In our first Ambulance Chasers post this season, we touched on some of the bigger names that were dealing with some off-season question marks about their injury status and health. Now that we’re into January, we’re starting to get updates trickling in on some players’ rehab processes, and they’re not all good. We also touch on some late round names here and speculate on some situations that could change between now and the beginning of the season that would count some of these players as huge bargains for early drafters.
Corey Kluber – Kluber suffered an arm fracture at the beginning of May, and then his return was shut down by an oblique injury during his rehab in late August. Kluber will be healthy for the pre-season, but with a shaky stat line before the injury and an off-season move to Texas, there’s plenty to be wary about with Kluber. No one loves drafting a 33 year old pitcher coming off injuries, but the move to Texas is actually presenting a buying opportunity. The new Globe Life Field should profile as a much more neutral park than its band box predecessor, and that hasn’t been factored into the Kluber projections or draft price as far as I can tell. He’s obviously risky, and he’ll probably never get back to the Cy Young caliber guy he was with Cleveland, but he could be a bargain top 25 pitcher if he can hold on to his traditional K/9 number and >200IP pedigree.
Nick Senzel – If you read Ambulance Chasers Part 1, you’ll know that labrum injuries were in style this off season. Senzel is recovering from Labrum surgery and may be dealing with his recovery well into Spring Training. That’s not great news for someone who could use all the reps they can get if he wants to play regularly. Senzel is part of a very crowded Reds OF scene, with the new signing of Nick Castellanos, and his outlet position of 2B is being taken up by Mike Moustakas. I doubt he can play SS. He also had a pretty disastrous second half of the season before the injury (.184/.238/.296 in August). He’s talked about going back to his “old approach”, and a new hitting coach may help, but between playing at a sub-optimal position defensively, and the prospect of a shortened Spring, I have big-time playing time concerns here. The fact they reportedly were shopping him this offseason in trade talks for Lindor isn’t a great sign either. Unless he gets moved, I think Senzel will have a hard time getting the ABs needed to live up to the current hype.
David Price – Price dealt with a series of issues all year, but what shut him down in September was a wrist injury that saw him have surgery at the end of the month. Price recently began a throwing program and is on track for a normal Spring Training. Outside of the on and off injuries, Price had a really frustrating season. He posted his career high in K/9, but when he wasn’t striking guys out, he was getting torched. He threw way more changeups and 4 seamers last year, maybe that was favoring due to injury? Who knows, Alex Cora mentioned Price “controlling” his pitches a lot last season. On top of that, the Red Sox are doing everything they can to give Price away to save some dough, so we don’t even know where he’s going to be pitching this season. I’m sure there’s some part of the draft where Price makes sense, but it would have to be a really huge bargain.
Dustin Pedroia – While we’re on the Red Sox, we might as well address the good ole Muddy Chicken himself. Pedroia is having the dreaded “talk with his family to decide what’s best” after suffering a setback during his rehab of a left knee injury that cost him most of last season. He’s most likely done. You weren’t drafting him anyway, but I’m sure this wasn’t how he wanted to go out. I think this boosts Michael Chavis a bit as it opens up more time at 2B. Jose Peraza might also be worth a late round flier.
Mitch Haniger – Speaking of guys who are most likely done….Haniger reportedly suffered a major setback to a core injury he developed after surgery in June to repair a……ruptured testicle……..yikes. After TESTICLE SURGERY Haniger was bothered with an abdominal injury and then a back injury while trying to make a comeback. Now he’s got what’s being diagnosed as a sports hernia that will cause him to miss most, if not all of Spring Training. If you’re in a league without an IL spot, I’d be fine with Haniger being completely off your board at this point. There’s no telling how long this could last or what issues could arise with this rehab. I don’t have much faith in him making much of a contribution this season.
Jordan Hicks – I maintain Jordan Hicks shouldn’t be on your draft boards, but there was some news recently that he began a throwing program and is set to return mid-season from Tommy John surgery. Unless you have unlimited IL spots (and honestly, even if you do), drafting a prospective closer, in a crowded bullpen, who will be out until at least mid-season is not something you wanna do. If you’re after a good investment in the Cards bullpen, shoot for Giovanny Gallegos instead.
Lance McCullers – McCullers returned out of the bullpen for a few appearances in the playoffs for the Astros this season after missing most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s now set to compete for one of the last couple rotation spots for Houston with the likes of Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Forrest Whitley and Framber Valdez. He initially broke out in the playoffs during that, now infamous, 2017 World Series run, and had success in his last full season as a starter, posting a 3.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and more than a K per inning. He’s a nice sleeper candidate as long as he can keep a starting job. He’ll be cheap in early drafts and probably the best bet to secure one of the two open slots given his experience, while the other goes to one of the young guys. His value will skyrocket if/once he’s named a starter in the Spring.
Yoenis Cespedes – A wild boar may have taken down Robert Baratheon, but it couldn’t kill King Yo. Cespedes, who famously fractured both his ankles on his ranch last season, says he’s ready to go in 2019, but it’s going to be tough to count on him for any meaningful production. He hasn’t played regularly since 2017 and there’s better options for the Mets with guys like Brandon Nimmo, JD Davis, and Jake Marisnick battling for OF spots. I’d watch his playing time in the Spring, and I guess he’s worth a flier if it looks like he’ll get meaningful at bats and you’re in need of power late in your drafts.
Jon Gray – It’s never fun owning Colorado pitchers, but if you must have one, Gray is the one to get. He’s returning from a fractured foot that cut short what was a pretty good season, relatively speaking. Gray gives up a ton of hard contact (bottom 10% in the league in that metric), but he generally keeps the ball on the ground (51.8% ground ball rate) and his average launch angle against was just 7.5 degrees. He’s already begun a throwing program and will be fully healthy, assuming no setbacks. You could do worse with your SP4 or SP5 than a 4ish ERA and a K per inning. There were rumblings back November of Gray being a trade target, and given the flux of the Nolan Arenado situation, Gray would be a solid chip to cash in if they had to go full “blow it up” mode. A trade to even a neutral pitchers park would shoot his value way up.