The delayed start to the 2020 season is going to be a blessing in disguise for many players across the league. Whereas injuries were going to hold them out for extended periods if the season started on time, these players now have additional time to heal. In this article, DailyRoto’s Ricky Sanders takes a look at players who should now be healed in time for Opening Day and others whose status is still uncertain:
Mixed League Options Who Appear Ready for Opening Day
James Paxton, Yankees – One of the most obvious beneficiaries of the MLB postponing the start of the season is James Paxton (NYY) who underwent surgery on Feb. 5 to remove a peridiscal cyst. The original prognosis was that he was going to miss 3-4 months which, on a worst-case scenario, left him pegged to return around the beginning of June. Games almost assuredly will not be played until the start of June which means Paxton should now be ready for the start of the season. Instead of missing two months, Paxton should be ready to go from the get-go, so the inherent risk to drafting him has been completely negated.
Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees – On Feb. 26, Stanton suffered a Grade 1 calf strain and was listed as questionable for Opening Day. According to vivomed.com, a Grade 1 strain typically takes around two weeks to recover, so the original “questionable” tag for the start of games was probably being overly conservative anyways. Now, with multiple weeks to recover, there is no reason for him not to be fully healthy from day one (assuming he can avoid other injuries which always seems like a risk with Stanton).
Mike Clevinger, Indians – In what appeared to be a tough blow for the Indians, Mike Clevinger (CLE) underwent surgery to repair a partial tear of his medial meniscus. Per Indians beat writer Zack Meisel on Twitter, Clevinger suffered the injury while “training,” and he was expected to return in 6-8 weeks following the issue on Feb. 14. Obviously, if Paxton’s four-month diagnosis was negated by the MLB’s layoff, Clevinger’s two-month diagnosis would be as well, so he should be considered “healthy” in all fantasy drafts. The injury happened six weeks prior to the initial Opening Day and now likely happened at least 16 weeks prior to the start of the year. Draft him with confidence.
Justin Verlander, Astros – Prior to the whole coronavirus crisis, Justin Verlander (HOU) stated it would “probably take a miracle” for him to make Opening Day. Once it was announced the start of the season would be delayed indefinitely, Verlander decided to immediately go under the knife, as he decided to undergo right groin surgery. Strangely, the original prognosis was a “mild lat strain,” so Verlander was apparently suffering from multiple issues. Either way, the groin surgery is expected to keep him out about eight weeks following a mid-March procedure, which puts him on pace to return in mid-May. Even if he suffers a mild setback, he should be ready to pitch Opening Day, and opting for surgery was assuredly designed as a strategic move to assure his health for the start of the pushed-back season.
A.J. Puk, Athletics – After missing all of the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery, Puk returned in 2019, posting a 3.18 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with a 13:5 K:BB ratio in 11.1 innings. The young fireballer should have firmly have been on everyone’s radar as a late-round sleeper due to his electric arm but his value took a tumble a few weeks ago as suffered a mild shoulder strain. A visit to Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Mar. 5 confirmed the strain diagnosis and Puk was playing catch as soon as Mar. 11. Whereas he would have been iffy for Opening Day had the MLB schedule stayed on track, he reportedly was going to start the year in the bullpen. With extended time for him to get the shoulder stretched out, he now at least has a chance to prove he belongs in the rotation, although the emergence of Chris Bassitt (OAK) last year likely means Puk needs an injury in the rotation to be given a real shot.
Still Some Uncertainty
Aaron Judge, Yankees – Unlike Stanton, Aaron Judge’s rib injury, which dates back to a dive in the outfield he attempted last September, was expected to keep him out for an extended absence. The issue with this injury is there is still a lack of clarity, and the team is still trying to wait it out, when Judge already tried five months of rest to correct the issue. In the off-chance another month of rest is the perfect elixir, the layoff will have been perfect timing. If more time does not fix the issue, Judge will be destined for surgery.
Cole Hamels, Braves – During offseason workouts, Cole Hamels (ATL) developed irritation in his shoulder, and he had yet to be cleared to resume throwing as of Mar. 2. The length of his absence is completely up in the air but, presumably, another few months of layoff will only help the cause. He joined the team in late February and was just “waiting for the shoulder to calm down.” Mark Bowman reported it was “at least a few weeks” until he started throwing on Feb. 22, and even assuming that extends to a few months, Hamels would have a full month to attempt to get ready once being cleared. Of course, that is pure speculation, and there is still no concrete timetable, so Hamels is more uncertain than some of the other names mentioned in this article.