How is it possible that so many impact players have suffered significant injuries less than four weeks into the season? While it’s commendable that the Red Sox have put together a 13-10 record in spite of all this attrition, it’s impossible to get excited about a team who seems to lose at least one crucial player due to injury every series. Worse yet, I’m starting to believe that there may be something more to all these strains and tweaks than meets the eye. The continually mounting Red Sox injuries feel too coincidental to me.

I’m not the conspiracy theorist that some of my Bleacher Brawls brethren are. I’m a straightforward guy who tends to believe what I see and hear, and I’m usually the first one to roll my eyes when somebody attributes a catastrophic event to aliens, the Illuminati, Skull & Bones, or any other shadowy group whose massive influence (or basic existence) has never been proven. And no, I’m not about to blame the epidemic of MLB injuries over the past decade on the CIA or Bigfoot.

The Odds

Injuries have happened with increasing frequency in MLB over the past couple decades. Athletes have gotten healthier, leaner, and more jacked. As their training regimens have become more focused and intense, the bodies of MLB players seem to have become more brittle and susceptible to sprains, pulls, and tears. The rationale behind players getting hurt so often these days seems quite basic. They train harder now than ever before, and they do it all year long. Why wouldn’t the increased strain and workload result in more injuries?

Even with injuries dialed up leaguewide these days, it still doesn’t explain why the Red Sox have been victimized so much more by the injury bug than your average team. Lucas Giolito, Vaughn Grissom, Trevor Story, Rafael Devers, Tyler O’Neill, Kenley Jansen, Nick Pivetta, Chris Martin, Garrett Whitlock, Isaiah Campbell, Chris Martin, Romy Gonzalez, and now Triston freaking Casas have all either hit the Injured List or seen their performance and/or participation limited by injuries in 2024 … all by April 23rd.

Yes, athletic training for professional athletes is now a year-long enterprise. Yes, MLB players swing, throw, and run harder than ever before. Yes, many of the recovery products that used to help keep these athletes up and running all season are no longer legal. But having 3/5s of your projected starting rotation, 4/4ths of your projected starting infield, your closer, and more either hampered or unavailable due to injury at this point in the season? That feels like a bit more than a dose of bad luck served up by the baseball gods.

It leads me to wonder if these Red Sox injuries are not just a coincidence, but a measured retaliatory response taken by players who feel marginalized by an organization who refused to invest in them prior to this season.

The Grievance

Fenway Sports Group has made no secret of their objective to build a homegrown competitor from within the team’s farm system while avoiding expensive contracts, regardless of how poorly that lack of investment reflects on the team’s performance in the short-term. While that’s a sound strategy for laying the groundwork for a sustainable winner whose window for contention will not be open for a couple years, it is likely a demoralizing state of affairs for the players on the current roster, some of whom chose to join the Red Sox because of the team’s winning tradition and assurances that the team would make every effort to compete in 2024.

Very few players in the Red Sox organization have the experience, respect, and cache among their teammates and the MLB community at large to speak out, either privately or publicly, about the organization’s failure to build a competitive roster over the last few years. Aging veterans like Chris Martin and Kenley Jansen seek one more ride to championship glory and have little interest in participating in a rebuilding effort. Franchise player Rafael Devers doesn’t want to waste a few more years of his prime waiting for minor leaguers in Portland to gradually climb the ladder and blossom into the quality teammates he needs to help the Sox raise another banner.

Each of these players have voiced their disapproval of the current direction of the team, either behind closed doors or in public. Jansen feels he was duped when he was recruited to Boston prior to last season, Devers has repeatedly groaned about obvious team needs that the front office has ignored, and sources have revealed that even the soft-spoken Martin griped to teammates about the team’s lack of impact moves after the 2023 trade deadline. On a young team featuring very few players with extensive service time, the near-universal displeasure among veterans regarding Boston’s build-from-within philosophy is alarming.

This is nothing new either. Veteran cornerstones J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Nathan Eovaldi were all noticeably stoic as their Red Sox tenures wore down, with bad vibes rippling across the clubhouse and throughout the fanbase. Apparently unfazed by the consternation in the locker room and bleachers alike, FSG has maintained its largely unpopular course.

Dejection has been rampant among Red Sox players and fans since early 2022.

In an environment where their pleas for support remain unheard, what recourse do players under contract really have?

Which brings us back to the question that opened this column.

How is it possible that so many impact players have suffered significant injuries less than four weeks into the season?

Does this mountain of Red Sox injuries feel too coincidental to anybody else?

The “Coincidences”

Am I suggesting that the Red Sox are manufacturing phantom injuries to send a message to the front office? Of course not. I am, however, positing the theory that perhaps Red Sox players have come to an agreement amongst themselves. Perhaps the squad has decided to take the same uber-conservative approach on the field as management has taken in the front office.

“If they’re not gonna risk a financial investment in quality teammates for us, why should we risk serious injury by playing through any bumps and bruises for them?”

