They are here. They are abundant. They are hugely impactful.
Spring training comes with its rash of annual injuries. It’s expected, as many players are still not accustomed to baseball activities every single day, and their bodies sometimes sass them. What players and teams hope for is limited time missed, if any, and, ultimately, to not miss any games that actually count.
But this spring training has not been so kind to some. While the typical nicks and dings will always be around, the last month has also brought on a rash of serious and devastating injuries, some accompanied by season-ending surgeries.
All of them come with a certain level of shock, and some can completely change the fortunes and direction of a franchise.
As general baseball fans see it, this crush of spring training injuries is already dimming the light on the new season. Because stars are not immune to debilitating injuries, names like Yu Darvish, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Chris Sale are on the mend, either planning to miss the entire season or a large enough portion that, because of their ability, it is deemed significant.
Let’s start with Darvish. He is arguably the biggest star to suffer an injury in this camp, and his will keep him out until next year. Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday in a procedure that not only impacted fans stateside, but also those who follow every pitch Darvish throws from Japan.
Yu Darvish undergoes ligament transplant surgery by Dr. James Andrews in Gulf Breeze, FL. Dr. Andrews reports surgery went as expected.— John Blake (@RangerBlake) March 17, 2015
In an improved American League West, the Texas Rangers were seen as having an outside chance to contend—with Darvish as their No. 1 starter. With him gone for the season, the Rangers do not have a pitcher on their team that can lead like an ace through 30-33 starts. And a trade for an ace like Cole Hamels, while it might be explored, is highly unlikely.
"I don’t think it’s realistic you’re going to ask anyone internally or acquire anyone externally to ‘replace’ what Darvish is capable of," said Rangers GM Jon Daniels on KTCK-AM 1310 via The Dallas Morning News. "He’s one of the best in the business; he’s one of the best in the game."
Now the Rangers have to start thinking later down the road. With Jurickson Profar, once their top prospect who was considered untouchable in trade discussions, also out for the season after shoulder surgery, their competitive future is in jeopardy. The players who should be productive for them are aging (Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder), and the ones that are their future (Profar, who also missed all of 2014, and shortstop Elvis Andrus) have not developed into the offensive threats the organization believed they would become by now.
Now, with Darvish’s injury, this season and at least the next one are ones the Rangers are not likely to compete in. And that kind of future is reason to readjust the plan and start looking to a pretty good farm system to produce some stars sooner rather than later.
Darvish is just one on a list of star—or at least highly valued—arms with some kind of significant ailment.
A tendon tear in Cliff Lee’s left elbow is threatening his season and his career.
Chris Sale fractured a bone in his foot unloading a truck and is hoping to be back before April ends.
Marcus Stroman is another to suffer a non-arm injury, ripping up his ACL during pitcher fielding drills. He will also miss a season in which he was thought to be a crucial piece of Toronto’s rotation.
Zack Wheeler was supposed to be the same for the New York Mets, but he is also missing 2015 because of Tommy John surgery, forcing the Mets to consider bringing up one of their top pitching prospects before they might be completely ready for the promotion.
Tim Collins was a critical part of Kansas City’s dynamite bullpen last season, but he won’t be in 2015, because Tommy John surgery also claimed his year.
Gavin Floyd won’t be part of what could be a very good-to-great Cleveland Indians rotation because of a right elbow injury that could take the season from him, too.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen had surgery on his foot to remove a growth last month, and he could be out until mid-May for the World Series hopeful.
There are others with more mild injuries, but ones that are still forcing teams to consider alterations to their early-season plans. Adam Wainwright, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Mike Minor, Jacob Turner, Chris Capuano, C.J. Wilson, Joe Kelly, Tim Lincecum and Derek Holland are just some of the names on the list.
It is also position players bending plans for the regular season.
Hunter Pence may be the most noteworthy non-pitcher to suffer a spring training injury, as he will miss at least the first two weeks of the season—and that is on the low end of the diagnosis—with a fractured forearm. Pence is a middle-of-the-order bat for the San Francisco Giants and one of their few power sources.
Missing him thins the outfield options, as the Giants are forced to now consider starting Gregor Blanco and Nori Aoki in Pence’s absence. If that weren’t concerning enough for the Giants, now center fielder Angel Pagan is experiencing a stiff back that has kept him out of the last two Cactus League games. Pagan had season-ending back surgery last season, but it is not yet known if this latest issue is related.
Missing one or both of those ailing outfielders means the Giants’ chances of returning to the postseason are slim.
Of course, they aren’t the only outfielders hurting. Oakland’s Josh Reddick barely started throwing from 60 feet after an oblique strain, but he could be ready for Opening Day if there are no setbacks. And New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is experiencing pain from an abdominal strain, but the severity is not yet known publicly.
And this is not even mentioning pre-spring training injuries like the ones that could keep Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez out of the middle of the Detroit Tigers’ lineup come Opening Day, although their progressions are promising.
These lists can go on and on and on, and spring training still has nearly three weeks remaining. So the lists will grow.
The inherent nature of spring training comes with injuries, both nagging and serious. But this many of them in such a short period of time makes us take notice, and while some of them are bound to be in our memories all summer, the hope is that not all of them have significant impact on the regular season.
But as these injured players know all too well, only the coming days, weeks and months will tell.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.