Each MLB Team's Most Crucial Injury Question at Beginning of the Season
When each MLB season starts, the last thing a team wants to deal with is a significant injury, or worse, a major injury to one of their top players.
Yes, a team can work around that. The St. Louis Cardinals did alright last year without Adam Wainwright, after all. Still, when you have lingering injury questions before the season even starts, they need to be addressed, and the sooner they are, the better.
Here is each team's biggest injury concern heading into the season. For the most part, I'm looking at short-term injuries, though there will be clear exceptions.
The obvious choice here might be Brian Roberts at first, but Roberts' health is a long-term matter the Orioles have been dealing with. The most crucial question is how long Zach Britton will be out.
Britton was as close to a bright spot as you could get on an awful Orioles starting rotation last year as a rookie, but a nagging shoulder injury is always a red flag. They need him back in the lineup if only so that he can gain more major league experience and refine his game, but who knows when that will be.
Boston Red Sox
While Daisuke Matsuzaka recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox have more pressing matters in their pitching staff, namely in the thumbs of Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey.
Beckett should be fine, but Bailey's injury may be significant enough to warrant a trip to the DL. If this happens, then the closer job temporarily becomes wide open for Mark Melancon or Daniel Bard, and if they put Bard there after trying to make him a starter, there's a slew of issues.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees traded part of their future to acquire Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners, who is now starting the season on the DL.
While the Yankees have enough starting pitching to work without him, it raises the question of what they'll do with him—and the rotation, for that matter—when he returns. He will return soon, since the shoulder injury doesn't seem too serious.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays need their core to be healthy if they want to compete this season. The starting rotation is, but currently B.J. Upton will be starting the season on the disabled list.
With Sam Fuld out for a good chunk of the season, Upton needs a swift return to the lineup, especially if he wants that big payday in free agency.
Toronto Blue Jays
There are several teams that seem to have way too much faith in a guy who has injury after injury, and has enough of them that we forget whether or not he has talent.
For the Blue Jays, that player is Dustin McGowan. He missed all of 2009 and 2010, and will miss some of this year as well. With the rotation coming together of late, the Blue Jays might need to talk about letting the project end if he doesn't get healthy quick.
Chicago White Sox
Unlike most of the players on this list, Jake Peavy is not injured, and has appeared healthy while pitching in spring training. However, he has often been injured since joining the White Sox.
Both the White Sox and Peavy know that this is a pivotal year, so the question the White Sox have to ask is whether they can keep him and whether they believe he can stay healthy for the season, since he needs to pick up the slack with Mark Buehrle gone.
Like the Blue Jays with McGowan, the Cleveland Indians have a talented player in Grady Sizemore who's too talented to get rid of, yet too injury-riddled to keep.
He's now out of the lineup for the next two months, so do the Indians grab another outfielder and abandon the experiment? That's unlikely, or else they would have already, but the amount of faith that Sizemore will be healthy the second half of the year is a bit surprising.
The Detroit Tigers may have one of the shortest-term issues on here, with the issue being Miguel Cabrera's eye injury that caused him to miss a good chunk of spring training.
The Tigers seem like they will use him on Opening Day, and that's the goal, since if they can hit the ground running even with the injury bug biting, it will make 2012 look like a great year for them.
Kansas City Royals
The main injury that people may know from the Royals is Joakim Soria, who's out for the year after getting an injury requiring Tommy John surgery. The Royals have a good bullpen, though, so that's not a crucial question.
The most crucial question is how soon they can bring back Salvador Perez. He's out until July for now, but the Royals see him as one of the next great young catchers, and he needs major league experience to see if he is as advertised.
Let's face it, the Twins don't have just one crucial injury question after how painful 2011 went for them. If I were to pick the most crucial question though, it would have to be Justin Morneau.
The Twins still have enough talent in the lineup to do well in the AL Central if Morneau has a Comeback Player of the Year-type season, but the question is how well his post-concussion issues are handled now. Starting as DH this season should help him get readjusted.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim don't have much in the way of injuries right now, and they are certainly thankful for that. What they do have, however, is a player finally making a return from a serious injury.
Kendrys Morales has not played in the majors since May 2010, but in spring training he's looked 100 percent at long last. The pressing question is whether or not that will extend into the regular season.
If it does, it makes the Angels even more intimidating.
For all the talk about the Athletics completely getting rid of their pitching talent, they still have a veteran in Dallas Braden, who only played three games last year, to help out the newcomers.
Braden has now suffered a setback, as his shoulder continues to trouble him. Now it looks like it will be a while before he returns, if he even does in 2012, given that it's his pitching shoulder. As a result, the A's may have to use some farm talent earlier than they would have liked.
For those that notice a pattern, there do seem to be a lot of shoulder injuries. I'm not sure whether this is typical early on when players are getting warmed up, but it does seem concerning. The Seattle Mariners could not escape the shoulder injury bug with Mike Carp.
The more pressing concern is Franklin Gutierrez, who injured his right pectoral and hasn't even been able to throw. Gutierrez needed a bounce-back year on both sides of the diamond, and starting off with an injury is no way to do that.
The Rangers have Josh Hamilton listed as day-to-day with a groin injury. On the surface, it seems fine, since it's clear he won't miss much time.
Having said that, it's a symptom of a larger problem. Hamilton's only played 135 games or more in one season, and the Rangers can't afford to miss Hamilton for any length of time with the Angels breathing down their back. He may have to play through any minor injuries he ends up with.
The Atlanta Braves already have a loaded pitching rotation, with the fifth starter spot going down to the wire in spring training. And all this was without elder statesman Tim Hudson.
