Team Health Report: Cincinnati Reds
by Will Carroll
Ken Griffey Jr. says he's healthy and has gone out of his way to let the media know. A recent article by Peter Gammons highlighted Griffey's off-season workouts, which included several Reds teammates. Color me unconvinced. No matter how much he works out, Griffey can't turn the scar that once was his hamstring into a serviceable body part. At this stage, he can only protect himself from the near inevitable. That's not to say that he can't be very good, but I'd feel much better about him if he were playing first base or even one of the corners. Granted, Junior isn't quite at the stage yet where I'm ready to slot him into a Harold Baines role, but no matter how hard he works in the off-season, his leg is not likely to hold up under the strain of a full season in center.
Speaking of once-great players who now have trouble staying healthy, when writing about Frank Thomas recently, I started wondering if any player had ever gone from being among the best players in the game, had a major injury that caused him to fall from the firmament, then returned to form after more than one year. Mark McGwire was the best suggestion, but coming back from plantar fascitis is much easier at first base/DH than at any other position. Eric Davis may be the most comparable player that Griffey can look to, but he was never quite the same after coming back. If Griffey can get people to think of him in terms of being more like Davis than McGwire, he's much more likely to meet expectations. If he moves to first, he could fare substantially better.
Three paragraphs. No shots at Kremchek.
If Griffey were the only health concern, that would be pretty bad, but he has plenty of company in the training room. Austin Kearns came up lame last year, and there was some worry he had torn his hamstring. But MRIs showed just a severe strain, and the Reds smartly kept Kearns on the shelf. That said, rumors were rampant that Kearns continued to work hard in rehab to make it back; this was an unnecessary risk, but it's good to see the work ethic.
Barry Larkin goes red this year due to age and injury history. With the acquisition of Felipe Lopez, Larkin's days as a starter are numbered, and a graceful exit or move to a mentorship role would likely solidify his reputation as a great, classy player. He's already hung on past his prime, but watching him hobble through a season while hurting the team does nothing for anyone. If Barry won't step aside and Bob Boone won't force it, a Larkin injury could actually be a positive.
I'm up to five full paragraphs.
Sean Casey should get a lot of credit for playing last year. It's clear that the medical staff flat out failed him. Diagnosed with only a small tear in his rotator cuff, once the scopes got in, doctors determined that he had a large muscle tear, a torn labrum, and massive bursitis. The upside is that since he wasn't opened for this surgery, he has a reasonable shot at being ready for Spring Training.
Of course, there is some speculation that the massive damage in his shoulder may have been affecting him for quite some time. The guys at RotoWire.com have mused that it could explain his reduction in power since 2000. Casey is red because he will likely not be at full strength for the start of the season, and rushing it could cause major setbacks. Labral tears often recur. That said, Casey could suddenly get a looser, pain-free swing and see a jump in his power numbers. Risk and reward, risk and reward.
Three of the four starters (yes, you read that right) for the Reds get yellow lights--never a good sign. However, the Reds handled Danny Graves' transition extremely well at the end of last year, which gives me a lot of hope for how they'll deal with him this year. If Graves is regularly going beyond the sixth, there's a problem, and if he goes much beyond 180 innings, he's likely to wear down. Paul Wilson's injury history is well known so I won't dwell on it much here, other than to note he's a bad bet beyond 180 innings too - 36 runs allowed in his last six starts last year, spread over 25.2 innings. Again, his handling by the Reds is key.
I'm a bit more concerned about Ryan Dempster than the others, but for an odd reason: Dempster is working with pitching coach Don Gullett to fix his awful delivery. In fixing it, Dempster is being asked to do something unnatural to him, which it makes it more likely that he will be injured. By the All-Star Break Dempster should feel comfortable with a retooled delivery, so a fair way of looking at him is an early-season red and late-season green.
The Reds, more than any other team in the last five years, have been defined by injuries. The most notable has been to Griffey, but by losing other players while Don Gullett rebuilds guys like Jimmy Haynes and Pete Harnisch, they've been able to stay under the insanely low budget constraints forced on them by ownership, while remaining competitive. More than any other team, a run of good health could make this team quite good and potentially a serious NL contender.
See, Tim. I can do a piece on the Reds and not take a shot.
Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.