MLB: Every Team's Biggest Offseason Injury Concern

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIDecember 14, 2011

MLB: Every Team's Biggest Offseason Injury Concern

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    It doesn't matter what team you root for. Every fan knows the feeling.

    There's a player on your team's roster who is...let's use the word "fragile".

    Maybe they're not fragile, maybe they're just so critical to the team's fortunes that even if they're traditionally healthy, the threat of an injury is still unsettling. 

    If he's a pitcher, then any sort of twitch or look of discomfort on the mound is cause for alarm, and god forbid the trainer and manager decide to have a little pow-wow at the mound to assess your pitcher's ankle, back, elbow, shoulder, forearm, etc., etc.  

    If he's a hitter, then a grimace on the follow-through of a particularly violent swing-and-miss can elicit your own pained expression.

    And what about that terrible feeling when your favorite player hits a line drive into the gap and rather than flying down the first-base line on a race to either second or maybe third base, he grabs at the back of his upper leg, reaching towards...of course—the hamstring.

    Next season, fans of all thirty baseball teams will start the season with a sense of optimism. Some fans will have higher expectations than others, but all of them will share one distinct fear. The injury.

    Baseball is a long season and players get injured. It happens every season to every team and every group of fans has to deal with it. Every now and then an individual team will deal with a really high amount of injuries. For the most part, though, they're a part of the game.

    There does exist on every team one player—one guy that the fans of the team really don't want to see land on the disabled list. Next year when you're scrolling through the transactions and notice these guys landing on the disabled list, don't be too happy about it. It could happen to your guy next.  

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy

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    Last season the Arizona Diamondbacks took everyone by surprise and won the National League West. The run to the postseason was fueled by two key contributions. 

    Young outfielder Justin Upton had a breakout MVP-type of season, and Ian Kennedy, who was at one time a highly-touted Yankee pitching prospect, made a very serious run at the National League Cy Young Award (he finished 4th). 

    Kennedy is clearly a huge part of the Diamondbacks' future. He'll be 27 on Opening Day 2012, and last season he was healthy and one of baseball's best starters. 

    Back in 2009, while a Yankee prospect, Kennedy missed four months recovering from surgery to fix an aneurysm is his right arm—his pitching arm. 

    Clearly Kennedy has recovered from that surgery, but pitchers are never sure things, and when your ace pitcher has had surgery on his throwing arm in his past, every start could be a bit nerve-wracking. 

Atlanta Braves: Tommy Hanson

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    Atlanta Braves' fans get a head start on the emotional injury roller-coaster. 

    Hanson was shut down last August in the midst of a great season. The 25-year-old starter had an 11-7 record with an earned run average of 3.60 and 142 K's in only 130 innings pitched. He was diagnosed with a "slight rotator cuff tear" ( gulp). 

    Hanson is slated to resume baseball activities soon and could be ready for Spring Training. If Hanson is indeed healthy enough to start, then every start will have Braves fans holding their breath. 

    Tommy John surgery has become a successful way to repair damaged elbows, but shoulder surgery is still at times a total career-killer, and Tommy Hanson is a pitcher who the Braves need to be successful in the rapidly-improving NL East. 

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Weiters

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    Matt Wieters appears on the cusp of real bonafide stardom. He's already won his first gold glove behind the plate and, barring injury, there's no reason to think he won't repeat that in 2012. 

    "Barring injury" is of course the key. There's precious little that baseball and football have in common, but the catcher position is without question a physically grueling position that causes wear and tear and invites a host of nagging injuries. 

    Knee issues, back issues, ankle issues, shoulder issues. All of them can come about from the repeated physical effort that catchers put in behind the plate. 

    The Orioles can give Wieters some rest and they'll make every effort to ensure his long term health has a positive outlook to it. Nothing is assured though. 

    When you're the catcher, a minor hamstring or groin pull can put you on the shelf for weeks. Wieters' Orioles teammates and their fans would very much like to avoid that. 

Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia

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    You weren't expecting to see John Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka, were you?

