Injuries play a major role in the direction a team takes when approaching the trade deadline. Injuries to a few impact players can drastically change the team’s momentum and approach. Occasionally a club can work around such an injury to a degree of success, but it’s not an easy task. It’s usual for a number of contending clubs to have this issue in the middle of the season, and this year is no exception. The current injury situation among teams like the Cardinals and the Yankees provide some excellent examples for observation.
Losing the league’s best catcher
The Cardinals may have to change their strategy after losing one of the game’s best catchers, Yadier Molina, for 8-12 weeks. The Cards are undeniably better with Molina, but will be without him until at least mid-September. Though I couldn’t find the win-loss records, last year he was worth 5.5 WAR, and he was on pace for over a 4 WAR this year before the injury.
It’s not just his bat that contributes to wins, though — Molina has won five straight Gold Glove awards and the team has a losing record when he sits. For a team that has won at least 85 games every year since 2008, that speaks volumes to his ability to manage a staff and run the game. Removing that sort of presence can have disastrous effects.
Let’s also not forget that Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha went down in late June with shoulder injuries. It’s not the first time Garcia has had difficulty with his shoulder, and he will require surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome — a procedure Chris Carpenter and Mike Adams, among others, have undergone. As the Cardinals try to push past these long-term injuries, Michael Wacha’s return and the way Tony Cruz adapts to the everyday role could be big factors. The Cardinals will continue to pursue the divisional title, but they may more seriously consider trades in a way they weren’t before.
Major pitching woes
The Yankees have seen several injuries to their starting rotation. Hiroki Kuroda is the only Yankee starting pitcher from the Opening Day roster who hasn’t made a trip to the DL. The starting five have combined for only 53 starts through 94 games, and it’s questionable whether any of the injured starters will return this year. That takes a toll.
Ivan Nova is gone for the year with Tommy John surgery, and both C.C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda sit on the 60-day DL. Once rookie phenom Tanaka went down with a UCL tear, the need became desperate. The Yankees look to buy out of necessity, but don’t have much to offer teams for the truly great impact arms like Cole Hamels and David Price. Their farm system doesn’t currently offer much in the way of “elite” talent, which would be required in a package to move either ace. (UPDATE: Sabathia is undergoing season-ending surgery July 23. The desperate need is confirmed.)
It doesn’t help New York that Price’s Rays are in the same division, so the Yankees would likely be held to a higher standard than other teams. They may be reduced to looking for solid No. 3 or 4 starters when they really need to have an ace or No. 2 again. They were able to acquire Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks, but he hasn’t been stunning so far this year. A trade for Jeff Francis after he’s been designated for assignment isn’t exactly the kind of big-name move a depleted Yankees rotation needs, either.
The 47-47 Yankees have seen some young pitchers step into roles adequately as stopgap solutions, but New York simply has neither the pieces to move for upgrades nor the guarantee of original rotation pieces returning. This year can only continue to go downhill for the Bombers.
Other teams’ injury concerns
- The Braves lost three starting pitchers, at least two for the season, to elbow injuries. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down in March, and Gavin Floyd was placed on the DL about a month ago.
- The A’s did lose ace Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin early, but young arms stepped up and pitched well. Then they added two more starters and continue to be favorites to hold their spot atop the AL West.
- Even teams who aren’t in the playoff race can feel great impact from an injury. The Phillies, for example, may find potential buyers more tentative about starting pitcher Cliff Lee, whose large contract was already expected to be a point of contention, after his DL stint. The Phillies will listen on almost every player, but Lee was always bound to net the best return, apart from a blockbuster trade of the younger Hamels. The Phillies don’t have much time for Lee to show interested clubs he’s still a good trade target.
- The Rangers’ season effectively ended in June when Matt Harrison, Mitch Moreland, and Prince Fielder went down in short succession. Their selling began Wednesday, as they traded reliever Jason Frasor to the Royals for Spencer Patton, a Triple-A arm.
The injury list is a long one. When considering pitchers in particular this may be due in part to some unhelpful mindsets within the league, but a lot of it is just the normal wear and tear baseball has on the body. It’s a reminder that almost every team deals with injuries, though some are certainly more devastating than others.
Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.