C Jason LaRue: Durable is not always good. Durable sometimes keeps a guy out there more than he should be. Given Javier Valentin‘s awful 2004 season, you can see why Dave Miley kept pushing him out there, but temperance would help here. At 30, LaRue’s already declining, health-wise. The knee’s a serious concern.
1B Sean Casey: Casey is good, when healthy. He isn’t healthy as much as they’d like, but he did come back from major shoulder surgery in good shape, proving that may have long been the problem. For all their vaunted outfield depth and talk of moving Griffey or Dunn to first in his stead, all pieces haven’t been healthy enough to make that much more than a hypothetical.
2B D’Angelo Jimenez: Jimenez has a tendency for the poorly timed injury, like last season’s mid-summer oblique strain. It will be interesting to see if he can buck the trend.
SS Felipe Lopez
3B Joe Randa: A quick knee scope cost him a little time, but he still put up a typical Randa season: .289/.345/.410. If you don’t mind that or similar small injuries, there’s no reason to think 2005 will be much different.
LF Adam Dunn
CF Ken Griffey, Jr.: He’s a known risk with a new twist. Griffey and teammate Jason Romano both had a new type of surgery to reconnect their torn hamstrings. Team doctor Tim Kremchek is very confident in the procedure, but admits it’s new and they don’t know exactly how things will go. With Griffey, baseball fans know how things usually go. We’re all hoping this HoFer can have that one last healthy season.
RF Austin Kearns: Someday, I think we’ll be able to explain players like this. I have some guesses–maybe genetics, maybe conditioning. For now we just call it bad luck and bet against sustained health, until proven otherwise.
OF Wily Mo Pena: His 2004 season was ended by a hamstring strain. The move was precautionary and the Reds were already gun-shy, seeing too many guys go down with hammy injuries. Work ethic will largely determine whether he avoids similar injuries in the future.
UT Ryan Freel: Freel got a chance to play last year because of all the injuries. For a team like this, that type of player can be invaluable, especially for the right price. Freel is the type who’ll sacrifice his body a bit too much to stay completely healthy. He ended the season with minor knee surgery; his steals shouldn’t be affected.
SS Rich Aurilia: Expected to compete for the starting shortstop spot, Aurilia hasn’t aged well. At 34, he’ll likely have the small injuries that he’s seen over the past couple years become more frequent and his healing get slower. None will probably be as odd as a sprained ankle sustained getting out of his car.
SP Eric Milton: This one feels low. Milton’s proclivity for homers causes him to be a little finer than what you’d like to see in an efficient starter. Now that he’s the de facto ace of the staff, something he’s never been, he’ll be asked to go deeper than before. The year off for knee surgery saved some mileage, but he’s still a big risk. I’ll go on record as saying Milton is my Phil Nevin prediction this season.
SP Paul Wilson: He’s come back to become an effective, reliable pitcher, more than most would have expected. Two of the three Mets youngsters ruined in the mid-90s have come back to have useful careers. It says a lot about sports medicine that that’s the case. He’s still never going to be a 200-inning guy, which is a shame because the Reds could use that.
SP Ramon Ortiz: At 32, he’s older than you might think, and he’s a long way from the Pedro Martinez comparisons of just a few years back. His decline followed two 200+ inning workloads–few come back from that, once they decline. Then again, see above.
SP Aaron Harang: I’ve got nothing personal against scouts, but I wish one of them would explain to me one good reason why there’s a bias for tall pitchers. Worse, they draft a tall guy like Harang and complain that he doesn’t throw hard enough.
SP Luke Hudson: Torn labrums are death sentences. Or are they? There’s a lot of research being done and sadly, a lot of cases to work on for the top surgeons in the game. They’re making progress. Hudson’s recovery has been backwards, getting his fastball back but losing some command.
SP Brandon Claussen: His miracle comeback from Tommy John surgery wasn’t really a miracle. He was just the first to make it back under the new rehab protocols pioneered by Kevin Wilk. That comeback only got him back, it didn’t teach him the command he never really had.
CL Danny Graves
Everyone wants to blame the medical staff for the Reds’ problems. They see Ken Griffey flailing on the field. They see Austin Kearns on the DL time after time. They see pitcher after pitcher on the operating table of Tim Kremchek rather than the mound at Great American Ball Park.
These images keep alive the perception that the Reds staff is to blame. They only deserve part of the blame, however. It’s the roster that perpetuates the problem. Bringing in old pitchers, broken pitchers and reclamation projects for Don Gullett doesn’t bring much hope of an injury-free season. The injuries they had–Griffey, Kearns, Barry Larkin–all could be expected; the depth they had in 2004 kept them going longer than they should have been expected to.
This season brings the same problems. No one can honestly expect this team to be significantly different than last season. Griffey had an unusual surgery (as did Jason Romano) and Kearns didn’t have a luck transplant in the off-season. Neither did the franchise.