When there is real news in Spring Training, it's usually bad. The Dodger news of the weekend ( and the new week ) is that Russell Martin is expected to be out for four to six weeks with a strained adductor, otherwise knowns as a groin strain. Given that timetable, our young catcher in search of baseball redemption would miss opening day and opening week, at least. Given that he would probably need a rehab assignment, the whole month of April might be lost.
But I wonder if it might be more. Could this be the middle of the end for Russell Martin as a Dodger? I don't really believe that it is, and yet, my thoughts do go there. This is the sort of pessimistic speculation that is sure to infuriate some people. I think it would infuriate me if I had not heard it from the dire whispering of my own thoughts.
The beginning of the end for Russell Martin as a Dodger, if there is an ongoing end to be spoken of, and I really hope there isn't, would have come in 2008, when his offensive statistics began their decline. He was still good that year, very good offensively for a catcher, even, and he was a deserving all star selection that year, and yet -- it seemed like he could have done better. I thought he would be better in 2009, or at least not worse, and Martin talked about a renewed focus and dedication that spring, but instead he slumped to offensively average at best for a catcher that year. By his standards it was a genuinely bad year. That year was when a lot of Dodger fans began to question the previously unshakable assumption that Martin was the catcher of the future, a long term fixture as Dodger catcher, as long as we didn't lose him to free agency. But if 2009 was the new normal, then maybe we would want him to leave in free agency? What a horrible thought, and yet also true to being a fan. We love you if you are good.
And now, the groin strain. The middle of the end, maybe. This is the kind of injury that can linger. Isn't it? I am not Will Carroll, injury expert, so what I say here is based on feel, on half-memories, perhaps false memories. This seems like the kind of injury that might keep a player always two weeks from recovery. There's not that much wrong at any one time, but something small keeps going wrong. Remember Rafael Furcal's back injury in 2008? I worry that it might be like that. Setbacks, false recoverings, and then revelation that the injury was more extensive than thought. New timetables. Polite yet frustrated quotes from management. Do you have to, do you have to let it linger? There is no reason to think it will go like this, though! Except, maybe Martin will push it. We know how he is. Wanting to play everyday. Wanting to push through pain and slumps and common sense. He's already talking about it. Martin: "My goal is to not miss one game ... They gave me a time frame. If I keep bugging them, maybe then I'll get it down." Nooooooo! You have to get it completely healed! But wait, there's more: "Odds are it won't work. You'd rather be safe than sorry. One thing I have to understand, even though I don't like it, it's what I have to do." That's better. It's clear he gets this, in his head. But will he take it to heart?
Maybe the bigger point here is that this is something else Martin has to fight. He has to fight his slump of last year, and now on top of that he has this injury. But is a slump something you fight? Maybe it's better if he just focuses on being healthy. Maybe this injury could work to his advantage, in the long run. The pressure isn't on to perform anymore, it's simply to get healthy.
There is more. This injury is not only a potential blow against the Dodger career of Martin, but against the Dodger hopes in 2010. In the worst case for 2010 Martin is never able to come back, and Ellis and Ausmus give the Dodger something close to nothing from catcher. Maybe Colletti makes a terrible trade for a veteran "upgrade" catcher at the deadline at the cost of a good young prospect. Maybe Vinny retires in disgust because the catching is so bad!
Yeah, it's easy to overreact. This is one bad thing, maybe a very mild bad thing. If Martin misses one or two weeks, and then comes back at full strength, it barely qualifies as a bad thing. There will be good things that happen too. And more bad things. Expectations are set to be defied. Odds are the odds are wrong. Kemp slumps, Loney breaks out, Manny joins a monastery. It could happen, or something crazier. Even the things we know, we don't really know. People talk about known unknowns, which are the things that you know you don't know, and the unknowns unknowns, which are the things you don't even realize that you don't know, but there are also the unknown knowns, which are the things you think you know but you really don't.
So this injury to Martin is the first entry in the ledger of surprises for 2010. It won't be the last.