If it were only that simple...
I'm sure everyone remembers the scene from the movie Major League where Manager Lou Brown is arguing with Owner Rachel Phelps about the clubhouse equipment (or lack thereof). For those of you who didn't have the movie lines instantly pop into your head, here's a little refresher:
Lou Brown: How am I supposed to take care of my players with no hot water and no therapy equipment?
Rachel Phelps: Your players have to get a little tougher. What are they a bunch of pansies?
Lou Brown: Over 162 games and even tough guys get strained, a soar arm or a muscle pull.
We have just barely begun the 162-game journey and many of us fantasy baseball owners are already finding ourselves struggling to keep guys off the Disabled List. I'm sure every fantasy owner would gladly pay Edible Arrangements to deliver an apple a day to their fantasy standouts, if it only meant keeping them off the DL. In the 10-team Percell Fantasy Baseball League, each team is allotted 2 DL spots. Of the 20 spots across the league, 14 are currently filled, with 4-5 injured players occupying active roster spots either due to already full infirmaries or lackadaisical owners.
The Colorado Tumbleweed (my team) have had several toils with injuries this season. Brian Wilson started the season on the DL with an oblique strain, likely caused by having to support camera crews tromping around his beard. Ubaldo Jimenez broke a nail or something along those lines. Matt Holliday had his appendix removed, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke a leg. Too bad no one told him that's just a figure of speech here in America.
Avoiding the injury bug can lead to fantasy greatness. However, its near impossible to do and unfortunately I don't have any magic, avoid-the-DL apples. However, I do offer you the following apples of wisdom on how to prepare for and how to react to if and when (as it will most assuredly happen) one of your starting 9 (or 5 or 17 or whatever your league allows for) pulls up lame.
How to Prepare
Build positional depth on your bench. The size of your bench will obviously depend on your league's roster sizes. Generally you will carry several Starting Pitchers on your bench, especially in leagues that allow you to set your roster daily. This leaves only a few bench spots for position players. The key here is to diversify. Most leagues have 1 or 2 starting Utility slots as well. This should give you 3 or 4 players that should be thought of as reservists to your starting 8 position players. Having a mix of infielders and outfielders here can help you to avoid a panic scenario when an injury strikes. It's also a good idea to target a player that has multiple position eligibility with one of these slots. Omar Infante is such a player that is worth giving a look if he's available in your league.
Keep taps on the free agent wire. Knowing what's available can make the daunting task of finding a replacement player from the available free agents that much easier. If you're playing in a Yahoo! league, utilize the My Watch List function (under My Team) to keep track of available players that pique your interest. Update your list periodically by removing players that have been picked up by other clubs and check the full free agent wire every once in a while. If one of your players get injured, it can be that much less stressful if you already have a few free agents in mind.
Know your league's roster settings. As I mentioned earlier, the Percell Fantasy Baseball League settings are such that each team is allowed 2 DL roster spots. This allows a fantasy owner to place a player on the DL to open up a roster spot without having to drop the injured player. This setting varies from league to league, with some leagues not allowing any DL spots and others allowing as many as 3.
How to React
Remain calm and assess the situation. If you're watching a game and you see one of your starters carted off the field, you won't be able to move that player to your DL right then and there from your smart phone. In most fantasy platforms you can't place a player on the DL until they have been officially placed on the Disabled List by their real baseball team. (Full Yahoo! DL status rules here) That's probably good though because you don't want to be making too many roster moves while you're still in an emotional unstable state. You need to take deep breaths and start gathering information.
If you're prepared (see above apples), hopefully you have depth at that position, and if not you should have a few free agents in mind. The main thing you need to find out at this point is the expected time line of the injury. In this day and age, it's not hard to get bombarded by information, but the best source is usually the local newspaper beat writer of the team of the injured player - that is, if that team's trainer doesn't happen to be on Twitter. Having good information about your injured player will help you to make informed roster decisions.
Make a roster move (or not). Once your injured player is eligible to be placed on the DL, hopefully you have already decided what move you need to make. If you had position depth and were able to fill the void from your bench, this maybe an opportunity to pick up a free agent of another position that you've been eying.
In the case of Matt Holliday's appendectomy, the St. Louis Cardinals chose not to place him on the DL, thus I was not able to place him on my DL to open a roster spot. Major League teams will only forgo placing a player on the DL if they expect that player to be back within 15 days and the ailment is fairly minor. In the case of a premier player such as Holliday, simply relegate the injured player to the bench during the down time. However, if it's one of your bench players that will be out a week or so, you might consider giving another free agent a whirl, at the risk of the dropped player being picked up off waivers by another owner.
Should you be unfortunate enough to have more players on the DL than your league allots you DL roster spots, you have some tough decisions to make. This is where having information about time lines is imperative. You need to weigh the cost of getting no value out of a roster spot for an extended period of time vs. the value that that player might bring to you after returning from the DL.
For example, when Nishioka hurt his leg, at the time, I had Ubaldo on my DL, who was expected to be out a week or two, as well as Stephen Strasburg. I chose to drop him. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks, and even then it may take him a little while to get back in the swing of things, not to mention that he was an unknown commodity to begin with. (Ubaldo is slated to return on April 17th or 18th, for those Rockies fans out there)
Consider your trade options. Don't overlook the possibility of striking up trade talks with fellow owners should you find yourself in need of filling a void caused by injury. Although working out a deal can sometimes be difficult, this is certainly an option worth investigating, especially if your positional bench depth didn't align with the injured player's position.
One last thing to keep in mind, there's no telling what kind of fireworks a player might be capable after coming off an injury. While he could struggle to regain his form, he just might knock the cover of the ball and play lights out.