Under The Knife: Return of Reyes, Wright will shape Mets' future

Monday July 18th, 2011

As the trade deadline closes in and Jon Heyman further tests the bounds of "unlimited text messages," injuries also come to the fore. Key is not just whether a player is healthy or not, since those can be accurately assessed. What gets debated more is the proper discount on a player's injury history, especially with pitchers. Short term "gunslinger" deals carry less risk, but anything beyond the current season is going to come with a huge risk discount, outside a "must have" desperation move. What's harder is trying to assess that discount and the factors that go into it. Some teams recognize that getting a player from a team with a poorer track record on injuries and bringing them to their training staff can be a hidden value. Some staffs recognize that they have strengths or weaknesses with certain types of players or types of injuries. For the fantasy player, this is key information. If a player goes from a highly ranked staff to a lower ranked staff -- you can find the rankings on the Team Health Reports -- you must add in a risk premium for all but the most durable of players. Don't let injuries derail your fantasy season. Let's get to the injuries:

The next two weeks are going to be big for the Mets. This is hardly a surprise, but the timing on getting Reyes and Wright back will help. With one deal already done and at least one more in active discussions, the Mets could begin their future after a half-season of Aldersonian evaluation. If Reyes returns early this week from his hamstring and looks like the version we've seen for most of 2011, a long-term deal could be close behind as the team attempts to balance the trades with a signing. Talent has never been the issue for Reyes, but availability has. Then again, no one knows his hamstring like the Mets, so he understands how well they understand how to get him back. I'm not sure how you quantify that value, but it will be pitched and considered in any proposal.

Reyes should be back on Tuesday and it sounds like everything is normal. While you'd expect any player coming back from a hamstring strain to slow things on the paths, Reyes is aggressive and knows how important this period of time is.

Things aren't as imminent in either sense for Wright, though his rehab in St. Lucie (A) is going "pretty well," according to one observer. He's showing that he can make plays without issues. He's also hitting and stealing, so the Mets just need to see that he can play a full game and back-to-back games before activating him. It's likely that he'll be back this weekend for the Marlins series.

Bautista nearly disappointed me. Having watched him a couple seasons in Indy and not seeing anything that suggested the last season and a half (or even his 2009 campaign as a decent major league infielder), I was looking forward to seeing him close up this Wednesday and Thursday. Bautista missed the weekend with the sprain, but sources tell me he was "close" on Sunday. The team elected to have him rest, tacking on the off-day Monday to his rest and giving him a leg up for a Tuesday return, no pun intended. Since his power is based on timing more than leg thrust, the ankle shouldn't be a hindrance to his power. The bigger question is whether the turf at the Rogers Centre will be an issue. The "stickiness" of turf can cause problems, so expect Bautista to be braced well and perhaps DH until the Jays are more confident that the ankle is back to 100 percent.

The Brewers found themselves tied with the Pirates this weekend for a time, and though they emerged with a little distance by the end of the weekend, it was costly. Marcum injured himself on a play during the sixth inning Sunday and left the game. He threw a couple pitches from the mound afterwards, but the medical staff didn't like what they saw. Marcum was said to have a neck injury but there's no word about the severity. The medical staff will monitor Marcum through the next few days before making any sort of decision. If Marcum makes his throw day, he's safe to start next time he goes out.

Of more everyday concern is Braun and his calf, who has the Brewers working to keep functional. On Saturday, he also appeared to also injure his hamstring, a classic cascade that's only going to serve to make it harder on the calf. While the team continues to hope they can maintain Braun, a DL stint isn't out of the question. With the division race tight and Braun playing so well, even through the muscle issues, a decision on Braun becomes quite difficult. The Pirates and Brewers have two of the top rated medical staffs around, so neither team will get an advantage on the training front, either.

