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Baseball looks to protect catchers
The big news in baseball Monday revolved around the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in Matt Harvey’s right arm.
Such elbow injuries remain a source of immense frustration within the sport; one scout texted me on Monday, saying, “we have no more a handle on this than we did 15 years ago.” But if Harvey requires Tommy John surgery, he can at least take comfort knowing the recovery rate is quite good.
Concussions represent a different kind of problem — a growing problem, judging from statistics compiled by Major League Baseball. Teams have used the disabled list 18 times this season for reasons related to concussions or head injuries, an increase from 13 in 2012 and 11 in ’11, the year that baseball introduced the seven-day concussion DL.
Catchers are at particular risk, representing 10 of the 18 DL moves (including two for the Red Sox’s David Ross and one for the Astros’ Max Stassi, who actually was injured while batting). Six catchers currently are on the DL with concussions — Stassi, the Tigers’ Alex Avila, the Astros’ Carlos Corporan, the Athletics’ John Jaso, the Twins’ Joe Mauer and the Rockies’ Yorvit Torrealba.
The good news is that baseball, like other sports, has made significant advances in diagnosing and treating concussions. The next step is to figure out better preventive measures, and people within the game are talking about that, too.
Avila will wear a heavier, more padded mask when he returns, and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski says other catchers should consider doing the same.
Catchers from previous generations surely endured concussions; FOX’s Tim McCarver often has said that he has no idea how many he suffered during his 21-year career.
Dombrowski, though, believes the problem is more acute now.
“We used to have such a low risk of them getting hurt — they barely felt it,” Dombrowski said Monday. “Nowadays, we have the light masks, and there have been increases in velocity and ball movement. More foul tips are going back.
“(A heavier mask) is not ideally what you want to have. But it’s something you look at.”
The Red Sox’s Ross doesn’t agree, saying: “I’m not sure if that is the answer. Football players wear heavy masks, and they still have lots of concussions.”
After his first stint on the DL, Ross tried a Kevlar cap under his hockey-style mask for greater protection. He recently abandoned it and switched to a more traditional mask for the first time since 2001.
The hockey-style mask offers greater protection to the sides of the head, while the traditional mask is better for balls that come straight back.
“I’m just trying to see if there is a big difference when I get hit with a foul ball,” Ross said. “I think both masks are safe. I just want to know if the old-style mask takes some of the shock away because it comes off (easier).”
Whatever the answer, baseball needs to figure out what it is.
WWPD: What will Pirates do?
The Pirates are 11th in the National League in runs. Their .224 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks next-to-last. And on Saturday, they placed left fielder Starling Marte on the disabled list with a right hand bruise.
The outlook is far from gloomy — the Pirates can go 6-26 and still finish with their first winning record since 1992. They also have a nine-game cushion over the Diamondbacks, the closest team in the race with the NL Central powers for the second wild card.
Still, I wrote earlier this month about how the Pirates needed to acquire another bat before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and the injury to Marte only underscores their lack of offensive depth.
The Pirates passed on outfielder David DeJesus the second time he was put on waivers. Their greater need at this point is probably a right-handed hitter, but they also did not pursue outfielder Delmon Young, who is more of an AL player, according to a source. Both Young and DeJesus went to the Rays; the Orioles also had interest in Young, the sources said.
Mariners first baseman Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter, has been claimed on waivers, according to FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, but the claim likely went to an AL team; players must pass through their own league first.
White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who has enough service time to veto any trade, has informed club officials that he would rather stay with the team than be traded, sources said. Konerko is undecided about whether he wants to play next season, but if he does return, it almost certainly will be with the White Sox.
The Pirates’ options, then, appear limited.
Perhaps general manager Neal Huntington will find a less obvious choice, a useful part that will give the team a lift. But the Pirates’ best chance to land a hitter was before the non-waiver deadline. And while the worst-case scenario for the team probably is the second wild card — and a one-game elimination in either St. Louis or Cincinnati — these chances don’t come often.
