The Facts
Head Trainer: Stan Conte
Player Days Lost, 2007: 951
Dollars Lost, 2007: $20.4 million
Three-Year Rank: 30

Stan Conte came in to improve the injury situation for the Dodgers. The idea may be that Stan’s a miracle worker, having held together much of the Giants‘ successful years with little more than athletic tape and hard work, but rebuilding what was once a proud, cutting-edge system takes longer than a year. While the Dodgers are now in the middle of the pack, that’s better than the three-year rank, so although they lost tons of valuable days to talent languishing on the DL, it wasn’t as bad as it hass been in the recent past.

Let’s face it, no matter who the trainer and physicians are, they can’t save guys like Darren Dreifort or Kevin Brown from the DL. The difference is that these days taking a calculated risk on someone like a Jason Schmidt or last year’s experiment with Randy Wolf can be entirely valid moves. These can be the type of gambles that Conte could make pay off, and the cheap Wolf-style signings are easier to make pay off above a club’s investment. The problem is that Schmidt is getting paid ace money while only offering a realistic hope that he comes back to league average.

The vast majority of the losses the Dodgers took last season came from those two pitchers, plus the season-long injury to Jason Repko. Taken in light of these, the turnaround that the Dodgers saw last season, taking them to mid-pack, was pretty special, but not enough to get away from the worst Three-Year Rank in the game. Conte’s methods worked well in San Francisco, but it’s interesting that the Dodgers had to bring in a Giant to do this. Like many things in the organization, the advantage they once had in this area was lost, but could be regained.

The Big Question
The bloggers from True Blue LA ask: “How will Andy LaRoche’s back injury affect his development?”

I wish I could give some sort of definitive answer here, but it depends on how the injury is managed and minimized by Conte and company, and whether it actually impedes his ability to get to the plate. There’s also some question over whether the back problem could be affected by keeping him at third base, but that’s less of a concern than the rotational forces he puts on his back with his big swing. LaRoche has all the skills save the ability to stay healthy. Guess which one everyone will be talking about until he has either a big hitting streak or a couple months without even a whisper of injury?

C Russell Martin Yellow light: Martin’s workload is the big concern here. He’s a very low yellow and he’s tough to find comparables for; few catchers steal as many bases while taking so many turns behind the plate. One of those things is likely to give, and one has to hope that Joe Torre finds a decent enough backup to save Martin’s legs.

1B James Loney Green light

2B Jeff Kent Yellow light: Kent’s advancing age brings him up near the red, but his relative steadiness holds him just below the threshold. His skills set remains the same as ever, which makes watching their very slow decline even more interesting.

3B Andy LaRoche Red light/Nomar Garciaparra Red light: There are more platoons than just swapping out right- and left-handed players. This one, if the Dodgers use it this way (which is admittedly unlikely) would be one of old and young. It’s not the worst idea in the world, as it takes pressure off of LaRoche in his first season, and also takes some strain off his back. Remember that LaRoche’s brother also has back problems, which raises some interesting questions about genetic heritage as well as Andy’s potential outcomes. For Garciaparra, he’s likely to be more valuable getting 350 good at-bats than the 500 that would tax him.

SS Rafael Furcal Red light: Furcal’s legs and back have been problematic, and last year’s pre-season sprained ankle lingered so long that it appeared to be much more significant. He started running again in September, but scouts tell me his range remained limited. It’s hard to tell which is the better read, and hard to tell if a full off-season of rest will help. Once I know which year PECOTA was thinking of when it compared Furcal to Omar Vizquel, we’ll have something more to go on.

LF Juan Pierre Green light

CF Andruw Jones Green light

RF Matt Kemp Green light

SP Brad Penny Yellow light: He cleared the 200-inning mark for the first time since 2001. The history of injuries, the late-season ab strain, and his up-and-down career all make me wonder what we should expect next.

SP Derek Lowe Red light: I simply hate this red. Lowe’s been consistent, if not always good, during his time in LA. While I understand why there’s a red–age, workload, and chronic hip problems–I don’t think we should really expect him to fall off of a cliff this season.

SP Chad Billingsley Red light: Young pitchers with control problems and questionable stamina are easy reds. Billingsley hasn’t been overworked, but the huge attrition rate is starting to match his… umm, well, let’s just say Sir Mix-A-Lot would love Billingsley.

SP Jason Schmidt Red light: Schmidt’s been able to come back from injuries in the past and return to some level of effectiveness. That’s actually a plus here. All the off-season signs have been positive; I wish I could have waited to see him off a mound before writing this, but such is life.

SP Hiroki Kuroda Yellow light: He left Japan after suffering some significant elbow problems; that’s bad. The Dodgers and Dr. Lewis Yocum signed off on him; that’s good. The truth is most likely somewhere in between. I’m a little wary of how the adjustment to the US will affect his arm. Watch to make sure he’s generating grounders.

CL Takashi Saito Yellow light: Saito’s age is a bit overblown in the system. He’s not like Mariano Rivera in many ways, but he is likely to take a “Rivera Vacation” sometime this season: a quick trip to the DL that refreshes his arm.

RP Jonathan Broxton Green light

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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