A Tale of the Yankees’ Early-Season Injury Woes: Evidence of a Larger Problem

It is almost as though fans aren’t phased by it anymore.

Over the course of the past month that baseball has been “in session,” the Yankees have accrued enough players on the Injured List to add up to $87 million worth of payroll as of April 7th.  They have also led MLB in the category of… most injured players.  

The injury woes didn’t start with the season opener, either; we can’t forget that prior to the start of the 2019 season, Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery.  Dellin Betances has his shoulder issue, which started during Spring Training.  Aaron Hicks had, and continues to have, back problems.  Jacoby Ellsbury… we won’t even go there (or discuss the astronomical numbers he has cost the Yankees at this point).  Luis Severino, devastatingly, suffered a shoulder injury during Spring Training, which changed the outlook for the starting rotation that already had to regroup -- thanks to the previously-accounted for absence of C.C. Sabathia, due to knee and heart surgery recovery.  Also, let’s not forget reliever Ben Heller and starter Jordan Montgomery, both victims of Tommy John surgery-causing injuries (don’t feel too badly… I forgot about them, too).

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

However, the hits (or, in this case, blows) just kept on coming.  To pretty much no one’s surprise, Greg Bird couldn’t stay healthy.  Gary Sanchez started the season healthy, has already had a stint on the I.L., and is now back to playing pretty much every day.  Aaron Judge has found himself with an oblique strain.  Miguel Andujar could be out for the remainder of the 2019 season with a labrum injury, but is on track to play in a minor league game.  Newcomer Troy Tulowitzki is out with a calf strain, and don’t forget about the heralded Giancarlo Stanton, who is out -- though, not for much longer -- with a bicep strain.

The good news?  A few big names are still hanging in, including: Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner from the offensive end, and Aroldis Chapman, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Zack Britton from the pitching end.  On the bright side, the insufferable list of Yankees on the Injured List has opened the metaphorical door for newcomers who, according to their manager, were not expected to make such big contributions so early in the season.  Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Gio Urshela and Kyle Higashioka have all been instrumental to the Yankees’ success at this point (though Urshela has recently joined the ranks of the injured).  DJ LeMahieu and Clint Frazier, while they’ve now also joined the ranks of the injured players, have stepped up in every way imaginable.

While there is definite good news that comes with this problem, there is a larger problem at play here: why are so many players injured so early in the season?  A few possibilities include:

Playing through injuries
Let’s start with the end of last season… with one Didi Gregorius.  He knew that his arm wasn’t feeling all that great, even into the postseason.  The team trainers knew that his arm wasn’t feeling so great.  And, at certain points, even fans noticed it -- a throw was off a little bit one day, or Didi would be listed as day-to-day. Then, he'd magically re-appear on the active roster.  It would be easy to assume that he was very much playing through an already-aggravated injury.  While it’s understandable that any player would want to grit his teeth and just “make it through the postseason,” this situation has affected Didi’s health in the long-term -- and he’s just one example.  Sanchez complained of tightness in his legs on Monday, April 8th, did not catch following that complaint, but played the following day at DH.  Andujar remained in the March 31st game against the Detroit Tigers, after diving back into third base, which caused his injury. 

Players who cannot stay healthy
It’s not the first time that we fans have heard some of these names on the Injured List. Sanchez found himself out of commission twice during the 2018 season.  Judge endured a wrist fracture last July that sidelined him for a few weeks.  Unsurprisingly, due to his age, Sabathia missed some early season time in 2018 thanks to a hip injury.  Tulowitzki had not played since 2017, after an ankle injury caused him to miss the entirety of the 2018 season.  And we won’t even get into Greg Bird.  This leaves some questions. Why did the Yankees sign the injury-prone Tulowitzki?  Why was Bird even allowed to be called back up to the active roster following his abysmal season last year, especially with Voit doing superbly at his job.  Why are super sluggers like Judge and Sanchez apparently overworked.  

Photo Credit: Sporting News

Both of these theories are, however, just that: theories.  However, it is important to remember that this injury-riddled team is just one team in what is becoming a pattern.  In case anyone needs their memories jogged: While this article from the 2018 season didn’t need to appear nearly as early in the season as we are now, and there weren’t as many injured players then as the Yankees currently have on the I.L., the lead could have been written for the current situation: “The Yankees’ roster is looking less like a potential World Series team and more like an injury ward.”  And then, we go back to 2017, and find this article (also mid-season) that starts with, “It’s amazing that the Yankees are in first place with all they’ve had to endure in the first 2 1/2 months of the season." The 2017 article then then proceeds to list seven players on the Injured List including Sanchez, Sabathia and Hicks.  What a pattern… and how quickly we forget.

The good news?  The Yankees have been here before, and have dealt with the problem, and know they can get to the postseason in spite of injury numbers that are nothing short of insane.  The bad news?  Getting to a postseason does not necessarily equal getting to a World Series victory.  In sum, this pattern of large numbers of Yankees on the Injured List (no matter which point it happens at in the season) is evidence of a larger problem.  My theories could be correct, the answer could be a combination of both theories, or, it could be a separate issue altogether that us fans can’t even imagine. However,  there’s one thing that’s for sure: no matter what the bigger issue is, a bigger issue exists… and fixing it could be the difference between just making it to ALDS Game 4 and, finally, winning World Series Championship #28.

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson


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