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Team Health Reports


The Summary:
With Kerry Wood and Mark Prior fading from memory, the brand of Dusty Baker is no longer on the Cubs, right? Wrong. Don’t forget that Carlos Zambrano was ridden hard as a youngster by Ol’ Johnny B, and while the bill might have come later, it always comes. Zambrano’s large contract and fading arm are just one of the plethora of problems a new ownership group is going to have to deal with. The current medical staff righted a troubled ship and over the last three years has been solid, if not spectacular. A lot of the poor results can be blamed on accepted risks, like bringing in Rich Harden and Ryan Dempster, but if the medical staff can’t keep those type of players healthy, it’s not that great a strategy.


The Facts
Days Lost:
687
Dollars Lost: $19,627,956.52
Injury Cost: $15,614,027.78


The Cost:
The 2009 season proved to be a rough one injury-wise for the Cubbies. Chicago’s loss of $19.6 million made up nearly half of the Cubs total dollars lost over the last three years ($40.7 million). Almost all of the Cubs’ high-salaried players found time on the DL last year, as Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Alfonso Soriano made up $15.2 million lost. Chicago was about $5 million above the league average for dollars lost, not too much by itself, but when added to the increasing payroll, Chicago was strongly limited in the money it had to spend. As a result, the Cubs only spent about $10 million in the offseason. In years past, the Cubs would have spent that on one player alone.


The Big Risk:
Risk? With all these back-loaded deals and no-trade clauses, almost every big-dollar, big-name player on this team is a risk. That makes the biggest risk the one that could cost the most money. Soriano has gotten more problematic each year since coming to Chicago, though many were distracted by Milton Bradley last season. The Cubs really don’t have much of a backup, with Kosuke Fukudome as the fourth outfielder and Xavier Nady-who should be able to play both corners despite coming off Tommy John surgery-the available alternatives. There are some options, like Sam Fuld, who are a phone call away, but Soriano has never played more than 135 games in a season in his three years with the Cubs. If Soriano is not all the way back from minor knee surgery, the Cubs will be looking up at a lot of National League Central teams.


The Comeback:
Zambrano signed his big deal and promptly had the worst year of his career. According to PITCHf/x, he had similar velocity, similar movement, but the real change was his selection, going with more cutters and less fastballs. That’s often a sign that the fastball isn’t holding its velocity. Since Zambrano’s known shoulder problems often cause him to drop down in his arm slot and cause more issues, was that the problem? No, that looks roughly the same and it was never noted during the season. In other words, there’s nothing apparent here and certainly nothing like what the team saw in ’08. If it was just the luck of BABIP, Zambrano can come back, especially if he learns to trust his heat again.


The Trend:
The Cubs seem to float toward the training room like The Gentlemen, but don’t get the idea that it’s because they’re aging. This team does show some sharp divisions between the high-dollar, long-term guys and the cheaper ones, but that’s more about accepted risk than age. Age is a poor predictor of injuries. Younger players get hurt more, but they heal more quickly. Older players get hurt less, a variant of the survivor effect, but heal more slowly. The Cubs took on players with known problems or extended players that were already risky. That makes it nearly impossible to tell how good the medical staff might be. If nothing else, they’ve stabilized things since the problems of the last decade and kept things nearer average than I’d have expected over the last three years. The next three years will be a bigger challenge.


The Ratings


Red light3B Aramis Ramirez:
Ramirez’s gruesome shoulder dislocation derailed his season. He avoided surgery, but the question is whether another incident could do even more damage. Well, yes, but since he’d gone five years between incidents with the shoulder and a lot of slugging in between, it’s a reasonable gamble.


Red lightLF Alfonso Soriano:
See The Big Risk.


Red lightSP Ted Lilly:
It looks like this one’s headed towards an automatic red. Lilly’s going to start the season on the DL after an off-season shoulder scope and knee soreness early in camp. He’ll be well behind schedule, and with early-season schedules often allowing teams to go with four starters, expect Lilly to be back in late April to early May. He’s enough of a pitcher that he should be able to adjust early. Risky? Yes, but a pretty predictable risk.


