We find ourselves in the dog days of the MLB offseason right now, but the good news is that it won't be long before pitchers and catchers report to their respective spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona. It's about one month away for most teams. Ah yes, baseball is almost here.
With that in mind, I figured this was a good time to check in on some players who are coming back from injury and/or surgery. This is not intended to be comprehensive list in any way, so don't be offended if you don't see a specific player profiled here. I simply plucked a handful of names I found interesting. One of the perks of the gig. As always, be sure to check our constantly-updated player news feed for all the latest information on every player. Business is about to pick up, as the 2014 Rotoworld Draft Guide will be live before the end of the month and our annual magazine will hit newsstands on February 4. Keep an eye out.
Matt Kemp OF, Dodgers
After injuries limited Kemp to 73 games last season, he required two surgeries in October, the first a cleanup of the AC joint in his left shoulder and the second to have torn cartilage, bone spurs and loose bodies removed from his left ankle in addition to a microfracture of his talus bone removed. He shed his walking boot a little over three weeks ago and has begun hitting in recent days, but uncertainty over his health surely played a part in why trade discussions failed to come together this winter. Oh, and don't forget that he still has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract. Kemp was a first-round pick in most mixed league drafts last year, but he figures to go at least a few rounds later in 2014. Given his immense upside, that could make him quite the bargain, but watch him carefully in the spring before taking the plunge.
Bobby Parnell RP, Mets
Parnell was excellent in the closer role for the Mets in 2013, posting a 2.16 ERA over 49 appearances while going 22-for-26 in save chances, but his breakthrough season came to an unfortunate end in August due to a herniated disk in his neck. The 29-year-old underwent surgery in September and lost around 30 pounds in the immediate aftermath, but he has gained all the weight back since and was recently cleared for baseball activities. He'd probably be one of the last few closers off the board if fantasy drafts were held today, but his stock will obviously go up if he proves healthy and effective in the spring. If there are any issues, young Vic Black could be worth keeping an eye on.
Carlos Gonzalez OF, Rockies
Gonzalez was having his best power season yet last year before a sprained right middle finger kept him out of action for most of the second half. He considered the possibility of surgery with the pain persisting, but he decided against it after taking some at-bats in the instructional league in October. Gonzalez said he "felt really good" while taking 50 swings off a batting tee in December, so the finger issue appears to be in the rear view mirror for now, but he required an emergency appendectomy last weekend and will be sidelined from physical activity for two weeks. Still, barring any setbacks, there should be enough time for him to get ready for the 2014 season. Gonzalez has never played more than 145 games in a season, so questions about his health will continue to follow him, but few players have the ability to do more in five standard categories. He's still a clear first-round talent in mixed leagues.
Albert Pujols 1B, Angels
Pujols had the worst season of his fantastic career last year, but a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot had a lot to do with it. Clearly hobbled, he hit just .258/.330/.437 with 17 homers over 99 games and made the majority of his starts out of the designated hitter spot before going on the disabled list in late July. Pujols didn't require surgery to address his heel injury, as the tear essentially accomplished what surgery would have done, but he wore a walking boot for three weeks and the out-of-contention Angels eventually opted to shut him down. The good news is that the rest has done him good, as Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said last month that doctors recently deemed Pujols' foot to be 100 percent. Now entering his age 34-season, we might not see some of the elite numbers he has posted in the past, but there's obvious rebound potential here. And the price tag figures to be significantly lower than anything we have seen in the past.
Justin Verlander SP, Tigers
Tigers fans were dealt with some surprising news last week when it was revealed that Verlander required "core muscle repair surgery" after injuring himself last month during his offseason conditioning program. He'll need about six weeks of rehab before being reevaluated. The exact nature of the injury is a bit of a mystery, but it's the same description that was used for Miguel Cabrera's surgery back in October, which was believed to be a groin injury. In any case, the Tigers announced that they fully anticipate that Verlander will participate in spring training and "be in a position to compete" at the start of the 2014 season. It's reasonable to assume that he'll be a bit behind the other pitchers at the start of Grapefruit League action, but barring a significant setback, he should still be one of the first pitchers off the board in mixed leagues.
