It has been a tough stretch for National League aces. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana of the New York Mets is recovering from surgery to correct a shoulder capsule torn last September. An All-Star break activation seems the most optimistic case but a return to past success following a shoulder problem is not guaranteed.
A basketball game-induced pair of rib injuries to 2009 American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke has put the new Milwaukee Brewers star on the shelf for four to six weeks. Given he was booed at the team’s winter fan festival for announcing his backing of the Steelers over the Packers in the Super Bowl, one has to wonder if fate was involved.
In both of those cases, the fantasy impact was quickly understood. Santana’s value is depressed to the low single digits in redraft leagues this year, and while one should knock a few bucks off your bid for Greinke, his problem appears to be the least serious by far.
The most painful new injury to an NL pitching star is clearly St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright’s shredded elbow ligament and resultant Tommy John surgery. One thing is for sure. Wainwright’s 2011 value is zero as he is out for the year.
What to do with Wainwright in the future in keeper leagues aligns with a big decision facing the Cardinals in the real world.
St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak made a wise move back in the spring of 2008, signing Wainwright to a long-term contract just as the right-hander was entering the first of his three arbitration-eligible years.
The Georgia native agreed to terms on a four-year contract with a club option for two additional seasons. In return for the security of a long-term deal, Wainwright could pocket as much as $36 million. Even if the options were exercised, he could become a free agent at the age of 32.
When Wainwright’s elbow gave out in one of his first spring throwing sessions, the seemingly-automatic decision about his 2012 and 2013 options moved front and center.
Would the Cardinals commit $9 million next year and $12 million the year after for a pitcher coming off injury? Sure, Tommy John recovery rates are increasingly high, but fall far short of 100 percent.
SI.com’s Jon Heyman polled three competing team executives on that very question. All three predict the Cardinals will pick up the options despite the surgery. In fact, one called it a "no brainer.”
I am one of the many fortunate keeper league owners to have acquired Wainwright as a minor leaguer and have enjoyed his stats every year since. In the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), I gladly and without question renewed Waino’s contract for 2011 at $16. That seemed a “no brainer” in late October.
I did this despite knowing that the Cardinal had late-season elbow discomfort. Even so, he finished second in the NL in wins (20), ERA (2.42) and complete games (five). Wainwright tied for second in shutouts, was third in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts, while allowing the third-fewest walks per nine innings in the league.
Now, even before the season begins, I must decide if the remainder of my XFL roster is deep enough to compete without its strongest pitcher. Further, even if so, should I deal Wainwright away now in return for immediate help or like the Cardinals may do, wait it out and hope for the best in 2012 and 2013?
Ultimately, my call is the same as the Cardinals’ will surely be. Waino is too good to let go but hopefully not so good that I can’t win without him.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.