    Red Sox fans have endured numerous injuries to various players over the last few seasons. In the 2012 season, the team will begin the season with two starting pitchers on the disabled list.

    Daisuke Matsuzaka will be out until the summer recovering from Tommy John surgery. John Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season recovering from the very same procedure. Neither will be missed by many Red Sox fans, though.

    The same can't be said of Dustin Pedroia.

    Pedroia, who won Rookie Of The Year in 2007 and MVP in 2008, has established himself as one of baseball's best all-around players. He plays a key position—second base—and plays it with the type of reckless abandon that invites injury.

    Even though his teammates Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury finished higher in the MVP balloting last season, Pedroia is arguably a more valuable and cherished member of the team.

    Gonzalez has only been on the team for one season, and Ellsbury bounced back from a dreadful 2010 season to put up career numbers in 2011. Pedroia is a guy that fans and teammates count on being there 100 percent, every day.

    His injury in 2010 was the straw that broke the camel's back in a season in which the whole team was marred by injuries.

    Losing Pedroia for a prolonged period of time would be a huge loss for the Red Sox, both statistically and emotionally.  

Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro

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    Teams that make a commitment to rebuilding often do so by picking a few key players and making them the centerpieces of that effort. 

    A 21-year-old shortstop with seemingly limitless potential isn't a bad place to start. 

    For a Chicago Cubs team that will enter the 2012 season with somewhat limited expectations, no single player will literally make or break the season. 

    Even with that being the case, fans will still flock to Wrigley and turn on their televisions, radios, and computers if Starlin Castro is in the lineup on a daily basis. 

    Castro is a dynamic young player, playing a key position and playing it with style and flashes of brilliance. On a list of "untouchable" players in the Cubs organization, he'd easily make the list. 

    As the Cubs enter a new era in which incoming President of Baseball Operations and former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein hope to lead the Cubs to their first World Series Championship since 1908, Starlin Castro is established as a key to that mission.

    Keeping him healthy will be of the utmost importance. 

Chicago White Sox: John Danks

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    The Chicago White Sox are shopping John Danks right now. So how can he be such a important piece of the 2012 White Sox?

    If Danks is on the team come opening day, he will be very important. The White Sox are in rebuilding mode right now. Danks is currently being shopped in hopes that he can return younger talent to restock the minor league system if he's dealt.

    Once the season starts, Danks' performance could make him even more valuable as the July 31st trading deadline approaches. If the White Sox don't get an offer they like over the next few months, then that's what they'll be banking on next season.

    The White Sox will hope that Danks has an exceptional first half of 2012 which will escalate his trade value and make Danks one of baseball's hottest commodities come late July. That can't happen if he's injured though.

    In addition to a season in which White Sox fans will have tempered expectations, Danks will represent a player who fans can feel fairly good about having on the mound once out of every five games. He's a talented pitcher who has shown some limited flashes of brilliance.

    He still only 27 years old, and he could make improvements that could make his starts even more enjoyable for fans to watch.  

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

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    There are cases when the player who causes the most concern for a team's fans isn't the team's best player. That's not the case in Cincinnati though. 

    Yes, the Reds desperately need starting pitchers like Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto to remain healthy, but they'd be likely left for dead if first baseman Joey Votto were to miss too much time. 

    In spite of injures to their starting pitchers, the Reds still were able to piece together enough pitching in 2010 to win the National League Central. In 2011, they couldn't sustain consistent play at the plate or on the mound in a Central that was much more competitive than it was in 2010. 

    Through it all, there's been one very consistent and reliable player that Reds fans could count on and Reds opponents feared. 

    Joey Votto. 

    Votto, who won the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Award, has become the most popular athlete in Cincinnati. He's the star player in the cities' most cherished sports franchise. Votto enters the 2012 season as player who has yet to miss any sort of time due to injury. He's been very durable and very consistent. 

    The Reds need him to continue on that track. While the 2012 Reds will enter the season with pitching or lack thereof as their primary concern, the team will feel good about its offense because they can pencil Joey Votto into the lineup nearly every day next season. 

