Major League Baseball teams generally concern themselves with potential injuries around spring time, fearing the potential late time crunch of having to replace a key player in an awkward time between free agent and trade season. Many more teams, however, also have one eye towards the future, which could include the return of a key player or players, essentially adding a free difference maker in the process of a grueling 162 game schedule often times leading to a change in a team’s overall fortune.
Here we outline the biggest potential players in the NL who could return to help their teams to the next level sometime after Opening Day.
Jung Ho Kang -Pirates
There was a certain element missing from Pittsburgh when its rookie phenom, Jung Ho Kang, went down with a leg injury following a collision at second base. Kang, now the team’s third baseman, is now 28-years-old and hit .287/.355/.816 with 15 HR and 58 RBI in 126 games a year ago. Pittsburgh did very little to retool and improve a team who won 98 games last season and still couldn’t win the NL Central.
Likely another year of contending with St. Louis and Chicago will take place in 2016, with both teams having made improvements over the winter. For the Pirates, a healthy return from Kang could make a major difference for the Pittsburgh offense and by proxy, the entire team’s fortunes. Kang’s return date is not yet known but he has been ruled out for Opening Day.
Homer Bailey – Reds
The Reds are in rebuilding mode but Homer Bailey is a big enough asset where his presence can still help the team down the stretch. Bailey is two years removed from a 3.71 ERA in 145.2 innings, the third consecutive year of a sub 4 ERA in a hitter’s park. At 29-years-old now and recovering from Tommy John Surgery, a healthy Bailey could eventually become a trade asset or still young enough to pitch in the middle of a rebuilt rotation in a couple of years for the Reds. Bailey is not expected back until sometime in May or beyond and may not gain his full stamina until the end of the 2016 campaign. Nevertheless, his return indicates options for Cincinnati, something it is running out of as it tries to gather more assets for the future.
Adam Ottavino – Rockies
Ottavino looked poised to make the jump from very solid reliever in a heavy hitter’s park to breakout candidate when he pitched 10.1 shutout innings in 2015 for the Rockies. It’s a popular sentiment with rebuilding teams (and the Rockies are definitely that as a candidate for last place in the NL West) to trade elite relievers for veterans. Ottavino will return to the closer’s role eventually, possibly not until 2017, but should still return to relief this season.
The 30-year-old is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be ready until sometime in May at the earliest. Once healthy and effective, Ottavino would make an excellent trade piece to a contender for the Rockies, his return potentially impacting Colorado and another team somewhere in the majors.