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Thursday, August 9, 2012
Expectations for injured stars

By Stephania Bell

Now is the time. It's your last chance to make the trade that will tip the scales in your favor heading into the fantasy playoffs. Naturally, there are players coming back from injuries who may have your attention, but how confident can you be?

For the purpose of measuring the level of concern as it relates to the player's risk going forward, we created the following baseball-friendly scale:

Swing Away (SA): We're not saying a guy in this category won't stub his toe between now and October, but based on his current injury situation we'd feel comfortable picking him up for the remainder of the season.

One Strike (1): This is the player who appears to have recovered or who is approaching full recovery from his injury. He also looks to be a low risk for reinjury.

Two Strikes (2): There is some definite risk with any player in this category, but there is upside, too. He could deliver RBIs, hits or wins for your roster, but he also might not play daily and/or his symptoms risk flaring up.

Three Strikes (3): If it's my team, I'm avoiding him. Sure, he might deliver some value but he represents a high risk. If he's on this list, there's at least a possibility that he sees the field by September, but there are no guarantees. Even if he does return, he's no lock to last.

National League

Matt Garza
What appeared to be a minor triceps issue has turned into a DL stint for Matt Garza.

SP: Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs (3). Garza has been placed on the DL with a stress reaction in his throwing elbow. A stress reaction literally indicates the bone is showing reactivity on imaging because it is under stress. It is a precursor to a stress fracture if the injury progresses. There is no magic treatment, just rest, which sometimes can stretch out for weeks. The uncertainty on the timetable, combined with a prior issue, makes for increased risk for Garza this season, if he's even able to return.

SP: Johan Santana, New York Mets (1). Santana was moved to the DL after a sprained ankle seemed to be contributing to his struggles on the mound. He was coming off major shoulder surgery, so there was no desire to risk increasing the stress on the shoulder as a result of compensating for the ankle. The good news is that the time off should have helped the ankle turn a corner in recovery (and given the shoulder a breather), and Santana should have some more solid outings left in the tank. He is expected to return to the rotation this weekend.

SP: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves (2). Hanson began the season with questions about his shoulder, but the attention has now turned to his back. Placed on the DL at the end of July, Hanson expects to return as soon as eligible. Even though this appears to have been a minor episode, the combination of underlying back and shoulder issues keeps Hanson in the risk category going forward.

SP: Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers (2). Marcum first went on the DL with elbow tightness in June and has suffered a couple of setbacks in his recovery along the way. While there was no definitive injury reported following an MRI, persistent elbow discomfort in a starting pitcher is an obvious red flag. He has managed to work his way back to the point of rehab starts, the first of which is planned for this week. If he progresses without incident, he could rejoin the team within a couple of weeks but that is still a big test. This one could go either way.

1B: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (1). Votto underwent knee surgery in mid-July to address a torn meniscus, an injury sustained during a slide into third base when his leg jammed the bag while bent underneath him. Although he tried to play through it initially, the ailment was not allowing Votto to perform to expectations. He has been amping up the running but has yet to test the knee sliding. Votto appears to be at least a week away from a return, but it's better to take it slow and steady than lose him again because the knee swells. If he passes all the necessary tests before returning, confidence level is high through the remainder of the season.

Troy Tulowitzki
Troy Tulowitzki has been limited to just 47 games this season because of his groin injury.

SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies (1). While it may seem like Tulowitzki has been off the field forever, it's been only seven weeks since surgery. Original projections suggested he would miss approximately six to eight weeks, and that number may not be far off. The Rockies are out of contention, so it is smart to ensure Tulowitzki is afforded all the time necessary to return without issue. Likewise, it seems reasonable for him to return, even if the team is out of contention, if his rehab progression brings him to the point of game readiness. If only for his own confidence, playing in games would signal that Tulowitzki has fully recovered, which would carry positively into next season.

SS: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (1). Two seemingly contradictory things work in Desmond's favor here. First, he played through the left oblique injury for quite some time. The fact he was able to perform as well as he did while injured hints at a strong return when he rejoins the team. But he is also finally getting the rest he needs. When he continued to play, he was not able to recover fully, something he should have a chance to do while on the DL. Desmond has returned to throwing and fielding work but is still about a week to 10 days away from swinging a bat. If all continues well, he should return sometime this month, hopefully for good.

3B: Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants (2). Sandoval seemed to pick up where he left off following surgery on his fractured hamate bone, just as he did last year on the opposite hand. But not long after his return, he suffered a strained hamstring while making a spectacular play at first base. Performing the splits took its toll on Sandoval's thigh, and the decision was made to place him on the DL rather than risk a more serious strain. He's made good progress with his running and could return as soon as this weekend, but the nature of hamstrings being the repeat offenders that they often are makes me cautious.

