Thursday, March 13, 2008

Worried about Beckett, Pujols, Baldelli

I know it's spring training, a sunny time full of hope and optimism and Billy Crystal shagging flies with the Yankees. But if you own Josh Beckett, Albert Pujols or Rocco Baldelli, you might not see it that way.

Start with Beckett, who's experiencing back stiffness and has barely pitched this spring, other than throwing against some kids from Boston College and the Twins' "B" team. The injury appears to be muscular, and the Boston Herald says the Red Sox ace likely won't accompany his team to Japan when it opens the season there against Oakland.

No word yet if there will be a DL stint in his immediate future, but keep in mind this is the same guy who's missed major time because of a blister on his finger. Sure, he was awesome last year, the majors' only 20-game winner, but before that he doesn't have a great track record of durability, and he's also had a few clunker seasons mixed in there. I tabbed Beckett as one of my five keepers in one of my mixed leagues, the only pitcher I kept (over Scott Kazmir and Roy Oswalt, to name two), but this is the danger in counting on pitchers from year to year.

Pujols is another guy who should have you worried. The slugger's had a balky elbow for some time now, but the Cardinals' team physician recently disclosed Pujols will probably need reconstructive surgery at some point. Now, I'm no House, but when I hear the words "high-grade" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, as well as bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint," I get concerned.

Pujols seems confident, almost defiant, that he won't need surgery, not this year and maybe not before his career is over. But one awkward swing or throw, and that elbow could be in serious trouble. Phat Albert probably represents the single biggest risk/reward guy this year ... he has the potential to be fantasy's top contributor, but a season-ending injury could cripple a fantasy team. Keep this in mind when you draft him, and realize there's always a chance Pujols could change his mind and opt for surgery later in the season if the Cards fall out of contention or the elbow gets worse.

Finally, the most troubling news regards Baldelli, the Tampa Bay Rays' oft-injured outfielder. We now have some explanation for why Rocco's always hurt: he has an ailment that causes his muscles to get fatigued, the Bradenton Herald reports. This is serious news - it's not clear if this condition can be treated, or if this will be the end of Baldelli's career. But we do know he'll start the season on the DL, and it'd probably be best to avoid him in fantasy this year. And we can all stop with the jokes about Baldelli always being hurt and wish him a full recovery.

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