The Facts
Head Trainer: Ron Porterfield
Player Days Lost, 2007: 568
Dollars Lost, 2007: $1.9 million
Three-Year Rank: 11

It would have been better planning to have this come out after I make an appearance at Tampa’s FanFest this weekend, but no such luck, and this is how the schedule fell. So, I’ll try to anticipate the answers to the sure-to-be-asked questions this weekend. Here, in no particular order, are those answers:

“I guess if Jose Reyes can do it, there’s hope.”
“He made the transition well, so I don’t think there’s going to be much issue with him in center.”
“That’s actually a myth, and as you’ve seen over the past couple seasons, he’s been healthy, though the team has been very smart in limiting him.”
“Yes, it’s just a filthy changeup, though throwing it is really no easier on the arm.”
“I think signing him is just a challenge to Ron Porterfield.”
“A speed player with some pop and no history of leg injuries? What’s not to like about him?”
“He’s athletic enough to make the switch, though I’m most worried about him on the pivot, especially early in the season.”
“Really big, really tall, and really never been able to stay healthy. I don’t think trying him in the pen is a bad idea.”
“I don’t think anyone will miss him except the bartenders.”
“The turf is a challenge. It’s like playing on spongy strings, and it looks terrible on TV. The other thing to remember is that in the AL East, there’s two of the three remaining turf fields (and Minnesota’s will be gone soon). Maybe they can get the new stadium and we’ll have turf out of America altogether.”
“The dollars lost is a bit misleading, since they really didn’t pay anyone. The percentage (eight percent of payroll) is more telling.”
“I think .500 is a reachable goal, a lot like it was for the Brewers in 2005.”

The Big Question
The bloggers from DRaysBay–yes, they’ll need to work on the name–ask: “Who will be the healthier player this season, Rocco Baldelli or Cliff Floyd, and will either player reach an acceptable level of durability this season following many injury-plagued years?”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Baldelli. It’s just a hunch, but after last year’s meltdown, Baldelli realizes that he’s facing baseball mortality. His contract is running out of guaranteed years, and he’s seeing himself passed by, not only by contemporaries like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, but also by the next generation of Rays. He’s simply too good a natural athlete to lose it completely. Of course, there’s the question of whether he actually ever had it. The constant question in baseball is whether tools and athleticism trump skill and experience, which makes Baldelli an especially interesting case study. I think the worst-case scenario for Baldelli isn’t that he’s out of baseball, but that he follows the peripatetic career path of Rondell White, hopping from team to team, talented but fragile, with every GM and athletic trainer convinced that he can fix him up and get good work out of him. As for Floyd, I think he’ll be a very solid fifth outfielder and a stabilizing influence on the team, but he’ll also probably hit the DL at some point.

C Dioner Navarro Yellow light: I’m not quite on the Navarro bandwagon yet, but he has proven that he can hold up under a full workload. I’m not sure that those workloads haven’t affected his hitting, however. Still only 24, he has all of 2008 to establish himself.

1B Carlos Peña Green light

2B Akinori Iwamura Red light: If I had better data on his years in the Japanese leagues, I don’t think this would be red. In the meantime, the challenge of a position change and last season’s oblique injury get amplified a bit; I don’t hate this rating, but I don’t love it either.

3B Evan Longoria Yellow light: A young player on turf with only a short minor league stay? It could be a lot worse. This rating does assume that he starts the full year, but to give you a sense of its lack of severity, anything under 120 games would have him rated green.

SS Jason Bartlett Yellow light: The shoulder and hamstring injuries helped make him available in trade, but he’s used to playing on turf and has been an off-season focus for the prevention-heavy Rays medical staff.

LF Carl Crawford Green light

CF B.J. Upton Yellow light: Yellow by a single percentage point, the older Upton seemed to come into his own last season once he was locked into center field. While there’s always some concern about his hamstrings and legs, he’s only got to stand next to his right fielder to look like a relative paragon of health.

RF Rocco Baldelli Red light/ Jonny Gomes Yellow light: Baldelli lost another year to his hamstring and showed that injury is the one thing that always trumps talent. There’s the chance that he rebounds, rebuilding his career and showing the smooth swing that keeps getting him chances; it’s just more likely that he follows the Cliff Floyd or Rondell White career path. Gomes is better suited for DH work, and will be exposed by too much time in the outfield.

DH Cliff Floyd Red light: Floyd’s situation is well known. At DH, he’s a reasonable risk, though the combination of him and turf is a bad one if the Rays try to sneak him into right field on anything more than an occasional basis.

SP Scott Kazmir Yellow light: The Rays took the gloves off a bit, letting him finish the season so that he could chase the strikeouts title. He was nevertheless on strict pitch limits down the stretch. Mellow when he’s off the mound, Kazmir pitches better angry.

SP Jamie Shields Green light: He’s down in the greenish-yellow end of the green range after a big innings jump, but his reliance on the changeup and very clean mechanics help.

SP Matt Garza Yellow light: He tired late last year and faces an innings jump again this season. As a result, I’d expect a solid first half from him, followed by a slide. The trick will be keeping it just a fatigue problem rather than a shoulder problem.

SP Andy Sonnanstine Yellow light: Sonnanstine is more than just a placeholder, but if he holds his place all season, he’ll be looking at a big innings jump.

SP Edwin Jackson Yellow light: Jackson’s out of options, but he’s going to have to show that he can not only stay effective, but stay healthy with David Price and others on their way.

CL Troy Percival Red light: He not only came back last season, he started a game for the first time in the majors (throwing just one inning). That confused the heck out of my system, but even without that consideration, his age and history have him squarely in the red.

RP Al Reyes Red light: Just back from Tommy John surgery last season, Reyes wore down as much under the stress of being the team’s only effective reliever much of the year as he did from the workload. The Rays hope to have more help for him this year, which will help keep his workload down.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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