March 2, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Jamie Reed
Trend: Negative. For the second straight year, the Rangers saw an increase in the number of days lost to injury. The most disappointing thing, both for fans and for the training staff, is the recurrence of the same names on the list year after year. Hank Blalock failed to stay healthy again, young pitchers like Brandon McCarthy and Jason Jennings were again dealing with injuries, and the back end of the bullpen continued its trend of dealing with one injury after another. There was also some bad luck involved, as was the case in the injuries to Ian Kinsler and David Murphy. Keeping Josh Hamilton playing all season long was a big win for Reed and his staff, and things will be looking up in 2009 if they can do the same, in addition to keeping some of the other usual suspects on the field with him.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report asks, "Taylor Teagarden is one of the rare position-player Tommy John cases. Is there enough of a book on catchers who have gone through it to get a sense of how much of a risk his arm is going forward?"
While plenty of position players have come back fine from Tommy John surgery, there's no real book on young catchers like Teagarden. He ended up missing most of the 2006 season, and he did seem to take longer than most to fully heal from the procedure (lingering soreness in 2007 limited him to part-time duty behind the plate). He was regarded as a very good defensive catcher who never had to rely on pure arm strength as his best weapon, and scouts still see the plus arm he displayed before the surgery. Given the normal recovery path from Tommy John, it seems that his elbow should be fine, but a wrist injury that sidelined him for a stretch in '08 has led to questions about Teagarden's health in general, and whether or not he'll be able to hold up behind the plate for an entire season.
Fantasy Tip: Forget the pitching. The starters are waiver-wire fodder, and I wouldn't pay for any saves here. The Rangers' closer role will likely be shared by a few pitchers who can be added and dropped throughout the year. As for the hitters, we all know about fantasy studs Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, but outside of those two, this is a very difficult group to predict. Everyone loves Chris "Crash" Davis, but, as noted below, that may be a bad thing at this point; sure he can rake, but if that's all he's doing, is he a good value in the fourth to sixth rounds, which is where he's started to go in a lot of drafts? Michael Young is so 2006. Will Jarrod Saltalamaccia and Taylor Teagarden get equal time behind the plate, translating into a nightmare fantasy scenario that renders them both useless? We've seen Milton Bradley and David Murphy putting up very solid numbers recently in the Rangers' outfield, but will Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz, and possibly Andruw Jones just eat into one another's at-bats all year? You see what I'm getting at here. The '09 Rangers are looking like Two Men and some Fantasy Maybes.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Saltalamacchia's risk is tied directly to how much time he'll spend behind the plate in '09, as he's in a tight battle with Taylor Teagarden for the starting job. Even if the two end up in a platoon, there's still plenty of danger here; we're talking about a catcher who's just 23 years old and has already been bitten by the injury bug. A groin injury limited him early last season, and he eventually had his year cut short due to inflammation in his right forearm. It's a big year for Salty: will he get enough at-bats to prove that he can still become a solid-hitting everyday catcher, and can he stay healthy enough to make the most of it if he's given the opportunity?
OF Marlon Byrd: Byrd, David Murphy (), Nelson Cruz, and Andruw Jones () are all going to be fighting for at-bats, but Byrd is recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee. He's been brought along slowly this spring after playing through the injury all of last year, and the more he appears in center field this season, the bigger the injury risk. Murphy is probably the favorite at this point for the left-field job; manager Ron Washington loves him, and for the purposes of this exercise, he remains a green-light guy despite the knee sprain that kept him out for the final two months of the season. Jones is the ultimate wild card in the group. The bottom line is that there's a danger that none of these players will be seeing enough playing time to put up significant counting stats, but that they'll also actually all benefit from a health standpoint by being rested throughout the season.
CF Josh Hamilton: There has been talk of moving Hamilton to right field, and while it's a switch that would help him health-wise (he'd be downgraded to a yellow if he were in right), GM Jon Daniels recently said that Hamilton will stay in center for now. That doesn't mean the Rangers won't force the issue if it looks as if Hamilton is beginning to wear down as the season goes on. Right now, there just aren't many other attractive options on the roster. The wrist injury from '07 was not an issue last year, but our system tends to see Rule 5 players as being more seriously injured than they actually were. He stays red for now, but Hamilton took a major step toward proving he can survive an entire season by playing in 156 games a year ago. Can he do it in consecutive seasons, and finally cast away concerns about his health? After all of the other questions he's answered, I'll let you bet against him.
