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June 25, 2003

Under The Knife

Analyze This

by Will Carroll

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Lots of stuff today--some of it less relevant now than when I wrote it Tuesday evening. Take with appropriate grains of salt...

  • While there's no secret on what is the biggest news of the day, there's a clear UTK angle on the potential Juan Gonzalez trade to Montreal. If the trade eventually happens, two stories that will be intrinsic in the discussion of this deal are the health of Vladimir Guerrero and the effect of the infamous turf in Montreal. In a world where learning from mistakes is the key to survival and innovation is the key to success, it is pretty clear where Omar Minaya scores on these tests. This trade looks from many angles to be Cliff Floyd, the sequel; Expos get the big slugger they think they need, but that slugger has injury questions and the need turns out to be not quite as clear cut as it may have seemed.

    All this of course is conditional on Gonzalez accepting the deal, which at deadline is not clear. I'll leave the details of the transaction to TA and focus on what this deal means injury-wise.

    First, let's be clear--this is not a signal that Vladimir Guerrero is worse off than information suggests. After speaking to a source at...well, let's call it a leading university...the only concern left regarding Guerrero is his ability to remain healthy with the tremendous forces exerted on his back with every swing. The rehabilitation protocol that Guerrero is on is specifically designed to strengthen the trunk and move some of the stress from the spine to a stronger musculature. Similar programs were used on Ivan Rodriguez and Kevin Brown, both with excellent results.

    What the turf at Stade Olympique might inflict on Gonzalez's back remains a bit tougher to pin down. Gonzalez had a very similar injury to Guerrero in late 2000, ending his season, but he also was able to avoid surgery with therapy. There have been only minor recurrences since then, most notably some back spasms during spring training. Gonzalez has played on grass since the injury, but there hasn't been much effort by his various managers to protect him during turf series. Given the known facts, I'd say that Gonzalez is at more of a risk at Montreal than at any other park. Does it increase his risk of injury so much that it should affect his value to the Expos? Probably not.

  • There in my notes for yesterday is a scribble of "Jeff Kent--no 24 hr turn after cort." Somehow, I failed to write about this out in yesterday's UTK. Kent's cortisone injection on Monday ruled out a Tuesday return. The usual rest period after an injection is 48 hours, but the Astros are indicating that Friday is a more likely return date for Kent.

  • Roy Oswalt is making a point of shoving his doubters noses in his return. After a side session, Oswalt declared that he was pain-free, very different from the side session before his ill-fated one-inning return. Oswalt will have at least one more side session, this time at full velocity, before a final decision on a return date is set. The time off does give his arm time to rest, a slight plus.

  • The Diamondbacks have had a busy medical staff, but they are finally starting to see the light at the end the tunnel. Randy Johnson remains on track for his July 17th return after having a successful side session. Johnson threw fastballs and sliders, though neither at game velocity. His counterpart, Curt Schilling, should join Johnson around the All-Star break. Schilling is behind schedule slightly, but fractures usually heal cleanly and predictably, and comments on the Diamondbacks' web site indicate that it is not the healing that is slow, but--according to trainer Paul Lessard--the lack of strength in Schilling's hand. Finally, Shea Hillenbrand should leave the unfriendly confines of the training room and get back out on the field late this week.

  • The Giants have pitching depth at the major league level and more coming, so the news that Kurt Ainsworth has a fractured shoulder blade is actually...good? Further tests showed that Ainsworth has a small fracture in his shoulder blade. How small? In comments to the Giants web site, trainer Stan Conte said that the fracture was about half a centimeter...or about as long as the ellipse I just typed. Finding the cause to be a fracture allows proper treatment and allows a timetable to be set. Ainsworth is out until mid-August, keeping Jerome Williams in the rotation until at least then.

  • The fracture news isn't as good for Nick Johnson. Johnson is expected back around the All-Star break, but there are whispers that the bone scan done on Johnson had very troubling results. Some Yankees officials think that Johnson should be dealt as soon as he looks healthy, making brittle Nick someone else's health problem. (For the record, if I'm a GM, I'll take that risk and buy low.)

  • The Yankees don't feel they're rushing Brandon Claussen, who will make it to the majors just over a year after Tommy John surgery. His minor league results at two levels are certainly successful and he is one of the case studies for the new rehab protocols. He'll make a start this weekend while the Yanks continue to shop Jeff Weaver.

  • Kent Mercker has gone through more than almost any baseball player in recent memory, from a torn hand to a cerebral hemorrhage. With the latter injury in mind, it was troubling to see Mercker's left arm appear to go numb or lock up, according to various reports. I'll be following this one closely.

  • Quick Cuts: Tim Wakefield shouldn't miss a start due to back problems. His stiffness was much reduced by Tuesday afternoon and continued therapy should have him ready...Jason Giambi left last night's Yankee game with a bruised forearm. No reports on the severity at deadline, so keep an eye on this...It's the time of year where my fantasy team is usually out of it and I start making big reaches on trades. I'm sure you know the feeling. This year, I'm hoping Chan Ho Park is the reach that pans out.

I'll be in St. Louis tomorrow catching the Cardinals/Reds game as well as catching up with a number of athletic trainers at the national convention. Hence, no UTK for Thursday, but I'll be back with a full report on Friday. I'm also very excited about our lead guest this week on Baseball Prospectus Radio, Jim Bouton. It may seem like I say this every week, but this isn't one you want to miss.

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