Every team has to deal with injuries. It's a fact of life -- such a common, foundational fact of life that even players feel comfortable saying it in interviews, it's so self-evidently true and noncontroversial. But not all injuries are created equally, of course. Whereas one team might lose a few relievers and a light-hitting shortstop for a month, another might be out a couple starting pitchers and middle-of-the-order bat or two for the majority of the season. And that's just how it goes -- ask Yankees fans how many tears were shed by opposing fanbases last season when New York was running Reid Brignac, Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart and Luis Cruz out there.
The varying severities and durations of injuries can reshape the complexion of not just a team, but an entire division or playoff race. These are some of the more impactful DL trips around baseball as the regular season kicks off, along with what they might mean both for the teams of the players suffering through them -- and the teams that won't be staring across at them from the opposite dugout while they're on the shelf.
Starters in the AL West
There are far too many guys hurt to start the year in the rotations of the American League West to spotlight each one individually: Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Yu Darvish for the Texas Rangers; Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin for the Oakland Athletics, and Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma for the Seattle Mariners will all begin the season on the disabled list. Some of these injuries are expected to be relatively minor -- Darvish hopes to miss only a single start, and the Rangers project to have all three of their missing starters back in the rotation by the end of the month if everything goes completely to plan -- while others are major: Oakland's Parker will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But all of these injuries are to pitchers in the top half of their respective teams' rotations, and no matter what timetables their teams give for return, there's no such thing as a sure recovery for a pitcher. They're not back and healthy until they're back and healthy.
With the Houston Astros still treading water for another season at the bottom of the division, the only real beneficiary of the injury bug sweeping the AL West is the one team with both a healthy rotation and a lineup to back it: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who had one of the worst rotations in baseball last year. However, thanks to their offseason acquisitions of Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, as well as Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson being healthy to start the year, the Angels are deeper and more talented on the mound than they've been since Mike Trout arrived. While their competition struggles to field five man rotations above replacement level, the Angels have a chance to build a tidy lead in the division at least through the end of April. If the Angels don't lead the division to begin the month of May, it will have been an opportunity wasted for the Halos.
Perhaps the last thing a team wants to have happen after it guarantees a pitcher over $30 million a year through the end of the decade is even the specter of rotator cuff problems immediately landing that pitcher on the disabled list to start the season, but that's where Kershaw is. Kershaw's injury is listed rather blandly as upper back soreness, but the specific muscle is the teres major -- a muscle very close to the shoulder, and which is heavily involved in stabilizing the rotator cuff. This isn't misleading; the teres major is indeed a muscle in the upper back, but considering how the last decade has trained media and fans to view the words "rotator cuff injury" and "pitcher" in the same sentence as little better than a guy's arm being lopped off by the Grim Reaper himself, the use of a mild euphemism for what could just turn out to be a little bit of soreness cured by some rest is probably a good idea on the Dodgers' part.
If it turns out not to just be a little soreness, the money isn't the part Los Angeles should really be worried about. Kershaw has been the ERA champion in the National League each of the past three seasons and while Zack Greinke's a good starting pitcher, much of the Dodgers' assumed dominance in 2014 rested on the assumed dominance of their ace, who has never before made a trip to the disabled list. If Kershaw is on the shelf for any prolonged period of time -- and there still is no definitive timetable for his return, though the hope is that he'll only miss one start -- then the NL West is suddenly wide open once again.
Of course, if the San Francisco Giants are going to step up and challenge the Dodgers they need to get their own house in order first. Not only do pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong need to bounce back in varying degrees from disappointing 2013 campaigns, but lacking a big bat outside of Buster Posey and hopefully Brandon Belt, the Giants need to maintain the offensive production that they got last year across their entire lineup -- meaning Marco Scutaro needs to get healthy and back on the field as soon as possible.
The baseball world has been holding its breath waiting for Scutaro's production to fall off ever since the Giants acquired him from the Colorado Rockies in 2012, but Scutaro has hit .301/.350/.398 in 1675 PA over the last three seasons -- he can't drive the ball so reliably anymore, but he is still a very useful hitter when healthy. Joaquin Arias, who has the distinction of being the one player involved in the deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to New York who didn't become an All-Star, is a serviceable enough utility player but is a marked step down at the plate. The Giants are already playing Angel Pagan, Brandon Crawford, and Mike Morse every day (though there's been talk about benching Crawford against lefties and sliding Arias over to short, then starting Brandon Hicks at second base instead of the injured Scutaro); they need every positive bat they can get in the lineup. Scutaro won't make or break San Francisco's season by himself, but whether or not he's able to return soon and at the form he's shown the previous few years will certainly influence how the Giants' chips fall.
Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall
Chapman is the most famous member of this threesome of injured Reds relievers, taking a scary comebacker to the head near the end of March and requiring immediate emergency surgery to help stabilize his wound. Losing one reliever -- no matter how great he is -- does not spell doom for a team's bullpen. But Cincinnati is also missing the talents of setup man Jonathan Broxton (elbow surgery) and reliever Sean Marshall (shoulder inflammation), the second and third best arms in their bullpen -- and combined with Alfredo Simon's temporary trip to the rotation thanks to Mat Latos's DL stint, that leaves the Reds asking for quality relief innings out of Nick Christiani, Curtis Partch, Logan Ondrusek and Manny Parra, among others. The most proven reliever remaining in the pen is likely JJ Hoover, followed by Sam LeCure, followed by...uncertainty, and a pressing need for the Reds to get healthy if they hope to hang with the St. Louis Cardinals this season.
This list is far from comprehensive -- one could write a piece like this just on pitcher elbow injuries alone, and injuries which have already been definitively addressed, such as Kris Medlen's with the Ervin Santana signing or Jose Iglesias's with the Alex Gonzalez deal, have been left off. It's just another reminder that the game can change mightily in an instant -- and that who a team doesn't play can be just as important as who they do.