For New York Mets fans, the news about David Wright's latest malady had to be both disappointing and not the least bit surprising. Wright has played just 75 games over the past two seasons because of ongoing shoulder, back and neck trouble.
It's just spring training, of course, so Wright has a full month to get his shoulder ready for the season. Still, Wright is now 34, and the sheer accumulation of injuries over the years makes the prospect of him lasting a full season far-fetched. Worse, coming off a season in which Wright hit just .226, you have to be concerned that skill deterioration is as much of a problem as durability.
We can't write the veteran third baseman off just yet, but the Mets would be foolish to not have a contingency plan in place. And they do, in the form of Jose Reyes, who is the most likely candidate to start at the hot corner in the event of another prolonged Wright absence. Reyes is coming off a bounce-back 2016 season, at least the portion of it he spent with the Mets. While his PECOTA projection (.769 OPS) isn't quite what it is for Wright (.771), it's a close facsimile and arguably carries a higher degree of certainty. The Mets would still be better with Wright playing 140 games and Reyes moving around to spell others. At least the presence of the latter would help the Mets avoid a panic situation.
Accounting for injuries is one of the most difficult parts of building a ballclub. You know they'll happen, but you don't know to whom, or when, or for how long they will persist. All you can do is acquire depth and hope it works. With players like Wright, you can almost anticipate at least some kind of absence, however. That knowledge can aid you in making sure your highest-quality depth is targeted at the right areas.
Let's take a look at some of these likely injury scenarios, all of which fall under the umbrella of "things we hope don't happen." Because, you know, injuries suck. The players, and their contingency backups, are mentioned here because they meet the following criteria:
(1) They are projected to finish in the top seven on their respective teams in wins above replacement (WAR). (2) They missed at least 15 games last season because of a disabled list stay. (3) They have made at least three trips to the disabled list over the past four seasons.
Not so long ago Wright was one of the best players in all of baseball. He actually does not meet the aforementioned criteria because his WAR projection doesn't rank among the Mets' top seven. But don't worry, the Mets are well-represented on the list. Disabled list data used in this piece is from www.baseballheatmaps.com.
Garrett Richards, Angels
Richards' knee injury cut short his 2014 season and also led to an early-season DL stay in 2015. Last season, he turned up with a torn UCL in May that has made him one of the most scrutinized players in spring training. Rather than undergoing the customary Tommy John procedure, Richards opted for rest and stem cell therapy. While he hasn't gotten any game action yet this spring, Richards has been throwing, and hopes are high he'll lead the Angels' rotation, albeit on a strict pitch count.
If Richards' gamble doesn't pay off, the Angels are stuck, considering he's the clear No. 1 starter in the projected rotation. The Angels are also likely to be without young rotation candidates Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney this season while both recover from elbow surgeries of their own. Young lefty Tyler Skaggs has a lot of upside but has struggled with consistency and injuries. In other words, the Angels really need Richards to hold up physically this season, and his spring work will be of heightened interest.
Josh Reddick, Astros
Reddick has spent time on the DL in each of the past four seasons -- six trips overall -- because of a variety of unrelated injuries. The Astros will likely platoon the lefty hitter, which bolsters their hopes of keeping him as fresh as possible. However, the current platoon-partner candidates, Teoscar Hernandez and Jake Marisnick, are unproven. In the event of an extended injury to Reddick, Houston's best bet might be to play projected DH Carlos Beltran in the outfield and deploy catcher Evan Gattis as a DH.
Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays
Injuries are certainly a big part of Tulowitzki's past, as he has made seven trips to the DL during his career. However, he's been pretty durable since arriving in Toronto, with a midseason stint on the DL for a strained quad last year the only blight on his recent durability record. Still, this is a guy who, during 11 seasons, has played at least 150 games just twice. The Blue Jays' projected backup at shortstop is veteran Darwin Barney, who is a plus with the glove but is an entirely different species of hitter than Tulowitzki. If Tulo were to go down again, Toronto might be tempted to push Cuban signee Lourdes Gurriel.
