March 10, 2010
Team Health Reports
The Summary: Even the best medical staff can have an off-year. During the 2009 season, the Indians were decimated by injuries, but all of them had some form of positive. Grady Sizemore played through injuries until the team sent him off to the operating room for abdominal and elbow surgeries, knowing they'd have him ready for 2010. Jake Westbrook was due back at mid-season from Tommy John surgery, but some setbacks forced a shutdown and they decided to save him for 2010. Anthony Reyes? He was shut down before he hit an innings threshhold. Matt LaPorta? Minor hip surgery, so he'd be ready for, you guessed it, 2010. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. It's not that easy with Fausto Carmona or Kerry Wood, who just weren't good and aren't as easily slotted into the "they should improve in 2010." More concerning is the hamate injury that top catching prospect Carlos Santana had over the winter, just after the team dealt Kelly Shoppach. Lonnie Soloff has lost some staff to promotions since winning the Dick Martin Award, but don't be surprised if the team of Soloff and Manny Acta become just as inseperable as Mike Reinold and Terry Francona.
Days Lost: 760
Dollars Lost: $16,021,283.70
Injury Cost: $15,743,472.22
The Cost: Cleveland found itself in a tough place being in rebuilding mode last year, and injuries didn't help. Cleveland lost $16 million due to injuries in 2009, or about $2 million more than league average. Over the last three years, the Indians have lost $37.4 million. The last two years have been hard for Indians fans, as they have watched two former Cy Young winners pitch in the World Series and their former catcher slug his way into the playoffs. That $37.4 million might have been able to keep at least one of them in Cleveland. Injuries to key players hurt the Indians. Westbrook didn't throw a pitch for the Indians, and he made up over half of their dollars lost with $9.8 million. Both Travis Hafner and Sizemore also saw time on the DL. Being in rebuilding mode, the Indians weren't very active in free agency, only spending $2 million on Russell Branyan, who has his own injury issues.
The Big Risk: I deal in anonymous information. That comes with positives and negatives, but a lot of times, I hear things that I can't confirm, but inform my judgment. There are few players that have been as polarizing as LaPorta. He's been a top hitting prospect and a guy who many scouts thought would be forced to DH. He's been a top pick of a top scouting operation and a guy whose makeup has been questioned at almost every stop along the way. He's talented and focused, but said to have work habits and personal quirks that get mentioned a lot more than you'd expect. Taking all that into account, the worry is that LaPorta's hip problem would linger. That's not the case, and he's actually ahead of schedule. Even with the success of more serious hip surgeries, we still don't have much to go on with this type of operation. LaPorta's was more akin to the "hybrid" procedure done on Alex Rodriguez. If LaPorta comes back on schedule and hits like most expect, the makeup questions are likely to vanish. Amazing how that happens when someone hits.
The Comeback: Tommy John surgery is predictable. Even when there are complications or issues in the start of the comeback, those are also predictable. Westbrook ran into problems with scar tissue, but the Indians record allowed them to play it conservative. He showed no problems in a winter-ball stint, and he looks solid early in spring training. Those are all good signs, but let's go a bit further back. Westbrook isn't a hard thrower. There are no glaring biomechanical problems. Yet here he is, with a triangular scar on his pitching elbow. Does the fact that no one—including, and especially, me—saw this type of problem coming make this any less predictable? No, it doesn't. Expect Westbrook to get back to 2007 form once he gets his feel back, which should happen quickly.
The Trend: The Indians' off-year came just two years after they were the best in the business. That would seem to indicate a negative trend, and yes, there's only one direction to go when you're the best. Still, that off-year only took them down to the middle of the pack, a small positive to be pulled from all the negatives. Given the sheer number of high-value injuries and only Hafner being a chronic problem, there's every likelihood the Indians' injury stats bounce back to the top-10 level. If there's any concern here, it's that Soloff's staff has been hurt by success, losing guys to promotion like Nick Kenney moving from Cleveland to the head ATC slot in Kansas City.
DH Travis Hafner: Hafner's shoulder simply can't hold up. In bursts, he reminds you that the power is still there, but it's unlikely that we'll see much more than those bursts. Even then, they're much less frequent than DL stays for him. The combination of Hafner, LaPorta, and Branyan, along with Andy Marte in a utility role, could be inspired roster management if it gets production out of all of them.
SP Justin Masterson: The Indians are smart enough not to push Masterson's workload in 2010, but I also don't see who'll take the 10-15 starts they'll probably need to pair with Masterson. There's a chance that we see Reyes in the second half, which could work out well for everyone.
SP Aaron Laffey: Unless he does more than he did last year, it's unlikely that Laffey will put up enough innings to match this red rating. Then again, as with Masterson, it's not clear there's a better option to take those innings right now.
1B Russell Branyan: Branyan does the things he does well, and the rest? Well, the job of the manager is to keep him out of those situations. The herniated disk that ended his season should be controllable, and they should be able to keep him well rested with the 1B/DH/bench rotation they should be able to put together.
LF/1B Matt LaPorta: See The Big Risk.
2B Luis Valbuena: He's bounced around a bit too much to get a good read on his durability. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but unknowns are risks.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera: He may not cross the Alps like his namesake, but Cabrera did make Jhonny Peralta cross over to third base. Cabrera's defense is solid, but it's all the little problems that have made many wonder about his long-term durability. He heals well and hasn't had any spring issues after having his elbow cleaned out.
RF Shin-Soo Choo: I was going to go with Ryan Ludwick, but there's J.D. Drew in Choo's comp list. Choo is the younger Drew, solid if healthy and healthy perhaps more than his fragile reputation would suggest. If health truly is a skill rather than a gift, isn't it reasonable that it might take some a bit longer to learn it?
SP Fausto Carmona: For those of you doing all the research on why the Verducci Effect doesn't exist, I'll ask you to explain Carmona some other way. Perhaps the motion necessary for the power sinker is the problem, but if so, why did he lose command rather than velocity? The power sinker may be the pitch of the last decade in the way that the splitter ruled the 80s, maybe with the same results.
SP David Huff: Huff was protected well as a rookie, but he faces a major innings increase if he sticks in the rotation. At 150 or more, the Indians will have an issue. On the plus side, we know they know and understand this.
CL Kerry Wood: Wood doesn't blame Dusty Baker for his arm. He's more forgiving than me. I only wish we could have seen what he might have been. I'm starting to think that pitch counts are the global warming of baseball. No matter how much evidence there is, faith trumps science until the tides come in.
C Lou Marson: He won't hold off Santana long enough to get injured. Santana's wrist injury is the only reason he's not in this slot, though he's going to lose some power. Not a big deal, really.
3B Jhonny Peralta
CF Grady Sizemore: He's near yellow, but the two issues he had are easily corrected with simple surgery. Heck, the tea cup was a bigger problem for him. Wait, not bigger...
SP Jake Westbrook: See The Comeback.
RP Chris Perez: He's a point from yellow after off-season ankle surgery, but he's got a chance to pick up saves in the apprentice role.