Buchholz's rehab is taking longer than expected. It's not far beyond the normal range, but it has reached the point that we have to question whether the injury's severity was misjudged, whether he's a slow healer, or whether there's something else going on. It seems now that it's the latter, with the team using his absence to help limit his innings and making sure that he's ready for the playoffs. Don't get me wrong, he's still at a state where he's not physically ready to return. This wasn't a plan, but more of a side effect as this began to extend past a minimum run. The lat strain isn't as severe as the one that sidelined Ben Sheets during the Brewers playoff run of a few years ago and derailed his career as his body broke down around the kinetic chain. There's going to be a whole lot of "better safe than sorry" in Buchholz's rehab, which makes the ERD as fluid as it's been throughout the process.

The snap reaction to Aardsma's situation is that the Mariners "wasted" four months trying to rehab him through an elbow problem, but let's go back and see why they did this. Remember that this wasn't a hope. The Grade 2 strain was examined in May by Dr. Lewis Yocum, one of the best in the business, who said "nope, no surgery." The rehab plan that followed had a chance of succeeding and there were signs that it was. When he pitched again in July, with an expectation of a return in August, there was the chance that by opting for the rehab, the M's would have saved almost a year of time. (The normal rehab is six to nine months, but that return would be in the offseason.) The gain is worth the risk, though several methods I tried of quantifying this were poor since I don't think projections are accurate in this case. Even the slight chance that Aardsma could avoid surgery is worth the chance. There's a level at which the elbow's not going to hold, but before that point -- and it's clear that it wasn't there in May -- a team has to try everything else. Aardsma should be back at mid-season in '12. Assuming he's re-signed by the M's, he could be a nice sleeper for saves.

The Nats have a modern conundrum and an old-school manager. Davey Johnson has come in from the managerial bullpen for the Nats, and in his first major decision, he seems to be bucking against the idea that Zimmermann should be shut down or even dialed back in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Johnson isn't working from some sort of ornery cussedness, since there is some difficulty in using a pure innings count for TJ survivors.

In younger pitchers, it seems that there's no delay in the development during the year lost to surgery and rehab. The most current example is Jarrod Parker of the D'backs, who is almost exactly where he was expected to be despite his surgery. That's because these pitchers aren't just sitting around. They're rehabbing and resting, leaving them in better condition to pitch than they've likely been in years. That's left many to suggest that while all pitchers do not need Tommy John surgery, they might all be well served to do the rehab-style work. With Zimmerman's limit around 160 innings and his current count at 115, he should have about six or seven starts left. Then again, Zimmerman could be put on a strict innings limit per game of five innings, leaving him more starts with less work. The Nats aren't challenging this season, so it's mostly an academic problem as long as GM Mike Rizzo makes his new manager stick to the smart plan.

Buster Posey is headed for more surgery on his ankle, but it's not a setback. He's having planned surgery to remove the pins. He's still doing well, but there's no chance of a return this season ... Chipper Jones is doing some light running and took some swings, just a week after surgery. That's not unusual for normal, athletic knees, but it is a bit surprising given Jones' age and previous issues. While he's expecting to be on a rehab assignment late this week, everything will need to stay best case ... Bartolo Colon will make his next start despite some concerns he has about his hamstring. Joe Girardi may think that's a good idea, but I don't ... The Phillies aren't encouraged by the progress of Placido Polanco. His batting practice sessions over the weekend left him sore ... Joe Nathan appears to have settled his command issues. Proprioception restored, he's back in the closer role for the surging Twins ... Nick Punto deserves a nod for fighting through what is said to be a torn UCL. He may need season-ending surgery, though the Cards are going to try and avoid it ... Vladimir Guerrero heads to the DL with a hand injury. It makes him tougher to trade, but not impossible. He's likely to clear waivers anyway ... Ian Kinsler took a ball off the helmet, but seemed fine afterwards. He'll be monitored but should be safe for weekly rosters ... Scott Baker went on the DL with a retro move due to elbow soreness and an impending doubleheader. He'll be eligible to come off later this week ... Jose Contreras has gone from really bad to much better. I have this image of him on the cart, like Monty Python. I'll believe in a return more if he can make it through some throwing sessions ... Interesting story from Joe Frisaro. I'm curious why there haven't been more catchers turned into pitchers, since you'd assume most would have good arms. Do the ones with the really good arms get converted earlier? It's an intriguing question and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Any good explanations will go in Wednesday's UTK.

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