    If that were to change due to injury, then the lineup and its offensive production would become a major concern. Joey Votto might not have been the 2011 National League MVP, but he's still the MVP for the Reds. 

Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    When the Cleveland Indians acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies last season, one of the primary critiques of the deal was that the Indians gave up a ton of young talent, including highly-touted Drew Pomeranz. 

    That might be fine if Jimenez remains healthy. That's the big "if" though. 

    Jimenez has suffered from ailments that can be signs of serious trouble down the road. Fatigue and a drop off in velocity can both be harbingers of shoulder problems. They can also just be routine problems that result in nothing more than occasional rest or longer breaks between starts.

    Jimenez is going to be counted on as the anchor of the Indians' staff. Justin Masterson and veteran Derek Lowe will both be needed as well, but Jimenez is the guy that has the potential to be dominant on the mound.  

    As of now, Jimenez has not sustained any sort of major career-threatening injury. 

    The Cleveland Indians and their fans hope that remains the case for the next several years. 

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki

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    When your best player on offense is 27 years old and entering his prime, that makes him very valuable. When he plays shortstop—one of the game's most difficult positions to fill—that makes him irreplaceable. It also makes him Troy Tulowitzki. 

    Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees is the active shortstop with the best overall career in the majors and the Cubs' Starlin Castro has the most promise for the future, but Troy Tulowitzki will in all likelihood be the majors' best shortstop in 2012.

    That means he's pretty much irreplaceable for the Rockies.

    Colorado has always been a team that has had offensive stars. Larry Walker, Todd Helton, and Carlos Gonzalez have all had spectacular seasons wearing Rockies' uniforms. Tulo has had great seasons at the plate and in the field, which is where many shortstops who traditionally are somewhat weak producers are positioned. At the plate, he's won two consecutive gold gloves.

    Troy Tulowitzki is a player that baseball fans tune in to watch. He's also a player Rockies fans will flock in droves to see in Denver. He's on pace to have a Hall of Fame career, and the one thing that could derail that would be the dreaded injury bug.

    Tulo missed much of the final month of the 2011 season with a hip injury. With the team out of the postseason hunt and with his future in mind, the team shut him down for the final week of the season. Reports are that Tulowitzki should be 100 percent healthy and ready to go in 2012. That's great news for Rockies' fans.  

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

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    To put it simply, you can't be both the reigning Cy Young Award winner and the reigning Most Valuable Player and not be your team's greatest injury concern. 

    Victor Martinez was a very important part of the Tigers' offense last season. He's also a player who seems to miss a number of games to a sprained this or a pulled that every season. 

    The Tigers would be naive to think 2012 will be different. 

    Miguel Cabrera was once the American League's top offensive player last season, and were he to miss any sort of extended time, the Tigers would surely suffer. 

    Justin Verlander? Well it's going to be tough to envision the 2012 Detroit Tigers having too great a season were Verlander to miss a month or more. The impact would stretch beyond the five or more starts he'd miss. 

    The bullpen and other pitchers would all need to increase their workloads, upping the odds of other players suffering injuries. The offense would feel an added pressure to score runs, and most importantly the team could easily suffer a prolonged losing streak, since it's aces like Justin Verlander who are often called upon to steady an uneasy ship when the team lost a few games in a row. 

    The good news of course is that Justin Verlander has to this point had an injury-free career. That's got to be very comforting for Tiger fans. 

Houston Astros: Carlos Lee

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    Is there really an offseason injury concern in Houston? 

    Perhaps one could point to high-rated prospect Jonathan Singleton who was acquired in last summer's Hunter Pence deal from Philadelphia. 

    Then again, it would need to be a fairly catastrophic injury to impact Singleton too adversely since he's not even officially on the team's big league roster. 

    That brings us back—back to one of the contracts that put the Astros in the compromised financial hole they are currently trying to get out of. Back to Carlos Lee. 

