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March 29, 2009
Team Health Reports
Los Angeles Angels
Head Trainer: Ned Bergert
Trend: Neutral. Hey, we can't end the THR series on a negative note, and besides, for all of their injury issues, the Angels were the only 100-win team in baseball last year. While Bergert and his staff no longer had to worry about Bartolo Colon, there was still plenty of trouble on the pitching side. Kelvim Escobar was lost for the year, but he's now well ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn labrum. John Lackey missed the first six weeks of the season, but he was fine once he returned from a triceps injury. Meanwhile, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, and Gary Matthews Jr. all stayed in one piece long enough to make it through the season, though the latter two required knee surgery at year's end. Things won't be any easier for the Angels' training staff in '09. The annual Howie Kendrick owie watch begins anew, Guerrero is suddenly two years older, Escobar's rehab still has some time to go, and now Lackey is suddenly having forearm issues. But wait, there's more! Ervin Santana's elbow sprain will likely keep him out until June, if not longer. This doesn't read like an injury report for a 100-win team, and as of now, Bergert and his staff may have to pull off some miracles for this team to come close to that number in '09.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register asks, "How concerned should the Angels be about Ervin Santana's sprained elbow?"
I hate being a downer just a week before the start of the season, but this is not good for the Angels. Santana is dealing with a sprained UCL, and while it's not enough to require surgery yet, he's not expected back until early June. Right now the plan is to let him rest, and hope that the ligament can scar up and allow Santana to pitch. Scar tissue is, at best, usually only about 70 percent as strong as the regular ligament, and though it's rare, if the scar tissue overlays the healthy ligament, he may be fine. This looks a lot like what happened to Francisco Liriano in '06 when he sprained the ligament, rested, and then it snapped in his first game back. The Angels will do everything they can to avoid that situation, but surgery may be inevitable. The timing couldn't be worse after Santana had busted out with a huge year in '08. Frustrated Angels fans everywhere may continue to wonder what the team's rotation would look like if it ever had Santana and Escobar healthy and productive at the same time.
Fantasy Tip: After all of the doom and gloom with Santana, allow me to at least offer a tip regarding the Angels' hurler. Don't reach for him, but if he's in a free fall, go ahead and grab him on the cheap. Knowing that he won't be pitching to start the year, you'll essentially get a two-for-one by grabbing another player off the wire once you move Santana to your DL. Use the extra spot to take a chance on a young player with upside or a speculative closer who may help your squad in the meantime as a dominant set-up guy. (How about teammate Jose Arredondo?) Escobar also fits into this category, will likely be even easier to acquire, and may even have a better chance for success this season. Of all the aging speed/power types on this roster, I like Bobby Abreu the most. He'll come cheaper than Guerrero, but he'll score more runs and swipe 15-20 more bases with a slightly lower average and a little less power.
2B Howie Kendrick: His injury history dates all the way through his minor league career, and he's played in just 190 games in his first two full-time major league seasons. From an injury standpoint, is he the next Rickie Weeks? The combination of unlucky traumas (broken finger in '07) and nagging injuries (hamstring last year) suggest he could be. While the finger was just another addition to his long list of problems, it's the hamstrings that remain a concern-especially after the injury flared back up and forced him to the DL for a second time late last season.
RF Vladimir Guerrero: Finding out that he's a year older than previously thought (he's "officially" 34... we think) didn't change his injury risk, but it sure doesn't help. We've long wondered how all those years on the terrible turf in Montreal would affect his back and knees in the long term. The back problems really haven't been an issue, but his knees are a different story. He had trouble with both of them last year, and ultimately underwent off-season surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Once "iron-man" types like Guerrero start missing time, it usually means a breakdown is coming, and it can often happen quickly. More time at DH, where he spent 44 games last season, will certainly help offset that decline.
DH Gary Matthews Jr.: Like Guerrero, Matthews is also coming off of left knee surgery, though the operation to repair his patella tendon was more extensive. The injuries he's battled during his two years with the Angels are going to start limiting his positional flexibility. That certainly doesn't help; he's already battling Guerrero, Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu for at-bats in the outfield and at DH. Less playing time may help him stay healthier, but it will also make it very difficult to gauge his value.