Huntington needs to do something before Saturday’s deadline for setting postseason rosters. The Pirates’ players, coaches and manager Clint Hurdle deserve that much.
Such a move wasn’t possible at the time; the Dodgers were trying to lure Uribe away from the Giants, who had just won the World Series. But now Uribe, in the final year of his contract, finally is proving worth the money.
In fact, Uribe ranks third among the Dodgers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), behind only shortstop Hanley Ramirez and right fielder Yasiel Puig. A good portion of Uribe’s value, according to the Fangraphs measure, stems from his defense at third base.
That fact surprised me, as did Uribe’s rating at third according to John Dewan’s plus-minus system. Uribe, 34, has made 15 plays above what the average third baseman would make — third among third basemen, even though he is only 13th in innings.
I asked Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron if something was amiss, considering that defensive metrics often are imperfect. But Cameron said that Uribe always has rated well at third, which isn’t surprising for a former shortstop. Up-the-middle players who move to a corner should be above-average at their new positions.
In any case, Uribe could win a World Series with his third different club — he was the shortstop for the 2005 White Sox and the third baseman for the 2010 Giants. He also is perhaps the most popular player in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, and Puig’s biggest mentor, according to several players.
At the end of last season, during a team meeting, manager Don Mattingly personally thanked Uribe for his unselfishness. Uribe mostly rode the bench in the final months of last season, yet never caused a problem, never complained.
DeJesus claim revisited
On my most recent “Full Count” video, I reported that several rival executives believe the Nationals’ claim of DeJesus was a mistake. The Nats put DeJesus back on waivers immediately and escaped the remaining $2.5 million commitment to him only when he was claimed by the Rays.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, however, said he employed a specific strategy in claiming DeJesus from the Cubs, then trading him to the Rays for a minor league pitcher to be named.
“I wasn’t concerned about being stuck with David, as I like him a lot,” Rizzo said. “I did know of three-four teams behind me (in the waiver process) that would have interest.
“The player from Tampa Bay is not nearly a sexy prospect, but we had solid reports on him and he will be, at worst, added depth. I would have liked (DeJesus) to go unclaimed — I think I could have made a better deal with several interested teams.”
The interest of those teams was not apparent in the waiver process; DeJesus first had to pass through the National League, then the 11 AL clubs that — at the time — had worse records than the Rays. The Red Sox, Rangers and Tigers were the only teams that did not get a crack at him.
Why Nationals might hold Haren
The Nationals’ admittedly high asking price on right-hander Dan Haren is not simply because of the absences of left-hander Ross Detwiler and righty Taylor Jordan, both of whom are on the DL with lower back strains.
The Nats, winners of five of their past six and 11 of their past 16, are still in position to dream. So, for that matter, are the Diamondbacks, who are six games behind the Reds in the race for the second wild card, with the Nationals eight back.
The Reds, 8-6 losers to the Cardinals in their series opener Monday night, will play 15 of their final 30 games against three likely postseason qualifiers — the Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers.
The Nationals, on the other hand, will play 23 of their final 32 games against three sub-.500 clubs — the Marlins, Mets and Phillies. And remember: The Marlins at some point will shut down righty Jose Fernandez, and the Mets are now without Harvey.
The Diamondbacks also have a soft schedule. The only team they will face with a winning record in their final 33 games is the Dodgers, whom they face seven times.
The standings, of course, offer the most meaningful math, and both the Nats and D-backs remain decided long shots. As for Haren, the interest in him is limited, sources say, even though he has a 2.53 ERA in his past nine starts.
The Nats could always keep Haren and make him a qualifying offer in free agency. But would they really want to take a chance on offering him a one-year deal in the $14 million range when his ERA for the season is 4.66 and his opponents’ OPS is .773?
Funny, they don’t act rich
The Astros denied a Forbes report that said their operating profit in 2013 would be $99 million, the highest ever for a major league franchise.
If the ’Stros are oozing money, they have a strange way of showing it.
