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February 28, 2008

Team Health Reports

Seattle Mariners

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Rick Griffin
Player Days Lost, 2007: 993
Dollars Lost, 2007: $5.1 million
Three-Year Rank: 18

For the pitchers in the organization, the Mariners have been a one-team wrecking machine. Most of the damage has been done at the lower levels, so forgive me if I don't talk much about Rick Griffin and his staff here. He never had much of a chance to work with Ryan Anderson, missed time with Gil Meche, and has watched as pitcher after pitcher headed out for labrum, shoulder, or elbow surgery. The way I'm forced to work with stats lays the blame (or credit) at the head athletic trainer's feet, but it's often the organization that deserves that blame (or credit).

Major league athletic trainers are underpaid and overworked, but it's worse in the minor leagues. That's where the less experienced trainers work with a transient, younger, and even less experienced group of players. They do it with less equipment and support, with an increased workload and duties, and for much less money. Yet over and over, the worst of the injuries happen at these lower levels. I'd love to pick up an old BP, say 1999, and see how many of the top prospects we ranked then dropped not because of a lack of talent, but simply because of injury at a low level.

Not all of these could be prevented and there's always going to be some level of injury that's simply inevitable. But that's not true of all of them. Which brings me to two simple suggestions. First, minor league athletic trainers deserve more money and support. That's an easy one. Doubling the salary for every current minor league trainer wouldn't amount to the cost of a tenth round pick's bonus. What's a bit harder but perhaps a bit smarter is the second suggestion, one that's so simple I can't believe it's not already in place: hire a second trainer. While more and more major league teams are moving to a three-man staff, some augmented by a certified athletic trainer who is also the strength and conditioning coach, and have the additional benefit of increased access to affiliated personnel like physical therapists, massage therapists, and rehabilitation coordinators, a minor league "staff" is almost universally just one person. That's despite a roster that is almost as big, and in leagues where the travel is harder.

The trainers working at that level deserve some help. The cost is relatively small, but the move would actually be an investment. Who will be the first team to make this progressive, intelligent move? Given the appalling results they've had over the last decade, maybe it should be the Mariners.

The Big Question
The bloggers from Lookout Landing ask: "Like you couldn't guess where this was going: Felix's season was derailed pretty quickly by a flexor-pronator strain in his throwing elbow. How concerned should we be that his furious delivery may be beginning to get the best of his body?"

Remember that movie Scared Straight? It was a pretty big deal when I was like 10 or 11. They took some delinquents into a prison and had the cons screaming at them. I learned a lot of new words, but I never heard if the concept worked. Did any of the delinquents end up in prison, or did they all head to community college? The elbow problem last season might have scared Hernandez and Mariners fans, but there's no reason to think that a small elbow problem stops anything absent a significant subsequent change. That the team is talking about loosing past pitch controls on Hernandez's workload at the same time that they're making win-now moves really makes me concerned. Maybe Hernandez is more like Frankie Rodriguez, and maybe he'll end up with a career as the next Paul Wilson.

C Kenji Johjima Yellow light: Playing mostly in a dome, it's hard to say that the hot summer caused a slump for Johjima. The better explanation is that he was a bit overworked. With Jeff Clement on his way up, Johjima is likely to transition to something of a timeshare by midseason, which could help moderate his workload.

1B Richie Sexson Yellow light: He played like he was hiding an injury, but it was only talked about when it was convenient for him to find cover for the miserable results. If a player's hurt and, by playing through it, he's hurting his team, then "cowboying up" is a step beyond counterproductive. After an offseason to heal up and reacquaint himself with his swing, Sexson shouldn't have any excuses.

2B Jose Lopez Green light

SS Yuniesky Betancourt Green light

3B Adrian Beltre Green light

LF Raul Ibaņez Green light: So, he's green, but just barely. I think the system doesn't adjust enough for his leg problems and puts too much faith in his hot second half, but he certainly looked healthy.

CF Ichiro Suzuki Green light

RF Brad Wilkerson Red light: Wilkerson's shoulder injury has never really healed to its previous level, leaving him a shell of the player that once seemed like a fair deal for Alfonso Soriano. There's little reason to think that his 08 will be much different than his '07 in any way.

DH Jose Vidro Yellow light: I'm not saying it was a good idea to DH him, but the idea that Vidro could at least stay healthy by being a DH actually worked. Unfortunately, that meant Seattle got 600 PAs of craptastic DHing at a time when they had other options, including those last two months of the season when Adam Jones was rotting on the bench. His knees are still risky, but Vidro should duplicate last year's "production."

SP Erik Bedard Red light: Bedard's whip-like follow-through puts some pressure on his shoulder, which makes him "lucky" that his oblique gave out. He's never had arm problems, but it's his inefficiency that seems to put him at risk. Cutting just a couple pitches per inning might help him survive the season and live up to the hype.

SP Felix Hernandez Red light: Just hold your breath and enjoy watching him pitch. Just don't pay too much at your auction for this kind of risk, no matter the upside. No one yet knows if he's the next Dwight Gooden--although Doc was already spectacularly successful at the same ages--or maybe just a Latin Bret Saberhagen. His adjustment to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will be key.

SP Carlos Silva Yellow light: Silva's knee is a chronic problem, but oddly enough he may have pitched better when it hurt him, focusing on his control to make up for his loss of velocity and movement. Having a better defense behind him should help him pitch to contact and reduce a fatiguing per-inning workload.

SP Jarrod Washburn Green light

SP Miguel Batista Green light

CL J.J. Putz Yellow light: He started last season with some worrisome elbow pain, and ended it by making me look stupid for worrying about said elbow. Putz didn't seem to be bothered by extended save chances, but that type of workload sometimes has a delayed effect. There are few durable closers, but Putz made a nice first step towards being one.

RP Sean Green Yellow light: One major league scout said that while Green's low three-quarters delivery helps his sinker, it also appears to be one that's not mechanically sound. I'm not so sure of this, but his workload would have him at yellow anyway.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

Related Content:  Trainers,  Trainer

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