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March 27, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Mark O'Neal
Trend: Positive. After being at or over 1,000 days lost in each of the previous three years, O'Neal and his staff finally seemed to take hold of a team that was often beset by injuries. Keeping Kerry Wood relatively healthy and not having Mark Prior around played a big part in that, but this team is filled with "race cars"-highly talented but also very fragile players, the kinds of players that prevent trainers from spending too much time with their families. The Cubs have to prove that '08 wasn't a fluke, which will be no small task with Rich Harden and Milton Bradley added to their workload.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Dave Kaplan of WGN Radio's Sports Central asks: "With Rich Harden's questionable shoulder, would you slot him in the fifth spot in the rotation so that he can be skipped from time to time to help him stay fresh and possibly avoid injury?"
This is an easy one: Absolutely, I would. There's very little chance that Harden will make it through 2009 much healthier than he did in 2008. That said, '08 showed again that he can be quite valuable in limited time. The Cubs have an interesting Plan B in Jeff Samardzija; they seem to be debating whether he's a starter or a reliever (while some in the scouting community continue to insist that he might still be a wide receiver), but why not both? It would be easy to set up a system where Harden is skipped every third or fourth time through the rotation, with Samardzija's usage adjusted to have him ready to slot in. You wouldn't normally expect the swingman to go deep into a game, but if you know it's coming, you could easily adjust his bullpen usage. Samardzija makes about 10 starts, and maybe a few more if the Cubs get creative with the calendar and figure out how to get some extra rest for Carlos Zambrano as well. Yes, I'd expect Harden to be better off making 20 starts rather than 30, and the team to be better off all around. It's this kind of creativity that is stymied by thinking about hard and fast roles rather than finding the best way to use the talent that a team has available.
Fantasy Tip: Cubs players, like Red Sox and Yankees, tend to be a bit overvalued because they have a large fan base. Over the past few seasons, the Cubs have actually had players who lived up to their perceived values. Jim Hendry has a knack for putting together teams that fit the manager, something he's sensitive to as a former college coach. That's a good thing when it works, like it has with Lou Piniella, though not so much when Dusty Baker was begging for speed and Neifi Perez. There's some value here in the pitching, as long as you understand the risks of rostering all-or-nothing guys like Rich Harden. The same could be said for the outfield, where Bradley's foibles keep his value reasonably low. Ryan Theriot is Dustin Pedroia Lite... OK, very light, but there are things to like at a much reduced price.
LF Alfonso Soriano: Soriano's legs have betrayed him over the past few seasons, but his overall production is still very much in the range that would have made the Cubs happy if they could have foreseen the future. He's likely to continue his slow decline, running less, though with more power and the occasional stint on the DL.
RF Milton Bradley: Bradley won't be able to DH, but at least he is a good distance from his ACL surgery. That affected him a lot more last year than most noticed, largely because he was hitting the crap out of the ball regardless. The Cubs will have to be smart with how they use him, but they did well with Moises Alou not too long ago. That's who Bradley is now.
SP Carlos Zambrano: When Zambrano raised his arms to the sky after his no-hitter, he couldn't raise the right one as high; that should tell you something. His shoulder is finally showing some signs of wear after the kind of abuse that put Kerry Wood and Mark Prior down and out. He's fine when rested, but there are going to be some concerns that, like last year, he'll need extra rest here and there, or worse, some time off to recharge. The Cubs are right to do everything they can to keep him away from the surgeons.
SP Rich Harden: I normally say "See today's Big Question" here, but Harden merits additional discussion. The shoulder is problematic but manageable, though it's actually like a ticking time bomb that just isn't showing a countdown. The Cubs did a great job managing his usage (and the A's deserve some credit here as well), so signs are generally positive. The Cubs staff has to keep Zambrano and Harden healthy to contend, one of the biggest challenges facing any medical staff.
CL Carlos Marmol: Marmol's workload was high last year, but it wasn't much more than the past two season. He's not as young as most think, and unless you believe that the WBC is a curse, there's little reason to believe he won't be a dominating late-inning guy again. At least for a while. You can name the dominating late-inning guys that lasted more than three years on both hands.
SS Ryan Theriot: Theriot is barely a yellow, but he does play all-out, and he really wore down in the second half of each of the last two years. He'd do better with some rest, but there's not enough behind him on the roster to believe that can happen.
C Geovany Soto: Soto's 2008 set him up as one of the best catchers in the game, but he also had an incredible run of luck. He had almost none of the dings that catchers get. Maybe he is the next Ivan Rodriguez, but he'll need another season to prove it.
CF Reed Johnson: The platoon role lowers the risk for Johnson, but what might end up taxing him is the presence of Milton Bradley. If Bradley misses too much time, Kosuke Fukudome will be spending more time in right field than he will starting in center ahead of Johnson. The only safety net in center is Joey Gathright, so the health of everyone in the outfield is paramount.
SP Ryan Dempster: Dempster went from closer to starter without any problems. He tripled his innings pitched, and unless you believe that the multiplier for late-inning work is that high, that might have been something of an increase. Dempster is not John Smoltz, but his career path is nearly as unique.
SP Sean Marshall: He's facing a big innings increase, but aside from that, there's nothing troubling on his chart.
3B Aramis Ramirez: I'll admit that this one surprises me. His injury history is far enough back that the little things aren't enough to move him into the yellow. Close, but not quite there. He's no more of a risk than any other player; things happen, players miss games, and too often even the team doesn't see them coming.
CF Kosuke Fukudome
SP Ted Lilly
RP Kevin Gregg: He may end up being the closer sooner rather than later. Given his injury history and Lou's bullpen usage the last couple of years, I'm not sure whether this green is that good, and he's still affected by the off-season knee surgery.