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Hitters

Yellow lightC Michael Barrett: Signing a catcher for three years is always risky, especially when he’s had only one healthy and productive season. The Cubs are hoping that Barrett has really found a home in Wrigley Field. He’s always had healthy legs, so this one looks okay. His yellow light is solely based on position and age.

Green light 1B Derrek Lee

Green light 2B Todd Walker

Red lightSS Nomar Garciaparra: Agreeing to the incentive-laden contract in hopes of pushing Garciaparra to stay healthy seems like a good idea. Eight million is still a large stack of green to put at risk. Garciaparra can’t be in better shape–he’s one of Mark Verstegen’s hardest workers in the offseason–and his chronic wrist problem is likely to surface at all the wrong times.

Green light 3B Aramis Ramirez

Yellow lightLF Todd Hollandsworth: Anyone who expects a positive result from 140 games of Hollandsworth needs to be seriously questioned. Splits aside, Hollandsworth is dealing with a chronic leg problem that has cost him the better part of two seasons. Dusty Baker may prefer “Holly,” but he’s more likely to get Jason Dubois, one way or the other.

Green light CF Corey Patterson

Green light RF Jeromy Burnitz: Doesn’t that look weird?

Yellow light Jerry Hairston: Hairston will be the answer to a trivia question long after his career is over. His health isn’t bad for someone who missed better than half a season to injury. A complex fracture of his right index finger cost him his second-base job last year, and an encounter with a wall–walls always win–resulted in a broken ankle and season-ending surgery to remove a damaged talus bone. All that said, he’ll recover and should retain the skills he has.

Pitchers

Red lightSP Kerry Wood: I hate myself for writing this, but Wood shows as a major injury risk. The vague diagnosis on his triceps problem, his workload, and his relative youth all work against him. The system doesn’t know that the guy some players call “Doctor Wood” takes his health seriously.

Green light SP Greg Maddux

Green light SP Mark Prior: Yes, green.

Red lightSP Carlos Zambrano: Pitcher Abuse Points. Injury Nexus. Dusty Baker. We can toss every negative concept at Zambrano and he still seems to come out pitching. Scouts point to his thick physique and fiery makeup. Pitching coaches point to his results. He’s outpitched the rest of the Cubs’ vaunted starters the last couple of seasons and will do it again unless the percentages stick in his shoulder.

Green light SP Glendon Rusch

Yellow lightCL Ryan Dempster: Tommy John surgery is an operation with a 90% success rate, according to Dr. Jim Andrews and other leading orthopods. I was surprised it was that low. Sure, there are skips in any record, though when it comes to arm surgery, this 30-year-old procedure deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. There’s a five-year “honeymoon” period after TJ where the arm is nearly indestructible outside of two exceptions. All that has nothing to do with whether or not Dempster can close. He’s avoided shoulder and nerve problems thus far, so we may find out.

Green light LaTroy Hawkins

Red light Joe Borowski: Shiny closer tag aside, Borowski is the type of guy you don’t want muddying the THRs. Arm and knee problems have been corrected by surgery in the last season. There’s still plenty to break or re-break for this type of pitcher.

The Cubs are heading into 2005 with their third trainer in three seasons. The team has never been known for consistency; only Wrigley Field is a constant for the franchise. Still, the ugly public drama that surrounded the firing of Dave Groeschner, now back with the Giants, was another negative in a 2004 season that didn’t need anything else piled on it.

When healthy, the Cubs put a lot of talent on the field. Unfortunately, it’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll be much more healthy than they were last season. Beyond “Days Lost” and “Dollars Lost” to the disabled list, there’s a significant difference between losing Wood and Prior to injury and losing Borowski. One would think that there’s an evening-out factor. However, there’s not. In fact, absent changes, teams tend to follow an upward or downward slope. The rich get richer or, in this case, healthier.

The one plus to Dusty Baker’s veteran fetish is that he does tend to keep his older players fresh and fresh usually equals less injury risk. Of course, older players have their own inherent risk of longer DL stints. It all comes down to what hits the field for the Cubs. With a little luck and medical help, this team has a world-beating staff. Without it, well, there’s always a plastic cup of Old Style to cry into.