Troubled second basemen
Handicapping the futures of Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley and Brian Roberts
Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley and Brian Roberts all are -- or have been -- among the premier second basemen in the league, but their careers are currently at a bit of a crossroads. Our experts examine their futures in today's Triple Play.
1. Chase Utley began his rehab assignment on Tuesday. Can he regain his All-Star form?
Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes), ESPN Boston: Before the Phillies can even begin to think about whether Utley can play like an All-Star, they need proof that he can play, period, with the chronic soreness in his knees. He hit .220 and slugged just .333 in his last 45 games in 2011, and while his rehab has begun, the Phillies simply don't know yet whether his knees can take the pounding at second base.
Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski), ESPN Insider: The breakdown of Utley's health the last couple of years, right after he established himself as a legitimate superstar, is one of the sadder stories in baseball. Second basemen don't tend to age that well, but while you may want to count out Utley as a durable, everyday player, he came back from last year's injury to put up nearly four wins above replacement while missing roughly a third of the season. If he's really, truly healthy, he could have a year or two of reduced stardom left in him, but his superstar days are probably gone.
Michael Baumann (@atomicruckus), Crashburn Alley: Sure. In similar circumstances last year, Utley was solid but not spectacular at the plate, with a .344 wOBA in about two-thirds of a season, which qualifies as All-Star level production. I'd expect the same when he comes back. That Utley will be the best player in the Phillies' lineup when he returns says more about the lineup than it does about Utley.
2. Brian Roberts returned after a year-long absence on Tuesday night. Is there any reason to expect anything from him?
Edes: Roberts made a triumphant return at second base for the Orioles on Tuesday night and has made great strides while working with former O's Brady Anderson and Mike Bordick. But it's another cautionary tale, given how long (13 months) he was sidelined with a concussion. He's made a career of proving people wrong, and he's stronger than ever, so taking the over with Roberts is not a bad bet.
Szymborski: Roberts hasn't been healthy since 2009 and, unlike Utley, hasn't really played that well during those intermittent periods when he's been able to limp onto the field. Even medical science still has a great deal left to know about the brain, and while some players have come back from severe concussion to a degree, like Justin Morneau, other players (most recently Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie) have had to retire due to the lingering effects. It was nice to see B-Rob go 3-for-4 in his first game back, but O's fans should take anything they get from him this season as a pleasant surprise
Baumann: Well, going 3-for-4 in his first game back is a good start, but it's only one game. Roberts hasn't played a full season since 2009, so expecting him to be back at 100 percent for good might be a big ask, but sitting around waiting for him to get hurt again is kind of depressing. If I were an Orioles fan, I'd be cautiously optimistic.
3. Dustin Pedroia has been in a huge funk and has a torn muscle in his thumb. Should the Red Sox have DL'd him?
Edes: A June batting line of .129 AVG/.222 OBP/.161 SLG gives you the obvious answer, albeit with the benefit of hindsight. Pedroia's brace proved useless -- he discarded it a couple games in -- and while he insists the thumb is healing, he could have used some time just to overcome the anxiety of being pitched inside. Given the way Red Sox players have dropped this year, though, can anyone really question why they'd try to keep their Human Pacemaker in the lineup?
Szymborski: When talking about arm injuries in baseball, people tend to think mostly about pitchers, but whether it's the shoulder, elbow, wrist or hand, they can sap a hitter's stats more than facing Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez. The Red Sox need a healthy Pedroia to make a serious run at playoff contention, and they need to seriously evaluate whether the benefit of having Pedroia at 80 percent playing through pain is worth the risk of more serious problems that would leave him on the shelf for a longer period of time.
Baumann: Absolutely. It's a choice between having Pedroia miss a few weeks and come back at 100 percent and having him miss one week and play the rest of the season with one hand. We need to stop enabling this "scrappy warrior" malarkey, because by playing hurt, Pedroia is only hurting himself and his team. Put him on the DL, let him recover, and bring him back when he's ready before he makes things worse.