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March 3, 2006

Team Health Reports

Cincinnati Reds

by Dave Haller and Will Carroll

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Click here for the Reds' 2006 depth chart

Red light C Jason LaRue: He played through chronic knee problems and a hairline fracture to his wrist, and still managed to appear in 110 box scores. Through all the pain, it was arguably LaRue's finest season to date. He's a clear Red, given his age and workload over the years, but Javier Valentin is a great backup option for Jerry Narron, and should again keep LaRue's workload within reasonable bounds.

Green light 1B Adam Dunn: Despite the differing opinions on the effects of a hand injury, Dunn's brute power never wavered. Reds Head Trainer Mark Mann is on record saying the team isn't worried about any after-effects. First base carries less injury risk than left field, saving Dunn from yellow.

Green light 2B Tony Womack: Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, Womack's elbow is no longer a risk, at least in terms of his health. What remains to be seen is whether the Reds prefer to win, or mess with Womack's baseball card.

Green light 3B Edwin Encarnacion

Green light SS Felipe Lopez

Yellow light LF Wily Mo Pena: Early on, a quad strain disabled Pena for over a month. Later he sprained his wrist, and his season ended with a hyperextended lower back. Having his first full-time gig is a mixed bag, and there's reason to believe he may get fatigued after 450 PAs or so, if he gets even that far. At least he's playing left field instead of romping around in center.

Red light CF Ken Griffey Jr.: Red light? More like a police blockade. Every fantasy league has an owner who takes a flier on Junior, a selection that is almost always later exposed as premature. His healthiest campaign in five years doesn't change his status as one of the riskiest players to count on in all of baseball, but it has extended his career. Griffey ended the season hurt (a partial avulsion of a foot tendon) and had cleanup surgery on his knee and hamstring. The scar tissue in the hamstring dates from last winter's radical operation, performed by Medical Director Dr. Tim Kremchek, that reattached the hamstring. Even though Griffey essentially played the year with an open wound, the procedure was seen as a great success. Obviously, his bat hasn't lost much; you hope he can stay healthy long enough to build trade interest and start his career as a designated hitter.

Red light RF Austin Kearns: It's always something new with Kearns. Most recently, it was a strained hamstring he suffered while walking to first. It wasn't serious, but his poor conditioning has been frustrating, and has certainly been a factor in his tendency towards injury over the years.

Yellow light KEY SUB Ryan Freel: Like Darin Erstad, Aaron Rowand, or Chris Snelling, Freel plays a little too hard for his own good. Last season included two DL stints--first with a toe problem, then to have his knee cartilage repaired--with plenty of other bumps along the way. His strong return from the August knee surgery included his playing 27 straight games while going 7-for-10 on the basepaths; that's a good sign. Nevertheless, if he's dodging traffic and making dives around second base, consider Freel a red light.

Green light SP Aaron Harang: After a workload spike of almost 50 more innings than ever before, it would be nice to see Harang hold up for 200 more frames this year. Then he can be dubbed an official workhorse, and quite possibly something more than that.

Red light SP Dave Williams: Labrum victims seldom are able to recover completely, and Williams sat out September with a sore shoulder. Definitely not cool.

Green light SP Eric Milton: Attention you paying customers, this year comes with all the Milton you can stand.

Green light SP Brandon Claussen

Red light SP Paul Wilson: As he turns 33 this month, Wilson is fighting his way back from labrum surgery. Rehab has gone smoothly thus far, if you trust the quotes, but Wilson isn't the type of pitcher who can succeed if he's not fully recovered. Watch out for setbacks.

Green light CL Dave Weathers: He tore a tendon in his right index finger this winter in an accident at home, but it's healing well and shouldn't affect him on the mound.

--

Over the past few seasons, Dr. Tim Kremchek has raised his profile in baseball, making Cincinnati a third option for many baseball injuries. Scott Rolen, Kerry Wood, and others have found themselves on Kremchek's operating table, often with very solid results. Kremchek's work with pitchers has been especially successful, showing recovery times for Tommy John that are slightly below the expected periods.

With Kremchek offically the team doctor for two teams (the Reds and Nationals), and two more teams unofficially (the Cubs and Cardinals), it's a bit odd to look at the chart of DL days and see the Reds so far to the left. With the other top consulting physicians in baseball, notably James Andrews of the Rays and Lewis Yocum of the Angels, the teams are far right, contending for Dick Martin Awards. What's the difference in Cincinnati?

It's poor form to pick on the fallen or the departed, though in this case, it's hard not to. Jim Bowden and Dan O'Brien continually brought in players who ended up adding to the team's DL days tally, and worse yet, young players like Austin Kearns and Ryan Wagner haven't been much better than the fragile veteran imports. Getting their players back within an expected period has been a real problem for the Reds. Some of this has to do with the vagaries of diagnosis: a strained hamstring is not always a strained hamstring, as Ken Griffey could clearly tell us.

Bringing in Paul Wilson or Brandon Claussen, Tony Womack or Rich Aurilia might seem to make sense, though don't expect any of them to stay completely healthy. Even a trade that makes tons of sense on field, like Sean Casey for Dave Williams, only ends up adding to the Reds' risk profile. So while the data shows that Kremchek and trainer Mark Mann are certainly not blameless for the results, the men upstairs are more at fault. Actually, losing Lonnie Soloff to the Indians seems to have been nearly as significant.

Going forward, the Reds have new management, new ownership, and among the best medical facilities in baseball. They have the chance to do something special, much in the pattern of the Rays and Brewers, two "small market" teams that have rebuilt their chances of winning in no small part through the strength of their trainers, and the resulting improvements in team health. To do the same, the Reds will need to get the whole organization on the same page. Jerry Narron's comments on Adam Dunn's hand show that's not the case, and Wayne Krivsky will need to have learned lessons from the mistakes of the Twins. As we've said already though, the Reds have a chance here, and that's something they haven't had very often in the last decade.

Dave Haller is a staff writer of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Dave by clicking here or click here to see Dave's other articles.

Related Content:  Jerry Narron,  Hamstring,  Quad-a

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