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March 13, 2008

Team Health Reports

Toronto Blue Jays

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: George Poulis
Player Days Lost: 1,133
Dollars Lost: $18.33 million
Three-Year Rank: 5

Fluke. OK, I can't pull a Bill James here and leave it at one word. The fact is that the Jays' medical staff had an off-year on their results, a steep drop from previous years, where they've been finalists for the Dick Martin Award. As seen by their Three-Year Rank, even last season's off-year wasn't enough to pull them down. So why is this a fluke and not a trend, as was seen with the Oakland A's (their THR is coming next week, but their overall rank is also in the single digits)? Perhaps it's not. If the Jays come back with similar numbers (or worse) next season, then yes, we'll have to look harder and see what changed.

The obvious choice for the change is not the medical staff, but the players on the field. Losing B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett made a strong impact on the days and dollars lost, but from the time of their signings, it was already likely that these sort of setbacks would come up. If Ryan is able to come back on Opening Day, that would be a big win for the medical staff, and given expectations, it's hard to call Burnett's availability a "loss" either. The Jays front office has taken on big risks, not just those two pitchers, but also Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen, and others, not as underpaid upside gambles, but as the type of win-now, big-dollar moves that the Yankees made at the start of the decade.

One thing the Jays will have to watch is shoulders. For some reason, perhaps just coincidentally, shoulder injuries were better than half of their days and dollars lost. More interestingly, it wasn't just pitchers, but also Vernon Wells. Bringing in Rolen will give them another shoulder to keep their eye on and try to maintain. Maybe controlling their assorted shoulder concerns will put them back in contention, both for division crowns and for Dick Martin Awards.

The Big Question
"Can B.J. Ryan actually come back to closing in this amount of time?"

Let me introduce you to Kevin Wilk. You probably don't know him and may never have heard his name, but when Jim Andrews introduces him on stage as "the best physical therapist in the world," it gets your attention. Wilk has been at the forefront of sports medicine and rehabilitation, developing protocols that have allowed pitchers to come back more quickly, more effectively, and without increasing the complications. So behind the scenes, guys like Wilk, his protégé Mike Reinold (now with the Red Sox), and others are making it possible, even probable for pitchers to come back. This doesn't have much to do with B.J. Ryan per se, but without the guys like Wilk, the doctors like Jim Andrews or Tim Kremchek (who did Ryan's surgery), and others, we probably wouldn't even be asking this question. The answer? Yes, he can come back, and appears to be doing just that.

C Gregg Zaun Yellow light: The perfect backup catcher is 36, coming off of a broken hand, and was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, so it wasn't the best of times. With the calendar flipped, you can expect that normal usage combined with his overall history of health makes him as solid a play as this combination allows.

1B Lyle Overbay Yellow light: Assuming the hand is fully healed, he should go back to his normal Mark Grace impersonation, minus the smoking and cursing.

2B Aaron Hill Green light

SS David Eckstein Red light: Eckstein seemingly willed himself into being a real boy-I mean, ballplayer. Being just barely good enough might get you a World Series MVP, but it also doesn't leave you room to lose anything to nagging injuries and age.

3B Scott Rolen Red light: I don't think I need to add much here. Given his shoulder and back problems, adding the turf to the list of demands on his body isn't going to help. Managing his use is going to be one of John Gibbons' biggest tests this season.

LF Reed Johnson Green light: He's green by one point, but the back problem is more worrisome than even a yellow would show.

CF Vernon Wells Red light: Labrums aren't a death sentence for center fielders, but they don't help power hitters. Wells was never really a power hitter, just a good hitter. We'll see if the repaired shoulder will help him get back to being good; don't pass judgment before the second half.

RF Alex Rios Red light: It's impossible to say if his late-season swoon was just a plain old slump or if his conditioning went south while he was fighting the staph infection the prior off-season. He's muscled up coming into camp, which takes some guts in the post-Mitchell world. We'll see if it helps, or just tightens him up.

DH Frank Thomas Red light: In the last four years, Thomas has had two good ones and two bad ones, at least from a health perspective. At any rate, he's now four years older; even at DH, The Big Hurt is living up to both takes on his name.

SP Roy Halladay Red light: I don't like this red, but it's there and deserved. Halladay still has a recent history peppered with injuries, from his broken leg on a comebacker to appendicitis last year. Halladay is one of the most difficult players to value: he's consistent and efficient, yet those very qualities make the specter of injury even more troubling. Still, my take is that he's the pitching equivalent of what Cal Ripken used to be to fantasy teams' at-bats.

SP A.J. Burnett Red light: The shoulder problem is definitely worrisome, especially in light of the number of shoulder problems this team has seen with pitchers. Unlike Halladay, Burnett is an all-or-nothing guy, unhittable or dead weight, and never in between.

SP Dustin McGowan Yellow light: McGowan's big jump in innings was tempered by the fact that, for once, he was finally in just one role. I'm not terribly concerned until he pushes the 200-inning mark. I also like having him around for the easy Pogues references.

SP Shaun Marcum Yellow light: Marcum hit a wall as he passed the innings wall in August, and his season ended with minor knee surgery. At 26, he looks like the kind of pitcher that can deliver 180 frames every year, but might not make it much past that.

SP Gustavo Chacin Red light: Chacin came back last year and promptly re-tore his rotator cuff. This time around, he's coming back from having it 'scoped, and the record of these pitchers is poor, both on the field and staying on the field. It appears now that Chacin and Casey Janssen (torn labrum) have opened the door for Jesse Litsch to return to the rotation. The Jays at least have options at the rotation's back end.

CL B.J. Ryan Red light: See today's Big Question.

RP Jeremy Accardo Green light: Let's just start calling him "Big Tuna." OK, perhaps no one's going to get that, but it'd be a great name for a closer. Accardo's the backup for Ryan, and he'll be key in keeping Ryan's usage reasonable, especially in back-to-back-to-back situations.

Related Content:  A.J. Burnett,  Back,  Shoulder,  Gustavo Chacin

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