Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw had issues with his right hip in September of last season, which led to a consultation with hip specialist Dr. Bryan Kelly in New York. There was some discussion that Kershaw might require surgery to address a mechanical impingement, but that never materialized once Kershaw's symptoms were alleviated with a cortisone injection. In fact, he returned to finish the remainder of the season without incident.
Since he had no issues with his hip during the offseason, the spring has been business as usual for Kershaw. He told the Los Angeles Times that other than some additional exercises to strengthen muscles around the hip, his offseason program remained unchanged. The Dodgers have announced that he will be their Opening Day starter, which confirms their confidence in how he is performing this spring. The presence of a mechanical impingement in his hip, which results from the anatomy within the joint, leaves open the possibility that symptoms could recur, but it's also possible he could go forward without a problem, at least in the short term. It's worth noting that there are many athletes who exhibit the anatomical variants of an impingement but do not have any symptoms associated with it. If and when the symptoms return, Kershaw could be in for a procedure that would sideline him for months, but at this stage, there is no definitive measure of predictability available. The most telling aspect is that the inflammatory symptoms that surfaced in September resolved within days and he returned to finish the season. While there's an awareness that his hip issues could resurface at some point, the outlook is largely positive as Kershaw enters 2013.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: The 32-year-old Sabathia did something in 2012 -- twice! -- that he was very reluctant to do. With the urging of those around him, he went on the disabled list in June for a groin strain and again in August because of inflammation in his left (throwing) elbow. He recovered from the groin injury without further incident, but the elbow required an offseason procedure to shave down a bone spur. The spur had been the source of irritation and swelling in the elbow, which persisted even after Sabathia returned from the DL. The good news is that there was no reported ligament damage and Sabathia enjoyed a fairly uneventful recovery.
The byproduct of bone-spur removal is typically an improvement in motion, and Sabathia said his extension returned by December. He began throwing at the same time as any other offseason and predicted early that he would be on schedule. So far, that appears to be the case and Sabathia should be ready by Opening Day. Given his years in the league and the mileage on his throwing arm, it's not outrageous to have some concern about just how well Sabathia can be expected to hold up. It's also not unheard of for some pitchers to develop further elbow problems after an initial procedure, but it's not an automatic consequence, either. As long as he gets through the preseason without a major setback, there's no reason to place Sabathia in the high-risk category.
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies: One of Halladay's finest assets over the years has been his consistency, and that consistency has been a function, in part, of his incredible durability. Despite bearing a heavy workload for years, Halladay has been one of the few elite pitchers who has not seen a truly extensive absence due to injury (he did go on the DL twice in 2004 for a shoulder ailment but was healthy until last year). In 2012, the consistency -- and the durability -- took a hit. Rumors of an injury first surfaced in the spring when it became apparent his velocity was down. Halladay denied any injury, and in his defense, he might not have been aware of an ailment. But by the time May rolled around, he began to experience discomfort behind his throwing shoulder. It turned out to be a latissimus dorsi strain, a muscle that is not part of the rotator cuff yet still plays a critical role in overhead throwing. He was able to return for the second half of the season, but spasms behind his shoulder cropped up again late in the year.
Halladay is now 36 years old, and given the combination of the wear and tear his shoulder has been subjected to over the years and this episode in 2012, there has to be some concern that this is the beginning of a normal decline that comes with being a veteran pitcher. Not that Halladay is one to sit back and accept that projection. According to CSNPhilly.com, he spent time in the offseason addressing the strength of his core musculature to alleviate the stress on his shoulder. After his first spring outing, he said he noticed the difference. "It feels a lot free and easier right now than it did at the end of last season," Halladay said. "I don't feel like I have to throw every ball as hard as I can." Those are certainly encouraging words, and the adjustments Halladay has reportedly made could go a long way toward extending his shelf life. Still, it remains to be seen whether the grind of another season will exact a toll on Halladay's not-so-young arm.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: There's no doubt about Sale's talent. There was, however, some doubt about the health of his throwing arm in the middle of last season. Sale was held out for more than a week starting in late July due to "shoulder fatigue," a vague label which led to speculation that there could be a more serious condition lurking.
Earlier in the season, there was a brief elbow scare, but an MRI taken at the time reportedly came back normal. By the time the season wrapped, Sale had delivered 192 innings and had no specific physical ailments heading into the offseason. While the combination of his unique delivery and increased workload may cause anxiety for potential fantasy owners, Sale worked in the offseason to add muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He also undertook pilates training. The White Sox have an excellent track record when it comes to injury -- they're consistently among the lowest each season in terms of player days spent on the DL -- and they are not expressing any concern about Sale's health, at least not yet.