SP Kelvim Escobar: Escobar has been one of the best stories in Angels camp, and as mentioned above, his progress will help to ease the burden of Santana's injury. That said, there's still a lot of risk here. Escobar had his torn labrum repaired in July and is well ahead of the scheduled recovery time. The hope is that he'll join the team in late April or early May, but we need to see him stretched out and pitching on normal rest before we get too excited. Remember, bone spurs in his elbow as well as knee problems have sent him to the DL in recent seasons, so there's enough history here to assume that his risk extends beyond the shoulder issues. He could certainly contribute to the Angels' rotation in '09, but a full return to his previous performance level would be surprising.
SS Erick Aybar: Between roadblocks (Orlando Cabrera in '06 and '07) and then injuries (finger, hamstring), Aybar has had a tough time trying to establish himself as the Angels' everyday shortstop. He hasn't had 500 at-bats since '05 while in Double-A, so there are questions about how he'd hold up if he's able to approach that number this season.
3B Chone Figgins: Figgins is a good example of how small injuries can linger and magnify in speed players. He never seemed to recover from an early season hamstring strain, and his numbers dropped across the board. He had an excellent track record of health before broken fingers cost him the first month of '07. As he ages, the wear and tear will decrease his flexibility, though playing more at one position may actually help his legs throughout the season.
LF Bobby Abreu: He's a very light yellow, largely due to his age and the amount of games he's logged in the outfield. The system also looks at all the health problems the Angels have had in the outfield in recent years, and assumes there may be some added risk. For the team's incumbent outfielders, I think that's fair, but there's no need to pick on the new guy here, so we won't assume any guilt by association.
C Mike Napoli: There's a chance that Napoli might be ready to catch on Opening Day; off-season shoulder surgery kept him from getting behind the plate for the Angels until this weekend. The issue is his ability to throw-he proved last year that he can swing the bat, and he doesn't need many games to make an impact (20 HR in 78 games). If he plays more in '09, he'll become a legit starter in most leagues instead of a top-tier backup.
SP John Lackey: Lackey had been one of the game's true mound horses until last year, when a triceps injury forced him to miss the first six weeks of the season. The good news is that once back, he showed no ill effects, but the bad news is that a recent forearm strain means he'll likely open the season on the DL. He's been shut down for an undetermined amount of time as the team awaits the full results of an MRI. If the problem persists, he could be looking at the same type of injury that knocked Andy Pettitte out for half of the year during his first season in Houston. If it's even worse, then you can start looking in Ben Sheets' direction. Right now there's not enough evidence to think it will match either of those scenarios, but that could change. By the way, it's a contract year for Lackey, and it doesn't look like he'll get a deal done for a while, so don't be surprised if he tries to push through this injury or others that might pop up during the year.
SP Ervin Santana: He came out of the system yellow, but see today's Big Question for Santana's red light concerns.
SP Jered Weaver: For the second spring in a row, Weaver has dealt with shoulder tightness. He still went out and made 30 starts last year, but when you combine three years of declining production with his funky mechanics, there is reason to worry about his long-term risk. Is he pitching through some pain and on the verge of a significant injury, or should his risk level be even lower? Is he just closer to being an average pitcher than an above-average one? I think we should have our answers by the end of '09.
RP Jose Arredondo: While he's remained healthy in the four years since becoming a pitcher, players who change positions tend to have arm issues at some point. It may never happen for Arredondo, or it might happen tomorrow, but the risk is there. He's not a very dark yellow at this point, but if something happens to Brian Fuentes and Arredondo becomes the team's closer, his risk level will increase.
CF Torii Hunter: I thought Hunter would be at least a light yellow given his age (34 in July), the leg injuries of '05 and '06, and all those years playing on the Metrodome turf. I think those are enough to consider him a risky green, but he's helped in LA by the fact that he can DH at times, or just take a day off in favor of Gary Matthews Jr. or Juan Rivera.
SP Joe Saunders
CL Brian Fuentes