Witness their actions on Aug. 12, when they allowed left-hander Wesley Wright to go to the Rays on a waiver claim.
The Astros, whose 5.15 bullpen ERA is by far the highest in the AL, received only $20,000 in return for a setup man who was owed less than $300,000 for the rest of the season.
CSN Houston, the Astros’ regional sports network, lost $63 million in its first year, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Astros are the largest shareholder in the network, at 45 percent, but only 40 percent of the market gets the network because of distribution problems, the Chronicle said.
Bogaerts: The next Machado?
The Red Sox have tried to tone down talk that infielder Xander Bogaerts could make the same type of impact as a rookie that Manny Machado did with the Orioles last season. But while the circumstances indeed are different, Bogaerts could force the issue.
The current plan is for Bogaerts to spell shortstop Stephen Drew against lefties and give Will Middlebrooks an occasional break at third. The danger, if you want to call it that, is that Bogaerts could get hot — he had his first major league hit as a reserve on Saturday and two more starting in place of Drew on Sunday.
Manager John Farrell cannot and will not bury Drew or Middlebrooks; both have been hot in August. A few weeks ago, in a pregame meeting with FOX broadcasters, Farrell also pointed out that Bogaerts would be much more “in a fishbowl” playing in Boston than Machado was in Baltimore.
All of that is true, and the last thing the Red Sox need is a playing-time controversy in the middle of a pennant race. Then again, there might not be a choice if Bogaerts is as special as many in the industry believe.
Drew has been underappreciated with the Sox. Middlebrooks, since returning from Triple-A, again looks like part of the solution. Still, this could get interesting. Stay tuned.
Around the horn
• Suspended Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz recently spent three days working out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic. Club officials are trying to put together a plan for him to work out briefly with the major league club before he heads to the club’s spring training facility in Surprise, Ariz.
The Joint Drug Agreement allows players to continue training in such fashion, and the Rangers have told Cruz they want him to be an option if they get to the postseason. It’s difficult to imagine that Cruz, even after his 50-game suspension, would not be one of the club’s best 25 players.
Dombrowski, the Tigers' GM, said his team has “not even discussed” its plans for shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who also accepted a 50-game suspension for violating the JDA.
• The Twins’ .228 batting average with runners in scoring position is the worst in the AL, and the team’s overall lack of talent raises the question of whether Ron Gardenhire will even want to remain manager.
One thing seems certain: If the Twins retain Gardenhire, they will need to give him a multiyear contract. It’s difficult to imagine Gardenhire returning on a one-year deal; the team is unlikely to be much better next season.
• Infielder Nick Punto was an afterthought in last August’s blockbuster between the Dodgers and Red Sox; the Dodgers wanted him because they needed a replacement for infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., who required surgery on his left hip.
Well, it turns out that Punto has played a valuable role this season, filling in at second, short and third. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti teases Punto that his middle name is “Nick” and his first name is “And” — as in, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.
• The Red Sox’s remaining schedule is considerably more difficult than the Rays’. Twenty-two of the Sox’s final 30 games are against teams with winning records, while only 17 of the Rays’ final 33 games are against teams above .500. Both clubs end the season with a majority of games on the road — the Red Sox play 12 of their final 21 away from Fenway, the Rays 20 of their final 34 away from Tropicana Field, including a trip to the West Coast.
• The Red Sox’s Shane Victorino, a switch-hitter, is performing quite well batting right-handed against right-handed pitching, an adjustment he made recently because of weakness in his left leg. Victorino, though, says he’s not exactly unfamiliar with facing same-handed pitching; he didn’t become a switch-hitter full time until he was 22.
As Victorino recalls, he had first tried switch-hitting in his second year of pro ball, then abandoned it, then tried it again — at the request of a coach named Gene Richards — when he reached Double-A. Otherwise, Victorino said, he would have been just another right-handed-hitting outfielder. Becoming a switch-hitter ignited his career.
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