Detroit – Talk about a rock and a hard place.
First baseman C.J. Cron, in a one-year deal with the Tigers, knows that surgery to repair ligament damage in his left knee is inevitable. And, in his experience, recovery time for a surgery like this (he had one on his right knee) could sideline him for six to eight months.
So, what do you do? Try to come back and play for as long as the knee will hold out to finish what he’s started here in Detroit and build whatever leverage you can for the next contract – which would mean putting the surgery off to a date where next spring training would be in jeopardy?
Or, have the surgery now and go onto the free agent market at age 31 having played just 13 games in 2020?
“It’s pretty brutal,” Cron said in a Zoom video chat Wednesday. “There are so many unknowns and so much going on right now. It’s still early in the process and we don’t really know. Let’s just see how it responds.”
One of the ligaments that stabilizes Cron’s left knee gave out Monday in the fourth inning as he was trying to field a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Danny Mendick.
“I don’t think the ball hit me, not on the knee,” he said. “When I came down, I was shuffling off the base and the ball got on me quicker than I expected, something happened and my knee gave out. It was a non-contact injury. It sucks for sure.”
Cron said he will remain in a brace for a few more days before having the stability of the knee re-tested.
“I think with the injuries I’ve had, this one is definitely the most uncertain,” Cron said. “The way the knee buckled, it’s tough to say how it’s going to respond. It’s tough to say how stable it’s going to be moving forward.
“There is no legitimate timetable.”
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Surgery, Cron said, has been and is being discussed.
“When it’s going to happen is the big question,” he said. “We are going to do the best we can to give enough support to maybe finish the year. But something is going to have to be done eventually, from the opinions I’ve been getting so far.
“Still, things can change. Right now the main focus is trying to get the swelling down, stabilize it a little bit and see what happens.”
Given what Cron said, though, trying to play on the knee will be risky. There’s no certainty it will hold up without surgical repair.
“The kneecap is just floating around,” he said. “It could pop out at any time. If we do this (try to play), we have to be super smart about taping it and bracing it and trying to keep the kneecap as stable as possible.
“But these are just things going through my head right now. Nothing is set in stone. As we go along we will know more.”
Cron, along with Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin and Ivan Nova, have provided a veteran presence that has helped fuel the Tigers’ 9-6 start. And Cron’s power bat in the middle of the lineup was at the center of the team’s offensive revival.
“This was really the first time in my career where I was slotted in there every day and playing every day,” Cron said. “I was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them and go through the ebbs and flows of a season being an everyday player.
“To go down like this sucks pretty bad, especially how the boys are playing, We’re playing well, hitting the ball really well and I’m confident they’ll continue to do that. But for me, it’s a tough one for sure.”
Worse, because of COVID-19 protocols, Cron isn’t allowed to be in the dugout for the games nor will he be allowed to rehab at Comerica Park. Once the brace comes off, he will do his rehab work at the Tigers’ alternative site in Toledo.
“I wish it didn’t happen this way, for sure,” he said. “I’ll just have to support the boys the best I can from home on the TV.”
Cron’s one-year deal was for $6.1 million, but with the truncated season, he will earn $2.259 million. If ever there was a player the Tigers might consider re-upping with, once the medical issues are resolved, it would be Cron. He seemed a perfect fit and the Tigers still don’t have a big-league ready first baseman in their system.
“This was nice, for sure,” Cron said of his fit with the Tigers. “Hopefully next year, or the rest of this year can be the same.”