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March 16, 2008

Team Health Reports

Oakland A's

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Steve Sayles
Player Days Lost: 1,152
Total Dollars Lost: $23.96 million
Three-Year Rank: 7

It probably surprises some people to know that the A's payroll had $23 million dollars to lose. The problem is, they didn't, not really; the A's have to keep their talent on the field to have a chance to win, and when they don't, things go bad in a hurry. While things have changed on the field for the A's over the last three seasons-switching managers, and the seemingly standard significant player turnover-it's not as significant as it was when the team lost its big three in the rotation plus Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and others. Perhaps more clearly than any other significant factor, injuries have been the best indicator of the A's success-or the lack of it.

The Three-Year Rank is also probably a huge surprise to many, given the high-profile injuries the club has endured, but the days lost trend is strongly negative: 463, 652, 1152. It's a classic 'death spiral,' as injuries lead to injury due to overwork and an inability to keep up with the demands placed on a medical staff by a over-full training room. In a change after last season's setbacks, long-time trainer Larry Davis was nudged aside, replaced by his assistant Steve Sayles. While keeping it "in the family," the changes are expected to have a significant impact. If nothing else, Sayles is more aggressive and has made his case for change. The San Francisco Chronicle noted some of the more esoteric equipment that Sayles had convinced the A's to bring in, but cold lasers and pulley systems are just tools. The real change comes from the use of those tools and a renewed focus on the need to stay healthy. The A's made noise by spending money and even then, they only spent in the "low six figures." If I'm correct that A's wins track A's health, then the team has made a big pickup for about the cost of a decent pre-arbitration player. Both scouts and statheads agree that it might be the best acquisition the A's made this offseason.

The Big Question
The bloggers over at Athletics Nation ask: "With the A's in terms of injuries could be a myriad of questions, like which of the A's starting pitchers coming off hip surgery will be ready and effective come Opening Day? Or which of Eric Chavez's three surgeries this offseason might be the hardest to come back completely from? But the hottest question has to revolve around "The Fragile"-I'm talking about Rich Harden. Will we ever see him healthy again for more than five or ten starts, so that he can at least build up trade value?"

That is a lot of questions, Blez, so I'll stick with Harden here. I'm often asked what the worst injury in baseball is and my answer surprises people. No, it's not testicular torsion-it's the unknown, lingering injury. Medical staffs are made up of qualified, hard-working people with access to some of the best resources around. Give them a problem and they can usually fix it, or at least tell you that it can't be fixed. The A's simply don't have that with Harden. Doctors in California, Arizona, and Canada haven't given him a solid diagnosis. This isn't to say that he's been misdiagnosed, as Harden has alleged; doctors simply can't find out what's wrong, physical therapists haven't been able to minimize the symptoms, and pitching coaches haven't found a significant mechanical flaw. Harden is a mystery, one as frustrating for the A's as it is for Harden.

C Kurt Suzuki Yellow light: As a youngish catcher without a significant injury history, Suzuki is only risky in the sense that young catchers are all risky. The biggest worry is that he wears down in the second half, but even that concern is minor. Yellow here is actually a positive.

1B Daric Barton Green light: He's green because of an estimate that he'll DH at least part-time; if he instead started 140 games or more at first base, he'd be a very low yellow.

2B Mark Ellis Yellow light: In this infield, he's almost Cal Ripken. He's far enough out from the shoulder injury to discount in almost completely.

3B Eric Chavez Red light: One of the reasons I kept the worst-performing teams for the end is to get a longer look at some of their persistent issues in spring training. After multiple off-season surgeries, there's still very little to go on but hope with Chavez. It's just a hunch, but I think he has one, maybe two more great seasons in him. I just don't know if he'll be healthy enough this season for this to be one of them.

SS Bobby Crosby Red light: Crosby's chronic back problems will likely either move him off of short or sap his power, and maybe both. It's harder to have a Moises Alou kind of career in the infield, but I'm not sure why. Pairing him up with a solid defender in a bat/glove platoon isn't the worst idea to get what he can do out of him while avoiding what he can't, which is stay healthy.

LF Travis Buck Green light

CF Chris Denorfia Red light: He's coming back from Tommy John surgery, but it's not as much of a negative as this red would seem to indicate. It's the rest of the small injuries he's had over time combined the idea that he'll get 120-plus games in center that push his grade into the big-risk red zone.

RF Ryan Sweeney Green light

DH Jack Cust Green light

SP Rich Harden Red light: See today's Big Question.

SP Joe Blanton Green light

SP Chad Gaudin Red light: Gaudin is coming back from surgery to repair his labrum-the labrum in his hip, that is. I'd say it was unusual, except for the fact that he's one of two pitchers in this rotation coming back from a hip issue. Gaudin is behind everyone and should end up functioning as a fifth starter, slotting in once he's needed. That gives him enough time to get ready, but don't be surprised if he has some problems along the way.

SP Justin Duchscherer Red light: Beyond the role change and its inherent innings increase, the Duke is also coming off of hip surgery. If the theory that working on a regular schedule will help him holds true, this should work out. If not, there's always room for him back in the pen.

SP Dana Eveland Yellow light: Eveland has always been a bit bigger than people would like for a pitcher, but as of yet it's never really affected him. He had a finger injury very similar to the one suffered by Joel Zumaya, but hasn't shown any issues since recovering from surgery.

CL Huston Street Yellow light: You can't ignore that he had an elbow problem last year, even knowing that he came back from the nerve problem and pitched at his normal level. At least it's not a structural issue, or this grade would be well in the red.

RL Alan Embree Green light

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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