Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy 2012: 10 Injury Risks to Avoid at All Costs

Tim Karan@timkaranContributor IIApril 2, 2012

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy 2012: 10 Injury Risks to Avoid at All Costs

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    Maybe someday technology will have advanced far enough that all our fantasy baseball teams will be made up of a hybrid breed of indestructible cyborgs.

    But for now, we're stuck with guys like Stephen Drew—guys who are prone to regularly breaking down.

    Granted, fluky accidents happen. Sometimes your DH stomps on home plate and shatters his leg. Sometimes your outfielder strains his neck while sleeping on the bus. And sometimes your stud pitcher manages to hurt himself with a towel.  

    After all, everyone (except Wolverine and Cal Ripken Jr.) gets hurt now and then.

    But you can certainly take the necessary precautions to limit your team's factory recall rate. 

    Here are 10 injury risks to avoid in your fantasy baseball leagues.

10. Johan Santana (NYM)

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    You know how when you're bitten by a zombie, you still look like you but you're really just a lifeless monster walking around in your body?

    That's Johan Santana these days. More or less.

    Once the consensus No. 1 pitcher in fantasy, he might go undrafted in the shallowest of leagues thanks to major shoulder surgery that kept him off the field all last season.

    The poor comeback rate of those who have undergone similar procedures would be enough to scare away skittish owners. But that's just the latest time Santana's had his throwing arm and/or shoulder operated on and, even before that, his velocity and K/9 were already in decline.

    Maybe this really is the year Santana brings it all back together. But if he's on your team, you'll want to cover your eyes for every single pitch. 

9. Justin Morneau (MIN)

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    There's a lot to like about Justin Morneau this year.

    The thing is, there's a lot to like about Justin Morneau every year.

    But ever since he was shut down early in 2009 with a stress fracture in his back, Morneau has struggled to stay on the field—he played only 81 games in 2010 and 69 in 2011.

    Not only does he seem to have an especially fragile head that's prone to getting concussed, he's constantly dealing with lingering post-concussion symptoms that can affect his vision, balance and reaction times.

    And that's a whole separate issue from the fact that Morneau underwent offseason surgeries to a wrist, knee and foot.

    Talk around the Twin Cities is that he'll spend much of the summer at DH—and the more time he spends in the dugout, the less likely he'll get hurt.

    At the price you can probably get him, he certainly could deliver bargain numbers—but he's also one of the top contenders to deliver none.

8. Ryan Howard (PHI)

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    For Philadelphia fans, Game 5 of last year's NLDS was painful for two reasons: Not only did the Cardinals knock the Phillies out of the postseason, but a nasty ankle injury in the final at-bat knocked slugger Ryan Howard out indefinitely. 

    Sure, there's reason to believe he'll pick up his prodigious power once he gets back on the field. But exactly when that will be is becoming murkier by the minute.

    Offseason speculation was that Howard would only miss April, but he recently came down with an infection near his healing Achilles tendon that required yet another operation. Although he's shed the walking boot he wore during much of March, there's still no official timetable for his return.

    The sort of ACL issues he's dealing with are notoriously tricky and slow to heal, and another setback could make a mess of Howard's season.

    Throw in the fact that his home runs have dropped from close to 50 to closer to 30 in the past two years, and you've got one large man who could be an even larger headache for you. 

7. Erik Bedard (PIT)

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    All indications are that the Pirates' Opening Day starter is finally feeling fine. But if games missed was a recordable fantasy stat, Erik Bedard would be a first-round pick.

    He's made just 82 starts in five years sporadically scattered around seven separate DL stints—four of which were for his throwing shoulder—and he sat out all of 2010.

    Bedard did manage to come back last year and made 24 starts split between the Mariners and Red Sox, and that's his most since 2007. But you can look at that either as a sign he'll continue to build on that relative reliability or that it just increases the odds that he's due for a trip to the DL very soon. 

    Make no mistake: Bedard has been borderline brilliant whenever he's healthy. But at 33 (and in a Pirates uniform), he's making it harder to justify the risk.