Red lightCL Carlos Marmol:
Marmol gained the closer’s job but never found his control. He was dominant, but all the while looked like something was going to break. If we’ve learned anything from Francisco Rodriguez, it’s that we just don’t know by looking. But man, when you do look…


Yellow lightRP Angel Guzman:
Angel Guzman has a long history with arm injuries and ended the season with an odd shoulder area injury. (Yes, area.) He’ll start this season coming off a knee scope. He’s good, no question, but so flammable that he should have a warning label instead of a number on his jersey. I’m stunned he’s yellow.


Yellow lightC Geovany Soto:
Soto lost 40 pounds in the offseason, which is as much a statement on how much he’d gained than how much he’d lost. Kevin Federline bulked up before going on Celebrity Fit Club… and I hate myself for knowing that. Soto didn’t “get off the juice” as a lot of Chicagoans have wondered aloud. He merely stopped taking his job for granted and started working out. He’s risky by nature as a young catcher, but there’s no physical reason now that he shouldn’t be able to regain his form.


Yellow light1B Derek Lee:
Derrek Lee is solidly in the yellow band not because of any one injury, but the combination of age and a number of injuries. Those small, nagging injuries get tougher to deal with as a player ages. Lee played well last year, but he’s at a stage where he’d be better off getting more days off. Having signed Kevin Millar, the Cubs might be thinking the same thing.


Yellow lightCF Marlon Byrd:
Byrd’s not young and hasn’t held up well when he has gotten a starter’s load. With a big contract and a solid hold on center field, Lou Piniella‘s biggest challenge is figuring out how to best use Byrd.


Yellow lightSP Carlos Zambrano:
See The Comeback.


Yellow lightSP Ryan Dempster:
Dempster went from closer to 200-inning starter without any issue. He wasn’t as good last year, but he wasn’t problematic either. At 33 and in the second year of a four-year contract, the Cubs need his decline to stay shallow.


Yellow lightSP Randy Wells:
Wells came out of nowhere last season, but it’s not the innings increase that worries PIPP. No, it’s that he’s a converted catcher. Those guys have a terrible track record of staying healthy. There’s some evidence it’s anatomical, so Wells bears watching closely for elbow problems.


Green light2B Mike Fontenot


Green lightSS Ryan Theriot


Green lightOF Kosuke Fukudome


Green lightSP Tom Gorzelanny:
Gorzelanny has recovered from being slagged by Jim Tracy a couple years ago. He was never as good as Tracy thought or as bad as he looked after that. He’s a back-end arm, which is pretty good considering most would still be rehabbing after that stunt.