    Lee is entering the final season of a six-year $100 million contract. In those six years, Lee has performed quite well, but the Astros have been in a free fall that culminated in last season's atrocious 56-106 record. The Astros haven't finished over .500 since 2008. 

    2012 offers very little in the way of promise that the streak of losing the season will be coming to an end. The path for the Astros to get back to being a winning team involves dealing whatever players of value who aren't young and inexpensive on their roster in an effort to acquire talented prospects.

    Carlos Lee, who is going to be in the final year of his contract in 2012, could be a player that fetches some talent. He has to be healthy though. No one is going to deal for a player to help them in the present that isn't healthy in the present. 

    Lee has been quite durable over the course of his 13-season career.

    In his five seasons in Houston, he's played in over 155 games four times. This season, Astros fans need Lee to be both healthy and productive. That way, when the midseason trading deadline approaches, the team can ship Lee to a contending team that needs an influx of power into their lineup.

    It only works if Lee remains healthy through the offseason and into next season as well.  

Kansas City Royals: Joakim Soria

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    For the first time in a while, Kansas City Royals fans have a legitimate reason to be excited about the upcoming season. 

    2012 could be the year. It could be the season when the young players all emerge while older veterans step up their game. The Royals have one of baseball's best minor league systems and the fruits of that system began to ripen in front of baseball observers' eyes last season. 

    There's a big harvest on the way in 2012 too. More top prospects to add to the already impressive list of young talent that seems to dominate the Royals' roster. 

    There is one veteran player on the team that the Royals really need healthy in 2012. Closer Joakim Soria.

    It's not just that the Royals have repeatedly turned down trade overtures from other teams the past few seasons. It's also that Soria may in fact still be used as trade bait—or maybe he'll be the key veteran presence on a Royals squad that makes a surprise run at a wildcard birth or even divisional title in 2012. 

    None of that will be possible if Soira isn't healthy, and that's not a total given either.

    Toward the end of one of his most difficult seasons last year, he suffered a string of groin and hamstring pulls which resulted in his eventual shutdown for the last weeks of the 2011 season.

    Soria is projected as the Royals' opening day starter. The Royals did go out and sign injury-prone former Dodger closer Jonathan Broxton. As a free agent, he's projected to serve a form of insurance policy should Soria remain injury-prone.

    A healthy Soria could be a key part of a Royal revival next season or he could bring in the final pieces of the puzzle in a trade. Either way, the team needs him on the field.  

Los Angeles Angles: Albert Pujols

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    What a difference a week makes. 

    A week ago, this slide would have been pretty open for discussion, but when a team invests $254 million in one player over a ten-year period, it's kind of important that the player remain healthy through the offseason to take the field on opening day. 

    It helps that Albert Pujols has really had only one significant injury over the course of his magnificent 11- year career. The broken wrist that shelved Pujols last season was projected to have him miss six to eight weeks of playing time. 

    He was back in three. 

    Pujols is clearly a player who makes every effort to keep himself in the kind of physical condition that will insure him as much durability as possible. 

    Injuries can happen though. 

    For a team like the Angels who have sunk so much money and commitment into one player, the proverbial "worst case scenario" is a major injury. 

    The Albert Pujols era begins in April of 2012 and Angels fans hope he can be one of baseball's healthiest players through at least 2022. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: Dee Gordon

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    When the Dodgers dealt Refael Furcal to the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline, it wasn't just to get what they could for Furcal, who was headed to free agency in the offseason. 

    It was also to clear some space on the roster for bright, young shortstop prospect Dee Gordon. It worked too. Gordon was immediately called up and inserted into the Dodgers' starting lineup. 

    Gordon, who has the type of speed that makes scouts drool, is projected as a solid-hitting, slick-fielding future shortstop for the Dodgers. So when he bruised his shoulder and had to hit the disabled list just days after his big league debut, there was reason for anxiety. 

    Gordon hit the disabled list for a few weeks and eventually returned, but his quick trip so soon after his big league arrival, coupled with his very slight build (Gordon is 5'11 and weighs just 150 pounds), may give Dodger fans some concern.