6. Chase Utley (PHI)

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    You don't need an advanced degree in calculus to know that Chase Utley's numbers have been steadily declining since 2008.

    The first two years of that stretch were still MVP-caliber, but the last two have been relatively mediocre—and the fact that he's missed at least 45 games during each didn't help.

    He had hip surgery after the 2008 season, lost time to a sprained thumb in 2010 and started the 2011 season on the DL thanks to the onset of chronic knee issues like bone inflammation and cartilage damage.

    Hopes were high he'd be in the lineup for this Opening Day, but now that seems like wishful thinking. While teammate Ryan Howard could eventually resemble his former self, those two sore knees are making it look less and less likely that the 33-year-old Utley will. 

5. Joba Chamberlain (NYY)

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    Chamberlain—who you might be tempted to draft thanks mostly to his tremendous upside and pinstriped uniform—was already going to be out until midseason. His violent delivery led to an early end to last season, and then Tommy John surgery.

    But the worst was yet to come.

    Like thousands of unfortunate frolickers each year, Chamberlain got seriously hurt on a trampoline. He was playing with his five-year-old son, misstepped and suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle—which is just about as gross as it sounds.

    Now you can tack on another two-to-three months in a cast, and the very real possibility that Chamberlain never plays again.

    He says he'll be on the mound at some point this season, but there's a good chance he's just saying that to bide some time while he convinces the FBI to get him out of the Bronx and into the witness protection program.

    Preferably somewhere warm. 

4. Brian Roberts (BAL)

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    If you were to make a list of the most embarrassing possible ways to sustain a concussion, Brian Roberts' approach in 2010 would be right up there.

    After striking out against the Rays during a game that September, he smacked his bat off his helmet in frustration. Everything since then has pretty much been a blur.

    Last year, Roberts came back for 39 games, but another concussion in May stole another season.

    When he's healthy, he's one of the biggest bargains at second base with steady speed and surprising pop. But don't forget Roberts' gruesome dislocated elbow that halted his 2005. 

    He's 34 now, and at some point, the need to play baseball is going to fall short of the need to think coherently.

    At this point, each head-first slide could be Roberts' last.

3. Stephen Drew (ARI)

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    It's bad enough that Stephen Drew lost the second half of 2011 to an ankle injury. But offseason hernia surgery also held him out of this year's spring training.

    And Drew really needed spring training.

    Even before he broke his ankle, the once-promising shortstop struggled mightily last year with his lowest batting average (.252), on-base percentage (.713) and slugging percentage (.396) since his rookie season in 2007.

    Drew already had to handle nagging groin and abdominal issues, and now doctors are telling him his ankle might not be healed until at least July.

    Throw that hernia surgery on the pile, and you've got a shortstop only slightly more valuable than his understudy Willie Bloomquist—and Willie Bloomquist isn't worth much.

2. Chipper Jones (ATL)

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    Chipper Jones will likely leave the league the same way he came in: on crutches.

    He had his left knee operated on before what would have been his rookie year in 1994, and didn't get to play until 1995. And now, on the verge of his 40th birthday, he injured that same knee an hour before his retirement press conference. 

    That's the opposite of an encouraging sign.

    So he just had his sixth knee surgery (don't worry: after you have five, the sixth one is free) and will start his final season on the DL (again). Keep in mind, it isn't just his left knee that's trouble—his right one is basically bone-on-bone thanks to decreasing cartilage.

    As much of a feel-good story as this year might be for Jones, it's pretty unlikely he'll be feeling good during it.

1. Grady Sizemore (CLE)

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    Four years ago, Grady Sizemore was a 30-30 threat.

    This year, he's a threat to only play in 30 games.

    He's averaged just 70 each season since 2009 (including only 33 in 2010) and has gone under the knife six times—once for his left elbow, two for sports hernias, one for each knee and back surgery that he just had done.

    So not only does he need an additional two to three months to recover, but it pushes back his return to rehab for his knee. 

    At this point, the earliest you can expect Sizemore is mid-July, but it's becoming increasingly improbable that he'll ever regain his former form. And even if he does, it's only a matter of minutes before he ends up back on the trainer's table.


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