SS: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros (2). Lowrie suffered a strange injury after a collision at second base in July. He sprained his ankle but also hurt the peroneal nerve, a nerve which supplies sensation and strength to the lower leg. Nerve tissue is typically slow to heal, and that may be the biggest barrier to Lowrie's return. The Astros have been targeting late August or early September, but the timetable will simply be dictated by Lowrie's healing. He is still wearing a brace on his leg and is still lacking strength, indicating he has a ways to go before baseball activity is a part of the conversation. The question really centers around the timetable, which unfortunately is unknown, making him a risky prospect in the immediate sense.

American League

3B: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (2). Longoria adds value with his bat in the lineup, but he is not fully recovered from the hamstring injury that had sidelined him for months. Longoria is relegated to a DH role for the time being and it's unclear whether he'll be able to resume defensive duties this season. Given that he still experiences soreness in the leg, it's also possible that even his current level of activity could aggravate it.

C: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (3). The former All-Star underwent surgery in January to repair both the lateral and medial menisci along with a microfracture procedure. The slow nature of the recovery has put a damper on hopes of his return. While September is still a possibility, it's looking less and less likely.

Jose Bautista
Jose Bautista injured his wrist on a swing against the Yankees just after the All-Star break.

OF/3B: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (2). Initially it seemed as if the Jays expected Bautista back following a minimal DL stay for his injured left wrist. Persistent pain led to a follow-up MRI, and there is still inflammation in the wrist. Bautista still has discomfort when trying to swing and he won't return until that resolves. Then the hope is that another big swing doesn't set him back. This likely gets better in the offseason, but can it improve enough to get the Bautista of the first half of the season back? Big unknown.

3B: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (SA). Rodriguez suffered a broken fifth metacarpal in his left hand in late July when he was hit by a pitch. The good news was that it was nondisplaced and didn't require surgery. The main determinant for when Rodriguez can resume two-handed baseball activities is how well the bone is healing. The New York Post reports he is scheduled to have a follow-up X-ray on Monday, at which point his splint could be removed. Although he would still likely be a few weeks from returning, all progress is good. The best news is that once he's back, the injury should be completely behind him, hence the strong rating here.

DH: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (2). Ortiz has been nursing a strained Achilles for several weeks but seems to have turned a corner recently. He has been able to add baserunning and sprinting to hitting in the cage. Ortiz says he hopes to return this weekend, but the big question is whether this is truly behind him. It would not be surprising for this to crop up again this season, and one certainly hopes it does not take a turn for the worse.

SP: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees (SA). Like his teammate Alex Rodriguez, Pettitte's return hinges on the healing of a broken bone. Pettitte suffered a broken left fibula in late June when he was hit by a comebacker. Given that he was retired prior to this season, the unexpected hiatus from pitching may turn out to be a bonus. The decreased strain on his arm while the leg heals should help him to be fresh when he returns, which looks to be in September. Once the leg is healed, it should be a non-issue going forward.

SP: Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (2). The news is generally good regarding McCarthy's performance as he approaches a return to the rotation. The rating has more to do with the nebulous nature of a shoulder injury that has kept him out for months. "No structural damage" on MRI are three commonly heard words that are supposed to provide reassurance -- no torn labrum, no massive rotator cuff tear -- but they don't truly provide answers. McCarthy has looked great in his rehab starts, so he potentially provides a great late-season boost, but the risk of uncertainty lingers.

Brett Anderson has not pitched in the majors since June 5, 2011.

SP: Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics (1). Finally. The return following Tommy John surgery is always long-awaited, and the A's are looking forward to Anderson's impending comeback. It looks as if he will be back with his club within the next 10 days and the A's will appreciate having him down the stretch. It's no secret that pitchers sometimes struggle with their command early on after this procedure, but the potential for some quality starts is certainly there and the risk of reinjury this season is low.

SP: Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay Rays (SA). See Andy Pettitte. Niemann also suffered a broken fibula from a line drive and his happened just slightly earlier. He also is expected to return a bit earlier. Now in the process of rehab outings, Niemann could rejoin the team within a couple of weeks and his leg should be a non-issue.

SP: Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays (1). Morrow suffered an oblique strain in mid-June and has taken slightly longer than the average recovery time to return, possibly because of some back spasms that flared up during his return to the mound. All systems seem to be go now, and Morrow is on track to return within the next two weeks. While oblique injuries can be susceptible to setbacks, most players do well if given enough time to heal before returning to a full workload. Morrow seems to be out of the woods.

SP: Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles (1). Hammel underwent arthroscopic surgery in mid-July. While he appears to be a couple of weeks away from returning, the hope is that the procedure addressed the issue that was causing his symptoms. Once he works his way back to readiness to return, his knee should not be an issue going forward.

RP: Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox (1). Bailey has faced a slow road back from April thumb surgery, including a setback due to soreness in his arm. He does appear to be nearing the end of that road, however, now working his way up the minor league rehab outing ladder. Bailey could rejoin the Red Sox within the next week. After the lengthy rehab, he should be good to go for the remainder of the season.