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March 25, 2004
Team Health Reports
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
CL Danny Baez
For all the criticism that the Devil Rays take--deservedly--for their on-field misadventures, they do medhead well. Over the past three seasons, no one has done it better. How can a team be so bad in most areas and so good in another? The simple answer is commitment.
At some point, the Rays management decided that losing players to the DL was unacceptable. With trainers Jamie Reed (now of the Texas Rangers) and Ken Crenshaw and team doctors James Andrews and Koco Eaton, the Devil Rays did the medical equivalent of signing Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Martinez. From the simple to the technical, the Devil Rays' medical staff has become second to none.
It shows. While their dollars lost to DL stats are skewed by the fact that they don't spend many dollars, they were among the best in days lost to the DL. The question is, do they get enough advantage from what seems to be their one area of excellence? For now, the answer is no. Keeping mediocre-at-best players healthy only keeps a team from plumbing the depths of replacement level.
Among the few players with warnings, Jeremi Gonzalez is the most serious. Another victim of the late 90s Cubs arm-wrecking factory that gave you Kerry Wood, Gonzalez took nearly three years to recover from elbow surgeries that culminated in Tommy John surgery. While Gonzalez hasn't made it to the levels that Wood has, he never had that talent. That said, he was able to remain healthy and reasonably effective last year. His history seems stacked against him, but Gonzalez isn't following the typical pattern of the multi-surgical player. I wouldn't bet against him, but it's tough to get excited about him. He's a tough-luck pitcher on a bad team with an upside of league average.
(Quick note: one of Gonzalez's top PECOTA comparables is Tom Candiotti. I have no idea what the exact data was that led to this comparison, but since Candiotti learned the knuckleball after his visit to Frank Jobe, it got me thinking. Is there any organization that might benefit more from taking some failed prospects back to High-A and teaching them the knuckler?)
Paul Abbott has skipped around over the past couple seasons, being a reasonable facsimile of a pitcher wherever he stops. An oblique strain ended his 2003, but he should have no trouble with that injury going forward. He's anticipated to be a placeholder while Dewon Brazelton, Chad Gaudin, and others try to become the first real Ray. If asked to take on more than 100 innings, Abbott's likely to run into problems.
Despite the vote of confidence and nice check, Danny Baez gets his yellow based on an absolute breakdown in his mechanics at the mid-point of last season. His velocity and command made Tribe fans pine for the day of John Rocker. His contract situation is best left to Doug Pappas, but now the Rays closer, Baez has to rediscover his mechanics in order to keep that job. Meanwhile, Seth McClung is making a successful return from Tommy John surgery. Yes, he's on the 'Claussen Plan,' so a July return isn't out of the question.
The only yellow among position players is Carl Crawford. As a speed player, his groin and ankle problems are worrisome. His ankle injury came as a result of stepping on GM Chuck Lamar's 10-year-old son during pre-game drills. I've seen J.T. Snow and Carl Crawford, you're no J.T. Snow. Crawford would lose most of his value with the loss of a step or two, so any indication that the groin problem is becoming chronic should set off warning lights, flags, strobes, and bells.
The risk isn't to the level of a yellow light, but I do want to mention that Rocco Baldelli is the type of player that always worries me. He's whippet fast, but also whippet thin. Add in what seems to be a knack for either running into things or having things hit him and Baldelli seems more risky than the THR system or PECOTA would have you believe. He's often faded in the second half and would also be drastically affected by leg problems, so just before you say "Baldelli" at this weekend's draft, pause for just a second.
The Devil Rays don't own many skills as an organization, but the one they do have will serve them well once they develop players worth keeping healthy. I also like to think that if an organization can create excellence in one area, it has a chance to do it in another. We'll see if that's true.