Mark Teixeira 1B, Yankees
2013 was a nightmare for Teixeira, as he tore the tendon sheath in his right wrist during a workout for the World Baseball Classic last spring and ended up playing in just 15 games with the Yankees before opting for season-ending surgery in July. The 33-year-old said last month that he was close to 100 percent healthy and planned to start swinging a bat this month, but he's still a major question in fantasy leagues. While Jose Bautista bounced back from the same surgery last year, there's no guarantee that Teixeira will have the same luck from a power perspective, at least initially. Even putting the injury aside, Teixeira's production has been steadily trending downward since 2008, so he's quickly moving into late-round territory in mixed leagues.
Joe Mauer C, Twins
Yes, Mauer is now a full-time first baseman, but he's still eligible at catcher in fantasy leagues. So that's why I have him categorized as such. The position change is probably the best thing for all involved at this point, as Mauer dealt with more post-concussion symptoms last season (missing the final 40 games of the year) and the Twins still owe him $115 million over the next five seasons. Granted, his value might not be as high at first base as it was at catcher, but his long-term health is more important. The good news is that he's currently symptom-free. Mauer batted .324/.404/.476 when healthy last year and could be even better in 2014 now that he no longer has to man the toughest position in the game. He'll obviously be a tougher call in fantasy leagues next year.
Josh Johnson SP, Padres
After coming over to the Blue Jays last winter as part of a blockbuster deal with the Marlins, Johnson was a big disappointment in 2013, posting a 6.20 ERA over 16 starts prior to being shut down in late August with a right forearm strain. He eventually required surgery in October to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Johnson signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Padres in December, which puts him closer to home and in a good environment to reestablish his value. His velocity and peripherals last season weren't too far off from what we have seen in the past, even though it wasn't reflected in his ERA, so he's far from a lost cause entering his age-30 season. However, the injury risk only makes him worth late-round consideration in mixed leagues.
Manny Machado 3B, Orioles
Machado showed flashes of brilliance during his first full season in the majors last year, hitting .283/.314/.432 with 14 home runs and 71 RBI over 156 games before he suffered a freak injury to his left knee in September. While the early word was that the 21-year-old wouldn't need surgery, he had his medial patellofemoral ligament repaired in October. Machado is scheduled for a checkup on Thursday and could be cleared for baseball activities at that time, but he's still no sure thing to be ready for the start of the season. That makes him a bit of a risk going into spring training, but he'll surely shoot up draft boards if he proves his health. Machado isn't a finished product yet, as he needs to improve his plate discipline and show more patience, but his age provides reason for optimism. We likely haven't seen his true breakout season yet.
Derek Jeter SS, Yankees
After undergoing surgery to repair his fractured left ankle in October of 2012, Jeter struggled to stay on the field last season, with a variety of injuries limiting him to just 17 games. In addition to his surgery-repaired ankle giving him issues, he also dealt with calf and quad issues. Entering his age-40 season, many believe that Jeter would be better off with a position switch at this stage of his career, possibly to third base, but all indications are that he will enter spring training with the goal of being the primary shortstop once again. Of course, the Yankees will surely give him plenty of time out of the DH spot in order to keep him fresh. Skilled defender Brendan Ryan was also brought back this winter as an insurance policy at shortstop. Would it be a shock if Jeter finished his career on a high note and returned to fantasy relevancy? We certainly can't rule it out. However, there are way too many questions at the moment to consider him as anything more than a late-round flier. Spring training should provide some answers.
Derek Holland SP, Rangers
Holland took an encouraging step forward last year by establishing new personal bests in ERA, strikeout rate and innings pitched, but his momentum was snuffed out earlier this month after he collided with his dog (really) and injured his left knee in the process. The southpaw underwent arthroscopic surgery last Friday to repair torn cartilage and is expected to be sidelined until midseason, which is a brutal blow to the Rangers and fantasy owners alike. Holland would have been a mid-round pick in mixed leagues this spring if healthy, but he can now be found in the late rounds or possibly off the waiver wire. Patience will be required, but he could pay off big during the second half.
Dylan Bundy SP, Orioles
Regarded as the top pitching prospect in the game last winter, Bundy was expected to make a big impact in the Orioles' starting rotation in 2013, but he spent the first half rehabbing an elbow injury prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. He's currently throwing from a distance of 60 feet without pain and hopes to throw off a mound by the end of spring training. If all goes well, he'll be ready for rehab games around mid-June, which could put him at the mix to contribute at the major league level at some point during the second half. Bundy is only 21 years old and Tommy John surgery has a high success rate, so he could still blossom into a frontline starter for Baltimore, but he's a wait-and-see option for fantasy owners. His true impact likely won't be felt until 2015.