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March 5, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Lonnie Soloff
Wins Lost: Neutral. They may have lost a few more days than they did in their Dick Martin Award-winning season of 2007, but the Indians have been relatively solid aside from a few key injuries. That brings up the age-old question of whether you'd rather lose 10 mediocre players for 15 days each, or one star for that 15-day stretch. The value can be the same in both on-field and injury cost valuations, but it's not that easy to figure out. Jake Westbrook's elbow popping wasn't predictable, while the myriad maladies that befell Victor Martinez were difficult to manage. The Indians do a great job with both prevention and management, which allows them to make educated bets on risky players like Kerry Wood. Year in and year out, Soloff's staff is always a contender, and that usually makes the Indians contenders as well.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com's Indians beat writer, asks: "While Travis Hafner is an interesting question, I think it's the rotation that's the biggest worry. Carl Pavano is penciled in to the third slot with his history, and Anthony Reyes is just behind him with a bad elbow. Does this make the return of Jake Westbrook in the second half their biggest hope?"
Baseball has had platooning as an option for a century or so; while it's nice to have one player that can do everything, it's often better to let players do what they do best, and let them fail less at the things they're not quite so good at. While most platoons are based on handedness, there are others that can be useful, including what one front-office type called "role platooning." (I'm still unsure of that name.) In essence, a team can use multiple players to fill one role. For the Indians, that role is the third starter in their rotation. It's probably folly to expect Pavano, a guy who's thrown less than fifty innings in the past two seasons, to make the 33-35 starts expected of him (by some), but could he make 10-15? If he's not the answer, could he be a third to a half of an answer? Jake Westbrook is on the horizon, on schedule with his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and expected back around the All-Star break. Then again, maybe Pavano is fully rested and will have a Cliff Lee-style resurgence, and it could be Reyes in the fourth slot who needs to be replaced. Rotation spots are relatively arbitrary things, so what a team is really looking to do is find 162 starts out of a group of men that is usually much larger than just five. However they do it, Mark Shapiro and his staff have assembled a lot of parts in hopes that Eric Wedge and Lonnie Soloff can figure out how to put it together, or rather keep it together.
The Fantasy Question: There is a great deal of value here. If you like consistent, solid performers, just look at the green-rated players and take your pick. If you're willing to take on a bit more risk, there's plenty of value to be had in the red and yellow categories. How Eric Wedge apportions the playing time is going to be the biggest issue for some of these players' ultimate values, which adds some risk at the beginning of the season. Mark DeRosa's flexibility works a lot like Casey Blake's has in the past, but with more uncertainty in the four corners it becomes harder to take Ryan Garko when he might get wedged (no pun intended) out of at-bats by Martinez moving to first base and Hafner being healthy and productive at DH. The overvalued '09 average draft pick for Cliff Lee shows the short memory of fantasy players; at this time last year, I had to argue that Lee would reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation in order to justify including him in the '08 THR for the Tribe. Are you any more sure that he'll hold his value now than you were last year, when you thought he had none?
C Victor Martinez: Martinez had nearly everything go wrong for him last season, but don't get the idea that he's due. Broad-spectrum but moderate-effect injuries like this do tend to recur, and they seem to be a sign of decline. The Indians' plan to use him at first base could go a long way toward slowing that decline.
DH Travis Hafner: Hafner's shoulder is perhaps the most-watched piece of anatomy in Arizona. He's carrying much of the team's playoff hopes on that bad shoulder, though early word is that things are going well. He'll make his spring debut later this week, but don't get too excited over a good week or even a good spring. A chronic shoulder injury is at risk of both a traumatic recurrence or a slow wear-down. Even though I'm optimistic about Hafner's chances of getting some of his power back, I'm less sure that he'll keep it in the long term.
SP Carl Pavano: See this week's Big Question.
CL Kerry Wood: Wood is a known risk. He'll likely have a season much like last year, perhaps a bit better due to his comfort level in the closer's role. For all of the years that everyone was saying he couldn't close, I wonder how much value he lost by delaying the switch.
RF Shin-Soo Choo: Choo's repaired elbow has become an issue while he's been playing for Korea in the WBC. The elbow is about the only issue Choo has had, and this yellow is a bit overblown now that we're this far removed from the surgery.
SP Fausto Carmona: The harbinger of elbow problems is a loss of control. Carmona's sinker moves so much that hitters can only beat it into the ground, but Carmona really doesn't know where it's going nowadays. Or does he? While I couldn't get any hard data on this, it doesn't appear that he's giving catchers so much unexpected movement as to cause much more than an expected number of passed balls. His wild pitch totals were up, but there are easier explanations for that. Pitch-f/x doesn't offer any answers either, since his pitches move less than those of someone like Justin Masterson, though Carmona's come in faster. That brings us full circle to worrying about his elbow.
SP Anthony Reyes: Reyes is one point away from being red, so please note that. His chronic elbow problems and mechanical inconsistencies (caused by the coaching he's had as much as any other thing) have taxed him physically, and the question now is whether the damage has been done, or if he can get back to the place where he was a few seasons ago, when he was a real up-and-comer. We'll see if allowing him to go back to working with Tom House will help.
1B Ryan Garko
SS Jhonny Peralta: There is a slight risk inherent here if the Indians begin shifting him around, though they've seemed very reluctant to move him off of shortstop.
3B Mark DeRosa: Do utility players avoid the "change of position" injury risk? No, not at first, but they don't have that same risk when they go back to a position where they've established some mastery. There's more risk at riskier positions, though for simplicity's sake, DeRosa was run as a third baseman only. Had it been only at second base, he'd have hopped just over the yellow line.
CF Grady Sizemore: Sizemore's minor groin strain this spring will keep him out of the WBC, but it won't affect the rest of his preseason. At 26 years old and already one of the best players in the AL, his peak could be amazing.
SP Cliff Lee: How does a workload jump affect a pitcher who's coming off of an injury-filled campaign? Does age affect it? I'd guess that we'll learn a lot more about that by watching Lee and Yovanni Gallardo this season.