Injured players and changing expectations

Eric Byrnes has been a 20 HR, 50 SB fantasy star in the past.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I say this every fantasy preseason, no matter the sport, but it's worth repeating particularly when talking about fantasy baseball and the marathon 162-game, seven-month season.

Beginning the season healthy is of utmost importance.

How can you expect your players to give you their projected statistics if they start the year nicked up or injured? Do you expect them to perform at the highest level with limited practice time? Are they going to perform at their peak while playing at 80%?

With that in mind, here is a list of high profile major leaguers who are beginning the season at less than 100%. If you chose to select them in your upcoming draft, be aware that this health issue may last well into the season and lower your expectations.

Eric Byrnes, OF, Arizona - He has been a 20 HR, 50 SB fantasy star in the past, but bad hamstrings slowed him in 2008. He already has reported sore hamstrings in spring training, so I'd shy away from selecting him at this time.

Rich Harden, P Chicago Cubs - He's "probable" to start the season with a slight tear in the right shoulder, but given his past history is he really worth the gamble? Last season was the first time since 2004 that Harden started 25 games or more.

Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston - Berkman has been a workhorse, playing more than 150 games the last three seasons, so I'd still be willing to draft him despite his biceps tendonitis.

Chad Billingsley, P, Los Angeles - Here is one of the problems with a pitching injury. Sometimes the pitcher changes his delivery and hurts another part of the anatomy. Billingsley had offseason surgery to repair a broken leg and now has suffered a groin injury. Did he change his motion to protect his leg and will he have problems all season? If you are in a keeper league he's worth choosing, but I'd be careful if you have him for just 2009.

Johan Santana, P, New York Mets - Santana has made 33-or-more starts and pitched 219-or-more innings in each of the last five seasons. I'm not that concerned about his preseason minor aches and pains and would have no problem making him my No.1 pitcher.

Cole Hamels, P Philadelphia - I'm a little more concerned about Hamels than Santana, because his past history shows he's not as durable as the Mets' ace. You have to be at least a little hesitant to make him your No.1 pitcher and you won't get him if you don't draft him that high.

Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia - Utley seems to be playing well, but I have yet to see him steal a base. He'll still be the top second baseman because of his home run power, but if you take away his double-digit stolen bases, his advantage over Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips and Dustin Pedroia is much smaller.

Troy Glaus, 3B, St. Louis - Glaus quietly had a solid 2008 with 27 HRs and 99 RBIs. But shoulder surgery and a mid-May return are not likely at this point. The Cardinals are giving no timetable for his return. I'd have to stay away at this time.

Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Los Angeles Angels - It's an eye infection and not the knees which kept Guerrero out of the lineup on Saturday. He's not the player he once was, but he's still a solid outfield producer and he could always DH if the knees act up. Pick him where you normally would.

John Lackey, P, Los Angeles Angels - The Angels expects Lackey to return to the mound by early May. I'm sorry, but whenever I hear elbow injury for a pitcher I run away as fast as possible. Lackey is a very risky fantasy option, but is a strong starter if healthy.

Ervin Santana, P Los Angeles Angels - Santana says that his right elbow injury is "progressing nicely and that he shouldn't miss more than a month of action." See comments about Lackey's elbow for my suggestion as to what to do about selecting Ervin Santana.

Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota - He's a great hitter, but his bad back will keep him not only from starting on Opening Day, but even taking batting practice. As much as you would like to have Mauer on your fantasy roster, catching and bad backs are a horrible combination.

Mariano Rivera, P, New York Yankees - The best closer in the history of the game, Rivera is coming off shoulder surgery, but gives every indication that he will be ready to resume his role.

B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay - Upton hopes to return to action by the end of the second week of the season from his offseason shoulder surgery. He's being selected as if he were completely healthy and as if the talent he showed in the postseason is a given for the regular season. That's too high for me.

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