Click here for the Rockies 2006 depth chart
1B Todd Helton: There’s a lot going on with Helton. He has a history of back problems, which he now admits to being bothered by all through 2005; he missed the minimum last year with a calf strain, and he had to have a debridement surgery this off-season when a workout knocked some bone chips loose in his right elbow. The calf doesn’t worry us much (it’s not a chronic issue like Moises Alou has) and the procedure he had on his elbow is an incredibly minor one–Rich Aurilia had the same operation a few years ago and was back playing just 15 days later.
As for the back: there’s a risk it could give out, but he played through it fairly well in 2005 (.320/.445/.534). We’re a little surprised to see that the THR system didn’t think that the combination of those three problems was worth a red light, but a yellow is not without risk. Be wary, though, as back problems often present as a declining ability to hit for power and that’s exactly what Helton showed last season.
SS Clint Barmes: Young players with major injuries tend to have recurrent problems throughout their careers, but in Barmes’ defense, his injury was hardly typical. Take this red with a grain of salt.
CF Cory Sullivan: Guys who are relatively new to CF in the majors get a warning yellow. It’s a hard position to play and it’s also particularly likely to cause injury.
RF Brad Hawpe
SP Jason Jennings: The fractured finger doesn’t worry us.
SP Aaron Cook We know nothing about players coming back from a pulmonary embolism. It’s a serious condition in anyone, let alone a professional athlete. The multiple surgeries Cook had, including the removal of a rib, make us cringe.
SP Jeff Francis: He’s still in the injury nexus, though.
SP Byung-Hyun Kim: With his career record we see just about no chance that he can stay healthy for an entire season as a starter.
SP Zach Day: We’re rooting for the guy but the list of pitchers who’ve come back successfully from labrum tears is very short.
On the hitting side of the ledger this team looks healthy. The lights on Cory Sullivan and Clint Barmes are worrisome, but not oppressively so. Sullivan’s risk is relatively low, and if he does go down Jeff Salazar could cover center easily enough. PECOTA has a Weighted-Mean EqA projection of .246 for Sullivan next year, and for Salazar it projects an EqA of .245. At shortstop Barmes is projected for an EqA of .241 next year, while his likely replacement, Josh Wilson, has a projection of .240.
Of course, prospect projections are tricky, and the player with major league reps is preferable to the one from Triple-A, but all in all the loss of Sullivan or Barmes for a short period wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Losing Todd Helton would be.
Is there any team more dependent on a single player? The Giants need Barry Bonds but there’s other talent on that team. Maybe Florida and Miguel Cabrera should be in the discussion, or Pittsburgh and Jason Bay. In any case, the Rockies need the slugging lefty for 155 games if they want to win 75 and the injury risk he has (his sore back) is exactly the type of injury they can’t afford (since a back problem will sap Helton’s power more than anything else). The 20 home runs he swatted in 2005 were the lowest total of his career. There is good reason to worry here; Colorado doesn’t just need a good Helton, they need Elite Helton.
This is especially true when one considers the pitching side of the ledger. Kim, Day and Cook are all significant risks, and as a Team Health Report goes, that’s a pretty awful looking rotation. In defense of General Manager Dan O’Dowd, there’s no shortage of 5th/6th starter types ready to step into the breach, but they’re not guys you really want on the mound: Josh Fogg is in on a one-year deal, Sun-Woo Kim can take starts, and Mike Esposito is as ready as he’ll ever be.
This whole discussion makes us wonder, “Is there a health risk to playing at altitude?” The Rockies’ Days on DL numbers the past two years have been awful, hinting that there may be something to explore here. Not all of this can be blamed on the park or Head Athletic Trainer Keith Dugger (e.g., traumatic injuries like Jennings’ finger fracture or bizarre problems like Cook’s embolism), but there are enough strains and sprains to make us wonder. It certainly makes sense that the marathon games that Coors produces force teams to play to exhaustion and beyond. It’s something we’ll try to keep an eye on in the coming season. Unfortunately that may be one of the few interesting things about Rockies baseball in 2007.