Hudson is scheduled to be back in the lineup in mid-May, and I'm more worried about how they're going to give young talent appropriate playing time while letting the veterans lead as they try to make a deep playoff run this coming season.
I could go on about Jose Reyes not playing over 135 games in three straight years, but for now, he's healthy and doesn't need to be noted here. Besides, the far bigger health question is on Josh Johnson.
Johnson only played nine games last year, and he's had injury problems in the past. Because he had shoulder trouble I am a bit worried, but he has great stuff, and if he can pitch, of course, the Marlins are going to use him as a key piece of their rotation.
New York Mets
The New York Mets have one injury question they want answered as soon as possible: Can Johan Santana return to elite form and be the team's ace?
Santana missed 2011, yet will be the Opening Day starter, so he won't miss any more playing time. His shoulder surgery in 2010 was definitely far more major than most others on this list, and it's not something pitchers regularly come back from.
If Johan can do it, though, that's huge for the Mets.
The Philadelphia Phillies need a healthy lineup if they're going to win a World Series this year, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have had an offseason to forget.
Howard tore his Achilles in a playoff game, and after aggravating the injury, he's expected to miss two more months. If he still can't get healthy, then they're stuck with Jim Thome at first, who I'm pretty sure can't field anymore.
Chase Utley makes more sense for this slide on the surface, since his knee problems look like they will be a season-long struggle. Day to day, there's no way of knowing if he'll play, and the pressing question is, quite simply, if the Phillies can win without either of them.
The Washington Nationals have had terrible luck with injuries on the pitching end, especially after what happened with Stephen Strasburg. This year, the bad luck seems to be hitting the lineup.
Michael Morse missed spring training due to a strained back muscle. It doesn't sound serious on the surface, but it required a plasma injection to help him out. If he can't go, then who will take over that power?
Beyond that, could his absence leave a void for Bryce Harper to fill?
The Cubs have not had much in the way of injuries to note this spring training, which they'll gladly take while they try to rebuild.
The question that I have regarding them is whether they will be a team with mostly nagging injuries this season. Bryan LaHair might miss Opening Day and Ian Stewart has had an injured wrist since last year.
Again, I'm sure they'd gladly take that over losing Starlin Castro or someone else for the year.
In a sense, the Cincinnati Reds are ahead of many on this list, as they have answered their pressing question. With Ryan Madson gone for the year, what do they do with the bullpen?
The answer is uncertain as to who will be the closer, but they did move Aroldis Chapman back there to boost it, and Sean Marshall has everything but the save numbers to be a good interim closer.
Like the Cubs, most of the Astros injuries are of the nagging variety. Still, they can't really afford injuries to their new talent such as Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie had a sprained right thumb, and got an MRI on it late last week. He seems like he may be able to play through any mild discomfort on Opening Day, and the toughness should ideally rub off on the team.
Can the Astros remain without a significant injury to any veterans, though?
With Prince Fielder gone from the lineup, the main question for the Brewers to ask is whether or not Corey Hart can be healthy enough this season to shoulder a good amount of that burden.
It appears that despite knee surgery, Hart will start Opening Day. If there's one place the Brewers need to keep intact, it's the power bats they still have, and that should not be too difficult as long as Hart stays healthy.
A.J. Burnett has one of the strangest injuries we saw coming out of spring training, and his injury leads to one question for the Pirates: Is it a sign of things to come?
The Pirates made a lot of small, yet great moves in free agency to head in the right direction, including bringing Burnett to provide some stability. If the veterans are injured, though, then the Pirates are not going to be able to move forward all that much.
St. Louis Cardinals
This is a pretty easy pressing issue to note. Adam Wainwright seems healthy now that his Tommy John surgery is a thing of the past, but the Cardinals now have Chris Carpenter to worry about.
When you have a pitcher who not only has a shoulder problem, but is out indefinitely, then you have issues. I don't think the Cardinals can handle such a major blow two years straight, and they may have to sign an extra pair of hands, like Roy Oswalt.
The Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL West without Stephen Drew for most of the year after he broke his ankle, an injury serious enough that he's not even starting Opening Day.
There's no question that Drew can be great when healthy, but how soon would he be ready to go? It can't be rushed, but I'm sure both Drew and the D'Backs are ready for him to finally take the field even for some light hitting.
The Colorado Rockies managed to avoid injury for the most part in spring training, though Troy Tulowitzki does have an elbow injury after being beaned by Ubaldo Jimenez.
This brings up a pressing question tangentially related to the injury: Could the Rockies use it to their advantage? If you have the mindset of other teams gunning for you, then it could make the Rockies that much more dangerous.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The big question mark on the Dodgers roster is their general depth, and Ted Lilly potentially starting the season on the DL with a stiff neck is not a good start.
Can the Dodgers compete in the NL West when the workhorses are starting to fall? The rotation also includes Chris Capuano, who has had far more serious injury issues in the past, so at least he knows how to push past them.
San Diego Padres
If there's one type of injury the Padres don't need in their lineup, it's a nagging type. Orlando Hudson has had some groin issues both in spring training and last year, causing him to miss some time.
Can be get past this and play nearly everyday without being ineffective? He hit .158 in spring training, so it doesn't seem like playing through this is Hudson's best option.
San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants already know what question they want answered: Can they get through this season without an injury to their great prospects?
Buster Posey missed much of last season due to injury, and while he appears healthy and ready to go, the injury got the Giants talking about his catching duties. They definitely take injuries seriously and try to prevent them if they can.