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Injuries to Utley, Bailey wreaking havoc

4/3/2012

It's amazing, really, how so many fantasy owners are desperate for that little asterisk next to a player's name in ESPN leagues that signifies the player has been placed on the disabled list. Hey, if you want Washington Nationals slugger Michael Morse to be DL-eligible so you can replace him on fantasy rosters, blame the Nationals! They haven't made the official move yet.

Big league teams don't need to set their Opening Day rosters until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. Today is only Tuesday. Some of you might want to make fantasy moves as soon as humanly possible, but in real life, things move slower. Much slower.

ESPN's Stephania Bell, who has forgotten more about injuries than I'll ever know, updated many situations last week, but since so many of you seem so interested in the current health of so many players and what it means to their fantasy value, here are my thoughts on the most pertinent situations:

Andrew Bailey, RP, Boston Red Sox: Wait, this annual picture of health is headed to the DL because of a thumb injury? I am shocked! OK, let's get serious. This is a shame. Bailey is so good -- he has a career 2.07 ERA -- but he has averaged a mere 45 innings pitched in the past two seasons. And I'll take the under on 45 innings this season. Reports on Tuesday indicated Bailey's right thumb would need surgery, which could sideline him for at least April. Keep him owned in ESPN leagues, but I reiterate that I think the leading saves guy for the Red Sox this season will be Mark Melancon. I know, I know, he's not special despite a solid 2011, but I don't think Alfredo Aceves is really in the picture. Right-hander Josh Beckett is slated to start Saturday but is dealing with his own thumb injury, and the team apparently has notified Aceves to be prepared to start that game. Does that sound like the fill-in closer to you?

B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: His back still hurts after he and left fielder Desmond Jennings ran into each other a few weeks ago, and Upton will get his DL asterisk any minute. Don't let this injury scare you. Upton might miss a week of games; that's it. I'm sure he can find a way to hit around .240 for the fourth consecutive season despite the injury, and no, I'm not concerned about his stealing bases. He might not run wild in April, but it's a contract year, and he knows he can't control his batting average and power the way he can the stolen bases. Look for the Rays to move Jennings to center field and give Brandon Guyer a chance to play. Guyer, 26, hit .312 with 14 home runs and 16 steals at Triple-A last season; he was 30-for-33 on stolen-base attempts at Double-A in 2010. In AL-only formats, pick him up and see what he can do, because there is opportunity if he hits. Sam Fuld is out for months after wrist surgery, and Ben Zobrist could play more second base than in past years.

Mike Morse, 1B/OF, Nationals: A candidate to see his batting average plummet after a lucky 2011 (although the power was legit), Morse (strained lat) is being handled cautiously by the Nats. I call this a good buy-low opportunity, whether he slips in drafts or a league mate is looking for a deal. Morse was given a platelet-rich plasma injection, a relatively new procedure famously used a few years ago by Alex Rodriguez. The goal is to help injured tissue recover quicker. This doesn't seem like an injury that should hinder Morse for months; on the contrary, expect him to hit home runs by mid-April. The Nationals don't have a Guyer type looming unless you count stud prospect Bryce Harper, who isn't being summoned. If you want Xavier Nady or Mark DeRosa on your fantasy team, be my guest.

Ryan Howard/Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies: I'm reasonably convinced the Phillies have no idea when either of them will play again. Utley told reporters he's optimistic he can avoid what might be season-ending surgery on his battered knees, and instead of injections, he's working to strengthen the area around the knees with exercise and physical therapy. I'm hoping he'll play in 100 games this season, but Utley is a productive player regardless; he has totaled 27 home runs and 27 stolen bases despite averaging just 109 games the past two seasons. He finished last year as the No. 17 second baseman, good enough for middle-infield service on your fantasy team in the second half. He's owned in 100 percent of leagues; don't drop him when he gets his asterisk (soon).

Howard will similarly get his DL asterisk by late-afternoon Wednesday, and I don't think we'll see him before the All-Star break. I know that to some he's a nice late-round add, but he seems like a poor investment to me for second-half production. A torn Achilles is a serious injury, and although Howard isn't fast or agile, it's reasonable to expect him to be held back all year. I take the under on 300 at-bats, 20 home runs and a .250 batting average, and frankly it appears he has decent, though misguided, fantasy trade value these days because some owners foolishly believe he'll play in early May.

Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta Braves: Jones is expected to return from his minor knee surgery by the end of next week, so I wouldn't panic in deeper leagues. Interestingly, he's actually being added in ESPN leagues, not dropped. I think this is because he has his little asterisk already, and many fantasy owners feel they need to always have their DL slot filled with someone. There's value here as a corner infielder or utility guy. Jones hit .275 with 18 home runs last season and finished in the same spot on the Player Rater as Kevin Youkilis, just outside the top 10 third basemen.

Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: There's no timetable for Carp's return from nerve irritation in his pitching shoulder, and it could be months before we see him again. Carpenter is not among the top 20 pitchers being cut in ESPN leagues, but I bet we'll see him there in the coming week, as fantasy owners need to create room for replacements. It's a shame, because Carpenter has been terrific the past three seasons. In a 10-team league, it's tough to justify stashing him away over a productive bat likelier to make an impact.

Drew Storen, RP, Nationals: Word is the inflammation in Storen's throwing elbow has decreased, and the team is targeting a mid-April return. There should be no question about the closer when Storen is healthy, but there's been much debate about the interim. Both Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez were terrific this spring, combining for one earned run allowed in 21 innings, with 10 hits allowed and 23 strikeouts. Flip a coin. I think Rodriguez, the harder thrower of the two and perhaps the hardest thrower in baseball, should get the chances, even though Lidge has the experience.

By the way, how nice it is to write an injury blog entry and not have to discuss Justin Morneau, Kendrys Morales and Johan Santana? They're healthy! Enjoy it!