Ender Inciarte, Braves
Inciarte has missed chunks of each of the past two seasons with hamstring problems, one to each leg. While he's projected to lead off for the Braves and appeared to be coming into his own at the plate over the second half of last season, his center-field glove is the crucial ingredient for Atlanta. Frankly, it's an irreplaceable component on the current Braves roster. Maybe they go with Emilio Bonifacio. Maybe they slide over Matt Kemp. Either way, the emphasis will be on making sure Inciarte focuses on his stretching exercises.
Matt Garza, Brewers
There hasn't been one major problem area for Garza, though he has still managed to hit the DL at least once in each of the past six seasons. Last year, Garza spent over two months on the shelf because of a strained right lat muscle. He hasn't pitched more than 163 innings since 2011, a problem on a Brewers staff that really needs innings-eaters. Still, given Garza's projection (4.67 fielding-independent ERA, per Fangraphs), Milwaukee wouldn't be devastated if forced to turn to somebody like Tommy Milone or Taylor Jungmann. Still, any scenario in which the Brewers surprise teams in the NL Central likely includes a 2011-like Garza, who would then become a potential trade chip.
James Paxton, Mariners
While Paxton had a short stint on the DL last season because of an elbow bruise, it was a much rosier campaign for the lefty who missed much of the previous two seasons. He's a breakout candidate in 2017 after sporting a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of nearly 5-to-1 over 121 innings in 2016. Still, that innings count was a career best, and a Seattle club hoping to contend may need to tap into its rotation depth at some point. The leading depth candidates -- Ariel Miranda, Robert Whalen and Chris Heston -- don't make one's heart go pitter-patter on the projection sheet. As the youngest, Whalen probably has the most upside, though young righty Andrew Moore could emerge at some point during the season as well.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Stanton's string of poor injury luck is well-established. He spent 41 days on the DL in 2013 with a strained hamstring, 99 days there in 2015 with a broken hand and 23 games last season with a groin strain. When he plays, Stanton is simply one of the most devastating power threats in baseball. Entering his age-27 season, the Marlins are a wild-card contender, and Stanton is just one part of terrific outfield along with Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Nevertheless, if Miami mounts a playoff run, it'll be with the boost of Stanton's irreplaceable bat. The contingency remains future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, so it's not all bad.
Lucas Duda, Mets
This scenario is already unfolding for the Mets. Duda has battled back problems the past two seasons and was limited to 47 games in 2016. Now he's sitting out in Florida with back spasms, which have been treated with cortisone shots. Hopefully it works out for the strapping slugger, but New York has had Jay Bruce working out at first just in case. Given the start Michael Conforto is off to in spring training, the Mets might be able to withstand another absence from Duda pretty well. However, with Wright also a question mark, the Mets' depth stands to be tested in the coming season.
Matt Harvey, Mets
The Mets have health questions up and down the rotation, but none bigger than the one surrounding Harvey, who is trying to bounce back from thoracic outlet syndrome. This comes on the heels of the serious elbow trouble Harvey had at the beginning of his promising career. He's back and scheduled to pitch in Florida this weekend. Few pitchers can match Harvey's upside, but luckily, the injury-ravaged Mets have been able to develop some rotation depth. If any of the Mets' projected starters miss a few turns, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo should be able to pick up the slack. Given the arms on the staff that need to be handled with care, you can almost look at the Mets as having a seven-man rotation.
