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March 22, 2006

Team Health Reports

Oakland Athletics

by Thomas Gorman and Will Carroll

Click here for the Athletics' 2006 depth chart.

Green  light C Jason Kendall: Ever since his brutal 1999 season, Kendall's been supernaturally healthy (average of 659 PA per year during that period). Of course, with that PECOTA card, the A's management may be hoping he gets hurt. The fans certainly do.

Green light 1B Dan Johnson / Yellow light Nick Swisher: Swisher's risk is lower if he's at 1B more, though it's a low yellow either way. He's shown the ability to play with pain in his short career and Johnson, his platoon partner, will keep him from getting overused.

Yellow light 2B Mark Ellis: Ellis showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury that cost him all of 2004. With Ellis, Marco Scutaro, Antonio Perez, and minor leaguer Kevin Melillo the A's have considerable depth at second. Losing Ellis would hurt, but this team could handle a short-term loss.

Yellow  light 3B Eric Chavez: Chavez's decision to rehab his right shoulder drew some questioning, but all other things being equal, it's always preferable to avoid cutting into your body. The problem is that he probably can't expect much better than last season, healthwise. No one's sure how much that shoulder affected him, but his .270 EqA makes last year the worst season he's had since his rookie campaign in 1999.

Red light SS Bobby Crosby: He hasn't proven he can get through a season healthy yet and health is a skill. The shoulder injury isn't serious, but it's symptomatic of what holds Crosby back.

Green light LF Jay Payton: He'll be a platoon guy, likely to see 400 ABs all over the outfield.

Red light CF Mark Kotsay: As Kotsay ages, the chronic back problems work more and more against him. He's still mobile but he'll likely see more episodes and longer downtimes until he just walks away. The two-year extension the A's inked with Kotsay in July was a gamble.

Yellow  light RF Milton Bradley: Attitude aside, Bradley's coming back from knee surgery in August. The partially torn patellar tendon was repaired by Tim Kremchek and has had plenty of time to heal. J.D. Drew had much more extensive surgery for a similar problem and hasn't had a recurrence, though he's dealt with pain ever since.

Red light DH Frank Thomas: Easiest red in the series?

Green  light SP Barry Zito: Zito's thrown at least 213 innings in each of the last five seasons, and he has a smooth low-effort delivery. Easy green.

Red light SP Rich Harden: Will hates this rating. Harden's coming back from a labrum tear (not in his throwing shoulder, but his glove arm). It's an unknown injury, in that we don't have any comparables. What we do know of the injury is that it appears fixed.

Green  light SP Esteban Loaiza

Green  light SP Dan Haren: Haren's heading out of the Pitcher Injury Nexus and he's shown he can handle a Major League workload.

Yellow  light SP Joe Blanton: Blanton went over 200 innings in the majors after a pair of 170 inning seasons in the minors. Where it gets odd is that Blanton didn't wear down. In fact, it was precisely the opposite, as if he not only didn't get tired, but actually got stronger. He's worth watching to see if his success was due to run support, whether he pitches better early on, or if something truly clicked.

Green  light CL Huston Street

--

Time and time again we've brought up the issue of depth and in every instance the point has been the same: teams don't adequately prepare for injuries by keeping a squad of decent backup players ready to cover for fallen starters. GM Josh Byrnes has an excuse, since he just got on the job, but his Diamondbacks have nothing in the way of pitching depth. The same could be said for the Angels, the Rockies, the Mariners or the Padres. Well, the Oakland A's get it.

In the outfield they have three true center fielders in Jay Payton, Mark Kotsay, and Milton Bradley, but behind them they have the capable Bobby Kielty and Nick Swisher. The middle-infield and third-base are covered with guys like Antonio Perez and Marco Scutaro. Most impressive though is the collection of arms that A's have put together. This team has no less than ten qualified starting pitchers on their major league staff.

After the starting five you have hurlers like Joe Kennedy, who's only 27 next year, throws lefty, and notwithstanding his Colorado misadventures looks good for at least some league-average innings. Justin Duchscherer (pronounced DUKE-share-er-er-er-share-er) is only 28, coming off his career year, and looks easily capable of an ERA in the mid-3s. Juan Cruz looked ugly in the majors last year, but he righted the ship in Triple-A where he threw 75 innings of 2.40 ERA ball with a 90/28 K-to-BB ratio. Kirk Saarloos is hardly a front-of-the-rotation starter with that abysmal strikeout rate, but he keeps the ball down, doesn't put guys on, and can get you through some starts if everyone ahead of him is hurt. Chad Gaudin looked awful in Toronto last year but his minor-league pedigree is strong.

No one would want those five as their five starters, but as 4th or 5th starters in a pinch you could hardly do better. The A's understand that injuries happen and that being unprepared for them is a sure way to blow your shot at the playoffs.

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