Sunday, February 25

Jacob deGrom injury: Fantasy baseball draft impact, late-round and waiver-wire replacements, more

One of the biggest questions Fantasy Baseball players had entering Spring Training in 2022 was whether Jacob deGrom’s elbow was healthy after last year’s injury-plagued season. He looked excellent through his first two spring starts, but that’s all we’re going to see from him for a while, though not because of the elbow. The Mets announced Friday that deGrom will miss the start of the season due to a stress reaction in his right scapula. 

The scapula is the big shoulder bone in the back, and the injury was revealed after deGrom complained of tightness while playing catch in recent days. Imaging revealed the injury, and while there is no ligament or muscular damage, deGrom will be shut down from throwing for four weeks, the team announced. At that point, the injury will be re-evaluated before determining the whether he will be cleared to begin throwing.  

This is a huge blow for anyone who already drafted deGrom, obviously, especially since his price has been rising lately. In NFC drafts from March 23-31, deGrom’s ADP was 12.51, as the No. 3 SP off the board, and he had gone as high as No. 1 overall in at least one draft. That came after deGrom struck out 10 with no walks in five innings over his two spring outings. Of course, it’s a big blow even if you didn’t spend a first-round pick on deGrom, given that he has been a late second-rounder in most leagues all draft season. 

If you’re in that position, there’s no replacing deGrom, obviously, but you’ll need someone to slide into your lineup. The likes of Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber, Cristian Javier, Elieser Hernandez, Andrew Heaney, and Marco Gonzales should be steady contributors early in the season, and you can throw Tylor Megill into that discussion, too — he had a 4.52 ERA in 89.2 innings for the Mets last season but showed some promise with a 9.9 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 if he can keep the homers in check. Those pitchers are all widely available in many leagues, though there probably isn’t a ton of upside among that group. Which is to say, while they can be worth a spot on your roster, they probably won’t help you make up for what you’re missing from deGrom. 

Which is why you might be looking for more upside, which probably means trying to find some young pitcher with breakout potential, and luckily there’s no shortage of those available in the later rounds these days. Among pitchers with an ADP past 300, here are five I’m looking at for upside who might be available in your league: Mackenzie Gore, Hunter Greene, Mitch Keller, Reid Detmers, Nick Lodolo. I would prioritize them in that order, but all five are worth stashing in a standard 12-team league if you’re looking for upside. 

But what about those of you who still have drafts to come over the next six days? How should you handle deGrom? 

It’s a tough situation, and the nightmare scenario where deGrom just doesn’t give you much of anything this season is certainly on the table. You can take him and stash him in an IL spot with the hopes he comes back, but where you are willing to take that chance comes down to your personal level of risk tolerance.

I’m dropping deGrom down to the 200 range in my overall rankings, and I get the feeling that means I won’t end up with deGrom on any of my late drafting teams. Someone else might be willing to take the chance earlier, and I can’t necessarily say that’s the wrong move — once you get to the 150 range in drafts, you’re talking about guys like Mike Clevinger, Ranger Suarez, Chris Sale or Sonny Gray, who all have question marks of their own without anything like deGrom’s potential reward. 

However, the risks with deGrom are even greater now. The earliest he might even start throwing again is the beginning of May at this point, and he would likely need a month to get up to speed, which puts a June debut on the table as a seeming absolute best-case scenario. But you can’t just assume the best-case scenario, especially not with an injury like this that doesn’t necessarily have a specific timetable for healing. Any kind of setback could restart the whole clock, after all.

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And that’s without taking into account the existing injury risk he carries, which is obviously still there – if not heightened. deGrom couldn’t make it through two abbreviated starts without suffering an injury, and it seems fair to wonder if his existing issues led to the present injury. Either way, now he has to shut down for at least a month, if not longer, and then restart the whole process of getting ready for the season, during which he’ll have to avoid injury again.

It puts a real damper on deGrom’s value this season. He could still come back sometime in June and then stay healthy and make a huge impact, but you certainly can’t count on that now that we’ve already seen things go wrong for him. deGrom still needs to be drafted, and maybe someone in your league will view him similarly to how I’m viewing Fernando Tatis, who I’m willing to take with a pick right around 100 overall for the upside. But pitchers and hitters are very different, and the risks associated with deGrom’s injury and recovery are much different than those with Tatis. 

This is the last thing we wanted to see happen in the leadup to the last draft weekend of the season, but it was always the risk with someone like deGrom this spring given his recent injury history. I’m hoping he can get past this quickly and get back to dominating, but at this point, I’m re-setting expectations very low. 

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