Matthew Leach, of Cardinals.MLB.com, reports St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (elbow) will not undergo Tommy John surgery until it is necessary, according to team physician George Paletta. Pujols has a high-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow as well as bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint. The ligament condition has not appreciably worsened since the initial 2003 injury, but the surrounding issues have become somewhat more pronounced over the same span. The team wants the ligament to completely tear before doing the surgery. Pujols has expressed optimism that he will be able to manage the condition during the season, but if the pain is worse than it was last season, he has said he would shut it down rather than play through the pain. Paletta said Pujols could play his entire career without undergoing the reconstructive surgery.
Last season Pujols saw many of his offensive statistics decline, which was likely due to the elbow injury he is fighting now. He was able to play 158 games in 2007 despite the injury. He finished the season with a .327 batting average, 32 home runs and 103 RBIs. His home run and RBI totals were the lowest of his career. Despite the drop in several of his key stats, he still ranked in the top 10 in all offensive categories, including batting average for all first basemen.
From a fantasy perspective, Pujols' value will be affected because of the uncertainty regarding his health. The plan for Pujols is not to undergo the surgery until it is necessary, but the problem is that he might need it during the season. Pujols may decide to undergo the surgery based on the pain level he feels and the possibility of a down season for the Cardinals. With this injury news, owners will likely see Pujols slip into the second round, if not later, in drafts. While he is still a risk, it could be a good one to take in the second round, although owners must remain skeptical. This is not the kind of risk that should not be taken in the first round because there are plenty of other players that can be counted on for a productive season.
If Pujols goes down during the season, the player who will likely take his place is outfielder Chris Duncan. Duncan will likely be starting for the team in the outfield, so he will likely be taken in some drafts. Pujols owners should keep an eye on his availability just in case they need a first baseman. They should also look to draft a reliable backup first baseman with solid upside. If Duncan ends up having to move to first base, it would increase the value of other Cardinals outfielders, the most intriguing of which is the team's top prospect, Colby Rasmus.
About Tim Piotrowski
Piotrowski has been a Hot Off the Wire analyst since 2007.
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