Schilling's Shoulder

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Curt Schilling is injured. Seriously enough to jeopardize this season, if not his remaining career. If you haven’t heard, let the lovely and talented and hopefully single Amalie Benjamin bring you up to speed.

Following the predictable media frenzy of speculation, the pitcher himself spoke directly on the subject late today.

In his missive, Schilling denies that he has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and that rotator cuff surgery had been recommended. He acknowledges, however, that there were differences of opinion regarding potential solutions. Which is, as Curt himself wrote, far from atypical. But the assumption is that Morgan – the surgeon in whom Schilling has the most confidence – recommended surgery.

While the media reactions have been preoccupied with the disconnects between the pitcher and the club, I frankly find that subject spectacularly uninteresting. Consider me not shocked that the player and the club might have different motivations, goals, concerns and responsibilities in this situation. Nor do I think speculation as to the actual nature of the injury is a productive line of discussion, since I’m unqualified to render any meaningful opinion on the subject.

Instead, let’s discuss a few potential outcomes and the resulting impact of those outcomes.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Portion of the Season

The only outcome more unlikely than this is that Schilling misses no time whatsoever, but as Papi, Schilling and others demonstrated last year the wonders of cortisone coupled with a tolerance for pain make some surprising things possible. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Schilling misses the first two months: this, to me, is the best possible scenario for three reasons:

  1. It would provide Buchholz with a rotation opening
  2. It would not require Buchholz to spend the entire season in the rotation
  3. It would mean that Schilling could provide us with 120+ innings of league average better innings in return for the $8M investment

But ultimately I think this scenario unlikely.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Half the Season

This is the Boston Globe’s prediction:

Even without surgery, the 41-year-old Schilling is not expected to be ready to pitch until at least the All-Star break, according to several sources familiar with his condition.

Note particularly the “at least” qualifier in the above.

Half a season or more of downtime would raise more serious rotation questions for the Sox, the biggest of which is this: where are we going to find 150+ ~4 ERA (Schilling was at 3.87 last year) ERA innings? Is Buchholz capable of that? Indeed. But if he gives us 100 innings in the first half plus, he’d have to be used sparingly down the stretch to ensure his availability for any potential playoff appearance. Lest we forget, the Sox are rigid in their innings restrictions for young pitchers, and Buchholz was shut down last year at 146.6 innings for precautionary health reasons.

Rehabilitation is Unsuccessful, Schilling Misses the Season

Depending on the nature of the diagnosis, this scenario may be the most likely. Morgan seems to have felt so, anyway. This, unlike some of the folks who wrote in to ask me about it, is highly problematic for the Red Sox. We didn’t need Schilling to be a 200+ inning workhorse this year, as we do have depth in the rotation with the aforementioned Buchholz and even the forgotten Tavarez, but I think the current roster construction did assume something akin to last year’s injury shortened output.

As Rob Neyer notes, we’re far from sunk if the big righthander misses the ’08 season, but it will require some definite juggling. He speculates that Justin Masterson, a sinkerballer I saw throw in Portland last year, would be in the mix to make up the innings, but most observers – Keith Law among them – are convinced Masterson is likely to be limited to a bullpen role in the context of the major leagues.

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ’08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

The Net?

It’s not terribly surprising given the pitcher’s age and recent injury history, and we’ll be able to deal. And it’s not like we have a choice either way.

As usual, the folks at Surviving Grady have the best take:

we have some options here. One is to run around and scream that the season’s over and we’re toast and we’re never going to find out just why Penny’s dad hates Desmond so much on Lost. Another is to somehow go back in time to just before the Mets landed Santana, and “intercept” them with the help of a few killer robots and some Mafiosa. Yet another is to get Schilling on Roger’s innovative, career-saving vitamin B-12 program, which, as we know, did wonders for the Rocket. The last and most plausible is to explore the free agent market, or promote the newly-bulked Buchholz to the starting rotation.

I don’t watch Lost, so that option’s not available to me, and I’m not a sky-is-falling type anyhow, but I can’t say that I feel good that Theo may be on the phone with Josh Fogg’s agent as we speak.

3 thoughts on “Schilling's Shoulder

  1. Dear Cincinnati,

    You're welcome to him. Any pitcher that allows a 4.23 ERA / .785 OPS in the NL Central is unlikely to fare well in the meat grinder of the AL East.

    We could have used something other than Wily Mo, though.

    Cheers,

    Boston

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