Injuries will always be a factor in fantasy baseball, just as they are for the actual players themselves, but no one wants injuries to be the factor that defines a season. How to avoid this tragedy? They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And while you may not be able to prevent players from getting hurt, you can prevent your entire season from collapsing as a result of injuries.
Everyone can agree there are no preseason guarantees. No one knows who is going to recover from injury to deliver a strong season (just ask Brandon Webb who never saw the field in 2010), nor can anyone predict whose season will come to an abrupt halt thanks to injury (just ask Joe Nathan, who was finished before he ever got started). But preparation (in the case of Webb) and quick reaction (in the case of Nathan) saved many a fantasy owner.
Most were aware of the caution being advised (much of it right here on this site) about Webb and his slow-to-recover throwing shoulder. Fantasy owners who kept an eye on his progress (and setbacks) either didn't invest highly or moved him off their rosters when needed to create room for those who could deliver. When Nathan's injury first occurred, savvy fantasy owners sought insurance at the closer position, anticipating the worst before it became official. Frequent adjustments in response to injury are part of what successful major league teams and fantasy teams have in common.
And so the preparation for your season begins right here in our fantasy draft kit. As part of our preparation, we take a look at injury concerns to key fantasy players (based on our rankings) and share our thoughts. Just as some players will progress with their rehab through spring while others succumb to injury, these notes will fluctuate as the season approaches. So check back often in advance of your drafts or to "adjust" your rosters. Now stay healthy and play ball.
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins: Unlike 2009, when Mauer was forced to miss a month at the start of the season due to inflammation in his sacroiliac joint, in 2010, he was healthy out of the gate. As the season progressed, however, Mauer dealt with a number of small nagging injuries, including a bruised left heel, a sore right shoulder and inflammation in his left knee. He underwent what was reported to be minor surgery on that left knee in December, but this is the same knee that caused him to miss extensive time in 2004, ultimately requiring surgery to address cartilage damage. Catchers' knees take a beating simply because of the nature of the position, so this may be a signal of something bigger to watch with respect to Mauer's long-term health. According to the Twins' website, Mauer is getting in shape and targeting Opening Day, but his activity during spring training -- which may be limited -- is worth monitoring to ensure there isn't a setback.
Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians: Santana suffered a brutal knee injury during a collision at the plate last season -- a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which stabilizes the outer aspect of the knee -- and had it surgically repaired in August. Tearing one of the four major ligaments of your knee is never good, but the silver lining here is that it was apparently an isolated injury, meaning other structures remained intact (which is better for the long-term health of his knee). Santana resumed baseball activities in mid-January and was cleared in early February for full batting practice and catching bullpens, according to the Indians. He is expected to participate in spring training and be ready for Opening Day.
Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs: Soto underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery to his acromioclavicular (AC) joint. The September surgery was reportedly a clean-up type procedure (arthroscopic debridement). The shoulder began bothering Soto in August, affecting his hitting more than throwing. According to the Cubs' website, Soto said he was told the original injury could date back to when he was younger, but more importantly, no major repairs were needed, which gives us reason to be optimistic. This was not a labral repair or rotator cuff surgery, both of which can be more complicated in terms of recovery and future projection. Soto is expected to be ready for spring training.
Jorge Posada, New York Yankees: Posada underwent left meniscus surgery in November, but that's no surprise for a 39-year-old catcher. Unfortunately, the cumulative toll of the position combined with age probably renders Posada more of an injury risk. The expectation that he will function primarily as a DH, however, should downgrade that risk.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: Molina's right knee bothered him toward the end of last season, and while an MRI showed no structural damage, the inflammation was enough to shut him down early. This does not appear to be a huge concern heading into 2011.
Russell Martin, New York Yankees: Martin's season -- and tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers -- ended in bizarre fashion when an awkward stumble while crossing home plate resulted in a right hip fracture. Fortunately for Martin, the fracture was non-displaced and did not require surgery. He must be progressing well since the Yankees were willing to sign him, but during his physical they identified a small meniscus tear. Martin underwent surgery on his right knee in December, allowing him ample time to recover before the season. Martin's recent injury history, combined with the demands of his position, could be worrisome. On the flip side, he benefited from an extra month of rest and plenty of rehab for leg strengthening and conditioning. He has already been swinging a bat in Tampa and is expected to be ready to start the season, but it's worth keeping an eye on how he progresses through spring training.