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vic19x
2/23
Two questions: Can't you "bump" Guzman's light up to red? Only a fool would bet against him hitting the DL at some point. Second, is there any reason for concern regarding Soto's weight loss? 40 pounds seems like a lot to lose in a single off-season. My concern is that in taking off the pounds he will sacrifice some strength and stamina in the short term.
wcarroll
2/23
No, the numbers are the numbers. Of course, if you read my comment, you'll see why I write the comments. Concern? No. I hate the "best shape of his life" thing, but it seems like he's actually just taking it seriously, eating right, doing all the things I should be doing. I think he just got lazy and fat and when his performance suffered, he went "oh crap" and started doing things right.
vic19x
2/23
Regarding Soto, what I meant was whether you think he might have some short term strength/stamina issue because he shed all that weight so quickly. No doubt what he did (is doing) is great, but losing (about) 10 pounds per month since last season ended is quite a feat.
Nickus
2/23
From personal experience, when I went to basic training I weighed a very out-of-shape 185. Nine weeks later I was 155 and much better off.
chuckmotl
2/23
I wonder how long the process will take once Ricketts decides to clean house and start over. I'm optimistically hoping 3 years.
wcarroll
2/23
How do you clean house with a bunch of aging players with no trade clauses? You saw how tough it was to deal Milton Bradley this off-season.
Berselius
2/23
Did you even look at the Cubs payroll before saying this? Three years is a pretty long time. Soriano is the only player who's still under contract 3 years from now. Lee, Ramirez, and Lilly should all be gone next year, Fukudome the year after that, and Z the following year.
vic19x
2/23
Agreed. 2011 the Cubs are basically still screwed. In 2012 things improve a little with Fukudome and Silva dropping off and a club option on ARam, then 2013 the only big contracts left are potentially Z's (based on performance) and the albatross that is Soriano's contract (which goes through 2014 at $18 mil/year, yikes!). One interesting note for Cubs fans: DLee's contract is up after this season. I would think that if you want similar production to what he posted in '09 that it would cost more than the $13 mil he'll be paid this season. At 35 maybe he'd take a paycut, but you'd still need to offset his decline in production somewhere else.
Berselius
2/23
Are they really that screwed though? It's not like the Cubs are a small-market team. Even Soriano's 18m/year deal isn't going to hurt the Cubs, with a payroll north of 130 million, as it would teams like the Royals or Pirates. Theit farm sytem is on it's way up too, to either make an impact with the team or through a trade (and Hendry is a pretty good trader). I don't think there's any doubt that Ramirez will opt-out after this season unless he suffers another terrible shoulder injury.
vic19x
2/23
Maybe not "screwed," but it's not until after 2011 that the serious under-performing dollars come off the books.
wcarroll
2/23
Besides the contracts, you have to deal with the debt taken on to buy the team and the promised upgrades to Wrigley Field. I'm not sure the current payroll level will be sustained, so I'm not sure there's much they can add as contracts expire.
vic19x
2/23
DLee and Lily are expiring after this season. They were the team leaders in VORP last year. That's a lot to replace.
Berselius
2/23
Haven't you been predicting Z to collapse for years now based on his years under Baker? He finally went on the DL last season after years of doom-and-gloom. Saying that ANY pitcher will have injury problems over an vaguely specified long time frame isn't that bold of a prediction.
wcarroll
2/23
No, it's a coinflip. Which why they're ALL inherently risky. I hope I'm wrong on every player and wish I'd have a column where it went "No one got hurt."
Berselius
2/23
The Cubs have done a good job with Dempster since he joined the club. He was healthy in his first season as starter in 2008, and his only DL stint last season was due to a broken toe from jumping over the dugout to celebrate a win. Why cast doubt on the medical staff for that? IIRC he came back more quickly than was originally forecasted as well.
onuhwt
2/24
Concerning Zambrano's pitch selection, I read on the Cubs site that he's going to completely eliminate his cutter this year and go back to Sinker Slider Split and Fastball http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100218&content_id=8092296&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc
wcarroll
2/24
Is that good, bad, or indifferent?
Berselius
2/24
Harry Pavlidis's pitch f/x work showed that Z's cutter was his best pitch, so this seems like a bit of a head-scratcher to me.
wcarroll
2/24
Has to be some underlying reason ... hope Bruce, Paul, or Carrie ask that question.
smallflowers
2/24
Oh shit, a Buffy reference - where's Eric Van when you need him?
Wrigleyviller
2/24
Yeah, this is why I keep coming back to BP. Because where else am I going to get a Buffy reference in a baseball article?
Yatchisin
2/24
Does Soto still count as a "young" catcher at 27? Doesn't that make him at least "middle-aged" for a catcher, any possible Fisk-iness excepted?
wcarroll
2/24
Given the rest of the division, he's pretty young!
scoobypop5
2/24
If the steriod era was about extra years and betting on players past 35, would the post era be about betting on youth? Would it make more sense to not make the playoffs with youth? or Not make it with age? Odds may be the same either way.
mblthd
2/25
Whither Jeff Baker, starting 2B?
wrigleyboy
3/27
Angel Guzman is out for the season.