By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the awful news. Daisuke Matsuzaka has a partial tear of his ulner collateral ligament and strained flexor mass in his throwing elbow, and may (and I stress may) have to undergo Tommy John surgery. (Please, folks. Try to refrain from cheering for just a moment.) SI’s Jon Heyman was the first to report on the story.
“Daisuke Matsuzaka may need Tommy John surgery. After getting word from Boston doctors that he had a tear in his elbow ligament and would need rest and rehab for at least a month, Dice-K is said to have asked to see a Japanese surgeon. He will see a diagnostic doctor of his own choosing first, to determine whether it is agreed that rehab is worth trying.”
I’m going to admit something up front. After reading Heyman’s report, I did a little “happy dance.” There, I said it. I did a “happy dance,” and I don’t feel guilty about it.* I couldn’t help it! While I don’t wish injury on anyone (especially someone on the Red Sox), the thought of not having to watch any more Dice-K torture-fests for the foreseeable future is too good to be true. Watching him pitch is like going to a long-form Catholic wedding. One minute you’re standing (angrily screaming); the next you’re sitting (frustrated and irritated); and lastly, you’re kneeling (praying the 25 minute, 36 pitch inning will at some point end). It’s grueling. It’s uncomfortable. It’s uniquely Dice-K. There’s no other way to explain it.
* Yeah, I’ve probably secured my place in hell, but I’m not going to let that bother me. I’ll have plenty of company while I’m burning for all eternity—most notably everyone reading this article. I know each of you did the same thing when you read Heyman’s report.
With all of the reports swiriling around speaking of Dice-K’s demise, sometimes it’s easy to forget that the mercurial right-hander’s future status has yet to be determined. The other day, Terry Francona stepped up to the plate to share his thoughts on the situation.
“He has an appointment to go see Dr. Yocum at the end of the month, and in the meantime, we gave him permission to go home to Japan for personal reasons. He’s not having Tommy John,” Francona said.
“It’s a shame we have to deal with reports like that because it’s probably not real professional. Dice has been really good with us, communicating with us, so he’s going to go visit his family and then on the way back he’ll see Dr. Yocum.”
With all due respect to Francona, I don’t think it’s fair to definitively say that Dice-K’s “not having Tommy John surgery.” How does he know? He won’t be examined by Dr. Yocum until the end of the month, and reportedly will be seeing a doctor in his native Japan as well. Furthermore, while Dr. Lewis Yocum’s name doesn’t instill the fear of God into pitchers in quite the same fashion as hearing Dr. James Andrews’ name dropped, it’s still not a name pitchers enjoy hearing. To put it simply, if you’re going to see him; chances are, you’re going under the knife. This isn’t always true, but most times it’s the case.
If he does have to undergo Tommy John surgery, this is probably the last we’ve seen of an effective Dice-K with the Red Sox. Yes, I know. “Dice-K” and “effective” might seem like an oxymoron, but there have been stretches where this has actually been the case. With a 12-14 month recovery time, that would bring us anywhere from June 1 to August 1, 2012 as a reasonable return date–and that’s assuming there aren’t any setbacks. With most pitchers struggling with command during the first full year after returning to action, coupled with his contract expiring at the end of the 2012 season; it seems possible (if not likely), he’ll struggle next season upon a theoretical return to action. Can you imagine that? Dice-K struggling even more with his command? I shudder just thinking about it. Still, it’s a reality in which we might have to live at some point.
What will the Red Sox do if they lose Dice-K for the rest of the season? (You mean other than throw a party, right? Seriously, I’m kidding.) In the short-term, they’ll continue to start either Tim Wakefield or Alfredo Aceves (whichever is pitching more effectively at the time) in his slot in hopes one of the seizes the opportunity. If not, they’ll probably try to ride that train until they find a suitable replacement via either a minor league call-up (i.e. Felix Doubront or Kevin Millwood) or trade.
In a piece yesterday, Evan Brunell of CBS Eye on Baseball speculated that one such trade target could be Minnesota Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey. For reasons unbeknownst to this writer, Slowey fell out of favor in the twin cities when manager Ron Gardenhire decided to give the fourth and fifth slots to the woefully mediocre Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn. Since then, Slowey’s been toiling away in the bullpen, struggling with both minor injuries and adapting to pitching on an irregular schedule. Recently, he was optioned to AAA Rochester to get “stretched out.”
As a starting pitcher, Slowey profiles as a back of the rotation starter on a deep staff. While he has command of four pitches and has exhibited some great control (as evidenced by his 1.48 BB/9 career rate), he exhibits extreme fly ball tendencies; lacks a true strikeout pitch; and doesn’t throw particularly hard (his fastball velocity ~90 MPH). As a result, it seems pretty likely (although not a guarantee) his skill set will translate poorly to the high powered AL East. One thing going in Slowey’s favor, should he get traded from Minnesota, is he’ll no longer be victimized by the Twins brutal outfield defense. Though that should help, he’d still have to contend with the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park, which may not play in his favor.
Another name I’ve heard bandied about is White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle. As a battle tested left-handed starting pitcher in the last year of his contract, he carries significant trade value. While he rarely strikes batters out (three year K/9 average ~4.30), he counteracts this deficiency by avoiding walks, allowing few home runs, and inducing less than ideal contact on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Unfortunately, despite his contract situation and his team’s spot in the standings (ten games out of first as of 5/23), it’s somewhat unlikely he’ll be moved. It’s still pretty early in the season, and I’m not convinced the Indians are for real—yet. Sure, they could be like the 2010 Padres, but they could also be like the 2003 Royals. Furthermore, Buehrle carries 10/5 rights giving him the right to veto any trade; thus potentially complicating any trade scenario. Lastly, should he become available, you’d have to imagine both the Cardinals and Yankees would charge hard for a pitcher with his track record, thereby raising the price. Theo Epstein and his front office will probably be able to find better value elsewhere.
A third option is 36 year old Cardinals starting pitcher, Chris Carpenter. Carpenter’s been involved in trade rumors ever since the Cardinals experienced the double whammy of not re-signing Albert Pujols by his self-imposed deadline, and losing Adam Wainwright for the season to Tommy John surgery all in the matter of a couple of weeks. As a result, many predicted the Cardinals would stumble out of the gate, and look to shed payroll in hopes of saving a few more duckets to re-sign Pujols during free agency. That hasn’t happened. Rather than stumble, the Cardinals stormed out to 29-20 record, and hold a 3.5 game lead over the second place Cincinnati Reds. Unless their fortunes change drastically over the coming months, it seems unlikely they’ll trade away one of their two active top of the rotation talents. So far this season, Carpenter been the victim of bad luck going 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA, which has likely adversely affected his trade value. Luckily for Carpenter and the Cardinals, his peripherals have looked solid (47/17 K/BB ratio); his ground ball rate is still acceptable albeit unspectacular (46.2% vs a career rate of 52.0%); and his xFIP is nearly 1.5 runs lower than his ERA at 3.49.
Other than the three above named pitchers, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Francisco Liriano, Joe Blanton, Derek Lowe, Carlos Zambrano, Paul Maholm, and Jeff Francis have also been rumored (or are expected) to be on the trading block. Should the Red Sox decide to fortify their rotation at, or before, the July 31st trading deadline, they should have plenty of options. Until then, it figures to be slim pickins.