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March 12, 2008

Team Health Reports

Minnesota Twins

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Rick McWane
Player Days Lost: 1,122
Dollars Lost: $4.99 million
Three-Year Rank: 15

In the training room that Dick Martin designed, the Twins find themselves the beneficiary and victim of an interesting dilemma. The team, always among the most frugal, has a tendency to lose days, but not dollars. All the dollars lost by the Twins could have paid for half of a Carl Pavano, so Carl Pohlad's minions are doing well in one regard. But losing the youngest, cheapest players, such as Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Pat Neshek for any period of time not only reduces the talent available at the time, it also might have an effect that's just as strong on the team's fortunes down the line. The Twins know as well as any team that they need to make use of the pre-arbitration years before losing a player to increasing salary pressure. Using the example of Liriano, he will, in essence, have lost nearly half of his 'cheap years' to Tommy John surgery.

The success of the Twins' training staff will likely be measured by the ability to bring Liriano back and keep him going through the season, a job that shouldn't be so hard. Tommy John has a better than 80 percent success rate, and aside from some small but noticeable kinetic-chain victims like Randy Wolf, there's seldom the kind of big problems like ulnar nerve impingement or graft failure that was seen as little as five years ago. The bigger task for Rick McWane's crew will be keeping Mauer on the field or, more importantly, in the batter's box. That alone calls for a level of creativity that the Twins have not yet shown, and Mauer's increasing salary over the next three seasons makes this perhaps the most key medical issue for any team in the game.

Like many teams, the Twins seem more inclined to focus on rehab rather than prevention. This is good, in that the Twins do rehab well, especially at their Fort Myers facility, but it's not good that they have quite so much experience at it. Under Terry Ryan, the team quickly went from one of the best in the business to a team that was mid-pack in its better years. Now the Ryan era is over, and so will the Dome era soon also be. Perhaps Bill Smith and the new open-air stadium can combine with a renewed focus to make the Twins one of the top teams--on the field, and in the training room--in baseball once again.

The Big Question
The bloggers at Twinkie Town ask: "With Liriano probably starting out in the bullpen, what kind of endurance expectations should there be for him coming off his surgery?"

I'm duty-bound to point out that this question came in January, back when Johan Santana was the ace and Twins fans could still dream about this season's possibilities. Liriano's slow, deliberate return from Tommy John surgery is more a fluke of timing than a reflection of any planning. He could have come back in September of last season, but there was no need, and the Twins used the time and the rotation slot to instead look at their other pitching options. Endurance is one of only two major questions left for Liriano to answer, the other being whether or not he will be able to change the 'recoil' in his delivery and avoid the torque he puts on his elbow with that sharp slider. The Twins are notoriously conservative with their pitchers, so that's some small positive for those still dreaming on Liriano as the Twins' new ace. I don't think the bullpen is an option, or at least the Twins haven't been treating it that way.

C Joe Mauer Red light: Which is worse, Mauer's height or Mauer's history of leg problems? The answer--both! I'm not suggesting that Mauer move out from behind the plate just yet, but if Mike Redmond spends any time at DH this year, someone's going to need to block the Twins on my MLB.tv package to prevent me from throwing my laptop.

1B Justin Morneau Green light

2B Brendan Harris Green light: If you don't like what we write about you in SI, go out and prove us wrong.

3B Mike Lamb Yellow light: He's already a little banged up, but the real question is whether he can hold up as a full-time starter. He's not a big risk, but he's also never established himself as 'the guy' in part due to a tendency to suffer those nagging injuries.

SS Adam Everett Red light: The broken leg last year puts him in the red due to the recovery timetables of guys as dissimilar as Roy Halladay and Nick Johnson. Bones heal, but collision fractures have a tendency to have lasting effects. That said, Everett came back well, and I think he'll be a reasonable risk and still-solid defender.

LF Delmon Young Yellow light: New team, new position, and still playing on turf. Young's just barely over the line from green, but if genetics count, we have to watch his waistline as much as that pretty swing. He played in every game last year, so if he doesn't wear down, than can mean that he'll be a very durable player for the next decade.

CF Carlos Gomez Yellow light: He's a young speed player transitioning to both the majors and turf, and he snapped his hamate on a check swing. I'm surprised he's just yellow.

RF Michael Cuddyer Red light: When healthy, he hits, but he just hasn't really been healthy. Last year, he only dealt with one injury, a thumb sprain, and cashed in on it with a contract. He's likely to have the same sort of minor injuries based on his history. If Twins fans squint, they might see Marty Cordova.

DH Jason Kubel Red light: If we looked at Kubel in the way that the system is looking at Everett, and as someone along the lines of Jermaine Dye or Nick Johnson, the pattern would fit. He appeared to get healthier in the second half; if he stays that way, this red will be wrong.

SP Francisco Liriano Yellow light: The numbers are really irrelevant here. Liriano may not be the de facto number one, but that's how everyone will think of him. If it were easy enough to change perceptions, he should be the fifth starter, where the Twins could skip him every now and again. See today's Big Question for more.

SP Boof Bonser Yellow light: The big man's stamina issues are already well-documented. The same things were said about the similarly-sized Aaron Harang, who happens to be Bonser's top PECOTA comp.

SP Scott Baker Yellow light: Baker ended last season on a comebacker that caused a hand injury, and started this season with a lat strain. He's as good as he's ever been and all along, which is that he's a fifth starter type. For all of their young arms, the Twins don't seem to actually see them develop as much as they just graduate.

SP Kevin Slowey Yellow light: The Twins have pitching depth out the Kaz Matsui, so in the big picture, injury risk isn't that much of a concern. Slowey's not that big a concern either, getting the yellow on age and a probable workload increase.

SP Livan Hernandez Green light

CL Joe Nathan Green light

RP Pat Neshek Yellow light: His season ended with a sore elbow. Was it the result of that funky motion or overuse, and which would be easier to fix?

Related Content:  Twins,  Year Of The Injury

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