Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crawford, Kemp: Critical Recovery Stories

No big news here, but ESPN says Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp's recoveries from injuries are obviously part of the key elements if the Dodgers are going to thrive in 2013 (in fact, it made their "five most important injury comebacks" list):

Carl Crawford/Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the first tag-team entry on our list. But it's hard to separate these two when assessing the state of the Dodgers' health. Don't you think?

What's their diagnosis? Crawford has been pretty much a physical train wreck over the past two years. First, he had wrist issues that led to surgery in January 2012. Then, he returned late in spring training, tore an elbow ligament and eventually needed Tommy John surgery on Aug. 23. In between, he squeezed in just 31 games and 125 plate appearances. Kemp, meanwhile, needed what was described as "significant" left shoulder surgery to repair a detached labrum on Oct. 5, about six weeks after he'd clanked into a fence in Colorado. But GM Ned Colletti says his center fielder had been dealing with "wear and tear" issues with that shoulder even before that.

What they're doing now: The Dodgers report that Crawford began easing into baseball activities about three weeks ago. He's swinging a bat and has been doing some light throwing. Colletti says they're "encouraged" (there's that word again) by his progress and overall condition. And Kemp began hitting off a tee this month while continuing to strengthen and rehab his shoulder. He isn't expected to be ready to rock at the beginning of spring training, but he told the Los Angeles Times last week, "I'm not trying to be 100 percent for the first game of spring training. I'm trying to be 100 percent for the first game of the season."

State of their team's optimism: If Colletti is worried that either of these guys won't be ready for Opening Day, he's doing an excellent job of hiding it. In the long haul, he says, he's actually more concerned about Crawford's persistent wrist issues than his recovery from Tommy John surgery. And the GM's upbeat assessment of Kemp's shoulder went like this: "A lot of players have this. It's really from a lot of swings. When he ran into the wall in Colorado, that pushed him over the edge. But it's a common injury. It's just wear and tear on the shoulder. But they say once you have it done, it should be good for a very long time. It's not like a labrum issue with a pitcher, where a guy comes back and he can't throw as hard as he did before. This isn't even his throwing shoulder."

Reason to worry: Ah, but in Kemp's case, it wasn't just his shoulder that was an issue last year. He hit 12 home runs in April -- and 11 in the other five months of the season combined. He pulled a hamstring muscle in mid-May, blew it out again in late May and didn't make it back from hamstring purgatory injury until after the All-Star break. Then, he hit just five homers in 184 trips between his return and the day he met up with that fence in Denver. So after April, he had pretty much a lost season. Then there's Crawford, whose .711 OPS the past two years ranks behind the likes of Ryan Roberts and Emilio Bonifacio (who make a lot less than 20 million bucks a year). "He's not just an X factor for me," one scout says of Crawford. "He's a capital X factor. Not many guys have had multiple health issues like he's had, with Tommy John and the wrist problem. And they're counting heavily on this guy. To me, he's a huge part of the puzzle, with all the money they've invested in him and this team."

Why they're on this list: Do we really have to explain this? is projecting the Dodgers to have a $217 million payroll. That's $60 million higher than the next-closest team in their league. Kemp is arguably the face of their franchise. And the gamble they've taken on Crawford is the most unique roll of the dice we can ever remember a team taking on any player. He had Tommy John surgery on Aug. 23. The Dodgers traded for him -- and the more than $100 million in salary he still had coming -- the next day. True, it was part of a much bigger deal and a much bigger storyline. True, he's no longer in Boston, where he looked like the wrong player on the wrong team at the wrong time. But the Dodgers still need this to work if they're going to be the team they expect to be. Right?

"First of all," Colletti says, "Tommy John surgery is very successful in this day and age, especially for somebody who doesn't make a living as a pitcher. And we're talking about a player who, a year and a half before we traded for him, was one of the most sought after free agents in baseball, at a young age. Now he's still at a youngish age (31), and we think he has a chance to be the player Boston expected him to be when they signed him. He should still be in his prime. And he's coming to a different team and a different situation, which we believe should be a plus for him." All we can say is, it had better be.

photo: Chris Humphreys / USA TODAY Sports