Runaway Injury

The 2015 season began with 115 Major League players starting on the disabled list, a new Opening Day record.  The previous Opening Day mark was 110 in 2008.  Included among those injured were some big names such as pitcher Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, catcher Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles, pitcher Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, closer Kenley Jensen of the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitcher Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Heading into Tuesday, a few more players from the American League Central were set to join Verlander on the DL: catcher Yan Gomes of the Cleveland Indians and right fielder Alex Rios of the Kansas City Royals.  Rios, of the 2015 Royals edition of Murderer’s Row, is out indefinitely with a broken hand.  Gomes, the Tribe’s Silver Slugger, is out two months with a sprained MCL.

Although the Indians proved last season they could win without Gomes in the lineup, going 22-11 in games he didn’t start, it could be argued that losing a young catcher hurts much more than an aging outfielder.  A trendy pick to win the World Series, the Indians seem to be suffering early on this season from the Sports Illustrated jinx as Gomes joined fellow teammates Nick Swisher and Gavin Floyd on the DL.  On Tuesday night, their bad luck continued.

The Indians took to the field at home against the Chicago White Sox with both teams starting the season with a disappointing record of 2-4.  To add to the Indians early season misery, outfielder Michael Brantley, who finished third place in last season’s AL MVP voting, was seen from the dugout nursing a lingering back issue.  The good news reported was that Brantley would return by Friday.  The bad news, however, happened two batters into the game.

Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe’s right handed pitcher who just signed a long term extension, left the game after taking a hit to the right side of the face from a ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera.  It was a scary moment, as Carrasco lied face down for a few minutes after the ball ricocheted off him.  Although X-rays were reported to have come back negative, Carrasco could end up needing a lot of time to recover both physically and psychologically.

It’s unfortunate, but the Indians like many other teams will be tested throughout the long season, as injuries happen every year and to every team.  Although the number of injuries seems to be climbing, we’re not here to speculate why – at least not yet.  What these rash amount of injuries will surely expose, however, is the lack of organizational depth of the 30 teams in the modern baseball age.  And indeed the talent is spreading quite thin, especially in the American League.  A major injury or two may end up being the difference between a team being playoff bound and a team having a very long winter vacation.

There is less talent to go around because of one simple reason: team expansion.  Since 1993, 100 players have been added to Major League rosters through team expansion.  And with the addition of the Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays, additional minor league rosters have been added and expanded.  This wider net of potential players effectively thins the entire talent pool.

On the face of it, everyone’s a winner with team expansion.  MLB gets greater market share.  Fans get more teams.  More players get higher paychecks.  More personnel, including scouts as well as the vendors selling beer and cotton candy, get hired to help the new organizations.  Indeed, MLB profits are at an all time high, $9 billion in 2014.

Yet, imagine if there were still only 26 Major League teams.  You could take the four worst players off your favorite team and replace them with four better players, including one who would be a mid to front line starter or a starting positional player.  While you’re imagining, take either Troy Tulowitski, Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt or Evan Longoria and put them in your favorite team’s lineup.  Looks a whole lot better, huh?

The fact of the matter is, money talks.  Every major MLB structural change, including expansion, adding the first and second Wild Card to the playoffs, interleague play, even the new rules to speed the pace of play, were designed to get more butts in the seats.  Too bad the folks in those seats will be treated to more mediocre play so early in the season.

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