Ã¢â‚¬Å“The importance of the shoulder in hitting is underestimated,” says Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Center, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject. Ã¢â‚¬ÂTrying to re-establish ones mechanics after (shoulder) surgery is a complex process. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s extremely delicate. It involves rebuilding strength, and all that goes into the swing from the front shoulder. It takes perfect mechanics to regain bat speed and the swing path. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes more.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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On Opening Day 2013, Ryan Ludwick was the starting left fielder for the Reds. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d earned the job with a stellar 2012 campaign where he’d hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 home runs. On a head-first slide in the third inning of the first game of the 2013 season, Ludwick tore the labrum of his left shoulder. He needed surgery; estimates placed his return at least three months away. The day after Ludwick’s injury, IÃ‚Â called for a big trade to replace him. Instead, Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson received most of the playing time in left field and Brandon Phillips filled in for Ludwick in the clean-up spot of Dusty BakerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lineup.
Four months later, Ludwick still hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t returned. The Reds were locked in a tight battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central. Instead of acquiring a player to replace Ludwick at the deadline, the Reds were the only team in MLB not to make a trade.
Jocketty explained the lack of action to get another LFÃ‚Â on July 31, Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re waiting to get Ludwick back. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be back in a week to 10 days, two weeks, whatever it is.”
Ryan Ludwick was playing for Louisville at the time. He was navigating the tedious, delicate process described by Dr. ElAttrache and falling short. In 10 games at the AAA level, Ludwick hit .132/.154/.237 with isolated power of .105.
Per Jocketty’s stated plans, Ludwick did return for the Reds on August 12. He played in nearly every game after that, amassing 138 plate appearances. But Ludwick’s struggles at the plate continued. He hit .240/.283/.326. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an isolated power of .085. For context, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s roughly the same power as Zack Cozart and Ramon Santiago had with the Reds last year. The Reds gave ground to the Pirates at the end of the 2013 season, lost home field advantage on the final weekend (Ludwick went 0-for-10 in the series) and were defeated by the Pirates at PNC Park in the Wild Card play-in game.
The Reds hadÃ‚Â waited for Ryan LudwickÃ‚Â and his big bat. The latter never showed up because of the shoulder surgery.
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By July 1, it had become apparent that Joey Votto would miss meaningful stretches of the 2014 season, if not the remainder of the year. It was obvious that he would either require numerous days off, one or two more trips to the DL or a two-month rest. It turned out even worse than that. The Reds needed another first baseman. Everyone knew it.
Yet as John Fay wrote at the time, the Reds had no ready replacement on the roster or in the minors. They could move Todd Frazier to first, but then Ramon SantiagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bat (.196/.274/.214) played every day at third. That was just shuffling Diamond Seats on the deck of the GABP Titanic.
When John Fay asked Walt Jocketty if the Reds had looked at the alternative of bringing in another first baseman via trade, Jocketty said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not really. We got Jack for that. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be back. If we got someone else, that would put us in a bad spot when he came back.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jocketty, of course, was talking about Jack Hannahan. As I wrote then, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have all been better off if the Jack in question was Daniels.
Hannahan had torn his labrum back in spring training of 2013 but didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t disclose the injury to the club. He played hurt throughout 2013. Hannahan finally told the club in the offseason that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d sustained the injury and had surgery the week after the season ended, so early October 2013.
According to the team’s general manager, the Reds, for the second year in a row, were waiting for a player to return from major shoulder surgery to slot into an important role for the club.
Jocketty uttered the infamous Ã¢â‚¬Å“We got Jack …Ã¢â‚¬Â line on July 2. Ten days later, the Reds were 51-44 and just 1.5 games out of first place. Jack Hannahan took his first at bat for the Reds on July 27. By the time his first hit came, more than a dozen AB later on August 15, the Reds were below .500 and 6.5 games out.
Like Ryan Ludwick the year before, Jack Hannahan never recovered his swing — because that’s not easy to do coming off shoulder surgery — and finished the season hitting .188/.220/.250.
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One week ago, Walt Jocketty said the Reds are finished adding to the roster, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re done.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But wait, just a minute. What about the outfield? DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the Reds need to bring in at least one more major league outfielder?
Yes, the Reds first-string outfield is set. It starts with a center fielder who is 24 and hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t proven yet that he can hit at the major league level, let alone lead-off the lineup as he will be asked to do. The right fielder is coming off an all-time worst season that included knee surgery. And the left fielder, bless his heart, will turn 38 years old during the season.
That doesn’t sound like a group of players the team should count on to stay healthy and productive all season. Sure, if things go according to plan,Ã‚Â Jesse Winker arrives in 2016.Ã‚Â But what about 2015?Ã‚Â You know, Johnny Cueto and Mike LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s last season with the Reds.Ã‚Â What if Hamilton, Bruce or Byrd gets hurt, or two of them?
Beside those three, here is the list of healthy, major league outfielders on the roster: [crickets]
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s it. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the list.Ã‚Â Two of last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s players are no longer around. Ryan Ludwick took his $4.5 million buyout and left town (his power never did return). The club traded Chris Heisey to the LA Dodgers for a minor league pitcher.
The Reds signed Brennan Boesch, 29, to a minor league deal. But Boesch hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been a productive major league player since 2012. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d lost his job with the Tigers by the end of that season. The Tigers and Yankees cut Boesch in 2013. He flunked two stints with the LA Angels last season. And Boesch is capital-D dreadful on defense.
Jason Bourgeois, 33, struggled at the plate with the Reds last September. You could say the awful K% and BB% are irrelevant due to the small sample size. Or you could say they were indications that at age 32, Bourgeois, who was mostly a minor league player even in his prime, has become overmatched at the plate at the major league level.
In 113 major league plate appearances, Donald Lutz has hit .211/.239/.284. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s with 33 strikeouts, four walks and one home run. He hit .236 in AAA last year.
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Skip Schumaker was the Reds fifth OF last season and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be 35 years old on Opening Day.
Bracket off for a moment that, even when healthy, Schumaker is a negative-WAR player. He hit .235/.287/.308 last year and was a nightmare in the field wherever he was assigned by Bryan Price. Schumaker is skidding down the free fall segment of his aging curve. He hit the DL twice last season, playing only 83 games. But as hard as it might be, ignore all that for now.
Skip Schumaker isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t healthy. In mid-September, he had (drumroll, please) labrum surgery.
Apparently, for the third season in a row, the Reds are counting on a player coming off major shoulder surgery to fill an important role. Right now, Schumaker isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the Reds fifth OF, they seem to expect him to be the fourth.
But Skip Schumaker isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t coming back from his surgery until June, at best. At age 35, recovery could easily take longer or not be successful. And, if the cases of Ludwick, Hannahan (and throw in Scott Rolen for good measure) are any indication, the odds are against Schumaker regaining his swing. His swing that isn’t any good any how.
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For the Reds to count on Skip Schumaker is repeating mistakes of the previous two seasons. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
Surely the Reds really aren’t done adding players. They did talk to Dayan Viciedo. When they get an up-close look at their collection of misfit outfield toys in Goodyear, they’ll troll through the pool of remaining free agents and other teams’ discards. Because as is, they don’t have a single credible backup for an already-shaky starting outfield.
If they don’t make another move, I may need a shoulder, fit or otherwise, to cry on.