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Injury Updates, 2014 Fantasy Impact for MLB's Top Rehabbing Players

Jason MartinezContributor IJanuary 13, 2014

Injury Updates, 2014 Fantasy Impact for MLB's Top Rehabbing Players

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    Kemp is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after ankle and shoulder surgeries.
    Kemp is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after ankle and shoulder surgeries.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Professional athletes almost always think they can heal from an injury quicker than what a doctor might initially suggest. And they're usually wrong, even if they are allowed to return to game action sooner than anticipated on occasion. Unfortunately, that can sometimes lead to the player aggravating an injury or just putting up mediocre numbers because they're not fully healthy.

    So we should all take players' own personal health update with a grain of salt, especially in the offseason when they have a longer period of time to recover from an injury. It's normal for a player who will be less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery on Opening Day—recovery time is typically 12-18 months, but normally closer to 18 months and sometimes longer—to proclaim that he is way ahead of schedule and will undoubtedly be ready for the start of the season. 

    Several months and multiple injury updates later, that pitcher is still trying to work his way back to making rehab starts after a second setback in his recovery. 

    We're getting closer to the point in the offseason, however, where timetables for a rehabbing player's return can be taken more seriously. Workouts are being ramped up with the opening of spring training approaching and teams will need to get a better idea of whom they can count on.

    And so will fantasy baseball owners. Here's an update on eight rehabbing players who can make a fantasy impact in 2014.

     

Josh Beckett, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    While Josh Beckett, who is recovering from surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, is expected to have a "normal spring training," according to general manager Ned Colletti as reported by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, his status in the Dodgers rotation is up in the air. 

    The team has not ruled out bringing in another frontline pitcher prior to spring training, which doesn't bode well for the 33-year-old right-hander. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted that they're expected to "go all-out" for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.  

    If they were to sign Tanaka or one of the top free-agent starters—Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are still available—Beckett would almost certainly be the odd man out behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren. 

    Beckett only made eight starts in 2013, posting a 5.19 ERA. It may have been injury-related, but he might not get a chance to prove that this was the case.

    His fantasy value, which hasn't been strong since 2011, when he had 13 wins and a 2.89 ERA for the Red Sox, continues to appear bleak. 

Chad Billingsley, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 25, 2013, Chad Billingsley isn't expected to contribute to the big league club until at least midseason. 

    General manager Ned Colletti says he views the 29-year-old, who had a 3.70 ERA with an average of 12 wins, 185 innings pitched and 166 strikeouts per season from 2008-2012, as a midseason acquisition, according to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.

    While Billingsley may very well be back at full strength for the last few months of the season, there's no guarantee that the Dodgers will have a place for him. 

    The high rate of injuries to pitchers, however, makes it likely he will eventually get a chance. I wouldn't count on him for more than 10-12 starts, though. 

     

Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Not only are there questions surrounding how productive Yasmani Grandal will be once he returns from a knee injury that he suffered in July, it's also hard to get a grasp on what kind of player he is going to be because he had only played in 28 games following PED suspension before the injury occurred. 

    The 25-year-old switch-hitter burst onto the scene in 2012, posting an .863 OPS with eight homers and seven doubles in 60 games as a rookie. But after being hit with a 50-game suspension to start the 2013 season, he posted just a .693 OPS with one homer. 

    Did he just need some more time to get into the groove after the long absence? Or should we just expect a player who isn't nearly as good as his rookie season indicated? 

    We may not find out right away, as Grandal is expected to begin the season on the disabled list, according to Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Recovery from ACL surgery, which he underwent on Aug. 6, is typically 9-12 months. For a catcher, it's probably a safe assumption that he won't make a quick return and will be eased back early in the second half. 

    Expecting something right in between what he did in 2012 and what he did during his short stint in 2013 is probably realistic, though a half-season of that production might not be valuable enough in many fantasy leagues.

Tim Hudson, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Veteran starting pitcher Tim Hudson underwent surgery to repair a fractured ankle on July 26, had a screw removed from his surgically repaired ankle on Nov. 8 and agreed to a two-year, $23 million deal with the San Francisco Giants on Nov. 18. 

    He's now expected to begin throwing and running, according to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, and is on track for a regular spring training. That's a speedy recovery for the 38-year-old. 

