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Friday Focus: Everybody Hurts

Last week, we talked about the value of a fresh start. Hope spring trainings eternal, and the beginning of a new season always inspires at least some level of optimism for every baseball fan. Maybe your team isn't contending, but even the worst teams have a couple of players or prospects who might take a big step forward, on whom you can dream. And if you're so disgusted by your preferred laundry that you can't gin up excitement for anybody in it, there's always your fantasy squad.

Alas, the fantasy only extends so far; reality must and does begin rudely intruding upon the best laid plans as soon as the games begin to count and be counted. Any number of misfortunes can befall a roster, virtual or in the flesh, throughout the course of a six-month season. (And isn't it nice to be able to say that again?) This is, of course, part of the deal. The year(s) we emerge victorious were necessarily years from hell for at least a handful of our competitors. Nobody ever expects it to be them, until it is.

Some years, your draft is so poor that you never quite recover. In others, you miss out on too many waiver wire gems. And sometimes, you are beset by that most heinous of foes, the dirty rotten scoundrel known as the injury bug.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Injuries Abound

Thus far, I've been quite lucky. Until Ketel Marte came up limping while running out a ground ball on Wednesday night, the only player on any of my rosters to sustain an injury in the opening week of the season was Joakim Soria, out of over 100 possible victims. My IL slots are populated by the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Luke Voit, and Luis Severino, players whose infirmities were known to us when I opted to draft them at reduced prices. Injury stashes are an early-season luxury that can provide an edge later in the year, but only if your roster page doesn't get immediately drenched in red ink.

Many fantasy managers are finding themselves scrambling already as a rash of injuries has cast a pall over the opening sprint. Trevor Rosenthal had thoracic outlet surgery on Thursday. We may not see him again in 2021. James Paxton is headed toward Tommy John. Both Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt have sat out with balky backs, while Aaron Judge missed a game with what the team termed, "side soreness." Mike Soroka and George Springer both had setbacks in their rehab that took the form of injuries to other parts of their bodies than the ones they were rehabbing. Patrick Corbin and Brad Hand are both in COVID protocol. Cody Bellinger got spiked and hasn't played since. Tim Anderson's on the shelf with hamstring tightness. Josh Donaldson didn't even make it through Opening Day, Ke'Bryan Hayes only outlasted him by a game.

And then, of course, there's Fernando Tatis Jr. I drew the first pick in this year's RotoBaller staff redraft league, and considered Tatis before opting for Juan Soto instead. What ultimately tipped the scales was the shoulder subluxation Tatis had suffered late in spring training. Most people heard the reports that it was something he's dealt with for years and breathed a sigh of relief, especially once he quickly returned and hit a home run. For me, that revelation set off alarm bells.

 

Shoulders Are A Burden

Two years ago, while playing beer league softball, I dove to catch a ball in the outfield. My right shoulder slammed into the ground and I felt it, for lack of a better word, crumple. I popped it back into place, finished the game and hit the bar after with only some soreness. I figured I'd escaped anything more serious. Weeks went by and the shoulder didn't get better. The soreness remained, as did a feeling of instability. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an impingement. "If it doesn't improve in a couple of weeks, come back for a cortisone shot." It didn't. This time, I saw the sports medicine specialist at that clinic, who had me lay down on the table while he reached toward my shoulder. When he saw how I flinched at even a light touch, he immediately told me to get an MRI.

The imaging showed I'd torn my labrum. Repeated dislocations of that shoulder over the course of my life had taken their toll, and that last crash to the ground had shredded the thing. I had a wilderness excursion planned for later in the year, plus a bunch of other stuff I wanted to do that summer, and I'd been playing non-contact sports like volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee since the injury with only occasional, albeit intense pain. The orthopedic surgeon who would eventually insert six screws into my shoulder to stabilize it told me that I could manage the injury, but that without surgery I would almost certainly pop it out again, over and over, until I began to lose bone.

So when I saw the video of Tatis collapsing in the batter's box on Monday night, cradling his arm in the exact same way I had two years prior, my shoulder ached with familiarity. You can live with a labral tear - I did for five months, which is exactly how long I had to spent rehabbing it post-op - but it's a ticking time bomb, and rest is often not enough to prevent it from going boom. Two subluxations in the span of a few weeks means Tatis is highly likely to suffer another, days or weeks or months from now. And the tear in his labrum, while only slight at present, will get worse when that happens. I'm not a doctor, just a dude who messed up his shoulder. But no matter how optimistic the Padres may be, it certainly seems like surgery is a matter of when, not if. The risk of further injury is that significant, and long term he'll be better off for getting scoped.

Provided he gets the surgery before sustaining further damage to the joint (rotator cuff or capsule), Tatis shouldn't have any lingering issues. You don't ever get back to 100%, but 98% is attainable for regular jerks like you and me, let alone a world-class athlete like Tatis. It's simply a matter of whether he can make it through this season intact - and that feels like a long shot. Recall that Adalberto Mondesi tried to rest and rehab in lieu of surgery back in 2019. He missed six weeks, came back for a few games, didn't play well and then reaggravated the injury. It was late September by that point, so he had the procedure. It got lost in the COVID shuffle, of course, but there was a strong possibility he wouldn't have been ready for Opening Day last year if it had happened as scheduled.

All of which is to say, I feel for managers who built their squads around Tatis. I might have been one of you, if not for the hard-earned healthy respect I have for shoulder woes. My colleague Ariel Cohen already went in depth on your options moving forward. I'd recommend the risk-averse approach, myself. Even if he can play through it, there's no guarantee he'll be the same player. His power might be sapped, or he might avoid stealing bases. It's difficult to recall a top-five pick suffering a potential season-ending injury in recent history, and there's no other way to say it: It sucks. Let's all hope for fewer injuries moving forward, that our fates might be decided by our own competence or lack thereof rather than cruel, inveterate chance.



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