Saturday, April 18, 2015

When Good Things Happen
For Bad Reasons:
The Dangerous Springs Of Brendan Ryan

Originally published 4/5/15

By Barry Millman 
Honus Wagner, perhaps the greatest shortstop ever, famously said: "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." 

Yankees backup shortstop Brendan Ryan may do the same thing, but not without a sense of foreboding. 

Simply put, his body is allergic to spring.   

Not in the sneezing, coughing, sniffling sort of way. 

Like sunlight to a vampire, the season is downright dangerous to him. 

In the aftermath of Ryan's loss on the eve of the new season, it may be therapeutic to pause and reflect a moment upon what losing him has meant in the past.

Two things immediately come to my mind. 

The first thing is that, when this happened last time, it wasn't a bad thing. 

A year ago to the day, remember this?
In one fell swoop, two happy outcomes resulted. 

By clearing the way for Solarte on the roster, Ryan's injury made it possible for an undistinguished minor league castoff of two organizations to beat out Nunez in spring training for the last roster spot -- thus pulling the plug at long last on the protracted experiment to make "NunEE" Derek Jeter's replacement, as well as providing the trade chip for Alex Rodriguez's eventual replacement Chase Headley. 

As injuries go, it doesn't get much better than that.

The second thing Ryan's injury brings to mind is the reason he's a Yankee in the first place. 

When all is said and done, he was signed for potentially three years for potentially $10 million to back up a 40-year-old starter for one  year who, as it turns out, stayed healthier than Ryan has. 

Could the Yankees have seen this coming?  

One might say so.  

In 2006 as a Cardinals minor leaguer, Ryan suffered a wrist injury in spring training that wound up shortening his season to 28 games. 

In 2008, Ryan started the season on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain suffered in spring training and then got shipped to the minors for another month of rehabilitation. 

In 2009, Ryan appeared to escape spring unscathed, only to  land on the disabled list at the end of April for 15 days with a left hamstring strain followed by rehabilitation in the minors. 

In the winter of 2010, he underwent surgery to have dead tissue removed from his right wrist, caused him to miss all but the last 10 days of spring training. 

Last spring, he hurt his lower back after only a handful of plate appearances and was shut down until mid-March.  

Then, during warmups preparing to come back and play in a game again, he hurt his upper back and was shut down again, not returning to play in a game until May 7. 

So with two seasons remaining on his deal, Ryan poses  a conundrum. 

On the one hand, his  injuries could continue to be  gifts that keep on giving and infielder Gregorio Petit -- who the Yankees have apparently signed to try out as Ryan's replacement -- becomes this year's Yangervis Solarte.  

On the other hand, it's entirely possible he gets lucky; has back to back healthy seasons and provides the uninterrupted bench support he was signed to provide.

But if the Yankees and Ryan really want to play it safe, for the rest of his career in pinstripes he should just stare out his window until June.