    It's hard to fill the shortstop position in the majors, and finding a good young player at that position represents a coup for any team. 

    That talent and speed won't do anyone any good on the bench or the disabled list though. 

Miami Marlins: Josh Johnson

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    Tommy John surgery is old hat to Josh Johnson. He dealt with that way back in 2007 and he bounced back from it in unusually quick time—back on the mound in the majors in just eleven months.

    Now, Johnson may be facing a shoulder condition—or maybe he's not. No one really knows, but last season the Florida (now Miami) Marlins weren't going to take a "wait-and-see" attitude. 

    When Johnson complained of shoulder discomfort it was investigated, and when it was discovered to be shoulder inflammation, the Marlins shut him down for the remainder of the 2011 season in May.

    Johnson is slated to be healthy and ready to go to start the 2012 season, but the Miami Marlins' pursuit of various starting pitchers in the current offseason reveals that even the hierarchy of the team has plenty of doubts about Johnson's health.

    Even if he does start off 2012 as the dominant starting pitcher that he has been when healthy, the question will remain, "How long until the next injury?" That's not settling for fans, teammates or management.

    It's especially unsettling for a team trying to fill a new stadium. Having top players is of the utmost importance, but they're of no use if they're on the disabled list. A place that Johnson knows all too well.  

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke

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    The Brewers' biggest 2011 offseason acquisition will be among their fans' biggest offseason worries. 

    With Prince Fielder slated for departure via free agency and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun currently embroiled in a performance-enhancing drug scandal that he may or may not be worthy of having to endure, the 2012 season looks to be shaping up as one in which the Brewers will need peak performances from their starting pitchers.

    No pitcher on the current Brewer roster features a higher ceiling than former American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.

    Greinke was acquired last offseason by the Brewers from the Kansas City Royals who were able to pry a number of top prospects away from Milwaukee for the former Cy Young winner.

    Part of the reason the Royals were willing to part with Greinke is that his health has been an issue. Last season in Milwaukee, it was a cracked rib, a physical injury that sidelined Greinke into mid-May. In the past there have been some mental issues involving depression and anxiety.

    Last season, Greinke returned from his early-season injury and appeared healthy both mentally and physically for the remainder of the season. His performance was still below expectations, though. 

    In 2012, a healthy Greinke could be a dominant force in the National League Central, and having a dominant ace in the starting rotation might help Brewer fans forget about what is shaping up to be a highly disappointing offseason. 

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

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    Unfortunately, Twins fans have plenty of key players whose health is of concern. 

    You could make a nice little list of players for Twins fans to worry about this offseason. 

    There's former 2007 American League MVP Justin Morneau, whose recovery from a series of concussions has been slow and was further hampered by an elbow injury last season. 

    There's number one starter Francisco Liriano, who threw a no-hitter last spring but has also been plagued by periods of inconsistency since undergoing Tommy John surgery in November of 2006. 

    Both of those guys would be plenty for fans to worry about, but then there's Joe Mauer. 

    Mauer is the Twins. The Twins are a small market team, but following Mauer's spectacular 2009 MVP season in which he hit .365, the Twins invested $184 million in Mauer to keep him in the Twin Cities for the better part of his career. 

    The catcher position is known as one that invites injuries. Mauer missed half the season in 2011 with a variety of maladies. Leg weakness, a stiff neck, pneumonia. It's got to be a huge concern for the Twins and their fans. Mauer who seemed almost superhuman in 2009 now appears downright frail. 

    As of now, Mauer is healthy and ready to go for the 2012 season, but Twins fans won't rest easy until they actually see him performing at a high level on the field, and with his history of injuries, that's understandable. 

New York Mets: David Wright

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    This slide could easily be Johan Santana, but since he's not officially healthy, why bother worrying about him getting injured again?

    David Wright is still worth worrying about, though. 

