March 8, 2004
Team Health Reports
The Rangers are an interesting team.
OK, from a medhead perspective they're an interesting team. With Alex Rodriguez in the franchise's past and a new general manager just over the horizon, where does this team stand? That answer isn't going to be found in this space, but this year's model of Ranger seems to favor red, where injury risks are concerned.
In the dry west Texas summers of my youth, I would often wish for rain to come sweeping across from New Mexico, drying out the sage and washing the Spanish skirts clean from the canyon walls. I'd stay up at night watching heat lightning and listening to the crackling signal of KRLD. Somehow Geno Petralli and Pete O'Brien always seem to be in every memory of that era, a mystery I'll leave to a lazy day with Retrosheet.
Nostalgia always hits me with the Rangers because somehow they should be "my team." Not in any sort of gifted ownership sense like Hicks' predecessor, but in the way I follow the Cubs now with heart and soul. Combine the nascent days of cable television with a moribund Ranger franchise that could barely aspire to mediocrity, and there's the reason my heart broke in 1984.
Are these Rangers any more than a placeholder in someone's memory? Probably not. Deserting the plan that tried to build a team around the game's best young player, the team now is in an odd transition between John Hart and Grady Fuson. It has young and old, good and bad, durable and fragile.
Acquisitions Brian Jordan and Brad Fullmer both come in limping. The injuries are partially responsible for their new lockers, allowing them to fit under a pre-flexible salary structure and possessing enough upside to hope for comeback seasons. Fullmer will be challenged to come back from a dreadful patellar tendon rupture, but he should get plenty of rest in the DH slot. Fullmer also never relied on speed, so losing a step isn't a terrible loss. Jordan, on the other hand, is almost on his last legs. While his patellar tendon problem was not as serious as Fullmer's, the loss of a step or three affects what athletic talents Jordan was once able to use. He has failed several required tests this spring, so the prognosis is decidedly cloudy. Hiding him at DH, even occasionally, is unlikely with Fullmer, Teixeira, and eventually Adrian Gonzalez in the mix.
Kevin Mench was almost dealt away several times last season, but never seemed to stay healthy as talks heated up. Early in the season he had a severe oblique strain, then he closed the campaign with a broken wrist. Mench is still only 26, but he's fast approaching the put-up-or-shut-up stage of his career. Healthy and in that park, he's got 30-homer potential, but at this rate he'd be unlikely to stay healthy long enough to do more than tantalize us with potential.
On the mound, the Rangers are still hoping to find some young pitching help. The young pitchers they have at the upper levels project as cannon fodder. Stopgaps like Kenny Rogers simply taste like familiar poison. While getting Chan Ho Park back to what they expected when he was signed is something just shy of impossible, he does hold the skills to be their best pitcher. Back and hamstring problems, blamed on an enforced change to his conditioning program, have held him back. A return to those programs makes him a potential comeback player, but the red light indicates risk.
At the bottom of the rotation, promising young Ricardo Rodriguez came from the Indians as damaged goods, but since the Indians got a gimpy Ryan Ludwick in the deal, it was like two kids trading baseball cards neither really wants in hopes that magically, something good would happen. Rodriguez's hip was fixed with off-season surgery, but he also brings a history of groin strains. The hip and groin may be interrelated, so fixing one may fix the other. He still has to prove his health on the mound this spring to throw off the mantle of red light.
Finally, let's give a gallery clap for Jeff Zimmerman. On perseverance, if nothing else, he's worth recognizing. The former Indy leaguer and once flukishly dominant reliever should be recovered from Tommy John surgery and complications to compete for the closer role. The Rangers have some interesting arms in the pen with young fireballer Francisco Cordero and veteran frisbee-slider tosser Jeff Nelson.
The Rangers have made a commitment to staying healthy, bringing in Jamie Reed and Dr. Keith Meister over the past two seasons; they'll have their work cut out for them. This Ranger team is one that will inspire nostalgia. Pining for the good old days of...well, winning seasons in the mid-90s could be the best part of a night out at The Ballpark this year.