Neil Walker, Mets
And here's Walker, which leaves the Mets with injury question marks in all four quadrants of their projected starting infield. The one Mets starting infielder not listed here is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who isn't one of the club's top seven in projected WAR. But he has hit the DL in three of the past four seasons as well. You can see why Reyes and Wilmer Flores are so important to this New York roster. Like Wright and Duda, Walker is coming off a back injury. While Walker was healthy in 2015, he also missed time in 2014 (appendectomy) and 2013 (finger laceration and, later, a strained oblique). Of those, the back injury is the most concerning. His health hasn't been an issue yet this spring, and, since he's playing for the Mets' qualifying offer, Walker is also playing for a new contract. So, he is motivated to stay in the lineup.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Over the past two seasons, Strasburg has amassed fewer innings than Old Hoss Radbourn used to throw in a week. After a DL-free 2014 season, he's spent 92 days there the past two. All of this followed the elbow surgery that kept Strasburg out for most of his second big league season. When he pitches, he's one of the most brilliant hurlers around. And when Strasburg teams with Max Scherzer, it gives Washington a one-two punch no one can match. The emergence of Tanner Roark helps mitigate concerns that Strasburg can't really be counted on to make 32 starts. If prospect Erick Fedde were to emerge during the season, it would give a bit of upside to the current group of depth candidates as well.
Yu Darvish, Rangers
Darvish has made six trips to the DL over the past four seasons and spent nearly an entire year combined there (345 days). After throwing 401 innings over his first two big league seasons, Darvish has thrown just 242 2/3 over the last two. Texas has a top-heavy projected rotation that slips into mediocrity after Darvish and Cole Hamels. It's Darvish and Hamels and pray for ... tumbleweeds? Anyway, the Rangers are already in a position of hoping for the best when it comes to the bottom three-fifths of the starting staff. If Darvish were to go down again, you'd have to think Texas would push heavily for an outside acquisition such as Chicago's Jose Quintana.
Devin Mesoraco, Reds
Injuries have really undermined Mesoraco's once-promising career. He has spent 294 days on the DL the past two seasons -- first with a bum hip, then with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Still, he is again atop the Reds' catching depth chart in spring training. If it doesn't work out, Tucker Barnhart would pick up most of his slack defensively, with Stuart Turner also helping out. Neither has Mesoraco's upside with the bat, though, and prospect Tyler Stephenson isn't ready to make an impact.
Homer Bailey, Reds
Bailey's ongoing elbow problems are not the sole culprit behind the Reds' rotten starting pitching the past few years, but the situation certainly hasn't helped. Bailey is already on the shelf again after undergoing a procedure in mid-February to remove bone spurs from the problem elbow. Cincinnati's rotation is not at the point where you look at the absence of any one guy as necessitating a contingency plan. The Reds just need guys who can get outs, period. They hope Bailey still becomes one of those guys at some point this season.
Tyler Chatwood, Rockies
A big reason why Colorado is a popular sleeper pick this preseason is the potential of its Jon Gray-led starting rotation. Chatwood would be a big part of that -- if he can stay healthy. Chatwood had Tommy John surgery in 2015, which came after elbow trouble each of the previous two seasons, along with another DL stint with a strained hamstring. Last season, it was Chatwood's back giving him trouble, as he logged two different DL stints because of strains. Still, after throwing just 24 big league innings in 2014 and 2015, he threw 158 last year while posting a 4.01 ERA -- a sterling mark for a Coors Field hurler. If Chatwood proves to be brittle once again, Colorado would probably turn to a veteran option like Chris Rusin or Jordan Lyles.
Lorenzo Cain, Royals
If the Royals are going to climb back into the postseason picture, they simply can't afford another injury-plagued season from Cain. As rambunctious as Cain can be while running down everything in center field, his DL stays have been caused by soft-tissue mishaps, including a hamstring strain that cost him a month last season and impacted his defensive performance. With Jarrod Dyson having been dealt to Seattle, the Royals are no longer well-situated to cover for a Cain injury, especially now that Jorge Soler will be manning right field. That makes the ranges of Cain and left fielder Alex Gordon that much more crucial. There are glove men who could help in center, like Billy Burns, Terrance Gore or maybe even faded prospect Bubba Starling. However, none of them can hit, so the Royals need Cain to stay healthy. And Cain, in a contract year, needs a productive season for himself as well as his team.