If not for the Dodgers’ outfield depth, Yasiel Puig’s hamstring injury in late April could have caused trouble for the NL West leaders. Instead, Los Angeles is 5–3 in Puig’s absence, thanks in part to strong performances from fill-in outfielders Scott Van Slyke (.832 OPS) and Andre Ethier (.919). Puig, who could return as early as May 10, has hardly been missed in Hollywood.
Not every team is that lucky. More often than not, an injury to a key player means a significant drop-off at his position that costs his team valuable games in the standings. Here are four injured players whose teams need them back as soon as possible.
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Nationals
Rendon finished fifth in the National League MVP voting in 2014 thanks to a 127 OPS+ and sparkling defense at third base, as Washington won 96 games. This season, however, Rendon has been sidelined by a knee injury since spring training, and the Nationals have limped to a 13–14 record, due in part to the absence of one of their best players.
With Rendon out, Washington has played Yunel Escobar at third and a Dan Uggla/Danny Espinosa platoon at second. Escobar has been decent in the early going for Nationals, hitting .302 (albeit with little power), but Uggla and Espinosa have struggled. Uggla, who has not posted a better-than-league-average OPS+ since 2011, is off to yet another poor start, with a .192 average and 72 OPS+ in 57 plate appearances. Espinosa, meanwhile, has also started slowly, with a .239/.338/.388 line through 78 PA, and he has demonstrated over the last three seasons that he’s not a starting-caliber player, with a .226 average and 78 OPS+ from '12 to '14.
Rendon’s rehab has suffered several setbacks, and he’s now been shut down indefinitely due to an oblique strain. Every day Rendon spends on the disabled list is costly for the Nationals, who would benefit greatly from banishing Uggla, slotting Rendon at second and rotating Escobar and Espinosa at third.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
When J.J. Hardy returns from his shoulder injury some time this month, he will upgrade the Orioles’ shortstop position almost by default. Two years removed from an All-Star appearance (and a PED suspension), Everth Cabrera has hit .205/.227/.229 through 89 PA as Baltimore’s primary shortstop, and his .456 OPS is second worst in the AL (after the Angels' Matt Joyce) and third worst overall. By Baseball-Reference's measure, he's been worth -0.8 Wins Above Replacement in his short time with the O's, with his OPS+ clocking in at a resoundingly poor 28.
Hardy, meanwhile, has been uniformly excellent in his time in Baltimore. He's averaged 3.6 WAR over his four seasons with the Orioles, and his 3.4 mark last year was seventh among all shortstops, thanks in large part to his sterling defense—he's won three Gold Gloves as an Oriole. Hardy's solid hitting and top-rate defense make him an above-average shortstop and a vast improvement over the Orioles’ current option at the position, and while his power slipped last year (he hit nine homers after putting up 77 total in the three years prior), he still offers a far more imposing presence at the plate than Cabrera.
Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins
Yelich had struggled profoundly before a back injury landed him on the disabled list, hitting just .200/.265/.222 in 49 PA with zero home runs and 13 strikeouts. But he was a dynamic presence for Miami last season atop the lineup, hitting .284/.362/.402, and represents a long-term upgrade over 41-year-old Ichiro Suzuki in leftfield. The Marlins originally signed Ichiro as outfield insurance, and he has performed capably in that role so far, hitting .291 with solid defense. But with a .342 slugging percentage and 83 OPS+ since 2013, the former MVP doesn't offer enough offense to merit a starting role longterm, and his diminished speed (he's been caught on three of his five steal attempts) robs him of one of his greatest weapons.
With Yelich out, the Marlins have carried only three true outfielders: Ichiro, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. The return of the newly extended 23-year-old—reportedly this Friday—will restore the Yelich-Stanton-Ozuna triumvirate which some consider the best outfield in baseball, relegating Ichiro to a more suitable supporting role.
David Wright, 3B, Mets
When Wright suffered a hamstring injury barely a week into the season, the Mets replaced the seven-time All-Star with Eric Campbell, a 28-year-old former eighth-round pick with less than a year of big league experience. He proved to be a poor fill-in, batting .200 with just four-extra base hits and a .643 OPS in 62 plate appearances, as well as committing three errors in 15 games, before finally being benched. Last weekend, the Mets shifted Daniel Murphy to third, where he has hardly any experience, and called up 21-year-old prospect Dilson Herrera to play second, sending Campbell back to Triple A.
While Wright has reportedly been making progress from his injury, he still has no timetable to return to the Mets, who have lost three of their last four series. The third baseman’s eventual re-entry into the lineup will slide Murphy back to second base (where he is at least experienced, if ill-suited defensively), while providing needed reinforcement as the Mets cling to first place in the NL East.