    Wright is a 28-year-old five-time All Star who is coming off his first real injury-plagued season. In 2011 Wright played in only 102 games. The primary culprit was a stress fracture in his back.

    If you swing a bat, throw a ball and play third base for a living, there is going to be stress on your back. If your back isn't cut out to handle it, then your health will be compromised.

    The Mets, who have serious financial problems, could be forced to trade Wright in an effort to capitalize on his value before he possibly leaves the Mets via free agency at the conclusion of the 2013 season.

    They won't even be able to do that if injuries keep popping up.

    As of now Wright is healthy and ready for action in 2012. Keeping him that way would be nice.  


New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera

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    This was probably the easiest choice in the whole slideshow. All you need to do is realize two distinct realities. 

    1. Mariano Rivera had relatively serious surgery on his vocal cords two weeks ago. It was the first serious threat to his health that most fans had ever heard about. 

    2. If you're a Yankee fan 19 or younger, you probably don't even remember what a Yankee team without Mariano Rivera closing looks like.

    That's because for 17 seasons he has been on the team, and for 15 of them he's been the closer. He hasn't just been the closer. He's been "The Closer".

    Every other position in baseball would elicit immediate and rational debate if you were to try and declare one man " the best ever" except for the closer position. There the answer is simple—it's Mariano Rivera

    The Yankees are just not prepared to deal with a sudden injury to Rivera. Yes, the bullpen has lots of talented players in it, but Rivera has held down the job for 15 years and he's been dominant in all 15 of them.

    That's just not replaceable regardless of how good Yankee fans think David Robertson is.

    The vocal chord surgery probably won't impact Rivera at all. That doesn't mean that Yankee fans won't worry a bit waiting to see him come out of the bullpen in April.  

Oakland Athletics: Brett Anderson

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    The Oakland A's had a decent starting rotation in 2011. So naturally they're trying to trade most of the talent and get younger. 

    Trevor Cahill is already gone to Arizona, and Gio Gonzalez is on the market as well. 

    Brett Anderson doesn't appear to be going anywhere, though. 

    It's hard to get fair value for a talented pitcher when he has spent the better part of the past season on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery. 

    Anderson won't be back until July—barring another setback. 

    In the meantime, A's fans can keep a watchful eye for news of his rehabilitation going smoothly. If it doesn't, then Anderson won't be back in July. That would be a bummer for A's fans, but then again it might keep him on the team for a little longer. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley

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    Last season the Philadelphia Phillies were one of two teams that everyone had pegged for postseason greatness in the preseason. 

    The other was the Boston Red Sox. 

    In the end they both disappointed. 

    The Phillies seemed destined to fulfill their preseason predictions. They amassed the best record in baseball through the regular season. Then in the postseason, the pitching, which had been the team's strength slipped a touch, and the offense, which had been a concern all season, was shut down by the Cardinals' pitching staff. 

    Next season could be present an even greater challenge in Philadelphia. 

    Scoring runs won't get any easier with slugger Ryan Howard on the disabled list until midseason recovering from a torn achilles tendon. The team may also enter the season without veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who is currently shopping his services on the free agent market. 

    All of that means that more pressure will fall on the shoulders of the Phillies' second baseman, Chase Utley. 

    When healthy, Utley is one of baseball's elite second basemen. He's in the crew with Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler. 

    "When healthy" is the key though. 

    Utley's balky knees have cost him considerable time the last two seasons. Last year, Utley appeared in only 103 games, his lowest total since 2004. 

    With depth in the starting rotation and a new dominant closer in the bullpen, Phillies fans will spend the bulk of the offseason worrying about the offense, and more specifically, if Chase Utley can remain healthy—valid concerns indeed. 

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

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    When you're a die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan, you're forced to appreciate the little things. Division titles, wild card births, pennant races. Those are all things Pirates fans don't generally need to worry about.

    Getting to watch a budding potential young superstar, though, is still something that Pirates fans can and will get to appreciate.

