Commentary

Smoltz, understanding injury value

Updated: May 24, 2009, 2:38 PM ET
By Shawn Peters | Special to ESPN.com

Grand Theft Roto

There may be nothing I like more than a holiday weekend.

When the Fourth of July gives us an extra day off, all I want to do is light up the barbecue and a couple of roman candles.

Thanksgiving is even better, since it's a four-day affair, beginning with football and massive eating and continuing with naps and leftovers.

Labor Day, other than stepping on the toes of my birthday, is just about perfect, too, what with days spent on the beach and nights with friends; plus, it's the last time I get to wear my white slacks.

But it's Memorial Day that comes before the others I've mentioned, at least chronologically, and it's also the most important. This is our chance to honor all of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It's not a political thing. It's just a day to remember and offer up some gratitude.

Of course, while you're jogging your memory in the larger sense, it's also the ideal time to remember the fantasy fallen, because they can insure your freedom from last place if you choose wisely.

Casing the joint

As we move closer to June, several viable players who have been on the DL are getting closer to being activated. Some will battle injuries and ineffectiveness all year long, but every year a few of these guys go from dinged up to hitting dingers -- please see Alex Rodriguez and Joe Mauer -- and turn some team's fortunes around.

In general, I stay away from power hitters returning from hand and wrist injuries, pitchers who are in their first year after Tommy John surgery, and any player who has bought a condo on the DL because he spends so much time there.

What I do like to find are players who aren't being rushed back by their teams. Deep organizations that can afford to ease an injured player back into action tend to get more from them. Do I have some sort of statistical analysis to prove that? No, because how do you measure it? But there are plenty of examples that make me believe. Here are two:

A year ago, John Lackey missed nearly the first six weeks of the season with a strained triceps that was supposed to keep him out only until early May. They gave him the extra week or so to feel stronger, and he went 12-5 with a 3.25 ERA before getting blown up in his final start of the year, a meaningless one. Along the way, the Angels found a way to give him at least five days rest between more than half of his starts.

Compare that to Troy Tulowitzki's tearing his quad on April 29, 2008, and facing an recovery process that would take up to eight weeks. He wasn't rushed, but he did progress quickly, playing minor league games after about five weeks and rejoining the team in seven. Then he went 9-for-46 over the next two weeks of playing just about every day, got frustrated, and sliced open his hand in anger, winding up on the DL again. That wasn't the Rockies' fault, of course, but it's a reminder that "ahead of schedule" doesn't mean "ready to succeed."

Another important detail is that if you wait until the day before a player is activated, you're not going to get him. No one steps out of line at the club when they're next in, and the same applies with injured stars. So if a guy is back in mid-June, now is the time to start talks.

The last thing to remember is that if an injured star hasn't played at all this year, his owner is pretty sure he's going to come back and immediately match his career best. I know, it's ridiculous … but it's true. So make an offer that addresses an immediate need and sell the value of getting help right away.

Do it the right way, and this could be a Memorial Day you remember when you're in first place by Labor Day.

Three I'm stealing

Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Posada is old for a catcher, so expecting his health to hold up is folly. But with a paucity of catchers who are offensive forces (there are plenty that are downright offensive, and not in the good way), you take a shot on a guy who is returning to a ridiculously hot offense playing in a homer heaven for half his games. It's fair to expect maybe another 15 or 20 taters if he can stay fresh by DHing a few times a week.

Jose Valverde, RP, Astros: When Jose Reyes pulls a calf, I get big-time heebie-jeebies, since he's on your team to run, run and run some more. When a closer like Valverde has a calf strain, I'm buying. Give away a shaky, lesser closer to a Valverde owner who needs saves now, and clean up with a guy who will give you everything you want -- saves, strikeouts, good ratios -- once he's back in June.

John Smoltz, SP, Red Sox: Sure, I'm terrified of his age and injury, but there is absolutely no part of me afraid of the numbers he'll put up when he takes the mound in June. It's been 15 years since he posted an ERA worse than 3.50, and he's 47-26 over the past four years, even with the injury. The Red Sox signed "Smoltzie" to get 20 brilliant starts out of him from June through October. If you're in a deeper mixed league, or an AL-only format where he's owned, this is the time to make a bid because once he starts racking up a few more minor league innings, his owner will be far less inclined to deal.

Three I'm dealing

[+] EnlargeBrandon Webb
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrandon Webb pitched just four innings all of last season due to a shoulder injury.

Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks: Not rushing a guy is one thing. Open-ended injuries are another. Even without any setbacks, I doubt we'll see Webb until July, and with the D-backs already 11.5 games back going into the weekend, Arizona may have no reason to take any risks with him when he finally returns. If your team is in the basement, largely because you've gotten nothing from your ace, I think Webb is a guy to dangle in front of a frontrunner who is willing to trade hot, healthy pitchers for the promise of a second-half ace.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: Shoulder issues are not ideal for a slugger. Chronic issues are worse, and Ramirez has dealt with these kinds of woes before in his career. He was off to such a hot start that there may be some owners who expect him to return and pick up where he left off. However, Ramirez hasn't posted a slugging percentage of .500 or better in a season where he has missed 30 more games, and he's already missed more than 20 this year.

Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: I was very high on him to start the year, and even when his power evaporated like sweat on a bald guy's head, I wasn't worried. But that was a grisly hit he took on his neck and shoulder, and even though he's close to returning, I'm starting to get the "it will always be something with him" feeling. He has all the talent in the world, but I now believe that the 120 games he played in 2008 will be the most you can ever expect. Sell now, or wait for his next power burst.

Pulling the job

I wasn't able to pull of any deals this week, despite making and fielding more than 20 offers, but the rest of the S.T.E.A.L. was on fire, with huge names on the move. The deal that caught my attention most was Kris "The 206" Black's setting his sights on the slug-tastic Alex Rodriguez and paying through the nose to get him from our only European franchise, owned by Simon "The Brain" Jones. Kris sent Aaron Harang, Carlos Pena and Mariano Rivera to the British Brain in exchange for A-Rod and Tommy Hanson, who's stuck in the minors. Personally, I think he overpaid. Rodriguez hasn't even attempted a steal and isn't hitting for average, making him a pretty even swap with Pena, and giving Harang and Mo for Tommy Hanson in a non-keeper league doesn't make sense. But only time will tell, and every deal is just an injury away from being lopsided in either direction.

Have a tremendous Memorial Day, and use that extra day off to steal your league.

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