CL Danny Kolb
Does health really matter to a team that stinks? To most teams–notably last year’s Tigers–the answer is yes. For the 2004 Brewers, the answer is mostly yes. The Brewers could lose more games if Geoff Jenkins goes down than if he’s healthy, but it won’t be the difference between making the playoffs or not. Instead, they need to keep the players that might be trade bait healthy and focus on not overtaxing their young players.
The Brewers are selling hope this season, not contention, so the most important players that will see Miller Park in April will be Sheets and Spivey–for different reasons. Sheets remains the one player that could conceivably be on the next good Brewers team; Spivey is the likeliest trade bait. While Sheets has had a solid run the last few years, he’s yet to develop a real off-speed pitch, and relies heavily on a control curve. With two years of 200+ innings behind him at 24, he’s still in something of a danger zone, but he’s no more risky than any young pitcher. At his salary, it’s possible he could be dealt, but the Brewers have intimated they want to keep and lock up at least one “name” player.
Spivey came over with Overbay and Counsell in the trade with Arizona. While Overbay should be an adequate placeholder while Prince Fielder develops, he’s also the same player that couldn’t outhit Mark Grace last season. Counsell is coming off an injury-plagued season and never seems to be completely healthy. When he is, as he was in 2001, he can be a major contributor, especially in a super-utility role. Spivey remains likely to be dealt since Rickie Weeks is, if not ready, darn close.
Geoff Jenkins recovered from a serious ankle injury and seemed to have very little problem with the ankle in 2003. It was another slide that did him in, breaking his thumb sliding home. Jenkins, once again, should be completely recovered from this injury. But while there’s no connection between his series of problems, he’s hardly risk-free. His red light is based on injury history and player type.
The other lights up there are really minor concerns. Wes Obermuller isn’t particularly young or particularly good, but if he can hang in the rotation, he’ll be severely taxed as he crosses the 100-inning threshold. Some are pegging him as a sleeper, but I’d say let this dog lie.
Like Darin Erstad and others of the dirty-uniform school of playing center, Scott Podsednik is often seen diving for balls and running headlong into walls. While this is sometimes necessary, it also obviously increases the risk of traumatic injury. I’ve yet to see a wall lose a collision in baseball. I’m not ready to call him a Phil Nevin, but there’s certainly the potential for serious injury.
From a team outlook standpoint, trainers Roger Caplinger and Paul Anderson should have a relatively easy season, but that won’t help if the Brewers lose the best players on this admittedly weak squad, or worse, can’t deal away the dealable players. More important is keeping this team healthy in order to keep the development plan on track. A bunch of green lights don’t make a good team, but this team will be worse in the future if it can’t stay healthy now.