April 3, 2005
Team Health Reports
San Francisco Giants
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C Mike Matheny: You can safely ignore this light. Matheny's age and position, rather than any specific concerns, are the cause of it. Of course, with his bat, the occasional injury might not be such a bad thing.
1B J.T. Snow: Although Tom Gorman may have an irrational love for Snow, let's not get overly romantic about this or any other player. Snow has back and elbow problems that are going to become more chronic and problematic as he continues to age. His defense has some value; he needs a better platoon partner to be able to stay healthy and effective.
2B Ray Durham: Durham is going to miss 30-40 games a season for the rest of his career. His hamstrings and groin are bundles of scar at this stage. He's still valuable, learning as he ages on how to remain valuable without the speed he once had. He's a master of positioning at second base and is fearless on the pivot. He's a good fantasy second baseman if you have reasonable expectations and a good backup, things the Giants don't seem to have.
SS Omar Vizquel: This one is all age. Sometimes, the system simply can't get past the small sample size of shortstops 35 years of age and older. Vizquel is healthy, even having having failed a physical for the Mariners at the start of 2004. The knee simply wasn't fully recovered. His 148 games played and 19 stolen bases in 2004 show his recovery.
3B Edgardo Alfonzo: Alfonzo got serious about conditioning and nutrition this offseason. He's normally been a "take the offseason off" kind of guy, but this year he worked with specialists, dropped 20 pounds, and even played some winter ball--where he mashed. If his back doesn't get too bothersome, he could have a nice rebound season.
LF Barry Bonds: Anyone with a clue knew that Bonds wasn't about to retire, the carefully staged press stand-up aside. Bonds is over 40 and dealing with ongoing leg problems. He lost his speed a long time ago--take a look at his stat line and see if it doesn't surprise you when it started--and is now almost a two-tool player. Of course, those are two killer tools. Oddly, he led the league in outfield assists.
RF Moises Alou: Alou has turned into a 150-game player the last few seasons after seeming to lock in at the 120-130 mark. The reduced playing time is not really a problem unless you're expecting more than that and failing to keep adequate backups in place. It'd be better to continue thinking of Alou as a 120-game player and being happy with the extra time rather than counting on another 155-game season. Proper expectations are important in team construction. It's not in the system, but you'd imagine that Alou's manager might be well in tune with his time off needs.
UT Pedro Feliz: Feliz is the baby of this bunch, turning 30 in April. He's an odd player to get a solid rating on. He's only had one season of full-time play and that was as a superutility player. He's shown no real injury concerns and should be able to settle into an early-season groove which could help when he goes back to platooning with Snow and spotting out the rest of the outfielders. The yellow is a quirk of the system, I think.
OF Michael Tucker: Tucker is 34 years old and deals with chronic back spasms. He stole 24 bases just a couple years ago, though that might as well be 100 years ago for the likelihood he'll ever repeat the feat. Tucker, like Alou, is a player who can be useful in the right situations and playing time limits. He just has fewer situations than his teammate does. If there are as many Giants' injuries as the media anticipates, Tucker could be really overexposed.
SP Kirk Rueter: When the THR machine spit out the yellow for Reuter, I said to myself, "Does he throw hard enough to hurt himself?" He didn't have problems with his shoulder like 2003 and seems recovered from the groin problem that plagued his second half. You have to root for a guy who named his daughter after Halle Berry, unless you really believe that a guy has to strike out someone, anyone, to be successful.
SP Brett Tomko
SP Noah Lowry
SP Jerome Williams Williams is coming back from one of the worst cases of bone chips--it severely limited the range of motion in his pitching elbow--that I've seen. Bone chips are still a reasonably easy thing to fix in the short term, so there's no reason to think that Williams won't make the return. He's had some setbacks in spring training due to conditioning and a family situation.
SP Jesse Foppert: Foppert is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so all the normal caveats apply. He's more than a year removed from the procedure, has shown a good rehab, and regained most of the skills he had before the surgery. He'll be the first man into the rotation if need be. The Giants are waiting until the last minute to decide if he should start in Triple-A or work in long relief.
It's not true that "AARP" will replace "The Gap" on the outfield ads. It's not true that the Giants made the dugout walker-accessible. It's not true that, in a reverse of the Haight-Ashbury's slogan, Brian Sabean doesn't trust anyone under 30. What is true is that the Giants are the ultimate "win now" team.
Unfortunately, the strategy all hinges on Barry Bonds being, well, Barry Bonds. By starting the season on the DL, Bonds forces the Giants into something akin to survival mode. They'll want to stay close, stay in the hunt, and wait for that turbo boost of confidence and power they'll get around May 15. Despite the knee problems, there's no reason to think that Bonds' game will be any different in 2005. (Yes, I hear you, finger pointers. Check the testimony you all like to point at and Bonds admits that his steroid use ended in the 2003-04 off-season because "it wasn't working.") It still doesn't take much effort or speed to walk to first base or jog around the bases. Bonds may give us a Gibson-style limp for drama.
The rest of the team is old, in the baseball sense, but from a health perspective, this isn't a bad thing. Players at 35 or older are difficult to read because the sample size is so small. There is, however, a noticeable survivor effect. Go try and find a 35-year-old player who's been a scrub his whole career. This alone will work to the advantage of the Giants as players like Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom show that they can be extended near 150 games.
It would be better if these types of players--especially Ray Durham and J.T. Snow--could be rested more, or if Bonds could take more time off without the team taking an offensive nosedive. It might be interesting to see the Giants try to put Bonds on the bench and a poor defensive lineup on the field for games when staff ace Jason Schmidt is on the hill. Schmidt's strikeouts nullify the defense some, and he doesn't need the run support that Kirk Rueter or Brett Tomko have to have.
Creativity, flexibility and intelligence can overcome a lot of payroll imbalance. The team of Sabean, Alou, and Conte have shown themselves to be among the best at this. 2005 could be their sternest test yet.