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox: Gonzalez originally injured his right shoulder when diving for a ball in May, continuing to play through the torn labrum, although it undoubtedly altered his performance. After consulting with multiple specialists, he underwent surgery in October. Afterward, Gonzalez said he might not be able to swing a bat for four to five months, which would be into spring training, but ESPN's Buster Olney reported Gonzalez began playing catch in mid-January. It's worth noting that the injury was to his non-throwing arm, but any return to baseball activity is a positive sign. His new team remains optimistic that he will see playing time this spring, but it would not be a surprise if it takes some time for his bat to heat up. If all goes well, Gonzalez could be ready for Opening Day, but that is not a firm deadline, and everyone will be cautious to avoid setbacks. A slow start as he regains his power would not surprise us.
Update, March 17: Gonzalez has now played in a couple of spring games and appears to not only be hitting the ball well, but feeling good doing so. While these early outings are encouraging, it is worth noting that Gonzalez is still working through some final hurdles in rehab. For instance, Gonzalez is still playing with the lighter bat he switched to last year after his injury. Gonzalez told reporters he plans to eventually return to his heavier bat during the regular season. And then there is the defensive aspect of the game. Remember, Gonzalez was originally injured diving for a ball and as he told reporters following his spring debut, he is "not diving" until the season. Returning to unrestricted play will signal the complete comeback of a healthy Gonzalez, but from a fantasy perspective, his early performance at the plate is encouraging.
Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox: Youkilis underwent surgery to repair his right thumb adductor (the muscle at the base of the thumb) last August. By October, he was hitting and throwing and said he was "done with his physical therapy." In other words, he's ready to get back to business. No major concerns here.
Update, March 17: Youkilis has looked in spring training as if nothing ever happened. He is doing everything offensively and defensively without limitation. The more significant item might be that his focus will now shift almost exclusively to third base, in which case he will move to a different area of your draft sheet.
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees: Teixeira might say that 30 felt like the new 40 thanks to all the annoying injuries he suffered last season. From a deep bone bruise in his right thumb to a toe fracture in his right foot, his right side took a beating. It culminated in a right-sided hamstring strain (Grade II) that ended his season during the ALCS. While he looks to be past the injuries of last year -- he has been running full-speed for two months -- this might be a sign that it's not so easy for him to avoid the sprains and strains anymore.
Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins: Morneau suffered a concussion in early July when he took a knee to the head while sliding into second base. It turned out he would not return in 2010. Morneau has a history of concussions dating back to his youth. As a major league ballplayer in 2005 he was hit in the head by a pitch and spent time on the disabled list. This latest head injury adds to the concern about his overall health going forward. While the team remains optimistic about his recovery, Morneau -- who has been working out in Arizona -- had not yet resumed baseball activities as of late January. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Morneau just began swinging a bat in early February, which is going well so far. There is no firm timetable for Morneau's return, but rather a measured approach to increasing his activity based on how he responds. Concussions are one injury type where there is no guideline to gauge exactly when that return will come. While his recent activity increase is encouraging, until Morneau actually plays in games, his ability to definitively return will be in question.
Update, March 17: Morneau has now made appearances in two spring training starts, something that seemed very unlikely just a few weeks ago. Every outing is a sign of progress and Morneau is just happy to be back on the field with his teammates. He has been doing some specific balance and vision exercises designed to help target some of the symptoms that lingered after his 2010 concussion. Returning to big league play was a huge hurdle not so much because of the level of baseball but because of the level of stimulation; visual (big scoreboards and large crowds), auditory (louder crowd noise and sound system) and increased adrenaline flow all tax the brain. Morneau came out of his spring big league debut feeling great and was able to return two days later. The tolerance for increased playing time and back to back games has yet to be tested. Morneau is not yet out of the woods but the steps he has taken so far, assuming the progression continues through the end of March, suggest he is on track for Opening Day.
Kendry Morales, Los Angeles Angels: Morales broke his left leg when celebrating at home plate after a walk-off grand slam in late May. His recovery was projected at roughly three months following surgery, which means he should be ready to roll by spring training. The biggest challenge will be restoring agility and confidence in the ankle, which could show up in baserunning early on.
Derrek Lee, Baltimore Orioles: Lee originally injured his right thumb on Opening Day 2010 but continued to play. The injury worsened later in the season and he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in early November. Lee was out of his cast by January, saying the thumb felt great and that he expected it to be a non-issue by spring training. At age 35, Lee may be more concerned about the history of disc problems in his lower back. His toughness is well-known, but whether he can weather another full season is the question.
