Last March, Eduardo Rodriguez hurt his knee. It wasn’t made out to be a huge deal at the time, but it quickly evolved into an injury saga that threatened Rodriguez’ entire season. First he was set for an early-season return, then that schedule was pushed back as Rodriguez struggled in his rehab outings. Then suddenly he was back in Fenway...but only because the Red Sox were so desperate for pitching that they were willing to gamble he was ready. He was not, and would not be until July.
So, when Nick Cafardo breaks the news that Rodriguez has suffered a minor injury to that same knee while playing winter ball in Venezuela, it’s understandable that local fans and media are not unanimous in displaying their chill. In other words: oh God they’ve broken E-Rod and we’re all going to die.
Alright, a few deep breaths should probably be enough to fight off the initial wave of terror. But it’s certainly not good news for Rodriguez. Not necessarily because of what it means for the immediate future—the 2017 campaign is distant enough that even if he suffered the same injury as last March, Rodriguez would be on track to return right around the beginning of the season. Instead, it’s the potential long-term implications that make this particularly scary.
I’ll preface this by saying that, at the moment, all of this is simply what might be rather than what is. Two incidents with the same knee, while concerning, could still just be coincidence. But right now it’s hard not to be concerned that it’s something more. That Rodriguez has, excepting a bit of hamstring tightness in August, had two injuries in his, both involving the one knee, certainly qualifies as a red flag.
And hopefully it’s one the Red Sox will pay attention to going forward. If, indeed, that knee is a potential problem going forward, then this is the time where it’s going to be at its most vulnerable. Rodriguez is a young pitcher who is still getting used to the physical demands of pitching a full season. And while he didn’t actually manage that last year, the time he actually spent off the mound was mostly limited to March. He had something approaching a full season, which is why I am not at all the first person to wonder why he really needed to be pitching in Venezuela in the first place. And also if perhaps the upcoming World Baseball Classic is perhaps not the best of ideas.
Like most teams, I’m sure the Red Sox would prefer their players opt out of the WBC in general. After all, it’s the one time in the baseball schedule where players are asked to put their full effort into anything that is not controlled by their MLB team and aimed towards furthering that team’s goals. Aside from a select few occasions (mostly to do with service time), a player and a team’s goals will be directly aligned. If the player performs well, that helps the team perform well, and helps the player make more money down the line (to say nothing of personal career goals). The WBC throws a wrench in that.
But, inconvenient though it might be, players are, in fact, people too. They get to make their own decisions, and that includes playing in the WBC. All the Red Sox can really do is express their concern and hope he chooses to skip it.
For Rodriguez, that would probably be a tough pill to swallow, but the reality is that it’s not just about a business (which the Red Sox are) trying to protect its assets. There’s every reason to believe that skipping the WBC is not just the right decision for the Red Sox’ sake, but for Rodriguez’ as well. This is a young pitcher on the threshold of what could be a very successful career, but he’s still yet to reach the point where it really pays off. A few years from now, when the next WBC rolls around, he might have a completely clean bill of health behind him. Certainly he’ll at least be in a position where he’ll be better-equipped to deal with the stress of a few extra high-leverage innings tacked on to the beginning of the season.
Here, though, and now, it’s hard to imagine a more dangerous time to step up to the mound for Venezuela. Rodriguez’ youth and relative inexperience carry so much risk, and he’s at the point in his career where he has so much to lose, that for everyone’s sake I’d hope he decides that 2020 will be soon enough.