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March 25, 2006

Team Health Reports

San Francisco Giants

by Thomas Gorman and Will Carroll

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Green light C Mike Matheny: We know he's going to be 35 in 2006, but he's proven himself durable year in and year out. Matheny is always ready to play, though that's less of an unquestioned good thing when he has a projected ilne of .250/.299/.400.

Yellow light 1B Lance Niekro/Yellow light Mark Sweeney: Niekro was famous for his injury woes as a minor league player. He made it through 2005 as a part-timer, but the THR system thinks he'll be overexposed with more playing time. As alternatives go, Sweeney is the definition of a part-timer; if he gets used regularly, he'll also risk getting run down. Regular platooning for each other significantly mitigates both risks.

Red light 2B Ray Durham: The bad news here is that his leg issues are now chronic. Durham is impressively productive at the plate when healthy, but it seems that he needs the DL for a few weeks every year to rest his hammy, quad, and groin.

Green light 3B Pedro Feliz: The hot corner is Feliz's natural position, and he's a plus-defender there. No injury risk for the position switch.

Yellow light SS Omar Vizquel: It's tough to judge Vizquel's risk because he has no really valid comparable players. Two of his top three among his PECOTA comparables for his 2005--Maury Wills and Pee Wee Reese--were headed into the last season of their careers, and the third, Ozzie Smith, was already a part-time player. Not so long ago his knee was so bad as to break up a trade to the Mariners, but he had no problems with his legs last year. However, his hitting did trail off significantly as the year went on, perhaps indicating an increasing attrition risk. The yellow light here is a hedge. We wouldn't be surprised if he played 155 games next year, but we also wouldn't be surprised if he missed half the season with some messed-up something or other.

Red light LF Barry Bonds: When the knee problems first came up in the 2004-2005 offseason, we were optimistic. "A little arthritis cleanup should be no big deal," we thought. It turns out we were dead wrong, though it really wasn't our fault. Why's that, you say? First, the right knee problems showed up really late in that offseason, and they turned out to be a lot worse than the left knee issues. His meniscus was almost completely torn, and the repair needed was more drastic (partial menisectomy instead of a simple debridement). Second, Bonds had a series of setbacks in his rehab (like bumping his freshly repaired knee and breaking his wound open) that couldn't have been predicted, and which necessitated a second surgical procedure. Third, his rehab was completely shut down by a rare post-surgical infection.

So what happens in 2006? Right now, Bonds looks reasonably healthy--we don't really want to get into a whole thing about whether he's bloated or not. He's got a bum knee and he's going to have that for the rest of his career. But Bonds is a smart player (perhaps one of the smartest, at least on the field) and he knows how to put the least possible amount of stress on his knee. He might move around pretty gingerly, but he gets his job done, and that's the most that anyone could ask of him.

That said, there's no way to predict whether he'll take an accidental misstep tomorrow and tear up the meniscus all over again. It took us a long time to get here, but the bottom line is that Bonds' health in 2006 will almost entirely depend on luck. The team is doing everything right with his workload and his rehab, but one slip down the dugout steps, and his career is over. Hopefully for Giants' fans, he keeps it together for one more year.

Green light CF Randy Winn: Winn is a mediocre center fielder, but he's not worrisome in a way that makes him an injury risk out there.

Red light RF Moises Alou: He's old and has a history of back, shoulder, and leg problems. An easy red.

Yellow light Sub Steve Finley: Backing up a bunch of 39-year-olds with a 41-year-old? If Finley's shoulder is healthy he could actually be the perfect backup for these guys. Used properly and with some sort of comeback, this could be a great Sabean move, one definitely worth the cost of surrendering sad sack Edgardo Alfonzo.

Green light SP Jason Schmidt: Schmidt, a green? Yes. Beyond the flexor problem (and the compensation injuries to his shoulder and groin that followed), he's been a four-year workhorse. That flexor problem tends to persist in the short term, but he's already outside that window.

Yellow light SP Matt Morris: He's beginning to show signs of wearing down, but Telephone Company Park should cover the effects for a little while. But will Morris make it to the end of this three-year, $27 million contract without embarassing the team? Unlikely.

Yellow light SP Matt Cain: Young pitchers haven't had much luck in SF lately. Cain's proven himself capable of handling heavy workloads in the minors, but pitching in the major leagues is a different ball game. Keeping the walks down will go a long way towards helping, but Alou and pitching coach Dave Righetti still need to keep a close eye on the young phenom's workload.

Green light SP Noah Lowry

Green light SP Brad Hennessey / Red light Jamey Wright: Wright has never held up under a starter's workload, and he has a history of arm problems dating back to his Brewers days.

Red light CL Armando Benitez: The Giants toned down their conditioning program in Spring 2005 because of all the senior citizens in camp, and it looks like that might have been a mistake for a guy like Benitez. The snapped hamstring shouldn't have happened, but kudos to him and to Stan Conte for getting back so quickly. The hammy should be okay, but now an inflamed plant knee is an issue. Benitez has never been in great shape, but now he's getting old.

--

Let's face it, all of the steroid talk is exhausting. We don't know what anyone took, we don't know when they may or may not have taken it, and most importantly, we don't even know if the stuff would have had much of an effect if it had been used. All these "I don't knows" leave us completely unable to offer a nuanced or informed analysis of the issue, and that's not where your BP authors like to be. If we liked blindly blathering about sports controversies we'd be working for your local AM sports radio station, not Baseball Prospectus.

We'd like to think we can leave the steroid stuff out of a 2006 Giants THR because the new testing regime should close the issue until someone tests positive. Bonds and his teammates are being tested under the program like everyone else, and that's all there is to that.

We'd love for our analysis to be more nuanced, but as much as we try, we can't get away from the fact that this is a one-man team and a one-man THR. If Bonds' knee holds up for most of the season this team will be in contention due to the weak competition in this sad-sack division. Again, we don't have a whole lot of insight to offer here. It's easy to see a carefully-used Bonds being productive and healthy for 120 to 135 games. On the other hand, it's easy to see him twisting his knee coming out of the box tomorrow and needing another reconstructive procedure.

The rest of the 2006 Giants are a bit deeper than the 2005 team (if a year older at key positions), so it's easier to see this team holding up over the coming season. Remember that last year's team didn't just lose the Big Guy; they were expecting (perhaps foolishly) to get key contributions from guys like Marquis Grissom, J.T. Snow, Kirk Rueter, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jim Brower, and Armando Benitez. A vast swath of aging has-beens were shown the door last year, and the younger players coming in look like they can play.

They'll need key contributions from the supporting cast, of course, but without Bonds the division title is going to be beyond this team's reach. How number 25 holds up over the long season is impossible to predict, but it will definitely be fun to watch and see.

Related Content:  Armando Benitez,  Year Of The Injury,  Quad-a

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