Update, March 17: Lee developed some wrist and forearm stiffness during spring camp, which led to a precautionary MRI. The examination turned up no structural damage and Lee has been hitting for several days. If he gets into a game in the near future, Lee will boost his chances of being ready for Opening Day, something he thinks he can do. The Orioles want a healthy Lee for the bulk of the season and thus have been taking it slowly. Lee's activity over the next week should provide an indication as to whether we can expect to see him at the start of the season.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox: Pedroia felt the enduring pain of fouling a ball off his foot last year when he fractured his navicular bone (a small but critical bone in the midfoot that helps transfer stress from the hindfoot to the forefoot during walking and running). Initially, the hope was that it would heal independently, and Pedroia impressed everyone as he did fielding workouts on his knees to stay in baseball shape. Ultimately, he needed surgery to insert some hardware, but Pedroia was jogging before the year was out. He has been working out in Arizona, and if anyone's going to be champing at the bit for Opening Day, it's him. Pedroia is expected to be fully ready to participate when spring training opens.
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers: Kinsler had a rough start to his 2010 campaign when he suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason that ended up costing him the entire month of April. Even into June, Kinsler acknowledged the ankle still bothered him, prompting one to wonder whether it played a role in the groin strain he suffered in July that led to another month-long absence. Kinsler said he never felt he got his speed back on par after the ankle injury, resulting in fewer steals. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he planned to focus on speed in the offseason, something fantasy owners would welcome. The offseason should have given Kinsler the recuperative rest he could not get in-season, and he should be fresh to start the year.
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds: Phillips was hit by a pitch on his right wrist in late August. Although it was swollen and painful, he did not have structural damage, but the injury cost him some playing time and late-season power. He did come around at the end, which is a good sign, and he should be healthy this spring.
Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles: Roberts would probably like to forget the way he felt for most of the 2010 season. A regular in my injury blog, Roberts dealt with various ailments, including pneumonia in the summer and a concussion that remained symptomatic into the fall. The most problematic issue for Roberts, however, was a season-long disc problem in his lower back resulting in epidural injections and lengthy rehab efforts. Roberts told the Baltimore Sun in December that he feels great and believes his back issues are a thing of the past. While disc problems always present a risk for recurrence, it's fair to say Roberts has worked as hard as anyone to try to prevent just such a thing from happening. It's worth noting that airplane travel can wreak as much havoc on spines as fielding ground balls and swinging bats. But just from a karma standpoint, you have to believe Roberts is due for a better season.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets: Before the 2010 season, there was concern about Reyes' oft-injured hamstrings, but that was quickly overshadowed by a thyroid issue that surfaced during spring training and delayed the start of his season. Once he returned, things were fairly uneventful until an oblique injury in August caused him to miss more time. Presumably he enters 2011 healthy, but he's expected to lead off and required to run more. This may be the test as to how well his speedy legs can hold up.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies: Rollins was a regular visitor to the injury blog last season, suffering calf and hamstring injuries that limited him to just 88 games. After the season, Rollins underwent minor surgery to remove a ganglion cyst from his left wrist. Perhaps more importantly, he also embarked on a yoga program in an effort to keep his legs healthier in 2011. At 32, Rollins is naturally more susceptible to soft-tissue injuries, but at least he is taking steps toward prevention, which could pay off for fantasy owners.
Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers: Furcal has a history of back problems, and therefore represents an injury risk. It's that simple. Furcal had a serious episode of back and leg pain in 2008, which led to microdiscectomy surgery and a three-month absence. His issues in 2010 were nowhere near that severe but it does remind us that these problems can crop up from time to time. Factor in that Furcal is now 33 years old, hits leadoff and plays every day, and the risk of injury goes up. It's also worth noting that Furcal is dedicated to his fitness regimen and works diligently to stay on the field, but it hasn't been fool-proof yet. Rewards often come with risks, and fantasy owners should be prepared.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: Cabrera broke his left forearm in mid-May during a collision with teammate Jhonny Peralta and had surgery to repair it. The injury translated to a two-month absence and not much contribution for fantasy owners. He's healthy now, though, and could display the type of numbers that caught people's attention in 2009.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: Rodriguez is another season removed from the hip labral repair that had everyone concerned about his impending demise. However, he seems to be plugging along. Or is it plodding? Rodriguez still delivers his signature home run swing but is not moving as quickly as he once did (just look at his drop in steals). Not that it's a complete surprise. After all, he is now 35 years old, and his age is reflected in some of the muscular strain injuries (left calf, right groin/hip) that cropped up last year. He can still bring some power, but the physical wear and tear of years in the game could become a factor.
Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers: McGehee underwent surgery on his right knee last October to remove loose bodies from the joint. With more than four months to recover prior to spring training, he should be in good shape to start the season.
Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs: Two seasons ago, Ramirez dislocated his already problematic shoulder and was determined to rehab it back to strength in the offseason. In 2010, it was not the shoulder that gave him issues, but rather his left thumb that he injured early in the season. As is often the case following hand or thumb injuries, Ramirez struggled at the plate for some time but ultimately adjusted his grip. By moving his thumb to avoid contact pressure from his right hand, Ramirez regained his stroke, and his stats in the second half of the season reflect that. The shoulder could potentially be an issue should he land awkwardly on it again and Ramirez can typically be expected to miss some games during the season, but he should head into 2011 healthy.
Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies: Stewart sustained a right oblique injury late in the season, but the good news is that he appeared to show signs of his former self before the season ended. No worries to start the year.
Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles: Some have raised the durability question when it comes to Reynolds, who dealt with his share of injuries in 2010. A significant quadriceps strain in late May undoubtedly contributed to his stolen bases production, or lack thereof, and he also dealt with a sore hand and thumb later in the year. Reynolds is still young and none of these injuries should carry over to his new home.
Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies: After being hit by a pitch in his left elbow in April, Polanco endured two months of pain while continuing to play before ultimately landing on the DL in late June. The pain persisted through the season, so in October he had bone spurs removed from the elbow along with debridement (essentially a clean-up procedure) of the extensor tendon. Normally this warrants approximately three months of recovery, which should allow Polanco to be ready for baseball activities this spring. The good news is that he throws with his right arm, so there should be no issues defensively. On offense, however, it should not come as a surprise if it takes him a little time to ramp up his power.
David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals: Sometimes when an athlete does something to both sides, we consider it a means of balancing the body. Perhaps Freese will thus feel balanced this spring after undergoing surgery on both ankles in the offseason. Something was out of whack last year when Freese, who injured his right ankle in June, dropped a weight on his foot while rehabbing and broke a toe, prolonging his return from the DL. Freese ultimately required a reconstructive procedure on his right ankle in August, which was followed by an arthroscopic procedure on his left ankle a month later to remove bone spurs. The right ankle should now be more stable while the left should move more freely, and maybe Freese will finally feel right. While he has had several months to recover, the higher levels of agility -- particularly within sport-specific drills -- can take additional time to restore. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Freese has been cleared for baseball activities, but the team will ease him back and could limit his starts this season to protect him. His status is worth monitoring as Freese works through the spring.
Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds: The combination of mid-30s baseball age and recurrent spine issues is a recipe for repeat offense when it comes to injury. Rolen dealt with back, neck and hamstring issues in 2010, which affected his playing time later in the season. Rest during the offseason can be invaluable, so Rolen should start strong. The question is how well he will endure the season.
Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves: Some thought the veteran third baseman (he'll be 39 in April) would hang up his cleats after tearing his left ACL in August, but Jones announced his plans to return, undoubtedly intending to retire on his own terms. Jones has progressed well so far, which he credits, in part, to his experience with this same injury (in the same knee) in 1994. Given the acceleration of rehab parameters since that time, he may even feel like he's moving faster. In November, he was cleared to swing a bat and was expected to have no limitations by spring training. Recent tendinitis in his knee may slow down his recovery a bit but does not threaten to be a major issue as of now. The big test will come when he resumes baseball drills and moves toward competitive play.
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers: Hamilton and injury seem to go hand-in-hand, but he's so darn good when he plays that most fantasy owners are willing to overlook some missed time. The big dilemma each year is wondering just how much time that will be. In 2010, Hamilton dealt with knee problems, lower-back issues and a rib injury late in the season after a crash into the outfield wall. He started 2011 off with a brief hospitalization due to pneumonia but is recovered and ready to go for spring training.
Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers: Like teammate Josh Hamilton, Cruz gives fantasy owners a lot to love, as long as they can put up with injury absences. The types of injuries Cruz dealt with in 2010, however, were more worrisome. Three separate trips to the DL because of hamstring ailments is a big concern when you're needed for run-scoring and base stealing. This was not lost on Cruz, who opted to skip winter ball in the Dominican Republic in favor of more rest and worked on altering his running style. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this will have on his ability to stay healthy while still being productive.
