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January 28, 2003
Team Health Reports
Team Health Report: Texas Rangers
When the Rangers hire Jamey Newberg as their next GM, I hope he'll remember the little people. One of the joys of following the Rangers from a distance is his Web site, NewbergReport.com; the sooner the team gets to know it, the better.
The Rangers made several moves this off-season. They let Ivan Rodriguez go, and he's now a Marlin. They signed John Thomson and re-upped on Ismael Valdes; the back of the rotation is still unsettled and may be decided more by whether or not a pitcher has options left than by talent. The fruits of a talented farm system are beginning to bloom. However, the most significant move made in the off-season came early and quietly when former Devil Rays trainer Jamey Reed replaced longtime trainer Danny Wheat. Reed is currently the President of Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society and well regarded by all in the field. If Reed can reduce the frequency and severity of injuries this year, he'll be worth a couple games in the standings.
At the start of the season, the Rangers find players like Jeff Zimmerman, Rusty Greer, and Ryan Ludwick already on the shelf for most if not all of the coming season. It's always better to know early when someone's going to be out that long. The worst injuries are season-enders in April, when teams are reluctant to deal and are forced to panic. The Rangers pretty much know what they have and what's at risk.
The Rangers also know that Juan Gonzalez is more or less a ticking time bomb with a eight-figure contract. Bypassing surgery, Gonzalez's thumb remains in the state it was last year and there's less reason to believe that it will heal any more now than six months ago. Gonzalez should be able to pull off a healthy month or two, but every hand specialist I've spoken to says that baseball activities are almost ideal for recreating this type of injury. Beyond the thumb, Gonzalez has been a walking test case for athletic trainers, pulling and spraining countless body parts throughout his career. His bodybuilder physique has often been pointed to as the root of the problem; while I can't dismiss the argument, there's also no meaningful data to speak of on the issue.
Carl Everett is an interesting case. In center, he's probably a red light with an extensive injury history that would only be exacerbated by roaming The Ballpark. At DH, he becomes less of a concern. The problem: Everett is much more valuable to Texas in center. Or is he? Everett in center is clearly a better option than Doug Glanville, but if hurt, Glanville gets forced out there anyway. By placing him at DH, the Rangers lose some flexibility but have a much higher chance of getting 120 games out of Everett.
The Rangers have two of the hottest prospects in recent memory at third base, but both get yellow lights. Hank Blalock played with bone chips in his elbow last season--a decision that likely contributed to what many perceived to be an "off" year. Mark Teixeira always seems to find a way to get injured, from a broken ankle in college to last year's elbow tear. "T-Rex" has always recovered, though--and often in a shorter period than expected--but the pattern is somewhat disturbing. The injury risk dims their prospects only slightly.
Valdes returns to Texas, bringing his assortment of maladies back with him. He was one of many pitchers afflicted with blisters last year, but he had seen those before. Add in knee problems, an unexplained heel problem, elbow swelling, and some lower back problems, and one can see why Valdes didn't find takers at his original asking price. He's effective when healthy, but only helpful at the right price. Luckily for the Rangers, they're not paying him much.
I have some concerns over both of the closer candidates. Ugueth Urbina has a long, well-known history, and his usage patterns must be watched. Francisco Cordero has past shoulder and back problems, two of the worst ailments a power pitcher can have on his resume. There's no secret here--any team with this type of player knows the risk involved.
I seldom note healthy players, but Chan Ho Park has returned to the long-time conditioning program that Oscar Acosta inexplicably stripped from him last year. Park should be healthier this season--whether he's more effective remains to be seen. Alex Rodriguez is exceptionally healthy--in that and many other respects, he reminds me of Cal Ripken. My father talks often about Mantle and Mays. Someday, people of our generation will discuss Rodriguez and Bonds.
I can't go through a whole piece on the Rangers without noting that the best solution to many of their problems is figuring out how to get Doug Glanville out of the lineup while adding both Blalock and Teixeira into the mix. The solution I see is to move Blalock to left field, push Jim Rushford into center field, and keep Everett at DH. Glanville then becomes a defensive replacement for all three outfield slots, keeping his bat from hurting the team. Buck Showalter will need to work hard to figure all this out. He can only hope Jamey Reed doesn't see the same full-house training room the Rangers had last year.