The week before the All-Star break should be about winding down and processing what we’ve seen. The week before the All-Star break should not be about stars... all... ahem... breaking. This year carnage struck before furlough, claiming a group headlined by Masahiro Tanaka, Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips.
Tanaka’s partial ulnar collateral ligament tear is the most insidious dispatch I’m forced to print this week. The separation of fibrous connective tissue in Tanaka’s elbow deals an early deathblow to the Yankees’ season (the gruesome rotation now consists of Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Phelps, Shane Greene, and then Chase Whitley or Jeff Francis or David Huff) and deprives fantasy baseball of one of its precious few aces.
Tanaka’s arm is in the process of getting jacked up on platelet-rich plasma. If the fibers start reconnecting themselves, and Tanaka can pitch through the pain of damaged tissue yanking as it travels through space at a rate needed to throw in the mid-90s, it’s possible he could begin a rehab assignment in six weeks. Best-case scenario, he’s back to make four or five starts in September. Second-best case: His season is over but he won’t require surgery. Worst case: Tommy John surgery, which will relegate Tanaka’s next 12-18 months into a gruesome slog of physical therapist visits.
(Quick aside: Over the Fourth of July weekend, in northern Minnesota, I stayed at a friend’s cabin. In the cabin next door was the Tommy John. We thought about going over and saying hello, but nobody trusted themselves enough to reconcile the difference between the human being Tommy John and the surgery itself; every question I could think to ask Tommy John was about his surgical namesake—What do you think about the surgery epidemic this year? Do you think the procedure will keep getting better, and do you think the recovery times will keep going down? It was best to give the real Tommy John privacy.)
The 25-year-old Tanaka faced a ridiculous workload from a very young age—throwing 1,315 innings in Japan by his age-24 season—which we now know puts arms at serious risk of blowing out. Young arms need time to adapt to the rigors of heavy mileage, but Tanaka was taxed as American arms were in the pre-1980s days before analytics or specialized bullpens. Even now, 60 percent of Tommy John surgeries performed on MLB pitchers happen in their first five seasons in the league.
Tanaka is joined on the shelf by Molina and Phillips, both of whom won’t be flashing a thumbs-up sign anytime soon. Molina ripped up a ligament in his right thumb on a feet-first slide on Wednesday and will miss 8-12 weeks. Absolute best-case scenario, he’ll be on the active roster over the last month of the season. But will you want to shove an easing-back-into-things Molina into your mixed league lineup during the fantasy playoffs? The worst-case scenario is that his season is over. The Cardinals will roll with an immortal catching combination of Tony Cruz and George Kottaras until they decide to flip a prospect from a stacked system to improve matters.
Phillips tore a ligament in his other hand—his left—an injury that isn’t considered as serious as Molina’s. Phillips is expected to return in six weeks, so he could be back in the Reds’ lineup in late-August barring a setback. Utility man Ramon Santiago is getting second base at-bats for now, and Kris Negron also figures to see time at the keystone.
I would cut Phillips or Molina in mixed leagues, and I would say a prayer for Tanaka’s elbow and the restorative power of platelet-rich plasma every night before bed were I his owner. Cruz (2-for-5 with three RBI on Saturday) and Santiago can be used in NL-only formats if you’re desperate. We’ve all been there—there’s no shame in it.
Buckle up your safety belts for the Week That Was speed round:
- The snake-bitten Yankees were also forced to place Carlos Beltran on the disabled list last week. Beltran was struck by a tipped ball in batting practice, leaving him with a concussion and a broken nose. He’s on the seven-day concussion DL. If all goes well, Beltran could return on the Friday after the All-Star break.
- C.J. Wilson (8-6, 4.33 ERA) also hit the shelf last week with a left ankle sprain. He’s expected to need 2-4 weeks of rest. Keep him on fantasy rosters. Fellow starters Gerrit Cole (lat) and Jason Vargas (appendicitis) were also placed on the 15-day disabled list over the past week. I would keep both of them, too. Cole won’t return when first eligible on July 20, but he very well could be back in early August, while Vargas has a similar timeline.
- By this point in the column, good news is needed. Here it is: Mark Trumbo (foot), Carlos Gonzalez (finger), Marco Scutaro (back) and Yunel Escobar (shoulder) were all activated from the disabled list last week.
- The Brewers tired of Marco Estrada (7-6, 4.96 ERA) and promoted Jimmy Nelson to take his rotation spot. It’ll be interesting to see if Nelson holds onto the gig for more than 24 hours. After putting up a 1.44 ERA and 114/32 K/BB ratio over 111 innings in Triple-A, Nelson allowed eight runs (six earned) over 4 1/3 innings Saturday against the Cardinals. The 6-foot-6, 245 pounder, a 2010 second-round pick, has No. 3 starter upside with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a slightly slower two-seamer that compensates by tumbling downward and inducing grounders, and a biting slider—which he can locate either inside or outside the zone—to keep you honest.
Nelson has been compared to a poor man’s Brandon Webb, which is a far better compliment than it sounds like. He currently sits at 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA through two outings. If Nelson stays in the big leagues, he’s ownable in 14-team mixed leagues on upside alone. The 31-year-old Estrada was banished to the bullpen after coughing up 27 homers (easily the MLB lead) en route to a 4.96 ERA in 18 starts over 107 innings. He can be released—unless Milwaukee has a change of heart.
- Nelson gave up a homer Saturday to Kolten Wong. This was one mistake that could be forgiven—few pitchers, after all, have been able to hold Wong in the park over the last week. Wong has had a shocking renaissance at the plate since getting activated from the disabled list (shoulder) on July 6, going 8-for-24 (.333) with a double, five homers, eight RBI, seven runs scored and two steals in seven games. Why is this the most underappreciated development in fantasy baseball over the past week? The 23-year-old was slashing only .228/.282/.304 upon his activation and had hit just one homer over 233 plate appearances in the majors. Wong, who has moved up to the No. 2 slot in the lineup, is only owned in 24-percent of Yahoo! leagues. That’s a mistake. The second baseman needs to be owned in all formats. Even when the power recedes, he’ll be a mixed league contributor. The top prospect hit .305 and had 56 stolen bases over 298 minor league games. He slashed .312/.373/.476 and went 26-for-27 in stolen base attempts in 543 plate appearances at Triple-A Memphis over the past few years.
- Speaking of red-hot batters owned in 24-percent of Yahoo! leagues, Chris Carter has blasted six homers in his last seven games and ranks ninth in the American League with 19 long flies. Carter’s horrific batting average (.204) and lack of speed (0 steals) make it difficult to use him in Rotisserie mixed leagues, but he’s a valuable source of power in AL-only leagues and a sneaky play in appropriate point-based formats while he’s swinging well.
- Boston designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment on Wednesday and promoted catching prospect Christian Vazquez. The 23-year-old Vazquez went 3-for-4 with two doubles, three RBI, and two runs scored Friday against the Astros, becoming the first Red Sock since Nomar Garciaparra (1996) to collect three hits in one of his first two MLB contests. Vazquez is more of a fielding whiz than a bat, but AL-only owners should closely monitor his progress.
- Aroldis Chapman set a major league record Friday by recording a strikeout in his 40th straight relief appearance. He’s 20-for-22 in save conversions to go with a 2.20 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 28 2/3 frames.
- Enjoy the All-Star week festivities, Week That Was nation!