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March 2, 2006

Team Health Reports

Seattle Mariners

by Thomas Gorman and Will Carroll

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Click here for the Mariners' 2006 depth chart

Yellow  light C Kenji Johjima: We don't know Johjima's history very well, so we don't have much to go on here. He was relatively healthy in Japan, despite being used heavily. He broke his tibia late last season on a foul tip, though that shouldn't be an issue anymore.

Green  light 1B Richie Sexson: Sexson's 156 games played in 2005 (with a .276 ISO) suggests that his shoulder subluxation has fully healed.

Green  light 2B Jose Lopez

Green  light 3B Adrian Beltre: This is a bad, bad contract ($47,000,000 remaining over the next four years, plus whatever is deferred on the $7,000,000 signing bonus), but it's not bad for health reasons. Beltre's little hamstring problem last year isn't going to trigger a THR warning light.

Yellow  light SS Yuniesky Betancourt: Young shortstops have a tendency to get small injuries and wear down. It's a taxing position for anyone, but especially for someone new to the Majors.

Green  light LF Raul Ibanez

Green  light CF Jeremy Reed

Green  light RF Ichiro Suzuki

Yellow  light DH Carl Everett: This yellow is for Everett the outfielder, not Everett the DH. Not having to play the field should lower his risk profile significantly.

Green  light SUB Matt Lawton: We hate playing the innuendo game but we'd be negligent if we didn't point out that he tested positive for steroids last year. Lawton admitted to taking the veterinary steroid boldenone in an effort to help recover from a nagging leg problem. We don't see a DL risk here.

Red light SP Felix Hernandez We certainly hope that Felix Hernandez is the next great pitcher, whether that's Mark Fidrych, Dwight Gooden, or someone with less in the way of supernova stylings, but Hernandez remains (like all young pitchers) as likely to end up injured as he is to end up on an All-Star team.

It doesn't help that he's been babied or that he had his slider taken away (a move that only makes sense if that pitch was seen to be worse than the others, something not seen in either gold standard studies or in the films of Hernandez). His mechanics remain both violent and off-balance: his head whiplashes forward and his hat is projected forward as fast as the ball on occasions.

The problem with a pitcher this good and this flawed is that by reducing a flaw, we don't know if we decrease injury risk significantly, but we know that we often reduce effectiveness. The pitching coach's job is to balance the two, adjusting here and there to reduce injury risk and increase effectiveness. We have no good measures of that, so we'll sit back and watch and hope and pray that Hernandez is more the next Carlos Zambrano than the next Ryan Anderson.

Yellow  light SP Jamie Moyer Pitchers this age are either special, about to fall apart, or they're knuckleballers. With his fastball you might say that Moyer is actually more "knuckler" than "special."

Red light SP Jarrod Washburn: In our database we have two players who have broken their scapula (the big plate-shaped bone in your upper back). One, Kurt Ainsworth, looked awful in 2004, missed all of 2005, and got a charity invite to Dodgers camp this year. This from a guy who was once one of the top prospects in baseball.

Washburn wasn't quite that badly messed up by his fracture, but it's clear that the stud pitcher from 2001 and 2002 is gone. His 3.20 ERA from last year is misleading (based on his peripherals, his ERA should have been 4.61).

Red light SP Joel Pineiro: He had an ulnar collateral ligament problem in 2004, but the shoulder issues from 2005 are cause for more concern. His velocity was off, his control was horrible, and his numbers were the worst of his career. He still has a year left on his 3-year, $14,500,000 deal (and a year of arbitration eligibility) and we're betting that they don't go well.

Red light SP Gil Meche: Years of shoulder problems will get you a red light every time.

Yellow  light CL Eddie Guardado: If Guardado's knee is finally healthy, then it should help him speed up his delivery and take stress off the shoulder.


Good God, there is a lot of red in that rotation. This is the third AL West team we've covered, and while Texas and Los Angeles aren't exactly sitting pretty with their starting pitching, Seattle's rotation is looking ugly. In fact, depending on how you feel about the Yankees' rotation woes, this might be the ugliest rotation we've looked at with respect to injury risk.

I wish we could offer some balancing optimism here, but we can't, for a number of reasons. First, if any team shouldn't be trusted with pitcher injuries, it's the Mariners. The numbers may not be statistically significant, but they still don't look good, as Seattle has a well-known reputation for destroying pitching prospects. We don't mean to indict the whole organization for what may just wind up being horrifically bad luck, but until this team shows that they can keep their pitchers healthy we're going to look at their hurlers with concern and pessimism.

Second, there isn't any quality depth in this system to compensate for the injury risks. Who is going to take starts if Moyer finally breaks down? Who will step up during Pineiro or Meche's annual DL stint? Travis Blackley? Bobby Livingston? The situation could certainly be worse, but it's hard to be optimistic about the Mariners' chances when they're probably going to need at least 15 starts from those two. For what it's worth, Blackley himself has shoulder problems, and missed all of 2005 with a labrum tear.

Their depth problem is somewhat related to their injury problems. If even a handful of their prospects hadn't gone down with injuries, the Mariners could be a little more flexible with pitching.

Third, except for King Felix, there isn't really any upside here. With Moyer and Meche you're crossing your fingers for 25 starts of league average pitching (in a pitcher's paradise). With Washburn and Pineiro you could hope for a little more, but there's not much optimism there. At least with the Yankees you can see some light at the end of the tunnel. With the Mariners' pitching risk, you're praying for league averageness and as few replacement level starts as possible. That's not fun.

This team needs a lot to go right for them to compete in this difficult division but, with all those red lights on the pitching staff, it almost looks impossible.

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