Injury Bug Strikes Again
Another day, another wave of injuries. Such has been life for Major League Baseball this season. Three All-Star players, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, and David Ortiz went down yesterday, and their injuries only further cloud what has become a murky playoff picture in the NL Central and AL Wild Card races. Let’s take a look at the options Cincinnati, Toronto, and Boston have in replacing a sizable amount of production in their respective lineups.
Joey Votto has arguably been the best player in the National League this season, hitting a bananas .342/.465/. 604 (OPS+ of 182) with 36 doubles, 14 homers, and 49 RBI. Despite all this production from their 1st baseman, the Reds have been merely average on offense, ranking no better than 8th in the National League in runs scored, hits, batting average, and on-base percentage. Votto is the only member of the Reds with a batting average over .300 and his OBP is over .100 points higher than his next closest teammate (Ryan Hanigan at .352). If this seems like a lot of production to replace over the next 3-4 weeks, it is.
Cincinnati will more than likely go with Todd Frazier at 1st base, while using more of Scott Rolen at the hot corner. Frazier, the 27-year-old rookie, has been a godsend this season, hitting .278/.346/.567 with 10 homers and 30 RBI in just over 60 games. He actually has the 2nd best OPS+ on the Cincinnati roster right now at 138, and should acclimate himself nicely moving across the diamond. Scott Rolen, on the other hand, may be cause for concern. He’s mired in the worst season of his career, struggling with a left shoulder injury while hitting just .199/.260/.312. If he can’t snap out of his funk and hit at least .250 with a little bit of power, even more pressure will be put on a surprisingly good Reds rotation, because the only other bench options (Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez) aren’t even playable right now.
All of this means that Cincinnati probably stands to be a player on the trade market leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. The Reds are carrying one of the weakest benches in the league, and with Votto scheduled to be out for a month, they will need to find an upgrade. Cincinnati would do well to pick up a player who can man both corner infield positions. Kevin Youkilis would have been a match made in heaven, but he’s already off the market to Chicago. Ryan Roberts of the Diamondbacks could be a fit and could man 3rd part-time while hitting the bench, but he’s been very underwhelming this year, hitting just .239 with 6 homers. Chase Headley of the Padres would also be an excellent addition, but with so many teams needing infield help, the Reds may not want to pay the high price in prospects that he could command.
The one silver lining for Cincinnati is this: they will play the weakest part of their schedule over the next 3 to 4 weeks, and they only have one series against Pittsburgh and none against St. Louis, the two franchises trying to play catch-up. In fact, their 3 game set against the Pirates at the start of August will be Cincy’s only series against a team with a winning record over the next month. Otherwise the Reds will get to feast on cupcakes like the Astros (3 games), Padres (4 games), Colorado (3 games), and Chicago (4 games). If Cincinnati can make a small upgrade to their infield/bench, they stand a good chance of not only remaining in contention but leading the division by the time Votto returns.
Toronto Blue Jays
Things are going to get real interesting for Toronto over the next 2 weeks, because they will be without their best player Jose Bautista, due to tendon soreness in his wrist. No hitter in baseball has more homeruns since 2010 than Joey Bats, who’s 124 dingers are 30 more than 2nd place Albert Pujols has hit in the same time span. Toronto was already dealing with a patchwork pitching staff, and must now find a way to overcome Bautista’s injury and a 2 game deficit to Detroit for the Wild Card if they want to make the playoffs. If it sounds like a tall task, that’s because it is, but the Blue Jays may have just the right fill-in to get the job done in Anthony Gose.
Gose was the starting centerfielder for Team USA in the Minor League All-Star game last week, and has been impressive in Triple-A Las Vegas this season. He’s hit .292/.375/.432 with 5 homers and 29 steals in 92 ball games. Baseball America ranked him 39th overall before the 2012 season, so he has the talent and pedigree to get the job done. Gose won’t be able to replace Bautista’s prodigious power, but his speed game should play nicely up in Canada. The Jays rank 3rd in the AL in steals this season, and adding another fleet-of-foot player like Gose should increase that total.
If the Blue Jays decide to get involved in the trade market, it will probably be a sellers, because GM Alex Anthopoulos usually looks to pick up young, struggling players for established vets, a la last year’s Colby Rasmus-Edwin Jackson/Mark Rzepcynski swap. Toronto just doesn’t have the pitching or the health to really compete in baseball’s most brutal division, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Jays raise the white flags if things go south over the next two weeks.
Boston Red Sox
David Ortiz is dealing with an achilles injury and apparent heel soreness, both of which threaten to send him to the DL. He left last night’s 5-1 Red Sox win mid-game and appeared to be dealing with quite a bit of pain. This newest injury comes on the heels of the return of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsberry, just when it looked like Boston might finally be getting healthy. If Ortiz is out for any significant amount of time the Red Sox are well equipped to replace his production. Cody Ross and Daniel Nava have hit the ball well all season, providing OPS+’s of 126 and 115 respectively. Neither player can have the type of impact that Big Papi can, especially this year when he’s hitting .316/.414/.609, so there will be some drop-off in production but it won’t be too large. Once Dustin Pedroia returns the Red Sox will get another big boost, especially if Ellsberry and/or Crawford can produce at the All-Star level they are capable of. This lineup should be fine, and with just 1 game separating the Red Sox from a playoff spot, the team is in a solid position to make a run at the pitching reinforcements they really need.