|TORONTO BLUE JAYS|
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Head Trainer: George Poulis
Player Days Lost: 910
Total Dollars Lost: $8.0 million
Injury Cost: $29.6 million
Trend: Neutral. Having a number of injury-prone players breaking down in the same year might just be happenstance, but then again, a lot of those same players are back. Poulis and his staff have always put up numbers in the top third, so falling back for one year isn’t so bad. Looking through their roster, it’s obvious that there are some successes here. B.J. Ryan returned healthy and was effective. Vernon Wells returned twice from traumatic injuries, and both before the expected recovery times, yet he also had no ill effects or relapses. The concern is that the continued breakdown of their young pitchers will not only increase their days lost, but pull down the talent level of the major league club. It’s the one big weakness of the Jays’ medical staff, and perhaps all that’s kept them from a Dick Martin Award.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Jordan Bastian, MLB.com’s Toronto beat writer, asks: “Can Vernon Wells’ left hamstring hold up? Wells strained his hamstring last July and aggravated the injury again this spring. He said the way the tendon was torn, there was more of a risk of having the injury occur again in the future. Being a center fielder and one of the Jays’ top offensive weapons, this is definitely an issue. It could mean the Jays use him more as a DH this year to guard against having it happen again, and he won’t be stealing more bases like the team had hoped.”
Objection, your honor! Jordan has answered his own question here, rendering my answer nearly irrelevant. But not completely, because it’s important to understand why this is such a big issue that goes beyond Wells’ big contract. It’s hard to conceive of the name “Ripken” connoting a negative stereotype, but when it comes to injuries, it is. Ripken was an iron man to be sure, but when he finally stopped playing every day, he went downhill quickly. We see that happening with a lot of players that never seem to be injured, like Ripken, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui. Once it begins, it’s a hard, fast descent, usually accompanied by a struggle to maintain effectiveness. Wells seems to be on that path, and PECOTA agrees, comparing him to some deep divers and hangers-on. If Poulis and his staff can turn him around, that would go a long way toward establishing them as an elite medical team.
The Fantasy Question: You don’t get to convert to the Loonie when you’re drafting Jays, but there are some value pick-ups here. The injury-prone nature of some of their players, like Vernon Wells and B.J. Ryan, can lead to their going in later rounds than their talent levels might lead you to expect. Wells is very risky, especially with his leg problems beginning so early in the spring, but that’s also going to depress his value come draft day. The biggest bargain might be Aaron Hill, who since being cleared to play has shown no ill effects from last season’s devastating concussion. If even some of the power that he displayed in 2007 comes back, he’ll be a huge performer at a thin position, and if it doesn’t, he’s still better than average.
3B Scott Rolen: Now that we’re several shoulder surgeries in on his career, we have to recognize that Rolen still hasn’t made it back to his former level. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to have problems. What’s most surprising is that his defense hasn’t suffered. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds important.
CF Vernon Wells: See today’s Big Question.
SP Casey Janssen: Just the latest in a long string of shoulder injuries to Jays pitchers, Janssen is coming back from a labrum tear. At this point, that’s all I have to report, but the return rate is improving. (That’s almost like saying that syphilis is much better now that it’s treatable-you still don’t want it.) Janssen’s biggest hurdles this spring will be how quickly he’s able to recover, and whether or not he can build up his stamina enough by Opening Day to withstand a starter’s workload.
SP Dustin McGowan: McGowan’s 2009 season is in jeopardy, and he’s fast becoming the new Chris Carpenter, but without the intervening good years between Carpenter’s shoulder and elbow problems. While original projections had him back by May, even the Jays are now acknowledging that we might not see him this season in anything more than a show-me role. That leaves the Jays praying for a comeback from Matt Clement, though this is a team that could shift to a four-man rotation without much forethought.
CL B.J. Ryan: Ryan’s elbow was always going to blow out, but he lasted much longer than anyone expected. He’ll probably blow it out again someday, but until then, he’s not as much of a risk as you’d expect, especially considering what you might get in return.
1B Lyle Overbay: Overbay never had as much power as a normal first baseman, but he got by with his Mark Grace tool set. He’s lost both power and bat control since breaking his hand midway through the ’07 season, but at 32, it’s tough to separate that injury from what is probably just a normal decline. He had sports hernia surgery earlier this year, but it should be a non-issue by Opening Day.
C Rod Barajas: He’s shown a tendency to wear down quickly, so the Jays have to hope he’s not the primary catcher in the everday sense of the word, but rather the lead in some sort of job-share. A combination of hamstring and back injuries are often a death knell for a catcher’s career, so be very careful here.
RF Alex Rios: The system really freaks out over Rios’ staph infection, but aside from that, he’s been quite healthy, especially over the past two seasons. If Cito Gaston really does let him run more, Rios may tax himself, but not so much that I’d worry.
SP Jesse Litsch: Litsch is a sinkerballer who sometimes loses his sinker, and he doesn’t have the quality stuff needed to pitch around it. The system sees this as an injury, when it’s actually just inconsistency.
2B Aaron Hill: He’s back from a concussion suffered in late May that had ended his season last year. He’s been without symptoms since September, so things look good for him getting back on track.
LF Adam Lind
DH Travis Snider: He’s not a little man, and much of his injury risk is based on his weight and on the presumption that he’ll play left field part of the time. He reminds some of Matt Stairs, but a better comparison might actually be Prince Fielder, something PECOTA also picked up on. For his part, Fielder has been healthy throughout his career and his weight has never really been an issue, which helps to explain this green.
SP Roy Halladay: Workload? Nonsense. Fluky injuries from a few years back? Pshaw. Halladay could be this year’s CC Sabathia if the Jays fall out of contention by mid-season, and the next 300-game winner if anyone is smart enough to build a four-man rotation around him.
SP David Purcey