As each MLB team began its preparations for the upcoming 2012 season, a feeling of optimism was in the air. After months of offseason wheeling and dealing and evaluation of rosters, each team came to spring training prepared to do battle with the thought of claiming baseball’s ultimate prize – a World Series championship.
However, with spring training also comes a rash of injuries, and the 2012 season for several teams has already been impacted with the loss of key players for varying lengths of time. Here are five teams that will feel the loss more than others.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals have relied on 27-year-old closer Joakim Soria to provide quality finishing efforts, and the youngster has not disappointed, with 160 saves over the past five seasons and two All-Star selections in 2008 and ’10. However, they will now have to resort to Plan B.
Soria was removed from a game on March 18 after experiencing discomfort in his right elbow. After an examination, it was revealed that Soria will require Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the second time Soria has required the reconstructive procedure.
In a cruel twist, Soria’s potential battery mate, catcher Salvador Perez, will also miss significant time at the beginning of the season. Perez tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee warming up pitcher Jonathan Sanchez prior to a preseason game against the Cincinnati Reds on March 13. Perez, who recently signed a five-year, $7 million contract, will likely be out until at least mid-June. Perez’s injury forced the Royals to trade for Houston Astros catcher Humberto Quintero to fill the void.
Soria’s injury in particular forces Royals manager Ned Yost to choose from a list of three candidates to assume the closer’s role-Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland and possibly Aaron Crow. Yost likes his chances with any of the three.
“Normally you’ve got one guy you’ve got confidence in to get the ninth inning,” Yost told MLB.com. “Here I’ve got three guys that I’ve got confidence in that I can put in the ninth inning of any game and they’re going to close it out.”
San Diego Padres: The Padres were one of the more active teams this offseason, with new general manager Josh Byrnes reshaping his roster with a flurry of moves. One of the more significant deals was the one that brought outfielder Carlos Quentin over from the Chicago White Sox.
However, Quentin will be out of action for at least the first month of the season while he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Quentin, who was slated to be the cleanup hitter in the batting order for manager Bud Black, started experiencing pain shortly after arriving at Padres’ camp, and the surgery removed loose particles along with a repair of the meniscus.
Further clouding the picture in the Padres’ outfield is the injury suffered by Kyle Blanks. Blanks is suffering from an impingement in his left shoulder, and while he recently received a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain, he has yet to appear in a game and could start the season on the disabled list.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals will be preparing to defend its World Series championship without the services of one of last season’s postseason stars, starting pitcher Chris Carpenter.
Carpenter began experiencing soreness in his right shoulder early in spring training. After consulting with several St. Louis-area specialists, it was determined that Carpenter is suffering from nerve irritation, causing the weakness in his shoulder.
Carpenter returned to camp on March 26 to start a conditioning program designed to strengthen the shoulder, however, his recovery time is currently deemed “indefinite.” Carpenter has vowed to return at some point this season.
“We have to just get my shoulder strong and get it stabilized, so I can get back out there throwing and stay out there,” Carpenter told MLB.com. “I have to get it strong, and when I get it strong, I’ll be ready to come back.”
Carpenter has experienced nerve issues in the past, missing significant parts of the 2004 and ’08 seasons. Fellow starter Adam Wainwright is returning from Tommy John surgery and appears poised to take his rightful spot atop the starting rotation, and the Cards also have Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook returning. New manager Mike Matheny will also likely stretch out reliever Lance Lynn to help carry the load as well.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds appeared poised to jump back in the mix in the NL Central Division after a disappointing 2011 campaign, acquiring starting pitcher Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres and signing closer Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5 million contract. However, manager Dusty Baker may now be faced with a closer-by-committee situation after hearing bad news regarding Madson.
Madson began experiencing pain in his right elbow shortly after arriving in camp, however, he elected to work through it, claiming he had experienced similar pain in prior spring trainings with the Philadelphia Phillies. This time though, the pain couldn’t be worked through. Madson was diagnosed on March 24 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery and ending his season.
Baker will likely turn to reliever Sean Marshall, acquired over the offseason from the Chicago Cubs, to assume the closer duties, however, Bill Bray and possibly Aroldis Chapman could be options as well.
Nonetheless, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Reds, who elected not to insure Madson’s contract.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies were already working on a Plan B for the beginning of the 2012 season with first baseman Ryan Howard still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Now, Plan C is in order.
Second baseman Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list as well, unable to get onto the field at all this spring due to ongoing pain in his knees.
Utley suffers from chondromalacia, which is a roughening of the cartilage underneath the patellar. Utley sat down with reporters on March 25 and vowed to return at some point this season.
“I will take this process fairly slow, because I think it’s important to get everything around my knees working correctly,” Utley said. “And I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. I’m disappointed. I’m upset. I’m not happy that I’m in this situation right now, but I’m not going to let that deter me and get me down.
“It’s not bad enough to end my career. It’s an issue I’m going to have to deal with. There’s a lot of wear and tear in this game, and I just have to get things around my knee to move better to take a little pressure off my knee.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was already looking at a combination of Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and John Mayberry Jr. to man first base until Howard returns to the lineup. Now, he’ll be looking at replacing Utley with rookie shortstop Freddy Galvis, who has handled the workload at his new position this spring seamlessly.
Still, the loss of Howard and Utley for a significant chunk of the season doesn’t bode well for the reigning five-time NL East Division winners.
Doug Mead is a freelance sports writer, currently contributing as an MLB columnist for Bleacher Report and other publications. Doug’s work has been seen in syndication with the Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate and Los Angeles Times.