C Mike Lieberthal: At 33, Lieberthal is an old catcher. He’s been injured enough that perhaps his innings behind the plate have been held down, but looking back, that’s not a positive. It’s the catchers that didn’t get injured that age well.
1B Jim Thome
2B Chase Utley
3B David Bell: While the Phils are getting railed for signing Placido Polanco, then declaring Utley the starter, few have cast their gaze over to third. Bell had something of a comeback in 2003; he’s also entering his mid-30s, has a bad back, and isn’t all that great even on the rare occasion when it all breaks right for him. That’s precisely the type of guy who’s likely to need Placido Polanco spotting him out or even taking over.
LF Pat Burrell: It showed something that Burrell was able to come back and try to help his team despite an injured wrist. That injury remains with him, after Burrell declined post-season surgery in hopes that rest and rehab would be enough. Add in rumors of plantar fasciitis from late in the season and Burrell’s someone fast becoming one of the great might-have-beens.
CF Kenny Lofton: Speed doesn’t age well. What we don’t know at this stage is just how much playing time Lofton will get. Spotted properly alongside Marlon Byrd, he could be useful. Anything over 300 plate appearances should make this red light flash.
RF Bobby Abreu
2B/3B Placido Polanco
OF Marlon Byrd
SP Randy Wolf: Only yellow following a season lost to elbow problems, Wolf is still a pitcher with upside. He also had minor foot surgery, which may explain the sudden changes in his mechanics early last season. He survived 200 inning seasons previously. Key on his curveball if you’re watching him this season–he’s better when he throws it less.
SP Jon Lieber: Green? Really? Yes. One of the least injured pitchers ever is the one in his second season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Add in that major surgery aside, Lieber’s always been at least a LAIM (league-average inning muncher) and you can pencil in 200 innings without much concern.
SP Vicente Padilla: Padilla lost most of last year to elbow problems and still got a raise–baseball’s economic system can be odd sometimes. Padilla pitched well late last season when given extra rest, so if they can slot back in the rotation and use him in a fifth starter/swingman-type role, he could actually earn the dollars he was given. He’s trade bait if he gets off to a good start.
SP Cory Lidle
SP Brett Myers: It’s easy to see why Myers is a risk. He’s young, not particularly concerned with conditioning, and had some control problems at age 23. He’s still got some upside, especially if the seemingly gopheriffic tendencies of the park were exaggerated in 2004.
CL Billy Wagner: He hurt his groin, causing his mechanics to get out of whack. Throwing with an all-arm motion, it wasn’t long before Wagner’s rotator cuff got sore. Power pitchers typically last longer, but shoulder injuries can turn a flamethrower into Jamie Moyer in a hurry. Wagner’s devastating when healthy–it’s just tough to keep him healthy.
There’s nothing in the injury accounting system that controls for blood pressure. With Larry Bowa now out of the clubhouse, expect the stress levels to be lower for everyone involved with the Phillies, save for Ed Wade. There are no big changes here over last year’s team, aside from bringing in two Yankees for some supposed veteran seasoning.
The pitching staff bears most of the risk here and in some ways, that’s not all bad. The Phillies have a couple of hotshot hurlers in Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels waiting for their shot and for many young pitchers, that first break is filling in for an injured teammate. Unfortunately Hamels already got his first break of 2005, breaking his throwing hand in a bar brawl, an injury that’ll keep him out until May, or possibly later.
We could then see Ryan Madson get the first crack at a rotation spot when one of the top five succumb to injury. Because Madson slots into the bullpen, he’s not covered above, but he’s worth mentioning. For all the talk of easing pitchers into starting roles by using them in relief first, it’s hard not to point and wave when a pitcher with the talent of a Madson gets stuck in the pen. For now, Madson would be a green light, his use monitored and held in check by his bullpen apprenticeship, which can in fact pay dividends if done right.
The rest of the team will have to find new excuses if they don’t live up to expectations. One negative for the team last season, statistically speaking, was the contract status of most of the players. Nearly all the players were in the first half of long-term deals. It’s actually the reverse of common wisdom about contracts and injuries that is true. Players get healthier, overall, after signing the deal. It may be that they fight through minor injuries–leading to major ones–when playing for contracts.
The Phillies shouldn’t be a team that’s made or broken by injury. Long-time trainer Jeff Cooper has made that the case over his 24-season tenure. If they can avoid the key injuries that every team looks to miss, the Phillies will be in the thick of things down the stretch.