April 2, 2004
Team Health Reports
San Diego Padres
It wasn't long ago that a new stadium meant a new outlook. With Baltimore and Cleveland as the standard-bearers, almost every baseball team sought to use a new stadium as the road to riches. Of course, they'd gladly tell the taxpayers and signatories that the road to riches would lead to competitive, even championship teams, but it's seldom turned out that way.
New stadiums mean something to medheads as well, but there's a very small sample size to work with, and it appears that there's a very small window as well. New parks mean more injuries. This is true in almost every park, but only for a short three-to-six month adjustment period. The effect is scattershot; one would expect it to involve people running into walls or something park specific, but that's not the case. Instead, it's just something to note as we get two new parks from which to collect..
Perhaps most affected by the new park will be new Padre Brian Giles. The underrated slugger will deal with a seemingly arbitrary section that juts out into the playing field in right. While playing either corner is preferable to putting the slugging fireplug in center, for both him and the Pads pitching staff, the angle will be a test. Giles has been reasonably durable--but short, muscular players also show a tendency to muscle pulls, likely as a result of decreased flexibility.
Phil Nevin made it easy to put a red light down this year. After last season's shoulder injury, his spring training recurrence makes the decisions of Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey to not have surgery seem better. Nevin's shoulder popped out after what many said was a routine dive. Even locked in at first, Nevin appears to be so damaged that a full season might be too much to expect. How it affects his swing and power remain to be seen once he's able to return.
Jay Payton will start the season in center field, but Terrence Long may also see time there depending on how the park plays. Payton has always been one of those "if healthy" players, full of potential, but never able to stay on the field long enough to turn it into results. Payton hasn't had a serious injury since 2000, but his regular muscle pulls always cut into his production and a severe hamstring tear has rendered his speed a stop-and-go tool.
Sean Burroughs has had a litany of small problems derail what many thought would be an addition to the pantheon of great third baseman. Burroughs fought through shoulder and leg problems in 2003, but managed to take a big step forward. Despite his size, Burroughs is more in the mode of Wade Boggs than Mike Schmidt. Ticketed for leadoff, the larger gaps in Petco could help him just as the smaller foul territory limits his wanderings.
Rookie Khalil Greene is a victim of his position and body type. Built similar to Brian Giles, Greene plays the position most likely to be hurt. His PECOTA attrition and drop rates are abysmal, not to mention a solid comp with Kevin Elster. While I root for any Bahai, due to my Winnetka roots and the beauty of their temples, Greene is a poor risk and it's only his lack of injuries that keeps him on this side of a red light.
The pitching staff isn't as bad as it looks. I really wanted to take the red light off Trevor Hoffman and even the yellow off David Wells, but I'm a slave to the system. Hoffman comes off a modified Mumford on his shoulder, and there's very little to go on with that surgery and pitchers. The early results are good as both Hoffman and Jaret Wright looked solid late last season. For Wells, he doesn't even look like the same guy. I'm buying stock in whatever diet that got the big man down to (ahem) fighting weight. While he doesn't look like an athlete, Wells is nevertheless one heck of a pitcher. The 'rubber arm' myth is pretty laughable considering his injury history, but he's a great, reasonably priced addition to the Pads that should do well in that park.
As reluctant as I was to light the last two, I have no such reservations about Sterling Hitchcock. While healthy last year, due in large part to inactivity, he's already had groin problems. He'll start the season in the minors due to that injury, some roster shenanigans, and a schedule that doesn't require a fifth starter until mid-April, but Hitchcock will likely come back up, pitch poorly, and get hurt. If Kevin Towers can't avoid him, you should.
The Padres open a new ballpark, play in a competitive division, and hold the first pick in the June draft. It's a great year to be a Padres fan, but with Kevin Towers and a smart management team holding the keys, first crack at Jered Weaver isn't the only thing to be excited about. If the team gets a couple breaks and Towers is given a chance to make another deal near the deadline, this team could be the one so many thought would come a couple years back.