With less than a week until spring training, finding who will close out games in the ninth inning for the St. Louis Cardinals is the top priority. The team missed out on high profile closers Francisco Rodriguez, Kerry Wood, and Brian Fuentes. But there is still a 26-year-old with 128 career saves on the market. In fact, he was the youngest player in history to record 100 career saves. Unfortunately, the player, Chad Cordero, is coming off labrum surgery. History has taught us that torn labrums have not been easy for pitchers to bounce back from.
If the Cardinals are going to role the dice on a player coming off of an injury, I hope this is the guy. His injury caused him to miss most of the 2008 season and reports on when he will be ready to pitch in 2009 are inconsistent at best. But if he is able to make the long journey back, he would provide the experience in the ninth inning that Tony LaRussa is looking for.
The Cal State Fullerton broke out in a big way during the 2005 season when he saved 47 games while allowing an anemic 1.82 ERA to establish himself as one of the top closers in the game. The Cardinals have sailed these waters before. The organization rolled the dice on a pitcher it knew would miss the entire 2003 season. The gamble paid off course as that player was Chris Carpenter.
But the Cy Young Award winner is an exception to the rule. One of Carpenter’s 2008 teammates, Mark Mulder, is traveling the more common path. In his last three seasons with the Redbirds, the Southpaw pitched in just over 100 innings with an ERA approaching double digits.
There was another pitcher the Cardinals rolled the dice on who was coming off labrum surgery. After having the repair in 1997, Jeff Brantley made 50 appearances for the team the following season.
In 2004, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus wrote an article that became a standard in labrum injuries. He studied labrum tears in major league pitchers and found that 36 had been diagnosed in the previous five years. Of those 36, only one had recovered to pitch at his previous level. In the same article, the guru of sports injuries, Dr. James Andrews, said if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed.
But in recent years, the progress of medical science has given pitchers hope in returning from the injury. Carroll himself believes those advances have made the article “essentially obsolete”. He still believes that “It’s not good by any stretch, but it’s not as bad as it was just a few years back.”
Most Cardinal fans were disappointed when the team was the runner up for Jason Schmidt’s services before the 2007 season. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Schmidt has collected over $27 million for 25.2 innings of work. That averages out to be about $1.05 million an inning for those keeping score at home. Can you imagine having to pay that and Carpenter’s contract? That would be brutal.
There have been a few success stories in recent years. Gil Meche has become a solid innings eater who garnered a big contract from the Kansas City Royals. Kerry Wood looks to have found a niche as a top of the line closer. Jimmy Key had a couple good seasons after going under the knife. But these are the exceptions to the rule.
Labrum injuries have ended the careers prematurely of Brad Radke, Mark Gubicza, Steve Avery, Don Drysdale, Mark Fidrych, Wayne Simpson, Steve Busby, Mike Scott, Don Gullett, Matt Keough, Ben McDonald and John Rocker, to name a few.
Pedro Martinez doesn’t look the same since trying to return from the injury.
Kris Benson, Matt Clement, Orlando Hernandez, and Tony Armas Jr. are still trying to return to their old form.
So what does this all mean in regards to Cordero? Buyer beware! Though, he is relatively young, Cordero’s return is very unpredictable. Unlike Tommy John surgery and its’ over 90% success rate, the odds are stacked against those trying to return from labrum surgery. At the right price, the reward might be worth the risk. But beware, your roll could come up snake eyes.
In his chat at JSL, the Chatmeister Joe Strauss wrote that he feels the same.
If you are not reading my friend Brian Walton’s Cardinal Nation, why the heck not? It is a great read and a must visit for Cardinal fans.
As always, keep heading to the Birdhouse for an insider’s look at Cardinal baseball.
I want to recommend another blog/podcast. I have recently met Lisa Winston, one of the top minor league correspondents in the business. She has a great blog called got milb? Her and her husband, Wayne, are now doing a biweekly podcast which has become a staple on my Ipod. Get over to Baseball Honeymoon to find out more.
Bookmark this site!