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February 13, 2006

Team Health Reports

Baltimore Orioles

by Michael Groopman and Will Carroll

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Red light C Ramon Hernandez: Hernandez suffered a sprained left wrist last year that--due to his contract situation--almost ended his season. Given the tendency of wrist injuries to recur coupled with the fact that Hernandez now falls under the "aging catcher" heading, there's a clear window of recurrence.

Green light 1B Kevin Millar: He's been able to stay pretty healthy of late, but if last year's performance was any indication, Millar would be better off sticking to making up slogans.

Red light 2B Brian Roberts / Yellow light Chris Gomez: Watching the tape of Roberts dislocating his left elbow last September was tough to watch. Apparently, Roberts' recovery from elbow surgery is going smoothly, and Dr. Tim Kremchek expects him to participate in spring training and be ready for opening day. Because this type of injury is largely unknown it warrants a red light. If Roberts isn't ready, the O's will turn to utility man Chris Gomez to man second base until Roberts is ready to return.

Green light 3B Melvin Mora

Green light SS Miguel Tejada

Yellow light LF Jeff Conine: Mr. Marlin returns to Baltimore and is expected to play some outfield and first base. He did not land on the disabled list last year, but is riskier as he nears 40.

Green light CF Corey Patterson

Red light RF Jay Gibbons: Gibbons is more known for his bad back and hip than he is for his prowess as a hitter. So what do the Orioles do? Saddle him with a nice, fat 4-year, $21.1 million dollar contract. To his credit, Gibbons didn't spend any time on the DL last year, but he still was bothered by nagging symptoms that sidelined for him several games. Until he can prove that he can stay healthy--rather than just in attendance--he's going to be a risky bet.

Red light DH Javy Lopez: All signs point to Hernandez being given most of the catching duties, so Lopez will probably ride the DH-C-1B carousel for most of the season. He broke a bone in his right hand last season and was sidelined for 62 days, but not having to be the everyday backstop should help a little. As a full-time DH, Lopez would be tagged yellow.

Green light SP Rodrigo Lopez

Yellow light SP Kris Benson: Rick Peterson wasn't able to exhume the #1-pick-potential from Benson's arm. Maybe Mazzone's trademarked pixie dust will do the trick. Benson gets branded with a low yellow due to his chronic pectoral strains and the remains of shoulder problems. If this Benson doesn't make news, you can be sure that the other one will find a way to grab a headline or seven.

Yellow light SP Erik Bedard: Bedard continues to tease the Orioles with his electric stuff; unfortunately he is oft-injured and slow to heal. He sprained his left MCL last season and missed a good chunk of time. Keeping him on the rubber will be Mazzone's biggest test.

Yellow light SP Daniel Cabrera: Cabrera gets a very low yellow light. He'll likely be asked to test the 190-inning limit this year and with his chronic back problems he should have "caveat emptor" stitched onto his uniform.

Green light SP Bruce Chen

Red light CL Chris Ray: Ray has a live fastball and tight slider to go with it, but he will be risky in his new role and is likely to jump in innings. Look for big attrition here.

--

Whereas last year the Orioles were right around the middle of the pack in terms of keeping players healthy, this year their days and dollars jumped, leaving the Birds with a below-average rank. It should be noted that nine out of Orioles' total 15 DL trips were due to an assortment of traumatic injuries. Therefore, most of the damage can be attributed to bad luck, and not the Orioles' medical staff.

The Orioles' pitching troubles did continue as the chronic injuries to Sidney Ponson and Daniel Cabrera persisted. Ultimately, Bedard got injured and the team sent three-fifths of its rotation to the disabled list last year. The Birds' pitching is looking up with Hayden Penn and J.J. Johnson in the wings, but keeping their talent healthy will ultimately be the barometer for the O's success (or failure).

Roberts had a monster 2005 campaign, but suffered a traumatic elbow dislocation and remains a huge question mark. His injury is largely unprecedented and despite Dr. Tim Kremchek's insistence, it is hard to know how he will recover when he has to play both sides of the ball on a regular basis. As for catchers, having both Javy Lopez and Ramon Hernandez to catch and DH will help limit face time for Geronimo Gil.

The Orioles are unlikely to have as many traumatic injuries as they did in 2005, but not having significantly improved their team heading into spring training, it is tough to imagine that even a best case scenario of health will be enough to vault them into contention.

Michael Groopman is a Researcher with Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Michael by clicking here or click here to see Michael's other articles.

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