Fellow Cubs blogger Doc Blume opined in the comments to today’s article at LOHO that part of the Cubs injury issues stem from the roster being filled with players with questionable medical histories, as the Cubs had no money to spend on better players. The lack of payroll room the past few offseasons pushed the Cubs towards signing/acquiring marginal, injury prone players. My gut reaction to this is that it should be demonstrably false. Let’s run down the list of Cubs players that have hit the DL this year. (NB: another part of the Cubs injury woes have occured in the minor leagues, e.g. McNutt’s blisters, Whitenack’s arm issue, whatever is going on with Jay Jackson, Brett Jackson‘s hand injury, etc., etc. But since these guys weren’t signed or otherwise acquired on the market I won’t include them).
Players DLed or otherwise affected by injuries, in order of age
P Andrew Cashner – He’s had no injury history leading up to this. Young pitchers get injured. He wasn’t signed/traded for though so it doesn’t quite fit the mold of the hypothesis.
P Matt Garza - Garza has pitched five seasons in the majors and had only one short DL stint in the beginning of 2008 with an elbow injury. He’s in the prime of his career so it is reasonable to expect him to pile up innings (as much as you can expect it of any pitcher)
P Randy Wells - Wells had a stress fracture in his arm at the end of 2008, but no other red flags are popping up for me. Again, he came up through the system so he also doesn’t fit the mold
C Geovany Soto - Geo has had several DL stints, but its not especially surprising given how catchers get banged up. He was a late bloomer so his age could be a part of it. He’s another one coming up through the org (though the last such player on this list)
2b Jeff Baker - Baker had a major DL stint a few years back due to a hand injury. He hasn’t been on the DL since but has had several minor complaints that have kept him out of the lineup the last few years. He’s on the wrong side of 28 so seeing more injuries isn’t too unusual. They picked him up from the Rockies for basically nothing (relief pitcher Al Albuquerque).
CF Marlon Byrd – I’m not going to bother looking up his injury history, since being hit in the face with a baseball doesn’t have much to do with age or injury-proneness. Just shitty luck
1B Carlos Pena – Pena had issues with his thumb early in the season and it may have been an accomplice in his April power outage. He’s had several DL stints, including a hand injury in 2009, the recovery from which may have led to his poor 2010 numbers. Given his past injuries and his age it’s not unreasonable to see him continue to accrue injuries.
CF Reed Johnson – This injury isn’t surprising at all. Given Reed’s age and the fact that he’s been on the DL four separate times in the past four seasons for back problems. However, Reed’s role going into the season was that of a 5th outfielder so given his diminished role I don’t think his injury history isn’t that big of a deal.
LF Alfonso Soriano - Well, he’s been injured for a while now. There’s an inherent risk to signing *any* player to a long term deal in their thirties and you can feel free to blame Hendry for that, but at the time of the signing Soriano was quite healthy and an incredible athlete, rather than the shell of his former self that he is now (cue Carl Crawford axe grinding). We’ve argued for the Soriano signing enough times here though so I won’t beat that dead horse. Anyway, the Soriano signing happened when the Cubs were on a spending spree so the payroll hypothesis doesn’t really apply here either.
Overall, I don’t the theory does not hold up. The only starter it applies to is Pena, whose injury was relatively minor but could easily be injured again later this year.
Some other theories that were posited were whether some blame should go to the strength/conditioning coach or the shape of Wrigley’s crappy facilities. These things aren’t exactly new, so I don’t think there could be a particularly strong correlation there either. Just some shitty luck.
jstunami pointed out that I should have included Milton Bradley and Carlos Silva, so let’s move this back through 2009-2010 as well since the Cubs had payroll contraints those years.
RF Milton Bradley - Aside from his various pyschological issues, saying that MB had a tough time staying healthy is an understatement (just check out this laundry list of documented injuries). It’s a fair point. Given the other guys that were also on the market at the time (Ibanez, Abreu) I still think the Cubs made the right move going after a guy like Bradley (how they handled him afterwords, that’s another story). If they had more money I don’t know who they would have spent it on anyway – those three were the three biggest OF free agents that year.
P Carlos Silva – the booby prize in dumping Bradley, the Cubs didn’t really care who they got just so long as they got salary relief. The $8m or so they got along with the deal was what they were trading for, anything they got from Silva was gravy.
2B Aaron Miles – utility player
P John Grabow – Not really a budget-related signing, so much as a dumb one.
2B Ryan Freel – utility player
1B Chad Tracy – utlility
If you guys can think of anyone else who was injured, expected to get significant playing time, and signed on the cheap, let me know. This was all I could come up with