There may have been past seasons when more Major League teams were hit with major injuries to star players, but for the sake of this piece I cannot recall any.
Today, the Philadelphia Philles announced that All Star second baseman Chase Utley has been placed on the 15 day DL for a severely sprained thumb (from Monday’s game with the Reds, trying to stretch a single into a double). At the same time, the Phils put third baseman Placido Polanco on the 15 day DL for a bone spur in his left elbow, which he landed on making a dive in a game last Friday.
This follows the seemingly annual DL stints of star shortstop Jimmy Rollins; so far twice this year, including 29 days in April.
Last weekend, the Boston Red Sox played a nightmare interleague series with the San Francisco Giants, which featured a Sox starter going down with an injury in each of the three games: on Friday, All Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia broke his foot and is expected to miss at least six weeks; Saturday, starter Clay Buchholz strained his left hamstring running the bases, and he’ll be out at least a week and a half; and during Sunday’s finale, Boston starting catcher Victor Martinez suffered a broken bone on the tip of his thumb after taking two foul tips off his hand, and is on the 15 day DL.
Boston already has starting pitcher Josh Beckett out until August with back problems, and starting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the DL with a recurring rib injury.
Colorado Rockies All Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki broke his left wrist in a game earlier this year, and may not return until August at the earliest. Unlike Los Angeles Angels’ first baseman Kendry Morales, who fractured his left leg during a homerun celebration pile-on by teammates after crossing home plate. Morales, an RBI monster for the Halos, is out for the season.
Here is a brief sampling of other top players currently out with injuries:
> Cincinnati Reds: starting pitchers Edinson Volquez (from 2009, one year with Tommy John surgery), and Homer Bailey 15 day DL (inflamed shoulder).
> New York Mets: centerfielder Carlos Beltran due back in August (knee surgery), starter John Maine 15 day DL (rotator cuff), starter Kelvim Escobar out for the season (shoulder surgery), and Daniel Murphy probably out for the season (right knee tear).
> Detroit Tigers: just lost fire-balling relief pitcher Joel Zumaya for the season (elbow fracture) in a game win that put the Tigers in first place.
> Arizona: All Star starter Brandon Webb 60 day DL (shoulder).
> Atlanta Braves super rookie Jason Heyward 15 day DL (after All Star break), and starter Jair Jurrjens just completed a 15 day stint on the DL (hamstring).
> Cleveland Indians: Grady Sizemore out until August (knee injury).
Keep in mind, every team routinely has players on the DL throughout the season, but the sheer number of key starters on the DL in the first half of 2010 means the upcoming July 31st no-waiver trade deadline just got a lot deadlier.
Aggressive teams will move even quicker this year, and possibly give up a little more, to get what they need to compete the rest of the season. The biggest needs in 2010? Infielders who can hit and RBI power bats top the list, with competent relief pitchers next, and quality starters bringing up the rear.
Teams that traditionally take a long time to pull the trigger on deals, or that like to wait and pick up “bargains” the last few days of July, could very well find themselves boxed out and wondering what the hell happened.
To paraphrase Keyser Soze in ”The Usual Suspects”, GMs who blink and then look for that player they desperately wanted may find, “Poof, like that. They’re gone.”
This year, the Major League Baseball trade train will likely leave the station ahead of schedule.