Fantasy Baseball 2012: 11 Injury Concerns Who Are Worth the Risk

Eric Matula@EricMatula11Contributor IIJanuary 13, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: 11 Injury Concerns Who Are Worth the Risk

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    Injuries can devastate a fantasy season.

    Sometimes there are unexpected freak instances—like when Buster Posey missed 117 games last season after a home-plate collision.

    Then, there are the unsurprising injuries. Think back to the early 2000s when Ken Griffey Jr. hit the Disabled List almost every single year.

    Clearly, injury-prone players can make or break a fantasy team. There are some players worth taking the risk, and some worth forgetting.

    Here's a list of the top 11 players who are worth the gamble. 

Carlos Gonzalez

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    Carlos Gonzalez has put his wrist injuries behind him, and he'll be ready for Spring Training in 2012.

    CarGo is only 26 years old and he has all the tools to become a star in the MLB—as long as he stays healthy.

    Gonzalez finished third in the NL MVP voting in 2010 when he hit .336 with 34 home runs, 117 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.

    Although he missed 35 games in 2011, Gonzalez still recorded his second straight 20/20 season with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

    Injury-prone outfielders are risky because the position is very deep, but CarGo has way too much talent to leave off the list. There were only five outfielders who had a 30/20 season in 2011 (Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Braun and Curtis Granderson).

    Braun will most likely have to serve his 50-game suspension, and I don't see Ellsbury hitting 30-plus home runs again.

    Take a gamble on Gonzalez. Not only is he capable of another 30/20 year, he is also a career .298 hitter.

Nelson Cruz

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    Nelson Cruz took everyone's breath away in the 2011 postseason.

    Cruz mashed eight home runs and helped the Texas Rangers reach the World Series for the second straight year.

    Cruz has displayed visions of greatness. Over the last three seasons, he averaged 28 home runs per season.

    The only problem: In that same span, he's only averaged 120 games played.

    Cruz is overlooked when it comes to pure power hitters. Forget about the batting average: He'll hit around .270. But here's a closer look at the HR numbers.

    Cruz averaged one home run every 4.29 games played last season. To put that into perspective, that's better than Mike Stanton (4.41) and Ryan Howard (4.61).

    Cruz might very well land on the DL this upcoming season, but he's worth the risk. If he does manage to stay healthy, he'll be a shoe-in for 30 HRs.

Josh Johnson

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    There's no question about Josh Johnson's stuff. He just needs to stay on the field.

    The big right-hander will be 28 years old and he possesses just as much talent as Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander. The only difference: they've shown the longevity.

    In fact, Johnson has only thrown more than 200 innings once in his six-year career, and that came in 2009. In that year, Johnson was 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA.

    In 2011, Johnson was on top of his game before missing most of the season with right shoulder inflammation. In his nine starts before the DL stop, Johnson was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA.

    For those nervous about his shoulder, don't be. Everything is on schedule. Johnson has been throwing and doing his long-toss program at his home in the Las Vegas area. He is on pace to be 100 percent with no restrictions when pitchers and catchers report.

    JJ is worth the risk. When he's healthy, he's capable of Cy Young numbers, and he can certainly stabilize your rotation.

Josh Hamilton

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    Everybody knows what Josh Hamilton can do.

    Whether it be his 2010 MVP-winning season, or the firework display he set off during the 2008 Home Run Derby, Hamilton is one of the game's most electric players.

    Just imagine if he could stay healthy.

    Despite all of his success, Hamilton has only played more than 135 games once, and that was in 2008. Hamilton always seems to land on the DL, but he's certainly worth using a high draft pick.

    He's a career .308 hitter, and he has averaged 24.75 home runs and 94.50 RBIs the last four seasons.

    Plus, just look at the offense he has and the home stadium he plays in.

    The ballpark at Arlington gave up the most home runs per game last season, and he'll have the likes of Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Mike Napoli in the lineup.

Jose Reyes

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    New team, new stadium, new Reyes?

    For Jose Reyes, it's all about the health concerns.

    In the last three seasons, Reyes has averaged only 98.33 games played.

    It would be easy to give up on Reyes, but he's one of the game's most exciting players. Plus, when he's healthy, he puts up great numbers at a very shallow shortstop position.

    Even though he missed 36 games in 2011, he still stole 39 bases and scored 101 runs. Not to mention, he won the NL batting title with an average of .337.

    Don't expect the batting average to be so high this year, but Reyes is a lock for 30-plus steals and 100-plus runs if he remains healthy.

    Even with the health issues, I'd put Reyes in the top five for shortstops. Take the risk on Reyes this season. He'll want to reward the Marlins after the huge contract they offered him. 

Ian Kinsler

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    Ian Kinsler has the potential to be the best fantasy second baseman in the game.

    There are two factors holding Kinsler back from reaching this status: health and batting average.

    In his six-year career, 2011 was the only time Kinsler didn't spend a stint on the DL. He rewarded his owners with his second 30/30 season in three years.

    There aren't many 30/30 guys in the MLB at second base.

    If his health is coupled with his batting average from 2008 (.319), then Kinsler is No. 1 at second base, and a perennial first-round pick.