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians: Choo suffered what seemed to be a fairly common injury last year when he sprained his thumb on a head-first dive, but was fortunate the injury did not require surgery. Not only was he able to return in a timely manner, but he came back strong at the plate as well. If he didn't have issues with the thumb then, he shouldn't have them now.
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks: Upton was diagnosed with a minor labral tear in his left shoulder, which likely contributed to intermittent "catching" or instability when swinging the bat. This type of injury in a batter's lead shoulder can cause it to feel as if the shoulder is slipping out of the joint on a big swing, especially when there is no contact. Anticipation of that sensation typically results in a batter guarding his swing, which makes it even more difficult to make contact, leading to a drop in his stats. Upton opted to rehab his shoulder with the goal of strengthening the muscles around the joint to improve control. This may be enough to overcome the issues he was experiencing, but another setback or exacerbation of symptoms could see Upton repeating the pattern.
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves: The rookie performed well last season despite struggling in the middle of the year because of a sprained ligament in his thumb that he injured making a headfirst slide. His swing suffered as he tried to play through the injury. After a stint on the DL, Heyward's performance improved significantly, indicating his thumb is no longer a concern. And at just 21 years young, youth is on his side when it comes to the health department.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox: This much we know for certain: Ellsbury suffered rib fractures in April, effectively ending his 2010 season then. After an often-uncomfortable situation between him and the Red Sox as the injury lingered, Ellsbury has regained his health thanks to offseason rest. He has been working out in Arizona, and everyone from teammate Dustin Pedroia (who works out at the same facility in the offseason) to management has indicated that Ellsbury is ready for the start of spring training. If indeed his ribs have fully healed, they should not be an issue for him going forward.
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees: Gardner was hit by a pitch on his right wrist in late June and had intermittent troubles with it afterward, particularly impacting his comfort with swinging the bat. He played the remainder of the season but underwent surgery on the wrist in December. The surgery was considered minor and, according to ESPN New York, manager Joe Girardi expects Gardner to be fine when players report to spring training. Once we're able to see him swinging, his recovery will be easier to judge, but he has plenty of time before the season gets underway.
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians: Sizemore has missed the better part of two seasons due to injury, first with an elbow issue in 2009 (synovitis or inflammation of the lining within the joint), which required surgery, then with knee issues in 2010, which led to microfracture surgery in June. While all reports suggest that Sizemore is moving forward at the expected pace in his knee recovery, he is not a lock to be ready for Opening Day. One of the biggest tests will be how his knee responds to the pounding of regular bursts of running, especially in conjunction with the rapid acceleration and deceleration necessary for both his offensive and defensive play. Some encouraging news, courtesy of ESPN's Buster Olney, is that Sizemore hopes to be playing exhibition games by the middle of March. The key is not necessarily when Sizemore starts competitive play, but how his knee holds up once he does.
Jason Bay, New York Mets: Bay had a big crash into the outfield wall in Dodgers Stadium in late July and did not return to play, as he suffered a concussion and dealt with post-concussion symptoms for the next two months. Gradually his symptoms cleared and as ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported, Bay was putting in grueling physical workouts at a facility near his home throughout the winter. The expectation is that he will be fully healthy this spring.
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies: Brown broke a bone in his right hand on March 5, and underwent surgery on March 5 to remove the fractured "hook" portion of the hamate bone in his right hand. According to Phillies athletic trainer Scott Sheridan, the projected timetable for Brown's return to play is four to six weeks, presuming no setbacks.
I spoke with Brown's teammate, Ben Francisco, who suffered a similar injury in the minors (and, in an interesting twist of fate, stands to see increased playing time while Brown is out). Francisco said he was able to return to play within six weeks but it really took a couple of months for his power to return. Beyond that, Francisco said he still had lingering soreness in the hand for a couple of months. It's a good reminder that while the procedure has become relatively routine among ballplayers, there is often a difference between returning to play and returning to normal. On the flip side, it's no secret that Brown was struggling at the plate prior to his injury. Sometimes a forced rest can do a world of good, and that may indeed be the case with Brown.
