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February 19, 2010

Team Health Reports

Texas Rangers

by Michael R. Lewis

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Team Health Reports

The Summary: Nolan Ryan was one of the most durable players to ever play the game. He played 27 seasons without serious injury (until that last pitch) and could be counted on even in his mid-40s. Ryan had some of the most repeatable mechanics, keeping him healthy over the years and important to note whenever someone wants to use him as an example. It almost seems ironic that he was the team president and will now be an owner of the Rangers, a team that has had its fair share of pitching injuries over the last few years. Texas has seen multiple pitchers hit the DL multiple times through the years, recently headlined by the likes of Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, and Kevin Millwood. The other big injury problems for the Rangers have been Hank Blalock, as the first baseman/third baseman/designated hitter has dealt with all kinds of shoulder and leg injuries, and Ian Kinsler's multiple ailments. New to the Rangers injury woes last season was Josh Hamilton, whose health will always be a question mark in the aftermath of what he put his body through. The Rangers have since traded three of those six players, and with new ownership, they will be looking toward new beginnings.

The Facts
Days Lost:
Dollars Lost: $6,761,491.41
Injury Cost: $10,452,777.78

The Cost: The Rangers find themselves in good position in the cost department. Texas only lost $6.8 million dollars because of injuries in 2009, and they have lost $34.7 million over the last three years. When you consider Joaquin Benoit and Vicente Padilla made up over half of their injury cost, Texas did a good job of keeping its high-salaried players off the DL. The Rangers turned around and used some of that money saved to bring in Rich Harden to help anchor the rotation and the "Arlington Park Monster" Vladimir Guerrero-whose age and legs provide plenty of injury risk-to provide solid lineup protection. Also coming to the Rangers were Darren Oliver and Colby Lewis. All of these moves were made with the Rangers having limited money and the team being sold. One can't help but think that the money saved from injuries helped out.

The Big Risk: The Rangers went out and spent nearly $7 million guaranteed on Harden with another possible $3 million in incentives. If Harden stays healthy (that's a big if) and performs up to his past results, he could be a real bargain for $10 million, which includes the bonuses he'll get at several innings intervals, which the Rangers will be happy to pay. But that's the thing-Harden hasn't been able to put together a healthy season in quite some time. His last "healthy" season was his second season in 2004, when he pitched 189 2/3 innings and made 31 starts. Since then, the Canadian has rode the DL train missing time with back and left and right shoulder problems. Still, Harden has been good when healthy, with a career 3.39 ERA and 9.35 K/9 ratio. Harden is the poster boy for high risk/high reward. With such a young rotation, the Rangers will need an innings eater beyond Scott Feldman, but Harden just isn't one of those. Maybe things will be different under the tutelage of pitching coach Mike Maddux and head trainer Jaimie Reed. Perhaps the Rangers will return to the tandem system they developed, except this time at the major-league level. They certainly have the quantity of arms to do so.

The Comeback: Age has seemed to catch up with Guerrero. The 35-year-old once had power, speed, and average. Guerrero's legs are gone, and he no longer is capable of playing the field every day, but the Rangers won't need him there. Texas signed "Vlad the Impaler" an incentive-filled one-year, $5-million contract to rake as their DH. Guerrero's offensive numbers have been in decline over the last couple years, as he failed to hit .300 last season for the first time since his first taste of the bigs in 1996. Guerrero only played in 100 games last year due to a torso tear and a strained knee. If Vlad can come close to what he has done in his career at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, he should provide Texas with that dominating right-handed bat for the middle of its order. Last year, Guerrero put up slash lines of .440/.500/.640 at Arlington and .358/464/.543 over the last three years. Evan as strictly a DH last year, Guerrero found ways to get hurt, but he is a good risk to take for the price Texas is paying.

The Trend: The Rangers didn't strike too often during the offseason, as they were in the middle of being sold with uncertainty in their budget. But the moves that they did make carry their share of risk. Texas will be depending on both Guerrero and Harden to stabilize both sides of the game in Arlington, and as you will see, both are prominently displayed in the red-light section. It is hard to see the Rangers getting any better with injuries when their key additions are injury-prone. It also almost seems inevitable that guys like McCarthy and Kinsler will take up some time on the trainer's table. Reed has always kept the team a bit below the expected level given the roster and the chronic pitching injuries. There's no reason to expect he can't do that again, but contention for a Dick Martin Award seems farfetched.

The Ratings

Red lightC Taylor Teagarden: Teagarden has Tommy John in his past and hasn't been healthy over the last few years.

Red light2B Ian Kinsler: Kinsler is the ultimate high-effort player giving his all and, at the same time, his body tends to wear down. Kinsler has also seen the disabled list in each of the last three seasons, as he tends to get injured towards the end of the season.

Red lightRF Josh Hamilton: Hamilton has been prone to injuries in his time in the big leagues. There are still so many questions about his lifestyle based on his history of substance abuse.

Red lightDH Vladimir Guerrero: See Comeback.

Red lightSP Rich Harden: See Big Risk.

Red lightSP Brandon McCarthy: He's the very definition of high risk. Every year since he was traded to the Rangers in 2007, McCarthy has spent considerable time on the DL, including twice for shoulder fractures.

Red lightCL Frank Francisco: Francisco is risky, even after showing that he still has his stuff after Tommy John surgery. He had enough issues that having C.J Wilson and Eddie Guardado around to serve as backup closers made sense. Wilson's still there, though there are rumblings about @str8edgeracer going to the rotation, and there's not much proven behind him and Francisco.

Yellow lightSS Elvis Andrus

Yellow lightSP Scott Feldman: Feldman ran out of gas late in the season, but he's not all that risky in reality. He was an innings eater with solid luck last season, but an innings eater has real value for Texas right now.

Yellow lightSP Derek Holland: Holland is young and had a big innings jump in '09 as he adjusted to the majors. Watching his workload is going to be a big deal for the Rangers, who lack some of the "ready now" depth of the A's.

Yellow lightSP Tommy Hunter

Yellow lightRP Neftali Feliz: Feliz's role is still unclear. As a reliever, he's barely into the yellow, but as a starter, there's more of a risk. The Rangers tend to keep players healthy by holding their workload down early, but the Rangers might face a Joba Chamberlain-type issue here.

Green light1B Chris Davis

Green light3B Michael Young

Green lightLF Nelson Cruz

Green lightCF Julio Borbon

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