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March 10, 2008

Team Health Reports

Chicago Cubs

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Mark O'Neal
Total Days Lost: 1,093
Total Dollars Lost: $10.66 million
Three-Year Rank: 25

Athletic trainers used to be one of the fixtures of baseball clubhouses. Managers and players would come and go, but the trainer-good ol' Doc or Bones-would still be there. As baseball has moved into the modern era, trainers still tended to avoid turnover, but increasingly also had a tendency to stay with particular managers. The best modern example of this is Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg, who's been alongside Tony La Russa almost as long as Dave Duncan. When Dusty Baker came to Chicago, he brought along 'his guy' from the Giants, Dave Groeschner. When that ended in a cloud of confusion, the Cubs latched on to one of Weinberg's protégés, Mark O'Neal. O'Neal is the fourth Cubs head trainer in the UTK era, following John Fierro, Dave Tumbas, and Groeschner. That lack of stability is one of the reasons that the Cubs used to explain their poor ratings in the past, but the Three-Year Rank above belongs entirely to O'Neal and his staff.

Of course, as you know many of those days lost listed above belong to pitchers. Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Angel Guzman, and Wade Miller account for nearly half of the injury days in 2007, and even Mickey Cobb couldn't have prevented those days from being logged. So with those pitchers either gone or in different roles, O'Neal and his staff are facing a team full of yellows. If you think that this is good, I'm not sure. Yellows are basically medium-risk players who could go either way, and while they would seem to be the type of players that a medical staff can make the biggest difference with, with this many on a single team, I wonder if the Cubs' training staff can keep up with the demands on their time and attention.

Which brings us back to how to best use the resources they have available. Sam Zell might sell the name of Wrigley, cursing more than he deals with Curses, but his mantra of doing "more with less" is likely to apply to the medical staff as well. Prioritizing on prevention and developing a resource-driven maintenance program would be a good start, unless the Cubs are comfortable with seeing millions of dollars idle on the DL, and their name still at the tail end of the THR rankings.

The Big Question
The bloggers from Bleed Cubbie Blue ask: "Is this the year that Kerry Wood finally comes back from all his various injuries and resumes his dominance, this time as a closer?"

Dominance is a pretty high standard for any pitcher, let alone one who's still trying to adjust to working in relief. Wood's major limitation is his ability to recover, to come back on back-to-back days. The Cubs' bullpen structure, with four legitimate late-inning arms, would seem purpose-built to make use of Wood, but thus far, Lou Piniella doesn't seem inclined to divvy up the role. Wood's short stint as a short man isn't enough to tell us much, but some odd lefty/righty and home/road splits indicate that there might be some ways to make best use of Wood in combination with other relievers. If the Cubs get caught up in what Wood can't do-recover quickly-then they'll miss out on what he can. Whether that rises to the level of true dominance is going to depend on Piniella and Rothschild as much as it is Wood and Marmol.

C Geovany Soto Red light: Soto has dealt with some elbow issues over the past two seasons, and that, combined with his age and expected workload, is enough to drop him down into the red range, although I'm not overly concerned here.

1B Derrek Lee Yellow light: Lee's missed time hasn't all been injury-related, but there's no way to differentiate between time lost within the system; it really only slightly inflates his real risk. I'm most concerned with his legs.

2B Mark DeRosa Green light: I didn't see the heart thing coming at all, but he's not going to miss any time. Consider this the best green light ever.

SS Ryan Theriot Yellow light: Theriot continues to hold the shortstop job and the #2 slot in the lineup. He wore down after about 120 games, his previous career high. It's a slight wobble more than a real worry.

3B Aramis Ramirez Yellow light: Ramirez's ability to mash is only held back by his continual problems with small, nagging injuries; it's never the same thing, but it's always something. Unlike most guys on this team, he's younger than most think. His on-off pattern of the last four years is due for another 'on,' but even the 'off' is pretty darn good.

LF Alfonso Soriano Yellow light: Soriano's quad and hamstring issues are already familiar issues, but Soriano's PECOTA comps are an odd set of DH types; Cubs fans can't like seeing Andre Dawson on there. I see him as one of the players that will just decide to hit more home runs as his legs decline.

CF Felix Pie Yellow light: One scout said he was "skinnier than an Olson twin." Another called him "Corey Patterson without the power." What the rating reflects is that Pie's a whippet who has issues with his flexibility and with overexertion.

RF Kosuke Fukudome Yellow light: He's coming off of minor elbow surgery, and we've seen some Japanese position players struggle with the longer, more intense schedule. Neither is a huge concern, however. One scout I talked to worries about his work ethic combined with the unpadded Wrigley walls.

SP Carlos Zambrano Red light: Every year, I warn you that Zambrano is risky due to his workload, and every year, he's managed to stay relatively healthy. Not all smokers get lung cancer, but not many of them run marathons either. I'm betting Zambrano pays for his workload with a shortened career, Drysdale-style. In today's game, how many millions is that?

SP Rich Hill Yellow light: He's not as young as you might expect for someone who only just established himself in the big-league rotation, but that's a plus for his health; the jump in his workload at the major league level just isn't as much of an issue for a 27-year-old.

SP Ted Lilly Yellow light: Assuming last season's playoff home run/glove slam doesn't Brad Lidge him, he's out of the shadow of the shoulder problems that push him up into the yellow range. Of course, the last time he approached 200 innings, he had shoulder problems early the next season.

SP Sean Marshall Red light: Marshall seemed a lock for the rotation before the Cubs picked up Jon Lieber Red light. Now, the time he's likely to spend in the pen reduces the rating; anything under 150 innings has him back into the middle of the yellow range.

SP Jason Marquis Green light: Marquis seemed like a smart pick back in January, but now it appears as if everyone's serious about seeing what a bad idea Ryan Dempster (yellow) will be as a starter. Marquis is really just an innings-eater, but that's not a bad thing to have around with the other risks that the Cubs are carrying.

CL Carlos Marmol Yellow light: He hasn't been a pitcher that long, and remember that many conversions end up with elbow problems. No one really knows why, but with Marmol, all you have to do is watch him pitch once to understand why he's got that 30 percent attrition rate.

RP Kerry Wood Red light: Wood's ability to recover is the only thing holding him back from being a plus reliever. See today's Big Question for more.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year,  Trainer

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