    In 2012, Pirates fans will get to appreciate it again, provided of course that Andrew McCutchen remains healthy. He's not a huge injury risk and he's not an injury-prone player, but he's still the type of guy that will get fans to come out to the stadium even if the team has a losing record.

    McCutchen plays with a mix of power and speed and makes spectacular plays in the outfield. Maybe the Pirates can make another run at first place in the Central as they did into late July last season, but even if they don't, as long as Andrew McCutchen is healthy the team will still be worth watching.  

San Diego Padres: Mat Latos

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    Mat Latos started the 2011 season on the disabled list. Padres' fans would very much prefer him to start the 2012 season as the opening day starter. 

    If he's healthy, there's no reason to think he won't be the opening day hurler for the Padres. Latos is going to be a serious pitcher. He may in fact already be just that. It's tough to tell pitching on a team which provides him with very little offensive support, and in a pitcher's park at that. 

    Last season, with an earned run average of only 3.47, a whip of 1.18 and 185 strikeouts in 194.1 innings pitched, Latos finished with an uninspiring 9-14 record.

    Latos suffered from a sore shoulder during spring training last season. That sent him to the disabled list, which in turn impacted Latos for the first half of the 2011 season. Latos had an earned run average of 4.04 before the All-Star break, but after he dropped that number down to an impressive 2.87

    Clearly, a young player like Latos values the routines he can establish with help from a full slate of spring training. In 2012, Latos will hope to remain healthy through the offseason and into the pre and regular season.  

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

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    It was one of the less appealing lasting images of the 2011 baseball season.

    Buster Posey, the young star catcher for the defending champion San Francisco Giants, was involved in a high-impact collision with Marlins player Scott Cousins, who was attempting to score on a sacrifice fly from third base in the 12th inning of the Giants-Marlins game on May 26th. 

    The collision broke Posey's ankle and ended his season. 

    The Giants season didn't go so well from there on out as the defending champs slumped to an uninspiring finish and missed the playoffs. 

    As of now, all indications are that Buster Posey will be healthy for the start of the 2012 season. The Giants, who finished at or near the bottom in most offensive categories in the National League in 2011, will gladly welcome Posey back into the fold. 

    So will Giants fans who are hungry to resume the winning track the team was on when they won the 2010 World Series. 

Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

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    Seattle Mariners fans are used to having superstars on the roster. The team that at one time had Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez is no longer a collection of baseball's brightest young stars. 

    They've still got one though. 

    Felix Hernandez—"King Felix"—is one of baseball's best pitchers. He's still only 25 years old, but he has already made two All-Star appearances and has won one Cy Young Award. 

    He's also been pretty healthy as well. 

    As of now, those two constants, Felix's health and his performance, have been two of the lone bright spots over the past few seasons. 

    For 2012, Mariner fans would love to see the team improve as a whole. More offense would be nice, as would the continued development of another promising young pitcher, Michael Pineda. 

    None of that will matter if Felix Hernandez gets hurt and misses any sort of significant time. He's not a one-man team and his health doesn't guarantee that the Mariners will have a great season, but were he to get hurt, there would be almost no chance of Seattle improving. 

St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright

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    It's been a fairly rough offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals and their loyal fans. 

    After winning the World Series, things took a decided downturn. 

    First long-,time manager Tony LaRussa announced his retirement. 

    Then in a more shocking development, free-agent superstar Albert Pujols left St.Louis for a ten-year $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. 

    Things are already looking a little bleak in the short term. 

    One potential bright spot? The team should get the very talented Adam Wainwright back next season. 

    Wainwright, who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery, hopes to be back in form in time for opening day 2012. 

    Cardinals fans have reason to be concerned though. 

    On their current pitching staff, there are two players who had decidedly different experiences recovering from and returning to top form from Tommy John surgery. 

    Jaime Garcia missed all of 2009, but bounced back strong in 2010, showing few of the ill effects of the surgery. 

    Chris Carpenter, on the other hand, missed nearly all of 2007 and 2008 recovering from the surgery. Yes, he eventually bounced back and resumed his dominant ways, but it took quite some time. 

