By: Joey Schneider, KCOU Sports
As Spring Training openers took place within the past couple of days, several teams have already encountered some sort of setbacks with prized players. Between the infamous recoveries of Tommy John surgery to various bone fractures, this spring has not proven to be kind for many well-known baseball players.
As a result, aging pitchers like Yu Darvish and Adam Wainwright have been limited, while workhorses like Chris Sale and Hunter Pence have been overextended. While a plethora of other players are experiencing some level of pain, these injuries can be sought as challenges that allow teams to prepare for regular season games next month.
First and foremost, these injuries could allow under-the-radar players to emerge as leaders for their specific team. Spring Training provides coaches with the chance to alternate the roles of prospects and explore possible long-term fits from within.
Now that Pence is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with his left forearm fracture, the San Francisco Giants have to restructure their starting outfield for the next few weeks. This would allow a young prospect such as Jarrett Parker to start more frequently and possibly challenge another Giants’ outfielder after Pence’s return.
Even if a coveted replacement of Parker’s caliber is not able to immediately thrive with a new opportunity, the dilemma helps teams build flexibility for the future. Spring Training provides time for healthy players to make adjustments or correct mistakes, rather this be a position player shifting spots or a bullpen specialist being tested as a starter.
With Adam Wainwright being held back from live action until at least mid-March, the Cardinals have already emphasized the need for pitchers to be comfortable in any role. Young arms Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales both earned valuable experience in the bullpen last year, but now have a chance to show their endurance as the begin Spring Training with starting roles.
An injury to a key player may also prompt general managers to sign a free agent or make a preseason trade. It’s hard to find suitable talent in either of these forms before the regular season, but sometimes a trigger is pulled depending on the value of the injury.
For instance, when looking at Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers understand how much of a difference maker he proves to be in an unjustified rotation. In the case that Darvish were to miss an extended amount of time, the Rangers prepared and acquired Yovani Gallardo from the Milwaukee Brewers last month.
However, this strategy doesn’t necessarily pay off for teams that have the patience to either develop talent or gradually ease their injured star into competition. It would be difficult for the New York Mets and Miami Marlins to make bold moves when highly-touted pitchers Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez are expected to rejoin crowded rotations soon after completing their recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Ultimately, teams that have the ability to cope with injuries and make smart decisions around them have a better chance of consistently competing. Injuries are only inevitable when individuals are playing to their potential, but the decisions that come behind it lie in the hands of each franchise.