The problem with writing about a healthy team is not having enough to say, yet still missing the inevitable injuries the team will have. Over the course of a long season, players break down, have accidents, run into walls, dive headfirst into bases, swing too hard, iron their shirts, trim the hedges, and an infinite number of other products of randomness and chaos. Add to that the infallible fallibility of your humble writer, and hopefully I keep the signal-to-noise ratio tolerable.
Other times, I end up focusing on one or two things–and with this one, there are two players who clearly stand out–one of those being Phil Nevin. Yes, that’s a red light you see next to his name and it’s the product of about five hours of phone calls, emails, and research. Finally, what sealed Nevin’s fate was the concurrence of the PECOTA projection. Simply stated, Phil Nevin is reaching a point where injuries and an exceptionally odd career path have taken some sort of toll. Last year, Nevin suffered through two arm injuries that may or may not be connected. Nevin was initially out with a strained elbow and returned, only to break his humerus near the shoulder. The injury was initially believed to be a bruised muscle, but an MRI broke the bad news. Nevin’s had a history of shoulder problems and even after his return, Nevin was clearly not at full strength. Reports coming from San Diego have Nevin still not at full strength. Add in a positional change to left field, a push past the prime years, and a history of injury, and suddenly Nevin becomes not a feared hitter, but a risky player that you don’t want to build a team around. I’ll either look like a genius or moron with this, but I expect Nevin to have some sort of season-ending injury in the early stages of the season. The Padres have plenty of options, but depending on their record, I think we’ll see Xavier Nady by the All Star break.
Coming back off the limb, it’s no stretch to put a yellow light on Sean Burroughs. My fantasy team last year had both Burroughs and Hank Blalock–how could I lose? Both players suffered through horrible rookie campaigns due to trying to play through injuries. A recent article in Ramp Magazine–in which I was quoted–talked about the mystique of playing through pain. It’s crap, pure crap and the faster that players lose the fear of letting a trainer or doctor do their job, the better the game will be. Burroughs had offseason shoulder surgery, but since he’s a third baseman and not a pitcher, he should have plenty of time to rehab. Burroughs is young and coming off surgery, so while it’s a dim yellow, it’s still yellow.
Wiki Gonzalez, who I can’t think of without recalling the abysmal Buck Rogers TV show of the late-’70s, gets a yellow for his injury history. Catchers take a beating, for sure, but all of Gonzalez’s problems seemed to be muscular. He pulled everything from groins to obliques and capped off the season with an elbow scoping. Gonzalez will share time with Mike Rivera that should take some of the load off, but I just don’t see Gonzalez staying healthy with even a split of playing time.
And then there’s the other red, Trevor Hoffman, who’s gone for the first half of the season and probably more. Hoffman was pushed longer than he should have been, but its hard to lay the blame anywhere other than Hoffman himself. Apparently 40 saves are more important than a painful shoulder. Repair of his rotator cuff and a “frayed” labrum–no, I really don’t know what that means either–did not relieve the pain. The Padres have a number of possible fill-ins, but none are particularly inspiring. Jay Witasick and Brandon Villafuerte come to mind.
Adam Eaton remains in the recovery period from Tommy John, but it’s a bit unclear exactly where. He returned late in the season last year and normally it takes about one full season to get back to the previous level. I’ll be conservative and say that Eaton will likely be in the same boat as Kris Benson last year. He’s a good candidate to get better as the season goes on, so keep your eye on him and talk up his injury, then snag him at the deadline. Eaton’s yellow light is based on the effect of a past injury on his current performance more than an increased risk of new injury.
No, there aren’t yellow lights on any of the Padres young starters, and that’s unusual. I think the Padres as an organization have been brilliant in their handling of their pitchers, and that by late 2003, that surplus will begin to explode–allowing Kevin Towers to have fun making some tweak trades in New Orleans next winter. I’m especially high on Oliver Perez and their off-season handling of him–keeping him from overworking himself with his normal winter league stint in Mexico–shows great foresight. Add in Jake Peavy, Dennis Tankersley, Eric Cyr, and more on top of solid starters like Brian Lawrence and Eaton, the Pads join the Giants in challenging the TINSTAAPP orthodoxy. Petco Park may be one of the dumber names for stadiums, but the park will open in 2004 with one of the better and younger teams in the National League.