March 25, 2010
Team Health Reports
Tampa Bay Rays
The Summary: The Tampa Bay medical team is one of the most noticed in the business. Starting with James Andrews and Koco Eaton at the top, the organization has made health a focus since even before the Sternberg era began. There are questions as to whether they're too risk-averse and too conservative, however. There's no question it's effective or that consistency is hyper-valued in this organization, so having no surprises when a player returns probably is a good fit. They've fallen on both sides of risk-aversion, trading away players that they couldn't predict and bringing in players like Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen when the cost was low enough to avert any real downside. The fault seems to be a lack of imagination, more than any real medical lack. Aside from Scott Kazmir's mixed results and the challenge of keeping a generation of upcoming (and often previously damaged Rice University) pitchers healthy, there's never been something that could define athletic trainer Ron Porterfield's staff. To win in the AL East, they're going to have to stretch and find that.
The Big Risk: There was no "Price Policy" or similar marketing slogan for the Rays the last couple seasons as they, like every other team in the majors, try to figure out how to walk the tightrope of need and hope, of usage and safety, when it comes to developing a young star pitcher. After breaking him in as a reliever during their playoff run in 2008, the Rays got nearly 130 innings out of Price last season as a good-not-great starter. Part of that was adjustment and part of that was the team around him, so expecting a great leap forward right now is pretty easy. Of course, that's also going to involve a leap in innings. He's 24, nearly out of the nexus, but will the Rays need to overtax him? It wouldn't be outrageous to think that Price and Jeremy Hellickson could "platoon" into 200 innings of solid starting, around 150 from Price, then 50 from Hellickson. The downside is that it's hard to break a rookie pitcher in during a playoff run, but Price has already shown that it is possible. How they do it and what they do with Price once he's close to his ceiling as a starter is another interesting question.
The Comeback: Soriano is almost a class of one. While ulnar nerve issues are a known risk with Tommy John surgery—John himself had to deal with it—it usually presents quickly after the operation. Soriano's came four years after he came back from having his elbow rebuilt, which made many wonder if it was connected at all. His 2009 season showed that he was back from the second surgery and as with Tommy John, there's a bit of a "reconnect" period after the nerve is moved. Given that, there's every reason to think that he can build off last year's numbers. There's no ulnar nerve honeymoon, but that surgery is corrective, not palliative. Watch his control. When he's healthy, it's great.
The Trend: Is it any coincidence that in a year when the team saw a spike in injury cost, they also saw their record go down a bit? No, of course it's not. While most of the problems were traumatic or a fluke, there were some signs here that will have to be addressed. The pen was filled with accepted risk and that blew up on them, something it could do again this year. The Rays' consistency at the helm could end up being its strength as I expect the injury stats to correct back quickly to their normal top 10 levels.
CF B.J. Upton: There's some positives here, but his '09 campaign seems defined by the shoulder surgery that started his season and the nearly empty home run totals he had at the end. The power never came back and while some are saying that it takes a year to come all the way back, there's not much to hang that on. Upton was worse in the second half and battled some leg problems as well. There's some that think Upton is pushing a bit, trying not to let his brother overshadow him. We all saw how good he can be in the '08 playoffs, but sometimes that shining moment is fleeting.