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February 21, 2006

Team Health Reports

New York Yankees

by Michael Groopman and Will Carroll

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Yellow light C Jorge Posada: Posada could begin to decline much like his former counterpart in Queens (who's now in San Diego). The switch-hitter is at the age where he's likely to slow down and not be able to take the abuse like he used to. He's been very lucky through his career injury-wise and last year's forced rest when Randy Johnson was on the mound actually worked out for him. If Kelly Stinnett can caddy like John Flaherty did, then Posada's limited workload will reduce his injury risk.

Red light 1B Jason Giambi: Really, did you expect anything else? The Viagra AL "comeback player of the year" rose to the occasion last year (sorry, couldn't resist), but it's hard to know how to account for his admitted prior steroid use and how that factors in with his unusual career patterns and injuries. Jim Thome fans will take heart in how Giambi has overcome back problems.

Yellow light 2B Robinson Cano: Cano is a young player at a risky position. To his credit, he did play 66 straight games from June 8 to August 26. We give points for attendance.

Green light 3B Alex Rodriguez

Green light SS Derek Jeter

Green light LF Hideki Matsui

Green light CF Johnny Damon

Red light RF Gary Sheffield: Sheffield has proven that he can play through pain, gritting his teeth and swinging to the point of almost falling over. He had recurring thigh problems last year that forced him to DH for a while. Everyone has their breaking point, and his age and injury may help push him past that this year.

Red light DH Bernie Williams: His injury problems and weak arm have been well documented. Limiting his exposure in the outfield by giving him DH and backup outfielder duties should help his knee, back and shoulder ailments.

Red light SP Randy Johnson: The Big Unit is at a point where, when his knees and back are okay, he's dominant. The problem is, they just won't stay that way all season.

Red light SP Mike Mussina: Mussina's injury patterns are slowly pushing him towards a breakdown. Remember, he would have been placed on the disabled list last season if it hadn't been September. This year, the additional wear and tear may land him on the DL earlier in the season.

Green light SP Chien-Ming Wang

Red light SP Shawn Chacon: After being rescued from the unfriendly confines of Coors, Chacon proved to be a solid gamble for the Yankees. However, his innings jumped up to 151 2/3, the second-highest total of his career. If he remains a starter next season, there's a good chance his innings will jump again, putting him at a higher risk for injuries.

Red light SP Carl Pavano / Jaret Wright: Both are overpriced, both spent time on the DL last year, and both are competing for the last spot in the Yankees' rotation. More than anything else, the Yankees' medical staff will have to find a way to get the equivalent production of one decent pitcher from these two injury-prone candidates.

Red lightCP Mariano Rivera: At some point this year, he'll go on the DL with a relatively minor complaint. Before and after, he'll be absolutely untouchable.

--

The Yankees have the financial resources to sweep a lot of injuries and bad contracts under the rug, but after a certain point all of those problems will inevitably start to emerge. Although he's one of their few remaining home-grown talents, Bernie Williams was the lightning rod last year for much of the frustration caused by the Yankees' method of collecting injury-prone stars on the downslope of high-peaked careers. This year there are many candidates who can aptly fill Williams' role as the goat of 2006. Sheffield, Giambi, Posada, and Johnson have the dubious distinction of heading that list.

The big story in the Bronx this off-season was prying Johnny Damon from Beantown. Damon gets a green light from BP's rating system, but the self-proclaimed "rock star" likes to dive and crash all over the place. Although that may make him the big apple of the manager's eye, it also makes the medical staff hold their breath every time a fly ball is hit his way. He struggled with shoulder, hand, and hamstring problems last year, and the nagging injuries took their toll in the second half, hurting his production significantly. Agent Scott Boras made sure to emphasize that Damon has never landed on the DL in his career, although that does not necessarily mean he won't in the future as he ages and injuries pile up. The medical staff will have to work hard to keep Damon's injuries at bay in order to make the deal look smart.

The Damon signing reinforced the truism that without a strong farm system, the Yankees will continue to throw money at their problems. To their credit, the Yankees are in a unique financial situation which allows them to do this with fewer consequences than a mid-market team would have. However, if they want to keep sustaining a playoff-caliber team by using this method, they should simultaneously be building the best medical staff in the game to minimize the inherent risks of their investments.

One story overshadowed by the Damon signing was the Yankees' decision to bring in new pitching coach Ron Guidry to replace longtime Torre sidekick Mel Stottlemyre. Some are concerned that Guidry has never been a coach before, but neither had Mattingly, and the Yankee bats did not suffer. Do good players make good coaches? Given all of the factors that go into coaching--building trust, finding an effective way to get a message across--it is impossible to draw a one-to-one relationship between the two. It's unclear how the health and effectiveness of pitchers are affected by the methods of a pitching coach. Many point to Rick Peterson's "prehab" as an example of how pitching coaches can help prevent injuries. However, even with Peterson on staff, the Mets's pitching staff was bogged down by chronic injuries. Part of that is more the front office's fault than Peterson's, but even less experienced guys like Tyler Yates and Bartolome Fortunato were victim of chronic injuries.

There is no question the Yankees will remain a force to be reckoned with throughout the 2006 season, but while many look at Ron Guidry, Joe Torre, or even Johnny Damon, it might be smarter to see just how stressed Gene Monahan looks.

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

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