    Dustin Pedroia will get you the stolen bases, but he won't get you the home runs (he had a career-high of 21 in 2011). Dan Uggla will certainly get you the home runs, but he'll be lucky to swipe five bags. Robinson Cano will get you a good average and the home runs, but, like Uggla, won't have much more than five steals.

    Chase Utley is getting older and won't come close to a 30/30 season.

    That's the reason to take Kinsler. He's only 29 years old and already has two 30/30 seasons. Take a gamble on the health. He was healthy all year last season, and there's no reason to think he can't raise his average from .255 to .285.

Johan Santana

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    Johan Santana hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2010.

    The 32-year-old lefty is hoping he can return to form after shoulder surgery more than a year ago. Santana was supposed to make his debut some time after the All-Star break last season, but he had too many setbacks.

    There are concerns about whether Santana will be ready for spring training this year, but General Manager Sandy Alderson said, "he's ready to go" (via CBS Sports).

    Whether or not Santana is ready for Opening Day, he's still worth taking a shot on.

    I'm still talking about the same guy who won two Cy Young Awards and hasn't had an ERA over 3.40 since 2001. Don't expect Santana to put up the same Cy Young numbers, but he's still very capable of a 10-win season with an ERA under 3.30.

    The Mets are most likely in for a long season, but ultimately, they still play in one of the best pitcher's ballparks. I mean, just look at a pitcher like Dillon Gee. Gee went 7-3 with a 3.17 ERA last year at Citi Field.

    Plus, in three seasons as a Met, Santana has 24 wins with a 2.54 ERA at home. Santana will be fine this season. He's worth drafting.

Chase Utley

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    Chase Utley still has one of the quickest, most compact swings in the MLB.

    Utley has been riddled with injuries in the past two seasons. He played in just 115 games in 2010 and then only 103 in 2011. With this said, Utley is still one of the game's best second baseman.

    He might be getting older, but I think he still has a couple of dominant years ahead of him.

    Utley, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday in December, will still be batting third in a pretty potent Phillies lineup.

    Don't be worried that Ryan Howard won't be protecting Utley for the first half of the season. I project that Hunter Pence will fill in at the cleanup spot, and he's a solid .300/20-HR guy. Don't let the last two injury-plagued seasons completely erase your memory.

    In 2009, when he was healthy, Utley hit .282 with 31 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

    Utley isn't at the top of the second baseman list any more, but he's still in the top five or six. Take the risk with him: He has the ability to still hit 20-plus home runs and steal 15 bags.

    There were only six second baseman who hit more than 20 home runs last year, and he'll be playing in the hitting-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

Joe Mauer

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    Joe Mauer has put up baffling numbers for a catcher.

    He's a career .323 hitter and he has won AL batting titles in 2006 (.347), 2008 (.328) and 2009 (.365).

    Mauer has one of the silkiest swings in the game and has lived up to the Sports Illustrated "American Idol" image.

    The only concern? He hasn't played more than 140 games since 2008. Injuries plagued Mauer all season long in 2011 and he only played in 82 games.

    While the injuries could be an issue, don't let it affect your thinking too much. Mauer will always be a hitting machine. There was only one full-time catcher that hit higher than .300 last season (Yadier Molina, I excluded Victor Martinez because he only played 26 games behind the plate).

    The catcher position is very weak, and Mauer is still a top-10 guy. The power numbers haven't been the same since the Twins moved outside, but Mauer will still get you a .300-plus batting average.

    There aren't a lot of values at the catcher position, so Mauer is still a very safe play—even with the injury concerns.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Alex Rodriguez has hit 30 or more home runs and has 100 or more RBIs in 14 of his last 16 seasons.

    Last season was one of those down years, mainly because of injuries.

    In fact, A-Rod has become quite familiar with the injury bug. In the last four years, A-Rod has only averaged 124.5 games played.

    Even with his declining health, A-Rod is still capable of putting up solid fantasy numbers.

    When he gets hot, he can carry an entire team on his shoulders. In the month of June last season, A-Rod hit .326 with four home runs.

    A-Rod certainly isn't a first-round pick anymore, but he could be a useful pick a couple rounds in. Remember, there were only five third basemen who hit more than 20 home runs in 2011. If A-Rod can play 140 games, he should be able to reach the 20 HR and 85 RBI plateau again.

    Don't use a very high pick on A-Rod, but he's still worth the risk. He'll most likely be hitting fifth behind Jeter, Granderson, Cano and Teixeira, so the RBI chances will be there.

Troy Tulowitzki

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    Troy Tulowitzki is arguably the game's best shortstop. What would completely end the debate is if he could remain healthy.

    Tulo has the size (6'3", 215 lbs) and the talent, but he's been prone to injuries.

    Tulowitzki missed 19 games a season ago, and another 40 in 2010. In 2008, Tulo only played in 101 games.

    Despite the fact that's he's been frequently injured, he has still produced.

    He's hit .290 or better in four of his five full-time MLB seasons. He has also averaged nearly 30 home runs (29.67) with 97.33 RBIs per season for the last three years.

    As long as Tulo keeps playing his home games at Coors Field, don't expect those power numbers to fade.

    The history of injuries is alarming, but Tulowitzki can put up a .300/30/100 season, which at shortstop is unheard of.

    Don't be afraid to spend a first-round pick on Tulo. If he's there by the seventh or eighth pick, snag him. He's worth the risk.