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March 29, 2005

Team Health Reports

Boston Red Sox

by Will Carroll

Looking for your favorite squad's Team Health Report? Try this link.

Hitters

Red light C Jason Varitek: I don't like this red light. Varitek's few injuries have been the singular products of catching. He came back from elbow surgeries with barely a problem in 2003 and hasn't looked back.

Green light 1B Kevin Millar

Green light 2B Mark Bellhorn

Green light SS Edgar Renteria: Renteria had one bad month, the result of muscular back difficulties. That's better than a structural problem. Still, he's got a long deal and a back problem, something that seldom goes without at least some problem in the duration.

Red light 3B Bill Mueller: Mueller's knee has a good comp in Barry Bonds. It's about all they have in common besides their occupation and being mammals. He'll always have problems with the knee. Boston's positional flexibility is down slightly this season, but Kevin Youkilis should still provide a good alternative when the Sox want to rest their starter.

Green light LF Manny Ramirez

Red light CF Johnny Damon: Damon is the prototype high-effort CF. Like Jim Edmonds, he'll get banged up and put himself in danger of collisions with walls or other players. Those take their toll--don't expect a repeat of his big 2004 season.

Red light RF Trot Nixon: Nixon nearly lost the 2004 season to leg problems and a slow rehab. Nixon is a slow healer historically and probably is best suited for a platoon, more to keep him around 400 AB than anything else. He's never likely to be without some ache or pain in those legs.

Yellow light DH David Ortiz: If Ortiz can have all the October heroics that he had with a bad shoulder, he's scary good when healthy. I'm not convinced the problem is serious and he worked on a rehab program this off-season.

Yellow light OF Jay Payton: Payton will serve as the fourth OF and take over the speed role that Dave Roberts played late last season. Payton's longstanding leg problems would make a long stint in CF or too many stolen base attempts unlikely to be without cost.

Pitchers

Red light SP Curt Schilling: Red because we don't have any good comparables and he's still likely to start the season on the DL. Think of 2005 as 2004 in reverse for Schilling. He's likely to have fewer problems with the ankle rather than more. Once he gets his arm slot locked in, you'll know that everything's back in place.

Green light SP David Wells

Yellow light SP Matt Clement: Clement might have some adjustment problems, but still has great stuff. There was a long-running idea that he stunk in innings after he'd been on base. Turns out that like a lot of baseball myths, that one was false once we looked at the data. Only some late-season shoulder problems keep him from being the green-lit horse that he actually is.

Green light SP Tim Wakefield: In the grand scheme of things, shouldn't knucklers have their own light? Blue, maybe?

Green light SP Bronson Arroyo: I still don't like Arroyo's odd little Rockette kick in place of a knee lift. On the other hand, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Red light SP Wade Miller: You know what you're getting here. It's a crapshoot that Miller will come back from his rotator cuff tear as strong and effective as he was in 2002 and 2003. For the money, it's a nice gamble and one that gives the Red Sox a big advantage until other teams figure out the trick. It's all about stamina for Miller, something the Red Sox understand after dealing with Pedro Martinez.

Green light CL Keith Foulke: Foulke is unusual in that he's used more aggressively than most closers. Of course, relievers did this for years prior to the adoption of hyper-match-up playing. What we don't know is if Foulke and other multi-inning relievers are prepping themselves the same way. Baseball doesn't change much, so the guess is yes. Someone ask Johnny Pesky.

--

The Red Sox start the season with one of the oldest pitching staffs in history. Assuming that Schilling should be included--despite making his first start in Indianapolis instead of the Bronx--the rotation's average age is 35.2 years. BP correspondent Derek Jacques found that the Yankees' 2002 rotation averaged 35.4 years. The oldest was the 1983 Royals at 35.8. That rotation of Larry Gura, Paul Splittorff, Bud Black, Vida Blue, and Steve Renko was part of a sub-500 team in the midst of a great run. In 1984, the Royals retooled, using a young Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza pairing to build towards their 1985 World Series.

It's a poor comparison, really. Neither team really meshes up well with the cyclic existence of this Red Sox team. The World Champs not only are old now, but expect to be old for the next couple seasons, barring some unforeseen trades or the emergence of some top-level pitching prospects that aren't yet in sight of Fenway. Does conditioning explain it? The rebuilding of the arms of Wells, Schilling, and half the bullpen? Is this team more a collection of genetic freaks than it is another bunch of idiots? Hardly. This is just accepting risk, masterfully handled by the Sox front office.

There are actually more questions in the bullpen than anywhere else. The team has had something of a fetish for rebuilding projects over the past few seasons. Wade Miller is this year's Pedro Astacio, while Matt Mantei takes over for Scott Williamson. Williamson worked out until he exploded, giving closer-quality output above and beyond expectations given his health and cost. Mantei is likely to be similar. It's playing with fire, in some ways, knowing the risk, yet the Sox have played smartly, loading up with options in case the fuse on their relievers runs short.

The position players don't seem quite as flexible as in years past, though the if-then scenarios still work out better than with most teams' reserves. If Millar goes down, Kevin Youkilis or Ortiz can play first. If Bellhorn goes down, Mueller shifts over and Youkilis plays third. If Renteria goes down, Ramon Vazquez plays or Hanley Ramirez gets a look-see.

It's not rocket science or even advanced sabermetrics to make these sorts of decisions. It's just that the Red Sox have asked--and answered--these questions in ways most other team haven't.

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