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July 29, 2009

Under The Knife

Trade Targets

by Will Carroll

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With the non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching (and this year, the full name of the deadline figures to be particularly key), it's a good time to take a look at the health status of several of the players rumored to be on the block. Will a team be acquiring a guy who'll play the 60 or so games between now and the playoffs, or is the medical staff acquiring a new, added responsibility? This is hardly an exhaustive list, and I stay away from all but a couple of the prospects who have been mentioned in deals so far, but hopefully, your team is taking as hard a look at the medical records as they are the statline. Powered by the network of sources that keeps the information flowing year-round, on to the possible injuries:

Roy Halladay
No one is bulletproof. Halladay has a reputation as a workhorse, but in fact he's just very efficient. When told a few years back that he'd have 100 pitches per game to work with, he figured out how to complete games in that amount. His low P/IP mark is one of the reasons that Halladay has been effective, but he has had arm problems. A forearm strain in 2007 and a shoulder problem in 2004 combine with his freak broken leg in 2006 to give him a really odd career line for innings pitched. He's gone over 220 in the last three seasons with no discernible problems, and over the last 20 seasons there are only 13 pitchers that have logged more than three. The only one with a current streak? It was Brandon Webb, so you can see the risk. Nevertheless, Halladay is as good a risk as any pitcher in the game, but it's never zero and there's a couple patterns that don't work in his favor.

Cliff Lee
Last year, it was no sure thing that Lee would be in the Indians' rotation, but a Cy Young Award later, Lee now appears to be everyone's Plan B if they can't get anywhere chasing Roy Halladay. The thing that's forgotten is that Lee's arm was healthy when his job was in doubt after a terrible 2007, and the Indians' medical staff saved that by shutting him down due to the abdominal strain that contributed to his problems. Speaking as someone currently dealing with something similar, abdominal pain affects everything, from movement to breathing. That he came back from the injury and used the time to tighten up his mechanics and study film says something about his baseball IQ (as well as the organization's for pushing him to improve). Lefty pitchers seem to either go on forever or just drop off a cliff, as a glance at Lee's pre-season comparables reflects. Predicting which path Lee will take is tough, but the acquirer is, at worst, buying the next 14 months of Lee's career; it's the contract he'll sign after this one is up that's fraught with risk.

Victor Martinez
Martinez has had a better year in 2009 largely because he hasn't had the injury problems of 2008. The Indians went into the season saying that Martinez would catch about half the time, and that's precisely what they've done by letting him play first base and DH when he wasn't behind the plate. (Take note, Minnesota!) At 30, Martinez is going to need to continue that kind of split, with the eventual complete transition away from the tools of ignorance (though the idea of Martinez remaining a sort of "emergency catcher" could create all kinds of tactical possibilities). As he moves out of his twenties, he has put on a bit of weight, something that doesn't speak terribly well to his longevity; one front-office type I spoke with for this article said that the best case for Martinez is to follow the career path of Jason Varitek: "Win a World Series, sign a three-year deal, then hang on for as long as you can," he said. Sounds like a plan to me.

Kyle Drabek
Drabek came into the league with a great name and as a top pick, but he was called several things in pre-draft reports that didn't help: short, loose, and trouble. The loose mechanics likely led to the Tommy John surgery he had early in his pro career, but the surgery may have led to better mechanics and some maturity. Drabek came back with simpler, cleaner mechanics, and a much stronger core, according to people I spoke with who followed his rehab. With a tricky release point to pick up and a nasty curve, he's very tough on hitters. Still, he's short, right? Actually, Drabek has grown two inches since he was drafted, and now stands 6-foot-2 with a frame that is still filling out. "It's an ideal pitcher's body now," said one scout who saw a recent start, "and you have to like the genetics."

Jarrod Washburn
Washburn might not be having a Cliff Lee season, but he's left-handed, coming off of a season-ending abdominal strain in 2008, and he's available. I guess that makes him Plan C. Washburn's had more injuries over his career, such as a stress fracture of his shoulder, and he's not young or cheap in the way that he was when he was taking the Angels deep into the playoffs earlier in the decade. Instead, he's adjusted and become a serviceable pitcher who has the odd talent of getting better from the stretch. Two scouts from two different teams pointed to his strand rate and said if it wasn't for his contract, Washburn would be an ideal lefty long man. Washburn hasn't had significant health problems during his stay in Seattle, which should mean something for an acquirer.

Scott Kazmir
Kazmir has long been the poster child for iffy pitching mechanics, but when he's on, he's simply dominant. His 2007 both fulfilled his potential and tantalized us with the possibilities. Since then, there are some who would say he's cursed. An early-season elbow injury in 2008 led to an abandonment of his slider and a small drop in his strikeout rate. It started a vicious cycle that led to nibbling, high pitch counts, and boiling frustration for Kazmir, the Rays, and their fans. The 2009 season has been no better to him, but since a trip to ASMI Kazmir's ERA has dropped by a run and a half, giving hope that as he that heads down the stretch, everyone will get to see the 2007 version back in action. At 25 and signed to a reasonable contract, Kazmir might be ill-suited for an ace-level role or a big market, but he's an ideal second starter for a team with a strong identity and pitching coach.