And for what it's worth, several Red Sox players have dealt with the injury, including David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had his surgery at the end of the 2007 season so he had plenty of healing time before the next season. Ortiz missed two months with the injury and acknowledged that it took some additional time to get past the soreness and restore full strength.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals: When does a "healthy" pitcher make you a bit nervous to start the season? When it's a pitcher whose last season ended with elbow stiffness and who has a history of a partial ligament tear from his minor league days. Wainwright addressed this concern directly when he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently that he had his elbow examined and the old injury is not a concern. He says his ligament is "intact and strong," and protective scar tissue has built up in the area. This elbow could be a non-issue for Wainwright going forward, but other pitchers' healthy, intact ligaments have been known to succumb to the strain of pitching. It's just a risk that comes with the job. Wainwright is on track for spring training and hopes to mirror last season's highlights. Update, Feb. 24: No one takes pleasure in seeing a preseason injury concern actually translate into a major loss, but it's safe to say that some of the concerns about Wainwright's elbow had merit. Wainwright will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will set his sights on 2012.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: Sabathia underwent meniscus surgery on his right knee in the offseason. The procedure may have been relatively minor, but his subsequent physical transformation may be the bigger and better news. Sabathia has dropped about 30 pounds, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, a direct attempt to improve the health of his joints. There's no denying the benefits for a person's knees when they decrease the load they have to bear; for an athlete, the benefits could impact career longevity.
Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins: Johnson's 2010 season ended a few weeks prematurely as a result of shoulder inflammation and an upper-back injury (which Johnson blames for the shoulder problems). While Johnson believes the problems were addressed, there is always some concern when a pitcher -- especially one who has had Tommy John surgery -- develops shoulder issues as a result of compensation. Johnson, who has been throwing bullpen sessions already in Florida, told the Palm Beach Post he feels great. He undertook a strengthening regimen in the offseason and plans to continue stretching and strengthening in-season with the hopes of staying healthy all year. The question looming in the background is whether this shoulder episode was a fluke or whether it's a sign of things to come.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins: Liriano should be in good shape this year, now several years removed from Tommy John surgery. His struggles since the procedure have been well documented, but the way he performed last season should set everyone's mind at ease.
Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves: He suffered a hamstring injury in late April that kept him sidelined until late June. He then suffered a knee injury in September that led to lateral meniscus surgery in October. Jurrjens is on track to be ready for spring training and these injuries should be behind him.
Johan Santana, New York Mets: Santana underwent surgery in June to repair a capsular tear in his left (throwing) shoulder. Although he has been cleared to throw, according to ESPN New York, he is progressing through throwing simulation exercises before he picks up an actual baseball (which is not unusual). Santana is not expected to return to competitive pitching until at least June, and there are many milestones to meet along the way. More often than not, there are ups and downs in the course of rehab for a thrower's shoulder and it is critical to strike a balance between regaining motion and protecting the repair. A good outcome is not dependent on meeting a timetable; it means returning Santana to effective pitching and keeping him there. Expectations for this year should be tempered.
Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox: Floyd experienced discomfort in his shoulder late last season and was shut down early. He did not have surgery and according to the White Sox's website, Floyd planned to start his offseason shoulder program earlier this year in an effort to improve his health. As is often the case for pitchers, the wear and tear of the position can start to manifest itself this way. Strengthening is the standard course for rehabilitation, but the only way to determine success is to see how a thrower survives the following season.
Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets: K-Rod made headlines last season when he got into a fight with a family member and tore a ligament in his right (throwing) thumb in the process, requiring surgery. According to ESPN New York, Rodriguez is expected to enter the season healthy after making a few pitching appearances in his native Venezuela during winter league.
Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics: Bailey suffered an intercostal strain in late July that kept him out for more than a month. He returned from that injury only to be forced out weeks later by elbow soreness. Bailey underwent a cleanup procedure on his throwing elbow, the same elbow on which he had Tommy John surgery in college. According to the A's official website, Bailey reported in January that his elbow was feeling good and noted he could straighten it better than ever. Better extension means better mechanics, always a plus for a pitcher. Bailey looks to be on track for the start of the season, but as always, it will depend on how he responds to his throwing progression during spring training.
Huston Street, Colorado Rockies: Street is no stranger to injuries and he certainly dealt with a variety of them in 2010. In addition to rib, shoulder and groin ailments, Street was hit by a pitch in the abdominal region during batting practice in July that caused quite a scare. The Denver Post reports Street has taken to scaling back his offseason workouts in an effort to enhance his in-season health. Only time will tell if his durability can match his talent.
Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins: Nathan's 2010 season ended before it ever got underway. A torn ulnar collateral ligament in March led to Tommy John surgery and he has been rehabbing his way back to the mound ever since. So far his progress has been smooth and without setbacks, and he is on track for spring. It typically takes a year to return, even longer to return to form. Nathan may get his first action in middle relief and work his way back to the closer role as able.
Stephania Bell is a physical therapist who is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine. You can e-mail her here.