    Cardinals fans can only wonder which path Adam Wainwright will need to take. One thing is certain— after losing Pujols, the Cardinals will need all the pitching they can muster, so Wainwright's presence has become even more important. 

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria

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    If your favorite team has as many as seven top-of-the-rotation quality starting pitchers on its roster heading into the 2012 season, then the importance of one individual pitcher is not what it is on other teams. 

    What if you're the best offensive player though? 

    In a nutshell, that's Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays. 

    Tampa enters the 2012 season with the defending American League Manager of The Year as well as an enviable collection of the league's brightest and best young pitchers. 

    They've still got questions regarding offense though. Evan Longoria holds the answer to many of those questions. 

    Longoria got hurt in April of last season and missed almost 30 games.

    The Rays, who had a weak offense with Longoria in the lineup, were downright bad without him. Even once he returned, the missed time clearly impacted his ability to find a good rhythm at the plate. He finished 2011 with a career low in batting average at .244. 

    He still managed to slug over 30 home runs and drive in 99 runs. That kind of production is simply irreplaceable on the current Rays' roster. Longoria showed his first cracks of mortality last season. Rays fans are hoping it's his last. 

Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan

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    The Texas Rangers really need a healthy Joe Nathan for the 2012 season. 

    Joe Nathan left a Minnesota Twins team where his 2012 season would have been one casually observed with, in all likelihood, very limited amounts of pressure.

    The Texas Rangers are, on the other hand, the two-time defending American League Champions. They lost their second consecutive World Series in 2011. They also recently lost their number one starter for the second year in a row. 

    In 2010, it was Cliff Lee leaving via free agency for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2011, it was C.J. Wilson skipping town to pitch for the Los Angeles Angels. 

    When Lee left, Wilson stepped up to fill the void, so who will play that role that Wilson has now left?

    It's going to be a bit of a committee assignment, but a key part of that committee will be former closer and top prospect Neftal Feliz. If Feliz is busy honing his starting pitching skills, then someone has to close all those games, and that's where Joe Nathan comes into play. 

    Nathan missed all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery and spent all of 2011 ironing out the post-surgical kinks, or at least that's what the Rangers are hoping he was doing. 

    In 2009, before his Tommy John surgery, Nathan was a dominant closer on a playoff team—the Rangers are hoping for an exact return to that form in 2012. 

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista

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    For the Toronto Blue Jays, the offense rests on the sizable shoulders of one man. 

    Jose Bautista, the two-time defending American League home-run champ, has slugged 97 home runs over the last two seasons. His power explosion occurred at an unusual point in a big league career. Bautista was 29 years old when he had his breakout 54 home run season in 2010.

    In 2012 he'll be 31. That's an age where nagging injuries can start to creep up on some players. For the Toronto Blue Jays, the risk of those types of injuries instills an added sense of urgency to the 2012 season.

    If Bautista's stardom could emerge so unusually late in his career and so suddenly, could it not vanish just as quickly?

    A back problem, hamstrings, shoulders, wrist problems, a pulled oblique. None of these have happened, and yet all of them could happen. 

    Clearly these types of injuries could happen to any player, but were they to happen to Jose Bautista, the limited promise of the upcoming 2012 season would vanish in the same sudden manner that Bustista's spectacular 54 home-run season came on in 2010. 

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

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    Stephen Strasburg's prodigious talent, coupled with his elbow injury at the age of just 22, insure that he could be the Washington National's biggest injury risk for the next fifteen years. 

    Strasburg has a ceiling as high as any other pitcher in all of baseball. The blazing fastball, the slider and the change-up, all of which he can throw for strikes. 

    The elbow injury will haunt him though.

    It will also haunt Nationals fans and his teammates. Stephen Strasburg has a very bright future in baseball—if that elbow holds up, if there's no more injuries.

    He could be Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling, or he could be Mark Prior or Kerry Wood. The final destination is unknown, but the health of this young pitcher is always going to be one of the Washington Nationals' greatest concerns.