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January 21, 2004

Under The Knife

The First of '04

by Will Carroll

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Poking my head up from the spiderhole I've been occupying this off-season, there appears to be some injury news to report on from around the league. So, powered by Peet's Blend 101, on to the injuries...

  • Kris Benson had a difficult end to his season in 2003, spending the last two months not only on the shelf, but answering hard questions about the injury--or, as the Pirates medical staff insinuated, lack thereof. Benson finally got back on the mound last week, pronouncing himself fit and pain-free. While the Pirates don't expect to contend, their hopes lie in Benson asserting himself as the ace everyone expected him to be coming out of Clemson the better part of a decade ago. If Benson can prove himself healthy and effective--something he hasn't been since returning from Tommy John surgery--he could be this year's version of Sidney Ponson: a comeback candidate who'll likely finish the season on a contender.

    The Pirates are also hoping two acquisitions from last season--Jason Bay and Bobby Hill--will be ready to go for Spring Training. Both were unable to participate in a recent mini-camp. Bay is recovering from labrum surgery while Hill is still not cleared for baseball activity after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back.

  • Robb Nen comes back to his closer role this spring after missing the entire 2003 season. While he is throwing pain-free and from the mound, it's still a long road back from labrum surgery. At this point, we're simply left to guess--and pay close attention during Spring Training--if Nen in 2004 will be anything close to the Nen in 2002 who was so key to the Giants' run to the Series. With a much thinner pen, the Giants need him.

  • A.J. Burnett is reported to be way ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, but the fact is, the rehabilitation has simply changed. Burnett finds himself on the same track as Brandon Claussen and Jon Lieber due to great medical care and a committed rehab. While there are some rumblings of starting the season in the rotation, the Marlins seem more likely to put Burnett on the "Matt Morris plan"--using him in long relief until he gets his feel back. Still, nothing's out of the question, and we'll certainly see Burnett back in the rotation by the All-Star break.

  • I've never seen Maels Rodriguez pitch, but it seems like a few major league teams are a bit too concerned by rumors of arm injuries or the lack of success most Cuban pitchers have had in the majors. At least 10 teams plan to be at next week's workouts, and some scouts are already telling their front offices that they've seen him throwing in the low-90s. While a far cry from the rumors of 97 mph, Rodriguez will get lots of interest from teams like the Mariners, Yankees, and Rangers.

  • Brian Jordan's career looked in jeopardy when he underwent knee surgery midway through the 2003 season, but Jordan has bounced back quickly. What remains to be seen is how the knee will hold up under a normal workload. The Rangers aren't terribly deep in the outfield, and with Brad Fullmer at DH, Jordan likely won't see much time in that slot. Jordan will need help from Buck Showalter to stay rested and reasonably healthy. Jordan can help a team with 400 at-bats, but he becomes a question mark if he's asked to go much over that.

  • When Ivan Rodriguez signs a deal that closely approximates what Scott Boras said he was looking for--multi-year, eight-figures--will anyone go back and recant their indictments of Boras' strategies? Rodriguez took, and reportedly passed, a physical on Thursday in Detroit. I've said it before in this space and I'll say it again: teams are not failing to sign Rodriguez over concern for his back. They're doing it because...well, I don't really have a good reason.

  • Jim Duquette is doing some fancy dancing after quotes from him appeared to show a privacy violation with regard to Vladimir Guerrero. According to The New York Times, Duquette indicated that team physicians had spoken with Guerrero's treating physician and reviewed records. Though he's insisting he had misspoken, Duquette may have violated not only the terms of the CBA, but federal guidelines regarding medical privacy as well. Guerrero, at least, wasn't hurt by any alleged violation--heading to Anaheim after taking the best offer.

Work on the 2004 Team Health Reports has begun, and you should begin seeing them in the near future. As fantasy baseball season fast approaches, I know a lot of people are as impatient for injury insight as they are for their pre-ordered copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004. I always do my best to answer e-mails, but it's nearly impossible for me to keep up with requests such as "What light is Roy Oswalt going to have this season?"

As someone who lacks patience, I understand, but trust me, I'm working hard to make the wait worthwhile.

Related Content:  Week In Quotes,  The Week In Quotes

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