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March 10, 2005

Team Health Reports

Minnesota Twins

by Will Carroll

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Hitters

Red lightC Joe Mauer: I hate to say I told you so, but Mauer's knee is being exactly the problem that was expected after the early 2004 knee surgery. The Twins insist he'll be fine and he'll probably be able to catch. No matter how good his catch and throw skills, it's his bat that's got the scouts beaming, making it smart to move him now and let him follow the Dale Murphy/Craig Biggio path rather than the Sandy Alomar Jr. track. He's yellow at any other position.

Yellow light1B Justin Morneau: Morneau is probably still volunteering to catch. At 6'4, it's probably not the best idea, but maybe swapping Morneau and Mauer never mind. Morneau can mash as much as Mauer. All that's been holding Morneau back was opportunity and a series of non-baseball health problems. Ulcerative colitis held him back a few years ago and this offseason gave him pneumonia, chicken pox, and appendicitis. He'll have minor surgery to clear up a complication of the appendectomy, but this is nothing like Adrian Beltre. He'll start a bit slow. I just hope he glances up to check for falling pianos now and again.

Yellow light2B Luis Rivas: At 25, the Twins still expect more from him than anyone else. The team doesn't normally rush guys, yet his career line sure looks like he wasn't ready in 2001. He had off-season elbow surgery to clear up some chips that bothered him all season. Any injury will probably end his Twins career.

Yellow lightSS Juan Castro: Castro was brought in to compete for the starting shortstop job with Jason Bartlett. Castro has the edge due to his glove and a contract that only looks good in comparison to Cristian Guzman's. He hasn't been particularly healthy in his career as a defensive replacement, so no reason to expect he can handle a bigger load.

Yellow light3B Michael Cuddyer: Cuddyer plays in pain. He has a chronic disk problem in his neck, chronic nosebleeds, a hamstring that isn't the same after tearing it in 2003 (something I honestly hold some of the blame for), and a sore elbow. I like him less at third due to all those maladies than I do at second.

Yellow lightLF Shannon Stewart: Hamstring and foot problems kept him from getting MVP votes in 2004. He had the same type of ultrasound treatments on his foot as Albert Pujols. Gardenhire understands that Stewart will need some DH time to stay healthy all season.

Yellow lightCF Torii Hunter: All those dives on turf and slams into the baggie are adding up. Hunter missed time with a severely bruised knee and a strained hamstring last season. He'll have more of the same, meaning he could be a corner OF by the end of his contract.

Yellow lightRF Jacque Jones: Minor knee and groin problems held him back last season. People tell me Jones was one of the most vocal critics of the Metrodome's new surface last season.

Green lightDH Lew Ford: There's gotta be one.

Yellow lightC Mike Redmond: He's pretty much the stereotypical mid-30's backup catcher. He's fine in the role, and he hasn't been tested at higher workloads.

Green lightDH Matthew LeCroy: Just a thought. With Terry Mulholland, couldn't LeCroy (or anyone) function as a passable catcher? I keep thinking that there are better ways to use backup catchers than what we have now. The knee problem he had in 2004 wasn't structural; he was hit by a foul tip during the Hall of Fame game.

Yellow light3B Terry Tiffee: Ivan Rodriguez ended his season, playing the part of human wall at home plate. I know there are too many toy stats out there, but I'd really like to see a "catcher collision win/loss record." Tiffee's shoulder and back should be recovered by now.

Red lightOF Jason Kubel: After shredding his left knee - tearing just isn't enough - and having the anterior and posterior cruciates replaced, Kubel's out for the season. It's his back leg for batting, leading to some question about its effect on his power if he's able to come back. Yes, it's a question.

Pitchers

Yellow lightSP Johan Santana: Take a deep breath. The yellow light is there based on his workload and history of elbow problems. The bone chips are gone for now, so there's little worry there, though they will come back at some point. The fifty inning jump in workload is the bigger concern. If he puts up 200 more innings this season without problem, I'll buy in to the hype.

Green lightSP Brad Radke

Green lightSP Carlos Silva

Green lightSP Kyle Lohse

Red lightSP Joe Mays: It's hard to come back from Tommy John surgery. The fact that so many do is a credit to the surgeons, but few note the work that athletic trainers and physical therapists do. It's called a medical staff for a reason. Mays is one of the guys who's had a harder time than most coming back. It's a tough reminder that this isn't routine.

Green lightCL Joe Nathan

A friend of mine is fond of saying that "correlation is not causality." It's an important phrase when looking at the Minnesota Twins. There are three factors that we have to look at when trying to discern team health: the turf, the medical staff, and the organization's philosophy. All are equally important and equally difficult to pin down.

No matter what anyone says, the players don't believe that the turf wasn't a problem last season. Much of the blame was placed on the late installation and lack of preparation of the surface, something that allows fingers to point many directions. Hopefully, that will cease to be a problem this season. The turf doesn't help a team with leg and back problems like this, forcing Ron Gardenhire to juggle the DH slot to give guys rest while keeping their bat in the lineup. The turf also played a part in Joe Mauer's knee injury, one that could shake up the whole organization.

The medical staff has changed this season, with a new head trainer. Terry Ryan noted the descending trend and made a move, elevating Rick McWane to head trainer. With the red lights and a mistrust of the medical staff noted by some players after the Mauer debacle, this isn't going to be an easy job in the short term. The organization does rehab extremely well, returning players on schedule and seldom seeing unexpected relapse.

Finally, the organization's philosophy of promoting from within is often pointed to as a factor in health. Young players, as you know, aren't actually any more healthy than anyone else on a percentage basis, just different than their older counterparts. Minnesota's slow promotion philosophy actually appears to have more to do with it, forcing players to prove they can handle the Double-A and Triple-A workloads before giving them the chance in the Twin Cities. I'm unsure if there's much benefit here statistically, but the thinking seems sound.

The Twins stranglehold on the AL Central has more to do with depth than health, with quantity as much as quality. They can lose outfielders, catchers, and third basemen a couple times over, such as last season's Koskie to Tiffee to Cuddyer injury chain, and stay competitive. That's the right way to run a team that shows as much color as the Twins have above.

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