent Strikeout-to-Walk ratio and could be worth a fantasy pickup, especially if Jurrjens misses more than the one start (the Braves do not expect him to miss more). ... While Cliff Lee has looked great in his two starts post-injury, teammate Erik Bedard continues to come along with his rehab. The Mariners consider him slightly ahead of schedule and haven't ruled out a late-May return. ... Justin Duchscherer left last Thursday's game with a hip injury. The A's schedule will allow the team to work with a four-man rotation until May 15, and the team expects Duchscherer to be ready. ... Rockies closer Huston Street (shoulder) is getting closer to being healthy and could be closing again for Colorado in two weeks. ... Luckily for the Phillies, Brad Lidge returned shortly after Ryan Madson decided to punt a chair. Madson will be out for about two months after breaking his big toe. Jose Contreras may be in the saves mix if Lidge struggles early. ... Johnny Damon left Wednesday's game with a calf spasm, but he should return Friday. At worst he'll be back by next Monday. ... The Padres sent pitcher Chris Young's MRI results to the one name no fantasy owner ever likes to hear: Dr. James Andrews. He's scheduled for another MRI Friday. Don't expect to see him pitch anytime in the near future. ... Milton Bradley did not leave the Mariners, but he'll be out for a while as he deals with emotional stress.