DH Hank Blalock: This may be Blalock's last stand. He missed 100 days last year due to a torn left hamstring and inflammation in his throwing shoulder. The move to DH should be good news for him after dealing with numerous shoulder injuries over the past two years, but the Rangers have plenty of options at DH if he goes down again or if he's eventually traded. With Blalock entering the final year of his contract, expect the Rangers to give him a quick hook if things go south again.
SP Vicente Padilla: Padilla had a brief DL stint last year with a neck strain, but it was a relatively healthy season for the 31-year-old, who has a long list of past ailments. The elbow and triceps injuries from the past, one 30-start season since 2003, another year of wear, and the strain of a hot Texas summer all add up to give Padilla a red light.
CL Frank Francisco: While his second straight healthy season is a good sign, it's still not enough for the system to overlook the nearly two years he missed in '05 and '06 due to Tommy John surgery. Further complicating the issue is that Francisco has battled control problems throughout his career, and he appears set to see some high-leverage innings in '09 as the Rangers likely closer to start the season.
1B Christopher Davis: "Crash" burst onto the scene in '08 with 17 home runs in just 80 games. Can he hold up for more than 500 at-bats in his first full season in the Texas heat? That's really the only worry here, and there's nothing in his past to suggest that he can't. On a side note, though: isn't he fast becoming the sexiest fantasy sleeper of all, one who's been talked up so much that the value just isn't there anymore? I think that's the case, so use this yellow as a cautionary reminder that potential and value can be two completely different things in most fantasy leagues.
2B Ian Kinsler: Kinlser failed to pass the 130-game mark for the third straight year as he was forced to undergo season-ending hernia surgery in September. A stress fracture in his left foot ('07) and a dislocated thumb ('06) have also plagued him in recent seasons. Because of his size and defensive ability, Kinsler looks like a max-effort type of player who struggles with injuries as a result. So why isn't he red? Well, Kinsler's injuries have mostly been instances of his being unlucky, and his ability to drive the ball suggest a player bigger than his size who just needs to make a few adjustments to stay healthy. The odd comp here is Jeff Bagwell, a player who had his own injury problems early on before he rose above them. The bet here is that Kinsler's career takes a similar path, that his injuries go away, and he entrenches himself as one of the game's best second basemen for the next several years.
3B Michael Young: The system never likes position changes-at least during the first 50 games-but Young has been a lock for 155 games or more throughout his career, and I wouldn't worry much about the health ramifications of his shift over to third base.
RF Nelson Cruz: Cruz is caught up in the numbers battle with Byrd, Murphy, and Jones. He's not a huge risk, but the closer he gets to 400 and 500 at-bats, the more yellow he becomes; he's only had more than 300 at-bats at the major league level just once.
SP Kevin Millwood: He has exemplified mediocre Texas pitching over the last three seasons, and at the age of 34, perhaps he'll finally put Rangers fans out of their misery in '09. Groin and hamstring injuries have led to a three-year decline in performance and innings pitched. Nolan Ryan says that the team's pitchers will be in better shape this season, and Millwood may be the staff's poster child for improved conditioning. If Millwood fails to reach 180 IP this season, the Rangers can negate the final year of his contract. Maybe they wouldn't mind if he's skipped a few leg squats during the offseason.
SPs Matt Harrison and Dustin Nippert: I'll list these two together; health-wise, they have a better chance of staying in the rotation right now than the red-light trio of Brandon McCarthy, Kris Benson, and Jason Jennings. Harrison had some shoulder issues late in 2007, but the biggest concern would be his workload increase if he ends up taking a turn every fifth day. Nippert spent some time on the DL with an injury to his right foot last year, and he's been shuttled between the bullpen and rotation throughout his professional career. As with Harrison, a rotation spot would mean a spike in workload for Nippert in '09.
RP C.J. Wilson: It was often ugly, but Wilson did find a way to rack up 24 saves last year. Bone spurs in his left elbow finally got the best of him in August, and he underwent surgery to have them removed. Starting the season behind Francisco for the closer's role takes away some of the risk, but given Francsisco's health concerns, it's likely that Wilson will see his fare share of save opportunities in '09 as well.
SS Elvis Andrus