When the season began three weeks ago, the Yankees had seven players on the disabled list. Collectively their 2013 salaries totaled $92 million, which was more than the entire payrolls of 16 of the other 29 major league teams.
That $92 million included slightly more than $1 million for pitchers Michael Pineda and Cesar Cabral and $7.15 million for Phil Hughes, meaning the Yankees had $84 million in disabled-list salaries for Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. That part of the payroll was more than the payrolls of only 10 teams.
But this isn’t about money. It’s about the carnage epitomized by the disabled list. Forget the money they’re making. Can a team win a championship in spite of the absence of a substantial segment of the starting lineup?
Conditions for the Yankees were miserable enough but grew worse last week when they learned that Jeter’s surgically repaired left ankle had developed a small crack. The captain/shortstop had previously vowed to be recovered from the operation and ready to play by opening day, but now he is not expected to be able to play until after the All-Star game.
Hughes almost made opening day. He overcame his back ailment in time to pitch during the first week of the season – he started the Yankees’ fifth game, meaning he didn’t miss a turn – but he hasn’t done the Yankees any favors.
They have lost all three of his starts, in which he has allowed 5 home runs and 18 other hits in 14 innings, emerging with a 6.43 earned run average. If that can be called healthy, Hughes is healthy.
Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira and Granderson are not, and the Yankees can’t be certain when they will be, or in Rodriguez’s case, if he ever will be as he tries to recover from hip surgery.
The Yankees haven’t had the most players on the disabled list this season – they’re close to the lead with seven to eight for Toronto and Miami – but no team has lost as many impact players to injury as they have.
Over-all 144 players have served time on the disabled list this season through Friday. That number is very close to the equivalent period last season the d.l. population was 141.
This season’s d.l. roster, though, has pitchers of greater impact, Johan Santana, Zack Greinke, Jered Weaver and Johnny Cueto, for example. It also has Chris Carpenter, who was in the same spot a year ago.
A nerve condition in his right shoulder and resulting July surgery kept Carpenter out of the Cardinals’ first 150 games last year, and he made only three late-season and three post-season starts.
Carpenter, who turns 38 April 27, hoped he could repeat his September/October experience this season, but the problems returned during winter workouts, and he began the season on the 60-day disabled list. The Cardinals do not expect him to be able to pitch this season.
The right-hander has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and feels numbness and discomfort in his right shoulder and neck and experienced discoloration in his right hand.
Like Carpenter, the Mets’ Santana faces the possibility of his career ending. The left-hander had his second shoulder operation in two and a half years April 2 and is unlikely to pitch this season. Whether he can pitch next year remains to be seen.
This is the last year of his contract with the Mets, meaning he will have to find a job and be able to pitch at the age of 35 after not having pitched in the majors two of the previous three years.
Greinke, Weaver and Cueto should be in better shape to get back this season and pitch productively for seasons to come.
Cueto, Cincinnati’s No. 1 starter, strained a lat muscle in his third start, and the Reds hope he’ll be back early next month. The Angels expect to be without Weaver until mid-to-late May. Trying to avoid a hard shot back to the mound, the right-hander fell and landed on his left elbow, suffering a non-displaced fracture.
Greinke broke his non-pitching shoulder, the left one, in a brawl at the mound earlier this month, and he is expected to miss eight weeks. That would put him back in the Dodgers’ rotation by the start of June.
The high-spending Dodgers have endured a series of pitching injuries.
Chris Capuano was supposed to replace Greinke in the rotation, but he short-circuited himself by straining his left calf muscle in the game against San Diego in which Greinke was hurt. Capuano said he initially felt the strain stretching before the game, then felt it get worse when he sprinted to the infield from the bullpen to join the brawl.
Next in line for the Greinke spot is Ted Lilly, who began the season on the disabled list completing his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Then there’s Chad Billingsley, who had made only two starts before the weekend, slowed by a bruised right index finger that sent him to the disabled list. But he appeared to be healthy and ready to pitch, something the Dodgers could use a healthy dose of.