Rafael Devers has played in at least 141 games in every non-Covid year since 2019. Yet he has already battled a sprained left shoulder and a mysterious knee issue this season, missing 11 of Boston’s 24 games. Moreover, he has been steadfast in his determination to not return to the field too soon from his latest ailment. He complained of considerable discomfort in his knee last Wednesday against Cleveland (where he acted as the DH and went 0-4 with three strikeouts). In response, the Red Sox ordered an MRI of the knee in order to get “peace of mind” for their $331 million third baseman. The scan came back negative, but the entire ordeal conjures alarming memories of the infamous double-knee MRI that Manny Ramirez underwent at the conclusion of the “Manny-Being-Manny” era in 2008.

Kenley Jansen is no stranger to ailments, from migraines to atrial fibrillation to Covid to back spasms to hamstring pulls. However, this season’s back issues began before his spring even got underway. Up until the save he nailed down this past Saturday in Pittsburgh, Jansen hadn’t looked himself all season. His control and command have been erratic, his velocity has been down, his walks have skyrocketed, and he was unavailable to close out the third game of the season in Seattle after waking up with an achy back. Boston lost that game 4-3 after Joely Rodriguez blew a save opportunity in the 10th … a save opportunity that would have gone to Jansen had he been available to pitch.

Jansen was the most vocal player in the clubhouse regarding his disappointment with the construction of the Red Sox roster prior to the start of 2024. And in Boston’s second save opportunity of the year, he wasn’t there when his team needed him.

Chris Martin’s alleged displeasure with the direction of the team was never made public, but it was heavily alluded to in rumors last August. His only physical issue this season has been a sore left shoulder (Martin is righthanded), and he only missed one game due to the discomfort. Maybe he was genuinely hurt. Then again, maybe his contribution to this theoretical player protest was simply limited by his contract status.

Like Jansen, Martin will be a free agent after 2024. Martin, however, is not a closer with 425 saves under his belt. His chances of landing a nice contract next offseason would be hindered much more than Jansen’s if he were to engage in any type of prolonged outcry against his employers. Could his one-game absence due to a very atypical injury (soreness in his non-throwing shoulder) be his small, yet significant token participation in this locker room uprising?

There are only three accomplished veterans on the active Red Sox roster with any semblance of “star power.” All three have voiced their frustration at management’s lack of acquisitions and, a mere 24 games into the season, all three have missed time.

In a vacuum, I would never jump to conclusions and assume that these injuries are the result of an informal player protest. But this is far from a vacuum.

Tyler O’Neill, another veteran, initially cleared concussion protocol shortly after his forehead was busted when he collided with Devers on April 15th. However, he still missed the next two games before being placed on the seven-day IL with, that’s right, a concussion.

The odd coincidences seem to be adding up.

The Message

Devers, Jansen, and Martin have all been technically active all season, and O’Neill is expected to be back in action Tuesday in Cleveland. For a group of essential players who have not been diagnosed with serious injuries, they sure have missed a lot of games on this young season where the Red Sox have desperately needed all hands on deck. Sure, players need days off throughout the year to heal minor bumps and bruises and manage their workload. But when so many important players are laid up right out of the gate, it’s up to the experienced vets to nut up and take one for the team.

None of the other injured Red Sox players have the track record or job security to take a stand against the organization’s refusal to make any needle-moving acquisitions. Call it a coincidence if you want, but all of the guys who do have that kind of juice have missed games with afflictions that weren’t serious enough to land them on the Injured List. I have no doubt that Devers, Jansen, Martin, and O’Neill have been legitimately hurt, if not injured, during the games they have missed in 2024. But with each passing injury, I’ve found myself thinking more and more that some (or all) of them are trying to send a message to management by missing all these games.

That message? “If you won’t go all out for us, we won’t go all out for you.”

There may be a price (beyond their salaries) associated with getting these crucial players in the right mindset to play hurt and hold the line all year. That price may be a trade for an experienced shortstop who can actually play the position (Paul deJong, Amed Rosario) or a starting pitcher who can add depth to a starting rotation that’s already banged up (Martin Perez, Alex Wood). Not a big, splashy move that will reverberate around the league. But a telltale symbol that the front office understands the plight of these players and is willing to give them the tools they need to do their job.

In other words, if Craig Breslow wants the elder statesmen to buy into this team’s philosophy, he may have to throw them a bone.

The Road Ahead

This is about as tinfoil hat as I get. I admit that this conspiracy theory has more holes than the plot of a Michael Bay movie. But you can only watch so many of your team’s critical players go down one after another before you wonder if something fishy is going on. Watching your team submit a lineup card with a top four of Cedanne Rafaela, Jarren Duran, Rob Refsnyder, and Wilyer Abreu will make your mind do somersaults.

All things considered, Alex Cora and Andrew Bailey have done a remarkable job of leading this team to a 13-10 record in spite of all these injuries. A weak schedule has contributed heavily to this early “success” though, as the Red Sox have been knocked around pretty badly by Baltimore and Cleveland, the only two quality teams they’ve played thus far. The schedule is about to get much harder though, with series versus the Guardians, Cubs, Giants, Twins, and Braves coming up.

Devers and O’Neill rejoining the team in Cleveland should be a big lift, but what kind of shape are they in? If they’re healthy, how hard are they willing to work? Because even if the starting pitchers continue to roll, you can’t win if you can’t score. With Triston Casas on the shelf long-term, Vaughn Grissom still ramping up for the season, and a parade of opponents with good pitching on tap, the Red Sox are in desperate need of reinforcements who are ready to play ball.

By Luke

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