Hall may miss season with torn labrum
Veteran was to be backup catcher for White Sox
TUCSON, Ariz. -- After having X-rays taken of his injured right throwing shoulder Sunday evening, Toby Hall joked with a group of reporters that he was trying for a web gem when diving for a ground ball at first base in the ninth inning of Sunday's Cactus League game at Texas.
Hall's slick defensive maneuver didn't earn him a spot on the ESPN highlight reel, but that oversight was the least of the backup catcher's problems come Monday. According to the initial diagnosis stemming from a morning MRI, Hall suffered a torn labrum and the injury is expected to cost him the entire 2007 season.
Hall came to the White Sox via a two-year, $3.65 million offseason deal as a free agent, with an option for $2.25 million in 2009. But the right-handed-hitting Hall immediately fit with the White Sox, both on and off the field, and figured to get more work than a normal bench player with the plethora of quality left-handed pitchers in the American League Central.
Add in the fact Hall never has been injured during the course of his seven-year career, playing a position that picks up constant bumps and bruises and an occasional home-plate collision, and the 31-year-old's high level of disappointment was easily understandable.
"I'm just really frustrated right now," said Hall, minutes after finding out the news produced by the MRI. "I was going to help this team this year.
"It's one of those things where you really can't put it into words. I knew it hurt, but I've never been hurt, so I had no idea to what extent."
The next step for Hall, as explained by the catcher and general manager Ken Williams, will be for him to leave Arizona within the next day and see Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels' medical director, in Los Angeles. Hall also mentioned there might be a third opinion sought out on the injury in Tampa.
While Williams would not confirm Hall being shut down for the season, he was not optimistic about a healthy contribution from one of his most important offseason additions in the immediate future.
"Well, I'm hearing the MRI wasn't encouraging," said the White Sox general manager before watching his team take on the Giants in Scottsdale. "Certainly, it lends itself to be more pessimistic rather than optimistic, at this point.
"As for all of the details, we're not quite sure what extent the major injury is. It's safe to assume it's going to be a while."
The news was greeted with a level of shock and great disappointment from White Sox veterans such as Mark Buehrle and A.J. Pierzynski, who were getting their daily work done back in Tucson. Pierzynski actually knew Hall before he signed with the White Sox, through their mutual friendship with Aaron Rowand.
Pierzynski spoke of Hall's great clubhouse fit and echoed a basic sentiment he mentioned back in late February, defining Spring Training's primary goal as leaving Arizona healthy and prepared for the regular season. The White Sox seemed to be in good shape until the top of the ninth inning Sunday at Tucson Electric Park.
This prolonged absence for Hall obviously will increase Pierzynski's workload, but that part of the equation is not a problem for the starting backstop, who prides himself on being prepared to "play every single day, 162 games." But Hall's presence was aimed at keeping Pierzynski fresh down the stretch of a long a season, as well as spelling the left-handed hitting catcher from time to time against Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, Minnesota's Johan Santana or a southpaw starter of that pedigree.
So, who replaces Hall on the roster? Familiar veteran faces who know the pitching staff such as Chris Widger and Sandy Alomar Jr. are not an option, according to one source in the organization. Javy Lopez, who was released by the Rockies on March 12, would be another alternative, but Williams made it clear Monday the team intended to stay within the organization.
Following that plan of attack, Minor Leaguer Gustavo Molina or veteran Wiki Gonzalez stand as the primary candidates.
"What we've tried to do with each position is insulate ourselves first so if something like this happens, we have confidence in the person backing up," Williams said. "We'll make the determination, first and foremost, based on who's best for the pitching staff."
Williams' criteria seems to give Molina the slight edge, although manager Ozzie Guillen intended to survey his pitchers and coaching staff. The 25-year-old Molina, who was reassigned to Minor League camp prior to a game against the Giants on March 21, drew rave reviews from veteran White Sox hurlers for the way he worked behind the plate last spring. Gonzalez, 32, has the experience edge. The .239 career hitter has played in the Major Leagues for San Diego, Seattle and Washington, and probably would be the better option offensively.
But the White Sox have plenty of offensive firepower already and will go as far as their pitching takes them. It's an opportunity for both backup backstops, one which neither of them hoped would come about in this particular manner.
"I feel great with my defense and working with the pitching staff," said Molina, who started against the Giants on Monday and has played well after his spring arrival was delayed by visa problems in Venezuela. "The key is being on the same page, but I feel like I'm family right now. I know a couple of guys from the past two or three years, so it's pretty good."
"Hopefully what I showed is what they want from me," added Gonzalez, who joined Molina in wishing Hall well and expressing his sadness in regard to Hall's injury. "Is it? I don't know. Spring Training is over, and we'll see what's going to happen."
Featuring a .237 career average over seven Minor League seasons as he enters the 2007 campaign, Molina figures to be a bit overmatched against some of the AL Central's top hurlers. Then again, so are some of the league's more accomplished hitters.
If neither Molina nor Gonzalez get the job done, Williams certainly has the aggressive nature to add an important piece to the team's playoff push through a trade. Williams thought he had that piece taken care of in Hall until one attempted defensive play produced the worst possible results.
"That little dive may have just cost me the season," said Hall, who hit .406 this spring.
"It just [stinks], especially in Spring Training when he was playing first base, for that to happen," Pierzynski added. "We are going to have to get through it, but it's a guy we brought in who we thought can help us, and hopefully he still can."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.