The Texas Rangers are another team with a multiple dose of pitching problems. With Neftali Feliz already out recovering from elbow surgery last summer, the Rangers face a back operation for Matt Harrison that will sideline another starter.
Matt Harrison has had as many epidural injections – two – as he has had starts this season, but nothing has eased the pain in his back from nerve inflammation in his lower back. The next step is surgery.
The 27-year-old left-hander will be out until after the All-Star game.
The disabled list has many other residents, including non-pitchers like Jose Reyes, Michael Bourn, Logan Morrison, Erick Aybar, Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Yoenis Cespedes and the Ramirezes, Henley and Aramis. The season is young. More glamorous names are sure to make it.
LACKEY LACKS NO PAIN
Boston endured enough agony the past week and should probably be left alone. In the interest of timeliness, though, and similar subjects, it would only be right to mention another player on the disabled list.
John Lackey made it with a strain of his right bicep in his first game of the season. No, make that in his first game since Sept. 25. 2011. Lackey didn’t pitch in 2012, taking the year off to recuperate from an elbow ligament transplant.
Lackey stands out among the hundreds of players who have had elbow ligament transplants because of the Red Sox desperate desire to sign him in 2009 to match the Yankees’ signing of A.J. Burnett a year earlier. The Red Sox even gave Lackey the same contract the Yankees gave Burnett – 5 years, $82.5 million.
The Yankees somehow managed to get rid of Burnett and his bad contract after three years. Lackey is in his fourth year, and he’s still with the Red Sox. Burnett and Lackey, incidentally, were the winners of my first two Sigh Young awards.
MAKING SENSE OF THE SCHEDULE
Because the leagues have an uneven number of teams – 15 each – it is necessary to have interleague play on a daily basis, unlike the blocks of games that were played when the leagues had an even number of teams – 16 in the National, 14 in the American.
If the schedule didn’t call for interleague games regularly, teams would have gaps in their schedules, where they would have no games but three or four consecutive days off. To avoid those undesirable gaps, teams from the two leagues are scheduled to play each other.
Initially, it seemed that the interleague games would match one A.L. team in a series against an N.L. team. In other words, one series at a time. But last week the schedule had three interleague series at the same time – Rangers at Cubs, Diamondbacks at Yankees and Royals at Braves.
“That’s done to get all the interleague series in,” said Katy Feeney, the Major League Baseball scheduling chief. “There’s one week, the week of May 6, when we have five interleague series. We begin the season and end the season with only one interleague series to keep teams within their own divisions as much as possible.”
That format would be for the purpose of enhancing division races.
There is another segment of the schedule devoted to series between prime rivals, Feeney said, such as Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs and Giants-Athletics, centered around Memorial Day. Those series call for four consecutive games, two in each park.
Each team will play 20 interleague games, with home games rotated by divisions.
SUDDENLY STRASBURG’S A LOSER
In a game like baseball, patience pays. It’s not a good idea to jump to a conclusion too quickly or base a decision on too few facts. I offer this bit of advice based on developments in this season’s four-start performance of Stephen Strasburg.
After his first start, in which he pitched seven shutout innings and permitted three hits, USA Today called it “the first step in vindication for general manager Mike Rizzo, who took much of the heat for shutting down the right-hander in the year after elbow surgery.”
I don’t know what Strasburg’s subsequent three starts mean in terms of Rizzo’s shutdown – I don’t know that they mean anything, any more than the first start did—but Strasburg lost all three starts.
No doubt the stats zealots can explain why those losses weren’t Strasburg’s fault, and I suppose if wins are no longer important, as some of my critics tell me, losses don’t matter anymore either. In fact, with a 1-3 won-loss record and a ratio of 11 baserunners per 9 innings, Strasburg very likely is an early leader in the Cy Young race.
But everyone might want to slow down and let Strasburg play out his season. Maybe he’ll win his remaining 29 starts – if he gets to make them all – and then we can applaud the person or people who deserve applause, once we know who they are and what they did.