    If Hudson can pick up where he left off at the time of his injury—he had a 2.73 ERA in 69.1 innings with 50 strikeouts to go along with 55 hits and 19 walks allowed over his last 10 starts—the Giants and his fantasy owners will be in good shape.

    Before reaching too high to pick him up on draft day, though, remember that he struggled out of the gate in 2013 with a 5.37 ERA through his first 11 starts. 

     

Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    A solid update on Derek Jeter's status for the start of 2014 season probably won't be available until he ramps up his baseball-related activities in the near future. He was encouraged by his early workouts back in November, however, and said he expects to play shortstop next season, according to Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog.

    When last healthy in 2012, Jeter hit .316 with a league-leading 216 hits to go along with 15 homers. He was seventh in AL MVP voting that season. Now entering his age-40 season—he'll be 40 in June—can we expect more of the same production after an entire offseason to rest his surgically repaired ankle? 

    The Yankees' ability to utilize him in the designated hitter spot while employing an above-average defender, Brendan Ryan, in his spot on the field should help. But with catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Carlos Beltran (who will be 37 years old in April) also likely to get time at DH, in addition to Alfonso Soriano and others, Jeter will likely be out of the lineup more than he has at any time in his career.

    I wouldn't count out the 13-time All-Star from returning to at least close to his pre-2013 form. I just don't expect him to do it while playing more than 120-130 games.

     

     

Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Trading Matt Kemp while his value is down after an injury-plagued 2013 season would've been a terrible idea. On the other hand, any team acquiring him would've been taking a big risk to give up a trade package worthy of an MVP-caliber player who won't turn 30 years old until the end of the 2014 season. 

    It's the same scenario in the fantasy baseball world. He could be a tremendous value if the rest of your league-mates cooperate. Make him a top priority and the reward could be significant if you're willing to take on the risk.

    Not only is Kemp returning from ankle surgery, he also had surgery to repair the AC joint in his left shoulder. The injuries contributed to his playing in only 73 games and, quite possibly, his struggles at the plate (.723 OPS, 6 HR). Both surgeries occurred in October. 

    Since the second half of the 2012 season, Kemp has battled a multitude of injuries, so the concern doesn't lie solely in his ability to return at full strength from his 2013 injuries. He might just have a hard time staying healthy and could be very close to earning the "injury-prone" label. 

    Given his age, however, and his immense talent, Kemp is worth taking a chance on in 2014.

    General manager Ned Colletti says they won't rush Kemp back to action before he's ready, according to Austin Laymance of MLB.com, but he expects his star center fielder to be playing "by the time we're in the midst of spring training."  

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    On the brink of stardom, the worst thing that Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado can do is rush back from a knee injury that ended his 2013 season in late September. 

    While initial reports suggested that he was unlikely to be ready for Opening Day after he underwent reconstructive knee surgery in mid-October, the most recent reports indicate that he's on track for the team's opener on March 31.

    According to Roch Kubatko of MASN.com, manager Buck Showalter expects his third baseman to be ready. 

    Given that disabled list stints can usually be backdated as much as seven to 10 days from Opening Day as long as the injured player hasn't played in a spring training game during that time, it would make sense to not rush any player back no matter how vital his presence is to a ballclub. Machado could be placed on the disabled list and miss fewer than 10 games. He could spend part of that time off getting ready on a minor league rehab assignment. 

    With that said, it's safe to say that Machado will be back early enough to make a major impact on the Orioles and your fantasy team. Expect another jump in production after he posted a .746 OPS with 14 homers, 51 doubles and 71 runs batted in during his age-20 season.  

Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    A full return to health for New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira should mean 30-plus homers for fantasy baseball owners, which is why his recovery from a July 2nd wrist surgery deserves close attention. 

    The 33-year-old, who was limited to only 15 games in 2013, told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com last month that he was close to 100 percent and was expecting to begin swinging a bat in January. We'll know more once he does.

    Teixeira was also limited in 2012 due to multiple injuries. He hit 24 homers in 123 games while posting the lowest OPS of his career (.807). Over his previous eight seasons, the switch-hitter had a .914 OPS with an average of 36 homers, 37 doubles and 117 runs batted in per season. 

    I'm guessing he has at least one more of those in him, possibly in 2014, if he can avoid the injury bug. 

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