|TAMPA BAY RAYS|
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Head Trainer: Ron Porterfield
Player Days Lost: 838
Total Dollars Lost: $8 million
Injury Cost: $28.3 million
Trend: Positive. One of the most remarkable things about the Rays turnaround last year was that they actually dealt with significantly more injuries than the year before. Several of their most important players hit the DL, some with significant injuries, yet almost all of them were back and contributing in the postseason. It really was an incredible test for Porterfield and his staff-and it was one that they passed with flying colors. They kept B.J. Upton on the field all year long, and he had a huge postseason; give some credit to Upton here for playing through the pain. Even though he hit the DL three times, Troy Percival still saved 28 games. Evan Longoria (arm fracture) and Carl Crawford (torn finger tendon) had significant August injuries, yet there they were, playing big roles for the Rays’ pennant drive in October. Early-season injuries to Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza were handled effectively. Finally, don’t forget the great story of Rocco Baldelli‘s return to the field. One of the best ways to evaluate a training staff is how players come back from in-season injuries. Using that as a baseline, the Rays’ staff couldn’t have done a better job in ’08. Keeping an eye on Upton’s surgically repaired shoulder will be a priority early in ’09, but the most important thing for this medical team will be the successful development of a group of very young pitchers with remarkable talent who will require careful monitoring.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times asks, “How will Troy Percival’s back, hamstrings, knees, etc., hold up, and how many games can he be expected to pitch this season?”
Percival’s injury woes would be a much bigger concern if the rest of the Rays’ bullpen wasn’t so strong. There’s no questioning what he brought to the team from an experience/leadership standpoint, but once the injuries began piling up, his performance dropped significantly. He’s been on a strict conditioning program this spring as he recovers from off-season back surgery, and he’s proven that we can never count him out. That said, with so many things breaking down, you worry about the whole kinetic chain of Percival’s lower half. If it were a hand here, a foot there, and something else, he’d still have issues, but all of his injuries are directly related to one another. The slightest soreness or pain could blow up into a much larger issue, so the Rays will have to be creative in how they use him. He probably can’t hold up under a normal workload, but they have options in Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, and perhaps even Jason Isringhausen. I think the idea of referring to the veteran Percival as their “closer” still carries symbolic importance for the young Rays, but the workload limitations will likely mean that, if healthy, he’ll be part of a committee in that role.
Fantasy Tip: David Price was sent to Triple-A Durham to start the season. So what? Go grab him from the owner who’s now confused and already questioning his team. Remember people dropping that Longoria fellow while he was in the minors last year? Whoops! I’m wondering if people are still looking at B.J. Upton as if he has second base eligibility. I don’t dislike him at all, and I think he can put up nearly identical numbers to Grady Sizemore‘s from a year ago. I never hear it mentioned in fantasy discussions that he’s no longer second-base eligible, and I feel it may be influencing his perceived value just a bit. He should be fine, but if the home runs of ’07 and the steals of ’08 somehow meet in the middle and it’s another year before he really takes off (he’s only 24, after all), won’t he just be a solid second outfielder instead of the top 15 guy many expect him to be? The move to DH should help Pat Burrell, but I think his overall value remains relatively the same; he was in one of the best lineups and hitter’s parks in the game, and now he isn’t.
SP Scott Kazmir: The slider seems to be the key here, and Kazmir says that last year’s elbow injury kept him from getting full arm extension while throwing the pitch. The numbers back him up; Topkin notes that Kazmir threw his slider just 11 percent of the time last year-down from 17 percent in 2007. Without his best strikeout pitch, his pitch counts became an issue, and the concerns over his stamina and workload lingered. He recently started throwing more sliders in spring action and says the pitch feels better than it did at any point last year. Is his elbow healthy enough to handle more sliders in ’09? We’ll know soon enough.
CL Troy Percival: See today’s Big Question.
RP Grant Balfour: His breakout season in ’08 was a great story for a guy who hardly pitched in ’05 and ’06 due to injuries. He’s still a huge risk given his history, but he’s now survived a regular workload in consecutive seasons, and he proved last year that he can work well in a high-pressure role. He’ll be one of the first in line for saves if and when Troy Percival gets hurt.
1B Carlos Pena: Pena has dealt with just enough minor injuries in his career to consider him a slight risk, but no more than a low yellow. The system looks at his odd career path (mostly his significant time in the minors in ’05 and ’06) and thinks that it was injury related. Last year’s broken finger shouldn’t be an issue; he was actually better after the injury in ’08. His minor surgery on a torn lower abdominal muscle in January was more indicative of some of the smaller injuries he’s had in his carer than of any larger problem.
C Dioner Navarro: Health hasn’t really been an issue for him thus far, but he’s still a catcher, and as such, he carries some risk. When you add the postseason and the World Baseball Classic to his career-high workload last year at the tender age of 24, it’s fair to wonder if it might take a toll on him this season.
LF Carl Crawford: Crawford’s style of play, the artificial surface in Tampa, and nagging leg and hand injuries in recent years all factor into his risk level. The torn finger tendon from last season isn’t as big a concern as the hamstring and calf injuries that have plagued him. He played very well in the postseason, showing what he could do with fresh legs after coming back from the finger surgery. Don’t be surprised to see him getting some more days off this year, especially at home.
CF B.J. Upton: Upton just misses being red as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Hanley Ramirez is a pretty good comp here, having gone through labrum surgery himself last offseason. At last check, he’s going somewhat high in most drafts. Ramirez had no power issues last year, and Upton’s home-run binge in October was proof that he still has plenty of pop. He’ll start the season on the DL, but he’s expected back shortly after the Rays’ first two series, which are both on the road in cold weather cities. Getting through his first year in center takes away some risk from a position standpoint, but like Crawford, he’s a speed guy on an artificial surface.
SP Matt Garza: The main concern with Garza is the big increase of his workload in his first full major league season. He ended up over the 200-inning mark by the end of the postseason. Keep an eye on his velocity, as he’s complained of a “dead arm” at times this spring. Velocity being down is not unusual for a pitcher during camp, but if it carries into and through April, it could be sign of a “World Series hangover.”
SP David Price: The expectation of a big jump in innings pitched (most of it likely to come in Tampa Bay) is really the only risk for Price right now. He’s going to pitch a lot more this year, regardless of the level, but the team hopes to keep him in the 160-175 inning range if possible, and they’ll be able to better dictate his pace if he starts the year in the minors. Andrew Friedman made a great point when discussing the move, noting that the Rays have always been able to shut young pitchers down at the end of the season. My, how things change when you become a contender.
3B Evan Longoria: Longoria’s just short of a yellow after last season’s fractured bone in his arm; it kept him out for about a month, but he was fine in September and October. He’s only 23, and this season will likely be the first time he pushes 500-600 at-bats, so it won’t be surprising if he gets some days off.
RF Gabe Gross
DH Pat Burrell: The move to DH should really help a player approaching his mid-thirties who’s been very durable up to this point. Perhaps if his body feels more rested, he’ll be able to level off his ridiculous hot and cold streaks.
SP Andy Sonnanstine