Sale Can't Catch a Break
Red Sox fans and fantasy owners have been riding an emotional roller coaster since spring training started. Every day a new report comes out with major news regarding Chris Sale's health status. Sometimes the news is encouraging, sometimes it is just bad. Thursday brought news that Sale has been diagnosed with a flexor strain in his left arm. He will not require Tommy John surgery, although flexor strains sometimes lead to ligament replacement surgery down the line. Nevertheless, Sale himself termed the diagnosis "a gut punch." He will be shut down for at least a week before resuming a throwing program. Sale consulted with several world-renowned elbow specialists in the last few days. He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and will be re-evaluated in two or three weeks. While it is good news that he doesn't need surgery, it might not make much difference to his fantasy prospects. He is going to start the season on the injured list and could stay there for several weeks or even months. Keep in mind he missed the last six weeks of the 2019 season with elbow soreness and had a full off-season to recover. That means he has been resting his arm for seven months and still hasn't healed enough to get back on a mound. He could easily miss most or all of the season even if surgery isn't necessary. Don't draft him for your fantasy team even if he comes at a huge discount. Let another owner in your league deal with the madness.
If Sale's elbow doesn't show any progress over the next few weeks the Red Sox will have to seriously consider the possibility of surgery. The longer they wait the longer it will be until his rehab is over. If he had undergone Tommy John surgery last August when the injury got so bad he could no longer pitch he would be halfway through his recuperation period by now. If he waits until April or May to have the surgery he will miss not only this season but the 2021 campaign as well. Sale is entering the first season of a five-year, $145 million contract. That is bad news for a Red Sox club that is already feeling a budget pinch.
In a related move, the Red Sox signed RHP Collin McHugh to a one-year, $600,000 contract. With Sale going down and the departure of David Price, the Red Sox are very light on pitching. Eduardo Rodriguez is the only quality starting pitcher left on the active roster. How does that happen on a team with one of the top two or three payrolls in the league? Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will grab two rotation slots. The last two jobs in the starting rotation are completely up in the air. McHugh was primarily a reliever the last two years in Houston and put up a 4.70 ERA in 35 games in 2019 so it remains to be seen how useful he will be for the Red Sox.
The solution they are likely to settle upon is the opener/piggyback system popularized by the Rays. New general manager Chaim Bloom used the system in Tampa Bay and recently led a training session on the topic for Red Sox coaches. Fantasy owners are going to have a hard time figuring out how to deploy the Boston pitching staff early in the season. Rodriguez and closer Brandon Workman are the only two Red Sox pitchers worth drafting in fantasy leagues right now.
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Windy Day at Lakeland
Miguel Cabrera triggered flashbacks to his bygone MVP days when he drilled two home runs off Gerrit Cole as the Tigers beat the Yankees 15-11 in Grapefruit League action. How is that for impressive? Well, he did have a little help from Mother Nature -- the wind was howling straight out to center field all afternoon. There were a total of 11 dingers crunched in the ballgame, nine of them by the Tigers. New Yankee ace Cole was smoked for six runs in just two innings. Tigers outfielder Travis Demeritte also took Cole deep twice, in fact he and Miggy went back-to-back on both occasions. Cabrera struck out in his third and final at-bat. He is batting .316 with three homers this spring and looks noticeably thinner, or at least less thick. Cabrera had a big spring last year as well before turning in a lackluster .282/.346/.398 slash line with 12 homers and 59 RBI in 136 games during the regular season. Cabrera will turn 37 years old in April and is obviously well past his prime, but it would not be a surprise to see him go on an epic hot streak or two if his back and knees are relatively healthy.
Yankee hurler Jordan Montgomery also gave up four bombs and a total of five earned runs in three innings in the same game. Despite the poor outing, manager Aaron Boone said Montgomery has a rotation spot sewn up. Montgomery missed most of the last two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He seemed to be developing into a quality starter before getting hurt -- he went 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts in 2017 -- and could pick back up where he left off. Merely existing in the Yankee rotation should guarantee him a bunch of wins with their slugging offense backing him up. If he can pitch at merely an average level he could be quite valuable in fantasy leagues this year.
Yankees backup catcher Kyle Higashioka hit his first two homers of the spring Thursday against the Tigers. The veteran backstop isn't known for his bat but anyone who got the ball in the air in this ballgame was likely to enjoy a free trip around the bases. While it might seem like any player who gets to bat in the prodigious Yankee lineup would have a good deal of fantasy value, Higashioka might be the only exception. He has a .164/.212/.336 career slash line in sporadic action over the past three seasons. He is probably best avoided even if Gary Sanchez gets hurt and Higashioka becomes the starter.
