MLB Free Agents 2012: 10 Big Injury Risks Worth Taking
Every offseason, the MLB free agent pool contains several talented players with injury histories. Teams make their evaluations, assessing—among other things—the player's injury risk.
This offseason is no different.
Which 2012 free agents are worth signing despite their vulnerability to injury?
Risks and rewards are on a scale of 1-10, lowest to highest.
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Between 2010 and 2011, Grady Sizemore played in just 104 games because of persistent knee injuries, hitting .220—prior to 2010, the three-time All-Star boasted a career .275 average.
Knee injuries tend to hamper an athlete more than other injuries, and Sizemore's knee issues could diminish his ability as a center fielder, where he has won two gold gloves.
If Sizemore stays healthy, he can be a valuable asset to any team in need of a lefty bat and reliable glove. He's still young—he'll turn 30 years old in August—and has proven he can be an elite player.
The Indians have an $8.5 million option on their center fielder, but if they don't exercise it, Sizemore could make more money on the market.
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Hideki Matsui is 37 years old but can still be productive as a designated hitter when healthy.
Matsui has only missed more than 21 games in a season twice—in 2006 and 2008—but he has struggled with minor injuries since 2009.
In 2011, Matsui hit just .251, a far cry from his career .285 average.
Because of his age, injury history and decline in offensive production, Matsui shouldn't be able to demand a contract larger than the $4.25 million deal he just completed with the Oakland Athletics. Signing Matsui for cheap could potentially save a team's season.
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Since fracturing his hip in 2002, Ryan Ludwick hasn't endured any serious injuries. However, he has only played more than 140 games once in his nine-year career.
Ludwick's numbers dipped after the St. Louis Cardinals dealt him to the San Diego Padres in 2010, but the outfielder thrived during his three-and-a-half seasons as a Cardinal, making one All-Star team and hitting .280.
Given Ludwick's tendency to miss about 25 games per season, a team could hope his injuries don't force him to the DL for any longer than that. If he plays 140 games, Ludwick is definitely worth the $6.78 million he made in 2011.
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Carlos Beltran, who will turn 35 years old in April, played a combined 145 games in 2009 and 2010 before suiting up for 142 games in 2011.
While the outfielder has had his bouts with injuries, he proved in 2011 that he's still a valuable player. Beltran hit .300 with 22 home runs.
His fielding isn't on the same level as it was when he won three consecutive gold gloves from 2006-2008, but he is still a capable right fielder.
As long as a team doesn't overpay Beltran, the former Rookie of the Year is definitely worth the risk.
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Magglio Ordonez missed half of 2010 after fracturing his right ankle. In the ALCS, Ordonez fractured the same ankle.
This could be disconcerting to potential suitors, especially when factoring in Ordonez's age and decline in offensive production.
The 37-year-old hit .255 with five home runs in 92 games in 2011. He's a career .309 hitter.
If Ordonez doesn't demand too much money, he could be worth the risk because of his track record as a good hitter.
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Jimmy Rollins had played in 154 or more games in eight of nine seasons before a nagging calf strain forced him to miss nearly half of 2010. The shortstop's production dropped precipitously because of the injury, leaving him with a .243 batting average and eight home runs.
In 2011, Rollins' groin relegated him to the DL, and he played in 142 games.
Rollins will be 33 years old next season, but he can help a team if he can be just as productive as he was in 2011—he hit .268 with 16 home runs. The former MVP could even have an offensive resurgence.
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Chien-Ming Wang missed half of 2008 after injuring his foot, struggled immensely in 2009 and didn't throw a single pitch in 2010.
However, Wang had a promising 2011, making 11 starts in the second half of the season for the Washington Nationals. The sinker-baller posted a 4.04 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, the second-lowest of his six-year career.
Wang used to be a reliable arm at the front of the New York Yankees' rotation.
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Joel Zumaya didn't throw a single pitch in 2011 and has had injury problems with the elbow and shoulder of his throwing arm.
Can the former flame-thrower regain the velocity he had on his fastball when he debuted in 2006 and posted a 1.94 ERA?
For what it's worth, Zumaya returned from surgery in 2010 to post a 2.58 ERA in 31 games before injuring his elbow. However, a second surgery certainly makes him a greater risk.
If he's healthy, Zumaya can be an invaluable asset out of the bullpen.
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Rich Harden has a lengthy injury history, which has prevented him from reaching his promising potential.
Now 29 years old, Harden still hasn't pitched a full season. However, he has started 25 games twice in the last four years and posted a 2.07 ERA in 2008.
He's coming off two consecutive seasons with an ERA over 5.00, which should make him a cheaper free agent in combination with his injury history.
For Harden, staying healthy is a big "if," but he can definitely be a valuable No. 3 starter if he remains injury-free.
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Jose Reyes, the 2011 NL batting champion, has all the components of a franchise player. He's extremely talented, has a fiery passion for the game and can fill seats.
Unfortunately for Reyes and the New York Mets, the shortstop has had bouts with injuries throughout his career. A hamstring injury limited him to just 53 games in 2004, which was supposed to be his first full season in the majors.
After four healthy seasons, Reyes injured his calf and hamstring and played in 36 games in 2009. In 2010, the shortstop missed 29 games because of a hyperactive thyroid gland and other minor injuries.
Reyes hit .337 this season, led MLB with 16 triples and earned a spot on the NL All-Star squad. However, a nagging hamstring injury forced him to miss 36 games.
Maybe Reyes doesn't deserve "Carl Crawford money," just like Mets' owner Fred Wilpon claimed in May. But he'll be 28 years old at the start of the season, leaving him with several potentially potent seasons.
When Reyes is healthy, he is one of the best shortstops in baseball and one of the few players who can ignite his team with his passion and play.