Wade Davis
Davis has been more defined by who he is not than who he is. He's not David Price, who charged through four levels in a year and ended his 2008 in the World Series. He's not even Scott Kazmir, who'd been in the big leagues for three years by his age-23 season. I even regularly confuse Davis and his former teammate, Jake McGee, for no apparent reason. Davis is just steadily good, keeping his control even though he's lost the 98 mph fastball that he had when he was drafted. He still touches 95 on occasion, but he's mostly just a very good pitcher who somehow turns better than average tools into a slightly better than average pitcher. "There's still upside, but he's not an ace," said one veteran Triple-A observer. "But what I think someone gets-the Rays or someone-is a guy who you hand the ball to 30 times and you don't think about it at all, like Jon Garland or Matt Morris." He's had absolutely no injury problems, so part of the package someone might buy is that consistency.

Scott Rolen
While the Jays are busy shopping Halladay, Rolen has been relatively under the radar, though he has his suitors as well. The Reds have been very aggressive about their pursuit of Rolen, willing to take on the bulk of his salary and not be scared off by his back or shoulder problems. On the Toronto turf, Rolen has held up pretty well, though the loss of power seems permanent. The Indiana native would be close to home (again) in Cincinnati, and his numbers in 2009 are looking eerily similar to the ones in 2006 that helped the Cardinals to the World Series. Rolen has a tendency to fade that can be blamed on his injuries and his stubborn determination to play through them, but he's precisely the type of veteran player whom Dusty Baker excels with.

George Sherrill
The O's are making room for the future while Sherrill is something of the forgotten bounty of the Erik Bedard deal. How a lefty closer with some consistency becomes forgotten is still a mystery to me, but every possible acquiring team admits that they look at him as a lefty set-up guy rather than as a closer. For a team like the Cubs, operating with a shaky closer situation, Sherrill would seem to be the ideal candidate for the ninth (using the standard accepted usage) rather than setting up for Kevin Gregg. The Angels, Dodgers, and Marlins are also thinking that Sherrill fits in for them more in the seventh and eighth innings. The flat-hatted one has never had major arm problems aside from fatigue when overused, so aside from his age (32, higher than what most expect because of his long path to the majors), what you see is what you get, something acquirers like.

Freddy Sanchez
Ever since winning the batting title in 2006, Sanchez has been a physical mess. Maybe it was the move to second base, but Sanchez has dealt with recurrent knee problems, muscular issues, and a freakish eye injury that really affected his batting for almost all of 2008. It's the knee that's really the issue, since almost every defensive measure has him as an average second baseman, making his often-empty .300 batting average useful. It's sore again at precisely the wrong time, with many convinced that any trade will be tentative, and putting a lot of pressure on the acquiring team's doctor. The Giants have one of the best, with Dr. Ken Akizuki likely to be the one signing off on Sanchez, so there's a line of defense against trading for a player who will break down. He probably won't play every game, and he's not going to make anyone forget Jeff Kent, but Sanchez does have some known, consistent, and useful skills.

Quick Cuts: Chien-Ming Wang will have surgery to repair his shoulder capsule. It's never good to have the comparable injuries be Mark Prior, Doc Gooden, and Brien Taylor, but let's see what Dr. Andrews finds and does in there. ... I'll have more on this tomorrow, but Carlos Beltran is accelerating his comeback attempt, hoping to catch up with Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado. ... The Brewers were already searching for pitching, so losing Jeff Suppan to an oblique strain doesn't help. Suppan will be checked again Thursday. ... Gil Meche told teammates that he didn't feel right during his bullpen session, but the Royals will have him throw a simulated game on Wednesday. ... Things do not sound good for Randy Johnson. He's got some tearing in his rotator cuff and moves to the 60-day DL. ... A torn forearm is bad if you're a pitcher, but it means just a couple of days off for Aaron Rowand; third-base coaches are taking note, however. ... Roy Oswalt is headed to Houston for an MRI on his back. It's near the same spot as last year's problem, so expect similar results. He's likely to miss his next start. ... As Colby Rasmus comes back from a bruised heel, Rick Ankiel goes out for a couple days with a strained groin. ... For three years running, Daric Barton was one of the 100 best prospects in the game. Now, his latest injury, a hamstring strain that sends him to the DL, is barely a note. Just sayin'. ... Brett Myers is planning to return as a reliever, but sources that have spoken with Myers say that he feels he's capable of starting in case the Phillies don't reel in someone via trade. It would just take longer for him to prepare. ... Pedro Martinez's next rehab start will be on Friday, and he says it will be his last before making his Phillies debut.

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