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February 24, 2006

Team Health Reports

Washington Nationals

by Michael Groopman and Will Carroll

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Green light C Brian Schneider

Red light 1B Nick Johnson: Johnson was on his way to a relatively full and healthy season until he suffered a deep bone bruise in right heel in late June. He was placed on the DL and missed a month with the injury. Johnson has been labeled injury-prone but, unlike in 2004 with his recurring back problems, the heel injury he sustained was traumatic (and by that we mean it was isolated from his previous injury history). He did have some nagging, less serious injuries, but any time off the DL for him is an improvement.

Red light 2B Jose Vidro: Vidro's ankle sprain, sustained while running the bases in early May, was not considered serious enough at first to land him on the disabled list. Ultimately, it sidelined him for two months. In September, Vidro's knee flared up, kept him out for the rest of the year, limited him to just 87 games and necessitated complicated off-season surgery. The multitude of severe traumatic and chronic injuries, coupled with recovery from recent knee surgery, makes Vidro a likely bet to hit the disabled list again this season. PECOTA expects the Nationals to be able to squeeze only about 426 plate appearances out of him.

Red light 3B Ryan Zimmerman: The front office clearly has a lot of faith in him, but Zimmerman will be sorely tested with an increased workload. BP's light system projects a red for Zimmerman, but it's ambiguous as to whether he indeed merits one. The system doesn't like the playing time he saw at shortstop last season, but he doesn't figure to get much exposure there anyway, so take this red with a large grain of salt. Many college players do play summer and fall ball, which helps, but grinding it out in the majors is different than digging out grounders on the Cape.

Red light SS Cristian Guzman: When you can single-handedly carry a HACKING MASS team to victory, you know things are bad--really bad. Guzman has chronic back and knee problems, and last year was plagued with hamstring injuries to boot. Being awful and being injured are not mutually exclusive, and Guzman looks to be both next season. Given how invariably awful he was in 2005, the Nationals are probably trying to lure Barry Larkin from the front office and into uniform.

Green light LF Alfonso Soriano: It's clear that Soriano does not want to play in the outfield. There's a good chance that he will get to remain at second base if--let's face it, when--Vidro gets injured.

Green light CF Ryan Church: Church has had some awful luck with injuries. He broke his toe on his right foot after he ran into the outfield wall and later got beaned. Church has largely suffered from a series of traumatic injuries--rather than a single, more chronic injury--which looks better to the system. This is a green light, but we're skeptical; it's as close to yellow as you can get without being there.

Red light RF Jose Guillen: From Monday's UTK: "Jose Guillen is making progress after having off-season shoulder surgery. He isn't a pitcher, so a repaired labrum is hardly the problem it might be for someone who made their living on the mound. Guillen might not have the feared outfield arm that once got compared to those of Roberto Clemente and Vladimir Guerrero, and looking at his outfield assists shows that this might be a problem that's been affecting him for a while. The bigger question is whether it will affect his swing at all. It's far less of a concern for Guillen than for someone like Scott Rolen, and I'm not that worried about Rolen."

Green light SP Livan Hernandez: Hernandez no longer pitches in the shadow of his brother. He remains a near singular creation: ageless, formless and seemingly able to absorb any workload without consequence. He's not so much a green light as totally outside the system. He's still an aging pitcher, but predicting whether he'll break down this year is futile.

Yellow light SP John Patterson: People are quick to forget that Patterson is not that far removed from arm problems and a serious torn right groin muscle in 2004. Last year, he remained fairly healthy, though he landed on the disabled list for 15 days in May with chronic back spasms. It's too early to know if Patterson can stay solid for an entire season.

Red light SP Ramon Ortiz: The howling of Pedro Martinez< comparisons have now quieted to muffled whispers. Performance aside, Ortiz couldn't stay healthy in either Anaheim or Cincinnati. After cracking 200 innings for the second straight year in 2002, he hasn't been able to repeat that feat or stay on the mound. RFK may help Ortiz keep the ball in the park, but it can't help him with his chronic injuries.

Green light SP Brian Lawrence

Red light SP Tony Armas / Red light SP Ryan Drese: Pick your poison. Armas is the pitching version of Rondell White, while Drese is proof that when a player goes on waivers, it's for a reason.

Green light CP Chad Cordero

--

When Mr. Baseball finally arrived in D.C., it was seen as a veritable savior of a decaying and doomed Expos franchise in financial disarray, suffering from gloomy environs and an apathetic city. The Nationals did get off to a roaring start in the first half, but post-All-Star woes proved that you can't turn around an entire franchise in one off-season.

The most apparent remnants of the Nationals' Montreal days exposed themselves in the training room. The team was housed in an old stadium in Montreal (and sometimes Puerto Rico) and moved to a facility that was as bad or worse in D.C. Yes, RFK is temporary, but the Nationals remain in ownership limbo, uncertain of what lies ahead. The team continues to send people for off-site physical therapy and their facilities are said to be among the worst in any sport. Because of these limitations, their trainers work under a major disadvantage.

The job will certainly be demanding for head trainer Tim Abraham, who took over following the retirement of long-time trainer Ron McClain in 2004. The Nationals' entire infield warrants a red light. Nick Johnson is pretty much a lock to go on the disabled list at some point. He has suffered a combination of severe chronic and traumatic injuries in the past, and there is seemingly no solution to his propensity for injury. The Nationals should find a way to put him in a position to succeed by realizing his limitations--a 500-plate-appearance on-base machine with some power--and finding him a complement to fill in the time he misses.

Up the middle, the Nationals are exposed as well. Vidro and Guzman are injury risks, and, when they go down, Bowden and Co. will be serving up some vile concoction of Marlon Anderson and whatever Jamey Carroll-esque filler they can dig up. Soriano is still refusing to patrol the rolling RFK pastures, so he could conceivably get a fair amount of playing time at second due to Vidro's fragility. Zimmerman's quirky red light is probably too pessimistic, as BP's system probably took his brief playing time at shortstop as a future indicator of him shifting on the diamond between third base and short. Both those on the scouting and performance analysis side of the coin love Zimmerman, and they are all eager to see what he can do with a full season of plate appearances. His increased workload does make him a little bit more of an injury risk, but he should be able to hold his own.

The Nationals' 1,608 DL Days ranked worst in the majors last season, so the fact that the light system spit out a lot of reds and yellows shouldn't be surprising. Medical director Dr. Tom Graham, Tim Abraham and the entire medical staff will have to learn how to be resourceful in the face of the Nats' murky circumstances to make the most of their means and put the team in a position to stay healthy and contend in 2006.

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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