C-Mart to Start
Carlos Martinez rattled off five shutout innings against the Nationals on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. He was facing a Nationals lineup full of major leaguers, unlike a lot of early spring training games. Martinez did not have much difficulty retiring the side inning after inning. He allowed just three knocks and no walks while fanning two batters in the slick outing. He has a 1.93 ERA after three spring appearances. Martinez served as the top reliever in the Cardinals bullpen last year, saving 24 games and registering a neat 3.17 ERA in 48 games. However last year was his first as a full-time reliever and the club needed to bolster their rotation this winter, so they decided to transition him back into a starting role. The move has gone swimmingly thus far. From a fantasy perspective Martinez has a lot more appeal as a starter. He has thrived in the role in the past -- over the course of the 2015 and 2016 seasons he went 30-16 with a 3.02 ERA in 60 starts. He has a career 3.36 ERA and could easily be one of the National League's top starters this year. He is likely to serve as the Cardinals number two starter behind ace Jack Flaherty.
National League Quick Hits: Brewers signed OF Christian Yelich to a seven-year, $188.5 million contract extension. ... Fernando Tatis Jr. has the flu and isn't expected to resume playing for the Padres until early next week. ... Yu Darvish (illness) will throw three innings in a simulated game on Friday at Cubs camp. He had his Thursday start skipped due to flu-like symptoms. ... Nolan Arenado went 1-for-3 with a three-run home run in a split-squad Cactus League win over the Royals. ... Robbie Ray allowed one run over four innings in Thursday's Cactus League matchup with the Rangers. ... Padres starter Dinelson Lamet tossed three scoreless innings with five strikeouts in a win over the Mariners. ... Cody Bellinger smacked a solo homer against the Athletics. He missed a few games with a sore back but looks fine now. ... Walker Buehler yielded two runs on three hits over 2 1/3 innings against the Athletics. ... Rick Porcello blanked the Cardinals for three innings and struck out four. ... Adam Wainwright was tagged for five runs and eight hits in four innings by the Mets. ... Roman Quinn homered, walked, stole a base and scored twice Thursday as the Phillies beat the Blue Jays 5-3. Quinn is battling Adam Haseley for the starting center field job. ... Luis Castillo allowed one run on two hits while striking out five over three innings against the Brewers. ... Colorado's Chi Chi Gonzalez tossed three scoreless innings with three strikeouts against the Royals. Rockies pitcher? Pass. ... Freddy Peralta yielded three runs on two hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Reds. Peralta is a hot sleeper this spring because he added a new pitch and performed well in winter ball. The results haven't been great yet in Cactus League play. ... Justin Turner is expected to return to game action on Friday. He was hit on the hand by a pitch on Wednesday. ... Juan Soto bashed two doubles against the Cardinals and is slashing .385/.619/.846 so far this spring. ... Tommy Edman went 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBI as the Cards thrashed the Nationals 11-0. ... Patrick Corbin yielded three runs in three innings as the Nationals got pounded by the Cardinals.
American League Quick Hits: Indians center fielder Oscar Mercado was diagnosed with a sprained left wrist after sustaining the injury while making a diving catch in the outfield on Thursday. He is considered day-to-day. ... Aaron Judge (shoulder, pectoral) said Thursday that he feels he still has time to be ready for Opening Day. ... A.J. Puk was cleared of any structural damage in his pitching shoulder by Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Thursday. That is good news but he still is looking at an injured list stint to begin the season. ... Indians starter Zach Plesac allowed one run on three hits over four innings in a win over the Giants. ... Yusei Kikuchi struck out five across three scoreless innings in a loss to the Padres. Kikuchi is showing increased velocity this spring. ... Mike Fiers hurled four scoreless innings against the Dodgers. That's a lot better than his last start - he gave up five runs to the Reds in that one. ... Tigers outfielder Travis Demeritte hit a pair of two-run homers off the Yankees' Gerrit Cole on Thursday. ... Tigers prospect starter Casey Mize shut out the Yankees for two innings. ... Shun Yamaguchi struggled through 2 1/3 innings Thursday, giving up five runs and three homers to the Phillies. Yamaguchi needs to have a good spring if he wants to make the Blue Jays' rotation. He is not off to a good start. ... Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his second homer and walked in a loss to the Phillies. ... Rays starter/opener/reliever Ryan Yarbrough worked three scoreless innings against the Pirates. ... Kyle Tucker, who had been 0-for-16 this spring, finished 3-3 with a homer and a double as the Astros topped the Red Sox 5-0 on Thursday. ... Royals starter Brad Keller yielded eight runs on seven hits across 1 2/3 innings in Thursday's Cactus League matchup with the Rockies. He can't blame this one on Coors Field. ... Astros starter Josh James pitched three scoreless innings against Boston. James has yet to allow a run in five innings this spring. He is battling for the fifth slot in the Astros' rotation and would have strong fantasy value if he snares the role. ... Xander Bogaerts made his first start of the spring at shortstop Thursday against the Astros. He has been fighting off a sore ankle early in camp. ... Yankees manager Aaron Boone indicated Thursday that Jordan Montgomery is a lock for the season-opening starting rotation. ... Orioles manager Brandon Hyde indicated RHP Hunter Harvey is a candidate to snare the closer's role for Baltimore.