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February 25, 2009

Team Health Reports

Oakland Athletics

by Brad Wochomurka

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Head Trainer: Stephen Sayles
Player Days Lost: 1,036
Total Dollars Lost: $13.5 million
Injury Cost: $25.9 million

Trend: Neutral. I thought about going negative here, but I'll give the A's the benefit of the doubt since they've rid themselves of the annual health headache that is Rich Harden, and also got more out of Justin Duchscherer last year than they had in '07. Sayles begins his second season as the team's head trainer, and beyond taking Harden out the equation for the most part the challenges remain the same: keep the left side of the infield (Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez) healthy, try to delay the inevitable injury to the team's best starter (now Duchscherer), protect a young arm at the back of the bullpen (Huston Street out, Joey Devine in), and squeeze more years out of an aging designated hitter (Jason Giambi in for Frank Thomas). Granted, that last one will probably be easier this time around. If Sayles and his staff can find ways to cut down on some of the lingering injuries that have plagued this team in recent years, than perhaps '09 will be the start of a positive health trend in Oakland.

The Shape of the Season:

graph

The Big Question: Susan Slusser, who covers the A's for the San Francisco Chronicle, asks: "After a second surgery on his right shoulder, is Eric Chavez finally healthy enough to play, and produce, for an entire season?"

Chavez is reportedly healthy, and he says that his shoulder feels better than it has in ten years, but haven't we heard this line before? As Slusser notes, it's hard to ignore the fact that Chavez says he's pain-free and has "no doubts" that he can play third just six months after worrying about whether his time at the hot corner, or even his career, was finished. If healthy, Chavez is a huge upgrade over options like Jack Hannahan and Cliff Pennington. Chavez will be held out of the first week of spring games, and until we see him in action consistently, we just won't know if he's truly healthy. Even if he is, is he ready to handle the grind into June, July, and August, or will there be a point when he hits a wall? With so few comparables, it's a big unknown, and one of the most intriguing questions of the spring.

Fantasy Tip: Matt Holliday instantly becomes Oakland's best fantasy (and real life) hitting option since Eric Chavez was an MVP candidate and Jason Giambi's first time here. Unfortunately, he'll probably be overvalued by those looking at his Colorado stats on draft day. Holliday will still be fun to own, but it's asking a lot for him to switch leagues and leave the hitters' haven of Coors Field without a drop-off in production. His home/road splits while in Denver back up the notion that Coors had a lot to do with his gaudy numbers. He'll have more value in AL-only leagues due to the relative weakness of the outfields compared to those in the National League, and keep in mind he may wind up in yet another uniform before the end of the season. If you're looking for quality relief pitchers, the A's have them in Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler. If you're not sure which one will close, grab the pair. After all, they both proved they could be helpful fantasy arms last year even if they weren't closing games, and they'll both likely see save opportunities at some point in '09.

2B Mark Ellis: Red light Ellis is working to recover from surgery to repair cartilage damage and a labrum tear in his right shoulder. He hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but that's tenuous at best; he won't be cleared to play second base until sometime in late March. He can still swing the bat though, and he'll work as a DH in minor league spring games. Despite the fact that Ellis has had just one healthy season since 2003, the A's had no real fall-back option in-house, so they re-signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason.

SS Bobby Crosby: Red light Crosby was finally healthy for a full season in '08, but the A's probably wish he would have gotten hurt. He was terrible in 145 games last year, and now enters the final year of his contract trying to prove that he can be healthy and productive at the same time. Several insiders have advanced the theory that Crosby played through injuries last year that he would have sat for previously, and that would make sense given the questions about his durability. There's still far too vast of an injury history here to to take down the red light after only one season of staying on the field.

3B Eric Chavez: Red light See today's Big Question.

SP Justin Duchscherer: Red light Duchscherer was having an outstanding season after his move into the rotation, but it came to a halt early for the second year in a row due to hip surgery. It's very difficult to get rid of a chronic hip problem, and it is unlikely that Duchscherer can make it through an entire season unscathed. You can't really make the argument for starting vs. relieving here, because he's hurt the hip doing both. Just as big of a concern is that pitchers with hip injuries tend to alter their mechanics, and they wind up hurting something else. That doesn't bode well for Duchscherer, who has already missed time in recent years with back, biceps, and elbow injuries. He's produced when healthy, and PECOTA thinks that trend will continue this season, but don't overpay and be ready to jump off this train quickly.

