Just over two weeks ago, Nationals manager Dave Martinez indicated that Daniel Murphy was on track for Opening Day following last October’s microfracture surgery on his right knee. However, that no longer looks to be a realistic target.
Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post wrote Monday that Murphy “seems unlikely to be ready for Opening Day” as he continues his rehab. Murphy has begun hitting off a tee and taking soft-toss, but he’s still wearing a brace on his knee and is nowhere close to being ready to play in a Grapefruit League game.
That the Nats are slow-playing Murphy’s rehab doesn’t come as a surprise. Microfracture surgery is a major operation, and the second baseman will turn 33 just after Opening Day. They want him healthy for an expected postseason run, so rushing him back for a March 29 game in Cincinnati isn’t a terribly high priority.
The health risk with Murphy has already been baked into his cost in early fantasy drafts, as he’s currently the 69th player going off the board in NFBC leagues. He was the 90th pick in my Yahoo Friends and Family draft last week. Murphy was going around pick No. 30 in drafts last spring before he went on to bat .322/.384/.543 with 23 homers and 93 RBI. His ADP could continue to tumble.
Assuming Murphy does indeed begin the season on the disabled list, Howie Kendrick figures to get the first crack to fill in for him at second base. The 34-year-old hit a robust .315/.368/.475 with nine home runs and 12 steals over 334 plate appearances for the Phillies and Nationals last season. He’s eligible at second base and the outfield in Yahoo leagues and makes for a solid deep league option. Wilmer Difo and Matt Reynolds could also be in the mix.
Murphy is not the only Nationals player whose health we’re tracking this spring. Adam Eaton is coming back from ACL and meniscus surgery and is also apparently not terribly close to playing in Grapefruit League games. The goal is still for him to be ready to answer the bell on Opening Day, but it wouldn’t appear to be a slam dunk that it happens.
There’s also Michael Taylor, who was scratched from the lineup Monday with tightness in his right side. The club is referring to the injury as minor at this point, but it’s worth noting that Taylor missed a month of action last season with a strained right oblique. More is expected to be known about his status on Tuesday.
If Eaton and/or Taylor wind up needing DL time, it could potentially give top prospect Victor Robles a shot at everyday at-bats early on in the season. Robles will turn just 21 in May and could use some more seasoning considering he skipped over Triple-A when he was surprisingly called up last September. However, if Eaton or Taylor are facing a multi-week absence, Robles is probably the best option to fill in. The youngster has one of the highest fantasy ceilings of any prospect in baseball and is coming off a season when he batted .300/.382/.493 with 10 longballs and 27 stolen bases between High- and Double-A.
Clevinger In, Salazar Out
The Indians entered spring training with the back-end of their rotation somewhat unsettled. Manager Terry Francona provided some clarity on Monday.
"As we stand right now, (Mike Clevinger’s) going to be in the rotation," Francona said. "Danny (Salazar) is not going to be ready. We're looking for Clev to have a big year. He's strong, and he should be able to be that innings-eater type pitcher."
Francona delivered the news after Clevinger flummoxed the Dodgers in Cactus League action Monday, going three hitless innings with six strikeouts. The young right-hander has given up just one run over his first three starts this spring.
Clevinger was excellent for the Indians last season, putting up a 3.11 ERA and 137/60 K/BB ratio over 121 2/3 innings of work. In spite of this, most projections had him on the outside looking in for a rotation spot heading into spring training. However, Salazar’s shoulder injury made putting Clevinger in the rotation a no-brainer. The 27-year-old’s control issues make him a WHIP risk and his ERA is a pretty good bet to rise a decent amount in 2018, but he’s going to miss bats. His current ADP of 214.09 in NFBC will be on move.
Speaking of missing bats, Salazar has had no trouble doing that, boasting a career 27.8 percent strikeout rate (including a 33 percent rate last season). The issues with him have been twofold: inconsistency and injury. You never knew whether Salazar was going to go seven scoreless or get knocked out in the second inning and the next ailment always seemed to be around the corner.
The current ailment he’s dealing with is right rotator cuff inflammation, which he had when he showed up to camp. Salazar is long-tossing from 90 feet and is expected to begin throwing off a mound this week, but he just doesn’t have time to get ready for the beginning of the season with Opening Day barely over three weeks away. The 28-year-old’s upside makes him worth stashing on your DL spot if you have room, but it wouldn’t seem to be a given that he immediately slots into the rotation once healthy. Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt are in a battle for the fifth spot.
The Cardinals have made it a habit to sign some of their younger players to contract extensions during spring training. In 2016 it was Kolten Wong. In 2017 it was Carlos Martinez and Stephen Piscotty. This year it’s Paul DeJong’s turn.
St. Louis on Monday announced that they had inked DeJong to a six-year contract extension that includes club options for 2024 and 2025. DeJong will be paid $26 million over the six years and can net a total of $51.5 million if both of the options are picked up. It’s the largest contract ever given to a player with less than a year of service time, topping the $25 million deal Tim Anderson of the White Sox signed last year.
"When [principal owner] Bill [DeWitt], [Michael] Girsch and I were discussing the possibility of doing something like this, one thing that stood out about Paul was his intelligence and his ability to adapt and adjust," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "When you think of it from an organizational standpoint, we want to reward the players who have come up through our system, who have showed those types of traits we think are important to invest in. He brought all that to the table."
DeJong finished runner-up to Cody Bellinger in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 after batting .285/.325/.532 with 25 home runs and 65 RBI across 443 plate appearances with the Cardinals. He belted another 13 dingers during his 190 plate appearances at Triple-A Memphis.
No one questions DeJong’s ability to hit for power. He’s done it at each level, is an extreme flyball hitter and also boasted a nice hard-hit rate last season. The issue is his plate discipline, or lack thereof, as he had a 28 percent strikeout rate and 4.7 percent walk rate with the Cards last season, numbers that largely mirrored what he did in the minors. But, as Mozeliak alluded to, St. Louis is betting on DeJong’s “ability to adapt and adjust.” Time will tell whether their bet pays off.
Quick Hits: According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki are close to finalizing a one-year major league contract … The Diamondbacks are expected to open the season with Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte as their starting middle infield duo, with Chris Owings operating in a super utility role … Corey Seager (elbow) said Monday that he could make his Cactus League debut at shortstop "within the week" … Andrew Heaney struck out five batters over three shutout innings Monday in a Cactus League start against the Reds … Matt Harvey tossed three innings of shutout ball Monday versus the Tigers and was hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun … Michael Fulmer's (elbow) next Grapefruit League start is scheduled for Friday … Ian Happ went 3-for-4 and clubbed his fourth Cactus League home run on Monday … Matt Kemp slugged his third home run of the spring Monday in the Dodgers' Cactus League win over the Indians … Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings and struck out three Monday against the Cardinals … Astros manager A.J. Hinch has named Justin Verlander as the team's Opening Day starter … Ben Gamel is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with an oblique strain … Jim Bowden of The Athletic reports that the Twins and Byron Buxton have mutual interest in a long-term contract extension … The Braves acquired Ryan Schimpf from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash considerations …