Yesterday’s Ryan Dempster disabled list move really caught folks by surprise, but the Chicago Cubs, who undoubtedly knew there would be a wave of panic washing over the fan base (and, perhaps, prospective trade partners), were prepared with a full explanation.
“We want to nip this in the bud and make sure it doesn’t turn into a strain or anything like that,” Cubs President Theo Epstein told reporters soon after the move was announced. “It’s unfortunate because he was throwing as well as anyone in the game. But he knows his body really well.”
Epstein was essentially saying that the injury isn’t a big deal – it isn’t even “a strain” – all while reminding everyone that Dempster has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. If that wasn’t a meticulously choreographed dance, I don’t know what is.
Dale Sveum sounded a little more somber, but you can understand why he might be a little more upset about losing Dempster for a couple starts than Epstein.
“Unfortunately our best pitcher, if not the best pitcher in baseball right now, comes up a little lame with his lat,” Sveum said. “There’s no timetable. We’re going to make sure that thing is back and ready to go 100 percent by the time he gets back.”
As for Dempster, himself, he was in relatively good spirits about an injury he says he suffered all the way back on June 5 (after which he threw some 15 straight scoreless innings).
“I’m a pretty good judge of my body, so when it tells me I’m ready to go, I’ll go again,” Dempster said before joking that he was just trying to make Orel Hershiser sweat (Hershiser holds the record for the longest scoreless inning streak at 59). Dempster also joked that, if he’s on the trade block, he should have just kept pitching through the injury, and joked that he was going to take the Josh Beckett approach to healing (i.e., playing golf while on the DL). Dempster is obviously frequently jovial, but, even for him, that would be a lot of joking if he had any serious concerns about his lat.
And, so, the conspiracy theory angle – i.e., that the Cubs have a deal largely in place with a team, and they are using the disabled list as stalling tactic (either to protect Dempster, to scout players, or to some other end) – will continue to persist. Dave Kaplan said it pretty explicitly yesterday: “Lat tightness is another term for don’t you dare get hurt while we finalize a trade and your stock is sky high.”
Tangentially addressing that theory, Epstein spoke generally about the interplay between trade talks and injured players. In short, teams tend not to trade guys when they’re on the disabled list.
“Generally, when players have these minor injuries, it’s typical to wait until they come back and re-establish their health before engaging any serious trade talk,” Epstein said.
For what it’s worth, I checked with a source who told me that my thoughts on the subject yesterday were pretty much the gist: Dempster really does have mild lat tightness, and the Cubs want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt in the next couple weeks before the trade market has a chance to really develop as much as it might. The Cubs aren’t concerned that teams will be scared off by this injury, because the Cubs are confident that interested teams know the Cubs are just being overly cautious. After all, Dempster threw how many scoreless innings in a row while pitching through this injury?
Like most things, this isn’t black and white: Dempster isn’t being placed on the DL solely to protect his trade value, and he isn’t being placed on the DL solely because he’s super-badly injured. There are a number of considerations at play, and they logically led to a precautionary DL stint.