APRIL 5: The D-backs announced that Pollock underwent surgery today and had a plate placed at the tip of his right elbow as part of the procedure (links to Twitter). Per the announcement, there is no projected timetable for Pollock’s return.
APRIL 2: There hasn’t been any timeline provided on Pollock’s return, but Pollock himself says he hopes to come back at some point this season, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert writes (Twitter links). Also, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale says Owings will likely start in center field on Opening Day.
APRIL 1: Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock will undergo surgery for a fractured right elbow, the club announced. Pollock suffered the injury sliding into home in tonight’s spring action.
Pollock has emerged as one of the game’s least-known premium performers, and his loss represents an enormous blow to the organization’s hopes to challenge for a division title in 2016. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out, but any significant stretch would be nothing short of devastating for a club that had pushed in its chips but still needed some things to go its way to contend.
The 28-year-old had already dealt with some elbow issues this spring, but seemed to be on track for Opening Day. But the injury is all the more concerning given that Pollock missed all of 2010 with a fractured growth plate in the same elbow, back when he was still a rising prospect.
Pollock had a short but highly promising 2014 season, and followed up with an outstanding campaign last year. He ended the season with a .315/.367/.498 slash over 673 plate appearances while contributing twenty home runs and 39 steals. And Pollock also rated as a top-notch defender, making for an overall package — valued last year at 7.4 rWAR and 6.6 fWAR — that is all but impossible to replace, particularly with the season set to begin in a matter of days.
Even as the D-Backs set out to re-make their rotation this winter, they understandably remained entirely unwilling to part with Pollock. Instead, the club explored long-term extension talks before ultimately settling on a two-year, $10.25MM pact. He is still controllable for one more season after that contract concludes.
While the club held onto Pollock, it parted with the emergent Ender Inciarte (and other notable assets) to acquire Shelby Miller. Certainly, Inciarte would be an invaluable depth option to have on hand now, though the club does have interesting youngster in Socrates Brito on hand. He had already challenged for a roster spot and looked to be an option if Yasmany Tomas does not take a step forward, but may need to take on a bigger role while Pollock recovers.
Other options for playing time include young slugger Peter O’Brien and even infielder Chris Owings — who slid into the corner outfield for some action tonight. Utilityman Rickie Weeks and backup catcher/outfielder Chris Herrmann could also help carry the load. Of course, none of those players look like options in center, and Tomas is already stretched in the corner outfield. Presumptive left fielder David Peralta has played in 15 MLB games up the middle over the last two years, though he was almost exclusively a corner option in the minors; he could conceivably take over if the team isn’t confident enough in Brito, or at least make some starts there in some kind of timeshare.
Of course, a veteran addition of some kind can’t be ruled out, and plenty of players could be available as rosters continue to be trimmed. (Veterans in the mold of Sam Fuld and Drew Stubbs come to mind; Alejandro De Aza of the Mets seems at least a hypothetical option, though Arizona may already have pushed its payroll to the max.) Trade efforts at this stage are not terribly likely to result in a high-quality solution, but the right player could at least help hold down the fort while the D-Backs await Pollock’s return.