Delayed MLB start a boon to healed-up Yankees: Sherman

Never in major league history have teams been more challenged to keep players healthy.

There will be the familiar strains and sprains, exacerbated by the unique environment of a spring training 2.0 condensed to three weeks. In a normal year, injuries, specifically soft-tissue injuries (think hamstrings, obliques) are highest in the first month of a season. A 2017 research article from the American Journal of Sports Medicine found the highest frequency of elbow injuries for pitchers is in March, so mainly during the standard training season.

But in 2020 there is nothing normal, nothing standard. Add in: How many players have been overtraining anticipating various restart dates? How many have been trying to set a record for food delivery apps they could use from their couch figuring there would never be a season?

And, of course, there is the coronavirus that has moved MLB to create a distinct COVID-19 Related Injured List, which many teams anticipate using from the outset of camp to isolate those who test positive or might have been in contact with someone who has.

If there is a season — huge “if,” still — whoever can keep the most players healthy for 60 games in 66 days (again nothing normal/standard this year) will gain an edge. A 15-game injury goes from a player missing less than 10 percent of a 162-game schedule to missing 25 percent this year.

So just showing up to camp with more viable candidates is beneficial. The larger the pool for teams to pick from the better. And no club had more key players regain health during the shutdown than the Yankees, in part because no club was going to begin the year with as many big names on the injured list.

Brian Cashman expressed optimism Tuesday about having Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery), Aaron Judge (fractured rib) and Giancarlo Stanton (calf) on the Opening Day roster, the same for James Paxton (back surgery). That represents one-third of a lineup and the No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole, which is even more vital with Luis Severino (Tommy John) out for the year.

james paxton yankees injury update mlb restart
James PaxtonAnthony J. Causi)

Proviso alert: Judge, Stanton and Paxton have long injury histories and the susceptible will probably be even more vulnerable under these conditions. But the Yankees will begin this spring training healthier than they ended the last.

The Mets, meanwhile, are a one-step forward, one-back outfit. Yoenis Cespedes (heels, ankles) should be ready and it is going to be intriguing how much he has left after so much lost time. But after the shutdown the Mets learned they had lost Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery. Similarly, the Red Sox should have outfielder Alex Verdugo (back), a key return from the Dodgers for Mookie Betts, but lost Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery.

The Tigers’ Michael Fulmer, the main return from the Mets when they obtained Cespedes in 2015, also is now ready to start spring training as a full-go after missing last year following Tommy John surgery. As a player not owed much money (roughly $1 million for a 60-game season) and not eligible for free agency until after the 2022 campaign, the righty becomes one of the more likely trade candidates (deadline Aug. 31) with Detroit rebuilding.

Which other teams benefited from getting healthier during the shutdown:

1. Angels: Shohei Ohtani, who did not pitch last season following Tommy John surgery, would not have begun on time in 2020 and would have been limited in innings. Now, he is on time, and even if he makes 12 starts, it is unlikely he would get beyond 75 regular-season innings. The Angels’ playoff chances rest on a healthy rotation, so having Ohtani and Griffin Canning (elbow) from the outset is significant.

2. Cardinals: If the season began on time, St. Louis would have been without starter Miles Mikolas (elbow) and relievers Andrew Miller (finger numbness) and Jordan Hicks (Tommy John). Mikolas and Miller are healthy. If Hicks can return in, say, August he might be able to provide his triple-digit fastball for more than half of this season.

3. White Sox: This is one of the wildest wild cards in the 60-game sprint. Chicago has captivating young possibilities (Eloy Jimenez, Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert), which it augmented with free agents such as Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel. Michael Kopech (Tommy John) is a potential pivot player. He should be a full-go now, and if the fireballer joins Lucas Giolito and Keuchel to form a strong rotation front three, the White Sox are a contender. Plus, Carlos Rodon (Tommy John) also appears all the way back now to provide pitching depth.

4. Astros: They had just one key injury, but it was to Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (groin surgery), whose presence is all the more important because Cole, the Cy Young runner-up, is now a Yankee. Verlander is considered a full-go for spring training, as is Lance McCullers Jr., who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. Other teams benefitting from integral starters being ready now who wouldn’t have been on Opening Day in March include Atlanta (Cole Hamels), Cleveland (Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger) and Minnesota (Rich Hill).

5. Reds: Like the White Sox, they are an intriguing wild card. Eugenio Suarez, who hit 49 homers last season, had offseason shoulder surgery and would not have been ready if the season began in late March. Now, he goes to third base, which allows the Reds to more comfortably use Mike Moustakas at second base or DH.