- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Well, at least St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday doesn't need Tommy John surgery. It could be worse. But the news Friday that Holliday will need an appendectomy and perhaps a disabled-list stint -- it's not a lock -- is obviously not good for fantasy owners looking for a quick start. Hey, at least you got a home run from Holliday on Thursday! And no, this is not an April Fools' Day joke.
Recovery from an appendectomy doesn't take more than a few weeks. Last season San Francisco Giants outfielder Andres Torres underwent the procedure in mid-September and was back in the lineup in fewer than 15 days, though I imagine the fact the team was in a pennant race -- which it eventually won -- accelerated the recovery. He didn't hit, but he wasn't hitting in the weeks before the surgery, either.
The Cardinals have yet to place Holliday on the DL because they're not sure he needs more than 15 days to recover. General manager John Mozeliak told reporters the team will determine whether a DL stint is warranted later, as not all appendectomies are the same. It's good news, for example, that doctors diagnosed Holliday's stomach discomfort so quickly and that the appendix didn't burst.
It's April. And the Cardinals, despite a rough offseason (Adam Wainwright's injury, the Albert Pujols noncontract situation, etc.), won't be eliminated from any pennant race in April, so I don't expect Holliday to be rushed back. He should play again this month, so fantasy owners should not panic. In addition, if you're going to lose a hitter, let it be an outfielder or first baseman.
This situation does bring a few Cardinals thoughts to mind. For one, this is not necessarily good news for Lance Berkman. That might sound strange, but here's my reasoning. We all agree, I presume, that Berkman is not going to thrive defensively in right field. He delivered a few hits Thursday but eventually was replaced in right field. I have concerns not only about Berkman's defense but his ability to stay healthy, and when he is healthy, I wonder about his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Jon Jay figures to gain playing time in left field with Holliday out, and if he hits the next few weeks, and Berkman does not, this could create an interesting dilemma for manager Tony LaRussa come May.
Jay should hit, by the way. A season ago, he batted .300 over 287 at-bats for the Cardinals, and while his minor league numbers don't show someone with big-time power he can hit for average and steal a base. He bats left-handed, so there wasn't going to be any platoon with Berkman anyway. If you're in a deeper league and Jay is available, he should play regularly, and I expect him to hit.
Of course, another school of thought in favor of Berkman hitting is that he'll presumably move up to the coveted cleanup spot in the batting order, after that Pujols fellow. What's so good about Pujols? Didn't he hit into three double plays Thursday? OK, that's sarcasm. But seriously, Pujols might see more pitches out of the strike zone without Holliday hitting behind him, meaning more walks and fewer hits for fantasy owners who only want one of those statistics. I wouldn't trade Pujols, however. I just feel like Berkman has to hit, as the pressure is really on.
Allen Craig is a potential beneficiary here, but he's someone I expect to platoon with Berkman. In case you didn't notice, the switch-hitting Berkman did nothing with lefties last season (.171 batting average, .517 OPS). Craig hits right-handed and he's always hit for power in the minors (62 home runs the past three seasons). I don't see anyone else on the roster or in the system the Cardinals could play in left field. Ultimately, I expect the Cardinals to simply use Jay regularly and stick with Berkman and perhaps Craig in right field. Jay wins out, and if he really hits maybe he complicates the right field situation at some point.
As for outfielders available in more than half of ESPN's leagues who seem like wise short-term (or more) pickups, Jose Tabata, Coco Crisp, Logan Morrison and, yes, perhaps Carlos Gomez would lead my list. If you need to replace Holliday's power, look at Magglio Ordonez, Tyler Colvin, Michael Morse, Matt Joyce and, yes, Alex Gordon, who just missed a ninth-inning three-run homer Thursday. Frankly, if there's ever a good time for a fantasy team to lose its top outfielder and second-round draft pick (Holliday is going 16th overall in ESPN average live drafts), it's early April. Don't panic, both your team and the Cardinals will be fine.