RP Joey Devine: Red light Devine is in a battle for the team's closer role with Ziegler, and after his fantastic second half in '08 you'd hate to see him lose it due to injury. Elbow tendonitis sidelined Devine for more than two months in the middle of the season, and a degenerative disc in his back had caused major problems during his time in the Braves organization-never a good injury to already have in the medical history of a player who's only 25 years old (and likely one of the reasons why the Braves nearly gave him away). How he does this year may determine whether dominance or life on the disabled list is the predominant feature of his future.

1B Jason Giambi: Yellow light You may be surprised that Giambi isn't a red, but it's OK to consider him a darker yellow. The plantar fascitis from '07 didn't bother him last year, and he had a nice bounce-back season at the age of 37. Plus, he's now proven twice that he can rebound from major injuries in his 30s. Now back in Oakland, expect him to see a nice split between first base and DH, the latter of which keeps him in the yellow... for now.

CF Ryan Sweeney: Yellow light Sweeney is a very dark yellow coming off of surgery to re-attach a ligament in his left pinkie that had bothered him for much of the second half. In addition to the surgery, Sweeney wound up on the DL twice during the season, once for a bruised left toe, and later for a sprained thumb. Sweeney has proven that he can play through some pain, as all of these injuries lingered throughout the year. Now, at 24, he must show that he can build on a promising first year in Oakland by avoiding the wrist and hand injuries that have hampered him so early in his career.

OF Travis Buck: Yellow light If you've noticed a trend with the players we've discussed so far, it's that the A's, for whatever reason, seem to have a problem nipping minor injuries in the bud. There are a lot of recurring or lingering injuries on this list, and that's what makes Buck's yellow such a source of concern. The shin splints and concussion he dealt with last year shouldn't carry over to '09, but given the tendency of injuries in this clubhouse to do just that, and his list of injuries over the past two seasons, you simply have to be a bit concerned about him moving forward. Buck may have realized this himself, recently admitting that he needed to concentrate on improving the strength and flexibility in his legs and learn to pick his spots when diving and crashing around in the outfield.

SP Josh Outman: Yellow light As he's moved from starter to reliever in the minors, and now back to the rotation in the majors, Outman has people comparing him to Duchscherer. In an article about health, that's not a good thing, however. That doesn't mean he's necessarily a hip injury waiting to happen; in fact, Duchscherer's transition may have given the A's an idea of what not to do in bringing Outman along. Regardless of the comparisons, the expectation of a heavier workload at the major league level is enough for our evaluative system to be cautious.

C Kurt Suzuki: Green light A green catcher! It's rare, but Suzuki passed a big test by handling his first full season behind the plate in Oakland without injury. Only two catchers in baseball appeared in more games: Russell Martin and the man Suzuki replaced in Oakland, Jason Kendall. Suzuki is very athletic and he moves well behind the plate, which plays favorably when assessing his injury risk as a regular backstop.

LF Matt Holliday Green light

DH Jack Cust: Green light Being a DH can go a long way toward getting the green light, but if Cust plays more than 50 games in the field, consider him yellow.

SP Dana Eveland: Green light I've been known to redefine the term "all you can eat" at times, so I don't want to cast stones here... but I'm going to anyway. Simply put, Eveland is fat. His conditioning is a concern, especially after a big decline in production over the second half. He reported to camp in early January this year, so we'll see if that helps.

SP Sean Gallagher Green light

SP Gio Gonzalez: Green light This is a very surprising green; pitchers this young with the kind of control problems and need for mechanical tweaks that he has almost always come up red or yellow. This is compounded by pitching coach Curt Young's track record of not being able to successfully make these tweaks (see Rich Harden) with young pitchers. For now, think of Gonzalez's health as if he's playing Twister-one foot on green, the other on yellow, and an arm or two reaching toward red.

CL Brad Ziegler Green light

Brad Wochomurka is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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