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February 16, 2006
Team Health Reports
C Mike Lieberthal: Lieberthal suffered several nagging injuries last season that kept him out of the lineup. Finally, in mid-October it was reported that he had surgery to remove debris in his right knee. Lieberthal is expected to be ready by the start of spring training, but, at age 34, these injuries certainly are taking their toll on him. Sal Fasano is currently second on the catching depth chart, and the Phils might have to plug him in more than they'd like to, much like the Orioles did when Javy Lopez broke down last season.
1B Ryan Howard
2B Chase Utley
3B David Bell: Bell was bothered by back problems throughout much of 2005. The year before it was his hip, back, shoulder, and knee that caused problems; if all that wasn't enough, he was also drilled in the head by Miguel Batista that same season. It's never anything big with Bell, but it's always something.
LF Pat Burrell: While "The Bat" didn't land himself on the DL last season, he is still bothered by wrist problems which many think has hindered his production. While you can admire his avoidance of surgery, the tendency for these mysterious wrist injuries to recur makes him risky and earns him a yellow light.
CF Aaron Rowand: Anyone who has seen Rowand play knows that he frequently dives and often crashes into the outfield fences. His history of small but persistent injuries slowed last year when he was able to stay healthy and off the disabled list. This turnaround was at least partly due to Ozzie Guillen's request for more outfield padding at The Cell. No word yet on the newly renovated walls in Philly.
RF Bobby Abreu: Abreu is a really odd case. He's always been healthy and available, but once you add up the little things (which includes his age), he enters into the dreaded red zone. Ever since coming to Philadelphia, he has played in at least 151 games, and last season made it into all 162. Abreu continues to stay fairly healthy, but every small factor--age, hidden injuries, the way he wore down, a quirky statistical year for his position--works against him. PECOTA sees a dropoff in plate appearances, too.
SP Jon Lieber
SP Brett Myers: Myers had the best season of his young career last year, cementing himself as the ace of the Phillies' rotation. While he did start 34 games, he remains relatively young, has had a history of control problems and continues to be a risk.
SP Cory Lidle
SP Ryan Franklin: Ryan Franklin made press last year more for what he did off the mound that what he did on it. It's unclear how to adjust for steroid tests, on or off the field, especially given Franklin's results in his "juice year."
SP Ryan Madson: With the trade of Vicente Padilla, Madson looks to be the most likely candidate to be Philadelphia's fifth starter. He has a lot of upside, but because he is a young pitcher in a new role, he's tagged yellow. If he goes down, the Phillies will most likely turn to Gavin Floyd.
CL Tom Gordon: Gordon will get the save opportunities in front of Arthur Rhodes this season. It's hard to know which is worse, though: his declining strikeout rate or his deteriorating elbow condition.
The Phillies were bogged down by a couple of expensive injuries last season. Jim Thome (113 days at $9.1m) was a major culprit and his risk has been passed on to the south side of Chicago. Randy Wolf (112 days at $4.6m) suffered a UCL rupture which required Tommy John surgery and benched him for the remainder of the season. The good news is, along with Thome, the Phillies expunged most of their chronically injured and DL-bound players and opened the door for their younger talent such as Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd, and 2005 ROY Ryan Howard. Cole Hamels was reported to still be experiencing soreness and inflammation in his lower back, the latest in his series of physical problems, but if he can ever get on track, he looks to add to a good young core of players.
Brett Myers finally came of age for the Phillies and had a breakout year in 2005, but the test will be whether the Phillies' medical staff can keep him healthy and allow him to continue to pitch. Elsewhere in the rotation, new GM Pat Gillick took a risk on bringing in Ryan Franklin not only because of his mediocrity, but also because he was pinned with the scarlet "S" after violating MLB's steroid policy last season. It is unclear how to adjust injury--and performance--tendencies after steroid use, but the polite Philly Phans will surely remind him of his transgression every time he coughs up a gopherball.
By replacing some of the older and chronically injured players with youthful talent, Philadelphia seems to be headed in the right direction. At the same time, Jeff Cooper and the rest of the Phillies medical staff will be tested by giving their younger guys a shot as everyday players. If they can manage to keep these players on the field--particularly the pitchers--their health alone should allow them to remain competitive in the NL East.