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February 24, 2010
Team Health Reports
St. Louis Cardinals
The Summary: While many debate Tony La Russa vs. Bobby Cox for best manager of this generation or focus on Dave Duncan's incredible track record at putting talented but underachieving pitchers back together, almost everyone ignores the third part of the team that's been around in both Oakland and St. Louis: Barry Weinberg, the head trainer. Weinberg's work is ignored in large part because he's seldom at the top of the rankings. The Cards simply take on too much risk, and even when he succeeds more than he fails, there's a Scott Rolen or Chris Carpenter or Chris Duncan to drag him down. Just keeping Albert Pujols on the field is worth several wins a year. Remember, Pujols has never been completely healthy for any extended period of his major-league career. The Cards will take the ups and downs of someone like Carpenter as long as the wins column stays up. World Series rings are better than even the cool Dick Martin trophy.
The Cost: That risk the Cards have taken has certainly showed, as St. Louis lost $18 million last year and have lost $67.5 million over the last three seasons. The Cardinals losing $18 million in 2009 doesn't quite tell the whole story. Troy Glaus made up just over half of that with $9.2 million. Compared to the rest of the league, St. Louis lost just $4 million more due to injuries. That didn't stop GM John Mozeliak from spending big this winter on Matt Holliday and Brad Penny, but that was all they spent (other than on Jason LaRue). The Cardinals still have holes on the left side of the infield and limited funds to work with. That extra $4 million could have helped.
The Big Risk: Adam Wainwright is unique. While the Cardinals under La Russa/Duncan have done wonders with "retreads," the dark side of that story is that they've had almost no success with young pitchers. Bud Smith, Rick Ankiel, and even names down in the organization that just haven't developed or, as in the case with their pen last year, barely given a chance. That makes the success of Wainwright more interesting. It's possible that Wainwright is immune to anything, that he's just that talented, but perhaps it's the struggles he had in the minors that helped. An elbow problem nearly cost him more than just a bad 2005, but he came back quickly. We don't really know why Wainwright escaped the fate of almost every other young pitcher that's come under Duncan's tutelage, but any outlier is, by definition, risky. Or at least as big of a risk as the Cards have right now.
The Comeback: Oh look. An injury-prone pitcher with talent shows up in St. Louis, works with Duncan, and pow, success. The story has been written time and time again in St. Louis and Oakland, so should it surprise you that the front office continues to cheaply restock this type of pitcher, especially given "The Big Risk" discussion about their young pitcher issue? Penny will try to show there's still something left in his arm and that he's more a pitcher than he is just a guy who is on an Adam Duritz-style run. If nothing else, you have to admire his workout techniques.
The Trend: The Cardinals simply take on too much risk to have good injury stats. For those looking at the numbers that are available out there, I'd invite them to consider the Cardinals. They have "bad" numbers-actually just above average-but just keep winning, which is the real goal of the game. Accepting risk smartly has allowed them to do what they do well while keeping their budget within the bounds of Midwestern reserve. As long as they keep bringing in experiments, the numbers won't get much better, but no one will mind as long as they continue to squeeze just enough value out of those damaged players. Then again, if it does go wrong, this is a team that could go into a Mets-style death spiral in a hurry.
3B David Freese: Freese might stay healthy if he holds the job that's more or less his by default, but the system doesn't like the odds of that as his playing time increases. The ankle injury that cost him much of last year shouldn't be that much of a factor, aside from pointing out he's not the fastest healer.
SP Chris Carpenter: I suppose St. Louis fans will say this rating is because I hate him. No, just like with the Cy Young, I think Carpenter is great; fourth place isn't bad, even if you don't get a medal. Carpenter's risk is much less subjective. He's had as many surgeries on that right arm as any pitcher I can recall, yet he's still putting up solid results. The question now is, did the surgeries put some more in or take some out off the back end of his career? Fact is, no one knows. When healthy, he's as good as they come. When not healthy, he's powerfully expensive.
SP Brad Penny: See The Comeback.
SP/RP Mitchell Boggs: Boggs is more likely to end up in the pen than the rotation, but the back end of the Cards rotation is such a mess that Boggs was as good a possibility as anyone when I ran the numbers. He's red in the context I had him in, but I doubt he'll play enough to really be a risky player. Don't look at me; you're the ones that want this early!
1B Albert Pujols: A couple years ago, people were panicked about Pujols' elbow. He was fine. Last season, he had elbow surgery that looked more major than it is-even the scar was suspicious, but everything checked out in the end. This year, more elbow surgery, but no one's too worried. He's never been healthy, and a healthy Pujols is just plain scary to think about. Ignore the steroid rumblings and dream for a minute about what Mark McGwire might do for Pujols. Remember, while everyone's focused on power numbers, it was at this point in his career where McGwire's OBP shot through the roof. Not all of that was intentional walks.
SS Brendan Ryan: I hope his nickname-B. Rabbit-catches on, just because it's fun. Luckily, a wrist injury won't keep him from hopping. He had surgery this offseason, but he's expected to be ready by Opening Day. He'll lose power, but he doesn't have much to begin with.
CF Colby Rasmus: Rasmus was cited as one of the main reasons the team switched from Hal McRae to McGwire. We'll have to see if a full season in center field without much in the way of ready backup will overtax Rasmus defensively. Interesting question: Does a defensive focus hurt center fielders the way it does with catchers?
SP Adam Wainwright: See The Big Risk.
SP Kyle Lohse: Lohse's lingering forearm inflammation got better in the offseason, but you might notice he wasn't pitching then. There's nothing to say that it won't come back and cost him more time. As a known, it could be addressed, but no one seems too sure of what the cause is for this or what the ultimate result might be. That gets him very near to the red line.
CL Ryan Franklin: Franklin wore down coincidentally with his contract extension. While Dayn Perry showed that the contract year exists, I'm not sure if the contract couple of months does. He simply wore down under heavy usage. Expect adjustments, starting with more of a focus on the guys in front of him.
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick: Ludwick proves that you can take the injury tag off and have a career if you don't lose any of your other skills. While Rick Wilton said, "Health is a skill," I wish "health is a tool" didn't sound inappropriate because it really is the sixth tool for a successful player.