C Ivan Rodriguez: Allegations made by former teammates aside, getting injured a few years ago may have been the best thing that happened to Rodriguez. A minor back injury got him to commit to a core strengthening program that’s helped him stay healthy and strong throughout the last three seasons. His durability is actually working against him in this system, since he catches so many games, a marker for raised injury odds. He gets a yellow, sure, but for a catcher, he’s not that risky.
1B Carlos Pena
SS Carlos Guillen: Another of the plethora of torn ACLs around baseball, Guillen is making good progress. The team will bring him along slowly, with Ramon Martinez filling in at short until Guillen’s ready. There’s been some discussion about a shift to third to limit his lateral movement, but that’s mostly speculation at this point.
3B Brandon Inge: If position changes are a negative, does that make a multi-position player like Inge more likely to get hurt? The answer is we don’t know yet. He’s stayed healthy so far in a superutility role, but we don’t have enough data to make any definitive judgments yet. The type of player that can handle this role may have better durability than most.
LF Rondell White: For 100 games or so, he’s a solid player. Given the depth the Tigers have in the outfield, some kind of platoon with Bobby Higginson and other Tiger outfielders is the smart play. Teams would do better to focus on what players can do, not what they can’t.
CF Alex Sanchez: A player with one skill is in deep trouble when something threatens that skill. Sanchez’s leg problems have reduced him to near unrosterable status.
RF Magglio Ordonez: Really, the knee’s not so bad. A known risk can be hedged, and many before Ordonez have come back from similar injuries. Now that the complication (bone marrow edema) has cleared up and he’s running, all you have to do is keep your fantasy competitors thinking it’s worse than it really is.
DH Dmitri Young
OF Bobby Higginson: Higginson is simply trying to save his job and maybe hang on for another contract. Players in their contract year are actually a bit more likely to suffer a significant injury. One theory holds that they’ll fight to stay off the DL, playing through minor injuries and raising the risk of getting more badly hurt.
SP Jason Johnson: Pitching with an insulin pump on his belt should get Johnson a lot of bonus points. Alas, the system isn’t quite that sophisticated quite yet. Much of Johnson’s frequent tweaks and pains have some relation to his diabetes. Expect him to control them, but never fully get rid of them.
SP Jeremy Bonderman: Not all yellow lights are created equal. Bonderman might be a test case for those who think pitchers today are babied, given all the emphasis being placed on monitoring pitch counts. Bonderman will now be aimed at the 200-inning mark. How he fares will determine his chances of becoming a top-tier pitcher for the long term.
SP Mike Maroth: There are whispers that Maroth finally caught on to the breaking ball that Bob Cluck has had him working to master for two years. If so, he could make another step forward.
SP Nate Robertson: It’s a big positive when a pitcher can come off a 200-inning season and go another 200 innings. Robertson pretty much turned the trick.
SP Wil Ledezma: Ledezma hit a wall at about 150 innings last season. The Tigers will watch his totals, but he’s not an efficient pitcher.
CL Troy Percival: Percival had a nice run with the Angels–now the Tigers hope he has one more year left in him. If he works out, they can trade him or maybe Ugueth Urbina for prospects. Just don’t expect him to be that good, that healthy, or that available.
RP Ugueth Urbina: With the saga of his mother’s kidnapping finally resolved, here’s hoping Urbina returns rested, ready and effective.
There’s a lot of red up there. It’s too much red to really let a team that’s not deep off the hook, yet there’s some method to the madness. The Tigers have been different about accepting risk and managing what they have. Simply put, they’re buying the baseball equivalent of junk bonds–high-risk instruments with occasional high rates of return–with the hope that there’s enough return to climb out of the crater and into contention. Meanwhile they’ll try to rebuild a farm system that is just now beginning to produce much of anything.
There’s very little to justify the Ordonez signing, but don’t blame it on health. The Tigers did their due diligence, set it up in a way that protects them properly, and then wrote a check with a few too many zeroes on it. Ordonez’s knee was a topic of much concern all winter. The experimental treatment, the refusing to work out for teams, and the medical mystery all seemed to work against him until Scott Boras once again got what he told us he’d get at the start of the off-season. Once Ordonez ran, the risk was a known quantity, likely to recur only in the short-term. The opt-out clause matches with that and Ordonez’s risk seems to be little more than any 30-year-old outfielder coming off knee surgery.
The Fernando Vina signing may not have worked out last season on the field, but pretty much everything else has. The Tigers have kept their young pitchers healthy while they develop, they’ve kept Ivan Rodriguez reasonably rested, and if Alex Sanchez could be removed from the equation (something many Tigers fans hope for), the only big negative on last year’s DL report would be the turf injury suffered by Dmitri Young. That’s not bad.