pitcher injury risks

March 9, 2011; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) during the first inning of a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

the big news down in jupiter is chris carpenter's neck. chris carpenter has been the jaguar of starting pitchers over the last ten years: temperamental, expensive, often in the shop, but extraordinarily fun to watch when he's at his best.

and while we know almost nothing at this point, the news that he was missing a start and getting checked for a neck problem is concerning to cardinals fans who've grown used to carp's regular needs for medical attention, one which rarely resolve quickly. we can be forgiven for being jumpy.

for all of his injury history, i wasn't initially concerned about his neck problems. as i grow older, i periodically suffer from what i i am terming "old man neck," which usually means i slept funny on my neck and can't quite turn it to its normal angle for a day or so. and the club had already discussed a relaxed spring training schedule for him, so even a minor tweak might give the club an excuse to give carpenter a break.

but carpenter wasn't just taking a rest. he went to get a scan of some sort - probably an mri, since we're talking about soft tissue. then he got a second opinion. so, the minor panic around cardinal nation is understandable. if any serious injury is found, there will be great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

the possible responses of the club to any serious injury could include taking on roy oswalt, letting shelby miller keep going in the spring training rotation, or putting another pitcher in the spring training rotation (lance lynn or kyle mcclellan most likely). roy oswalt would seem to make the most sense if any injury is serious and season-long. if carpenter's injury is less serious or may resolve within a month or so, an internal option would seem preferable. adding lance lynn to the spring training rotation would seem like a low-risk option. if carpenter turns out to be okay, lynn can return to the bullpen.

in a moment of inauspicious timing, jeff gordon declared that adam wainwright is next in line for an extension. unless gordon is talking about offering adam a seriously discounted extension ($10-12m/yr), this proposal sounds horrible.

somehow, gordon manages to acknowledge the similarities between carpenter and wainwright, while suggesting that carpenter is a "bulldog," and adam has learned his bulldoggery from him. chris may be a bulldog, but he's a bulldog with hip dysplasia.

"jeff gordon wrote a terrible article" isn't necessarily news, but it's a tempting story. everybody likes adam. everybody wants him around. i can see people being tempted to buy into this plan.

adam is already under contract through the 2013 season, his age 32 season. he is newly off tj surgery. adam wainwright is a great pitcher, but looking ahead to try to lock down a pitcher at age 33 and 34 seems like a terrible idea. the risk in doing so is so high that it's hard to imagine wainwright accepting a contract sufficiently discounted to account for the risk over the contract term.

while wainwright has not yet achieved a carpenterian acquaintance with the disabled list, he is coming off his second major injury in a five season career - a torn ucl and a torn middle finger flexor tendon. and carpenter is hardly the only pitcher out there to have repeated trips to the disabled list. the roy halladays and sabathias of the world are the exceptions, not the rule. injuries sometimes completely derail the best pitchers (brandon webb) or merely set back their progress for a season or two (johan santana). minimizing the length of contractual commitments is the best way to manage that risk.

and the cardinals are fairly well-positioned to absorb the risk that wainwright takes the big money in 2014. the wealth of pitching prospects in the farm could easily provide us with 2 or 3 starters by 2014. locking us into a long contract, without a discount, seems like a bad deal.

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