February 4, 2004
Team Health Reports
CL Billy Wagner
The Phillies enter the season in a new park, but in a familiar position. Once again in 2004, they'll be expected to finally end the run of division titles by the Braves. Last year's failure was not due to injuries, as the team was able to avoid major ones. Long-time trainer Jeff Cooper and his staff once again kept the Phillies below league averages in days and dollars lost to the disabled list.
The biggest success for the Phillies last year was keeping oft-injured Mike Lieberthal on the field for 130+ games and near his career high in plate appearances. Lieberthal came into the season with an unusual pelvic injury, but diligent work in rehab kept Lieberthal effective and available. One year doesn't eliminate a history of injuries, though, so Lieberthal gets a yellow light.
Marlon Byrd had a decent enough rookie season, but he spent his off-season rehabbing after shoulder surgery. It's unclear how long Byrd played with a torn labrum, but if he's ready by spring training as expected, he could show more power in 2004. Byrd gets a yellow based on his minor league injury history and the possibility of recurrence.
Jim Thome has always been a healthy player, so why the yellow light next to his name? Simply, aging. While Thome's still a feared hitter, he's precisely the type of player with the type of build who starts seeing more injuries at this point in his career. Always known as a gritty-gutty type, Thome will likely see small, nagging injuries that he can't quickly recover from. He's still likely to rack up 600 plate appearances, but for the focal point of the Phillies' offense, even a small risk is worth noting. The team without Thome for a significant amount of time would go from division favorite to promoting "hey, come see the new park" quickly.
David Bell contributed very little in 2003, suffering through a season crushed by a lingering back injury that reared its head in early April. Notoriously difficult to gauge, Bell's injury is one that could come back at any point. He avoided surgery and insists to the press that he's healthy, but only time will tell. Larry Bowa will not be patient with Bell if he suffers through injuries or poor performance, especially with the team's high expectations and other options--including Chase Utley to second, Placido Polanco to third--at third base. Bell is a bright red, and a player that should be avoided in fantasy drafts.
Vicente Padilla had an interesting off-season, escaping serious injury in a deadly car accident. While he may have avoided disaster, he once again wore down significantly in the second half despite being watched closely by pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Padilla's 2003 was so much like his 2002 that it's only smart to expect something similar in 2004. He's yellow, but just barely due to some uncertainty about his off-season injuries.
Eric Milton came from the Twins in an off-season deal that surprised many. Milton came back from extensive knee surgery to pitch 17 innings, but that hardly showed much. The damage in Milton's knee was severe and is likely to recur in some fashion over time. Like Randy Johnson last season, Milton will need to pay close attention to his mechanics in order to not compensate for any pain or soreness in the knee. While pinpointing when or even if the knee will be a problem, let someone else take the risk.
The outlook for the rest of the team is pretty good. Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf are workhorse starters; Pat Burrell shouldn't have injuries to blame if he doesn't turn his hitting around; Bobby Abreu steadily builds his case as the best player most people don't know. With solid bench depth, the Phillies can deal with the inevitable minor injuries and bad luck. Jimmy Rollins came in just below the threshold for a yellow light, but he bears watching.
One other item of note is that there seems to be a slight historical increase in injury risk for players in a new stadium. Even with that, the Phillies should figure to be healthy enough to compete on the field in 2004. If they aren't at the top of the standings come September, Larry Bowa, not the training staff, will likely take the blame.