Arizona Diamondbacks: 10 Reasonable Expectations for Stephen Drew's Return
July 20, 2011: Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew slides into home plate and fractures his ankle. The injury ends Drew's 2011 season, and the Georgia native remains sidelined through the first two months of the 2012 season.
After many months of waiting—and multiple attempts at rehabilitation—Drew's return to the show is within the realm of reality.
This is what Arizona can reasonably expect to see when that day arrives:
Best Case Scenario: A Playoff Run
There are several kinds of "best case scenarios."
The first is the local scenario—down by three with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Stephen Drew steps to the plate in his first at-bat since 2011 and slugs a walk-off grand slam on the first pitch he sees.
Best case? Yes. Realistic? Perhaps not.
Instead, we consider an alternate best case scenario. The Diamondbacks, finally back to the .500 mark, become reinvigorated by Drew's return and spend the second half of 2012 climbing their way to the postseason.
Best case? Yes. Realistic? With the D-Backs 8.5 games out of first place, such a climb is certainly possible, though the first place Dodgers are on fire.
Just 3.5 games back of the No. 2 NL Wild Card slot presently held by the San Francisco Giants, however, the postseason looks very possible.
And it's only June.
Short-Term Best: Drew Duplicates Reno Success, Homers in First Game Back
Those who read Stephen Drew's fantasy analysis on June 10, 2012 were greeted by a friendly one-liner: "Drew homered in a 2-for-5 performance for Triple-A Reno on Saturday."
Prior to Saturday's performance, Drew had hit two singles and walked once in a 2-for-3 performance in extended spring training.
Drew can still clearly hit, which is a good sign as he eyes his return to big league action.
Long-Term Solution: Drew Integrates into New Look D-Backs
When the Diamondbacks picked up Jason Kubel this offseason, the discussion immediately turned to the quadrangle of an outfield conundrum that had befallen Chase Field.
With Kubel encroaching on what had been a peaceful triangle of tranquility between Gerardo Parra, Justin Upton and Chris Young, conventional speculation pointed to a Parra trade that, of course, never happened—after all, someone had to be the odd man out.
Fortunately—or unfortunately—for Arizona, that problem was soon solved with injuries to Chris Young and Justin Upton.
Ultimately, this is exactly why the D-Backs need that odd man out—in case one of the regulars goes on the DL, enters a slump or simply needs a day off.
On paper, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a mess—their odd man roster runs from Abreu to Treanor with several stops in between, yet somehow, that team has made it work. First place in the NL West and best record in baseball? Yes, please.
Hostile Work Environment: Ken Kendrick
Earlier this month, managing general partner Ken Kendrick said of Drew:
"I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I, for one, am disappointed. I'm going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than going out and supporting the team that's paying his salary."
Kendrick was referring to Drew's pending free agency and mega-agent Scott Boras, who is known for controversially securing extremely lucrative contracts for his clients.
Then again, Boras client Jered Weaver took a hometown discount last year to remain with his Southern Californian club, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. During the ensuing press conference, Weaver said, "How much more do you need? If $85 million is not enough to take care of my family and generations to come, then I'm pretty stupid."
Who knows, maybe Drew will turn out to be as smart as Weaver, though after Kendrick's accusation, where's the motivation?
Unforseen Possibility: Bloomquist Takes Drew's Job
With a .298 batting average that includes a decent 11 RBI with just 54 hits, Willie Bloomquist hasn't exactly been a disappointment at shortstop during Drew's absence.
After collecting an 8-for-15 streak in mid-May and picking up a .457 batting average during a seven-game span during that month, Bloomquist once again slugged three hits in five at-bats on Friday, picking up two RBI along the way. The veteran now has recorded seven multi-hit games in his last 11 tries.
With Bloomquist on a hot streak, the D-Backs might find themselves opting to keep him at shortstop if Drew's return suffers any setbacks.
Setback: Drew Slumps Upon Return
When Drew returns, in all likelihood, Bloomquist will be handing off the keys to the starter's role, even if Drew proves to be only a marginal improvement.
While this is not an all-out slump, Giants catcher Buster Posey has experienced a minor power outage since returning from his own season-ending injury in mid-2011. Posey's slugging percentage of .505 in 2010 has turned into .461 this season, even while his on-base percentage has dropped just eight points.
Posey suffered a broken ankle in a brutal plate collision last season, which denotes the struggle of returning to power form after sustaining a devastating ankle injury.
A slump? It could happen.
Setback: Drew Doesn't Trust or Use the Ankle
Speaking of Buster Posey, before the 2012 season began, the Giants instructed their young catcher to concede home plate to reduce the risk of reinjury. Bruce Bochy told the media, "I don't want [Posey] to block the plate right now."
Barely one month after the directive, the Giants saw themselves lose a potential out due to Posey's new mechanic.
On March 23, the Rangers' Elvis Andrus knocked a single into shallow center field. With Mitch Moreland barreling around third, Posey's first full-throttle play at the plate since his return was upon us. Instead of setting up on the plate, Posey crouched in front of the dish and attempted a swipe tag on the sliding Moreland.
The Giants would go on to lose the contest.
Whether due to mistrust of the ankle or out of an abundance of caution, the possibility of a setback remains that treating the ankle so gingerly might directly or indirectly contribute to a D-Backs loss.
Setback: Soreness Causes Benching
On May 19, Stephen Drew played just four innings, several days after experiencing soreness in his healing ankle. At the time, Drew dismissed the soreness, saying, "It's not a setback or anything."
Unfortunately, a setback is exactly what soreness indicates, that the ankle is not fully healed. Though Drew not complained of soreness since, it remains a distinct possibility and a clear sign that Drew is not yet ready for a full return.
Drew's soreness on May 17 actually began on May 15, when the shortstop played nine innings during extended spring training. As with any injury or trauma, exertion can cause soreness, which is a symptom of a muscle, ligament, tendon or bone not fully healed.
Setback: Drew Is Relegated to the Pinch-Hitter Role
Not that Stephen Drew is anything but a fine hitter, the Diamondbacks simply hired the shortstop to play defense as well as offense 162 days every season.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned soreness could doom Drew to the pinch-hitter's role as he finds himself unable to play nine innings daily.
Worst Case Scenario: Drew Re-Injures Himself
Injuries are common in sports and while most injured athletes return to competition at some point after suffering their trauma, of paramount concern is the risk of re-injury.
In 2003, Dr. Stephen Sunberg—not to be confused with Strasburg—published, "Returning to Sports After an Ankle Injury," a look at the trials, tribulations and real risks involved in returning to athletics after suffering an ankle sprain or fracture.
In the end, Sunberg cautions that although it may be safe to return to sport after the injury has healed, "The athlete and family [must] understand the risk of re-injury associated with returning to sports."
We know that's a risk Drew and the Diamondbacks are willing to take, though what no one yet knows is whether Drew will weather the storm and play out the rest of his career without re-injuring the ankle.
Hence, this worst case scenario is all too reasonable and realistic.