29 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - American League

Spring is in the air.

Unfortunately, so are rumours of steroid use, allegations of falsehood and conspiracy, and bitterness from players, fans, writers and administrators alike. At a time when we should be hearing the relative merits of players and teams entering a new season, all anyone can talk about is Congressional hearings. We should be arguing about whether or not Tony Womack (TONY WOMACK!?)will actually hit .490 this year, or if Eric Bedard will actually put up a 2.11 ERA in the 2005 regular season, but instead all we can do is debate the month in which Barry Bonds might return, and the over/under on how many more times he might drag his family down with him in press conferences. (My money's on eleventeen.)

So, as Easter approaches, and Resurrection is perhaps on some of our minds, let me make an effort to resurrect baseball discussions. That is, discussions about baseball players and what we might get to see on the field this year. One of the saddest aspects of these distractions has been the other news lost in the noise of the steroid scandal. Did you know that there are a lot of big-name players dealing with potentially serious injuries this spring? One day last week, three of the best closers in baseball were all in the non-steroid headlines for the injuries they were dealing with, and I almost missed it. So, in my continuing quest to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go...wait a minute...that's Captain Kirk's quest. Sorry.

Mine is to be a public servant, to provide information and commentary on baseball for my fans. All three of you. So without further delay, herer are the most significant injury concerns for each team heading into the 2005 season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Man, that's a stupid name. All other things being equal, the injury to the franchise with that name change might have been the biggest blow to this team's chances in 2005, but then what should we expect from a team that once listed "periwinkle" amongst its seven (7!) official team colors. In the non-PR department, the Angels' biggest concern is obviously that reigning AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero's gimpy back will flare up, as it already has this spring, but perhaps more serious is the apparent back stiffness and/or herniated disk that rookie 3B Dallas MacPherson suffers from. The Angels allowed Troy Glaus to leave thinking that MacPherson would be ready to take over the 3B job this year, and if he's not healthy, they'll be forced to play Chone Figgins and/or Robb Quinlan at the hot corner, neither of whom has MacPherson's talent.

Baltimore Orioles

While not your classic injury, Sidney Ponson took a page out of the David Wells Guide to Off-Season Public Relations Strategies by getting into a bar fight and wrote his own Appendix to the tome by assaulting a judge, although not in that order. If the judge ever lets him out, his hand apparently won't hinder his pitching, as no broken bones were detected. If the Orioles are to have any hope at all, and frankly, there wasn't much to begin with, Ponson must get his act together. At least he's not blaming the media or using his children as a shield.

Boston Red Sox

Perhaps the most famous red sock (as opposed to Red Sock) in history, Curt Schilling, isn't quite ready for the regular season, though it's possible that his ankle could be fully healed by mid-April, in time to start at Fenway against the Yankees. Wade Miller could be out much longer, and could effect a more forceful blow to Boston's hopes for success this year.

Chicago White Sox

The collective gasp you heard coming from the South Side of Chicago last week was not surprise that Billy McCoy killed Leroy Brown, but rather the fear that Pale Hose ace mark Buehrle might miss significant time this year with a "Stress reaction" in his leg, whatever that means. Thankfully, it now seems likely that he'll be ready for opening day. Frank Thomas, however, is still big hurtin', unable to run (a relative term, I suppose) and therefore unable to play. He hopes to be back in mid-April, but may take longer. The Sox will need both of them healthy and strong for most of the season if they are to wrest the division from the hands of the Twins.

Cleveland Indians

Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia has a strained oblique muscle and is currently rehabbing, having not yet thrown a live pitch this spring. Sabathia is yet another player on whom his team's hopes ride if they are to succeed in 2005. C.C. has missed some playing time pretty regularly over the past two years with minor injuries, including a strained hamstring, strained biceps, a sore shoulder and an elbow injury. Though he's only 24 and has made at least 30 starts in every season of his 4-year career, he's pitched over 200 innings only once (2002). Listed at 6'7" and 290 lbs, he would do well to slim down a bit and take better care of his body, his meal ticket.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers don't have anyone of real consequence experiencing serious injury problems right now, which is more a testament to the lack of name-brand talent on the roster than it is to any real ability on the part of the team's stars to stay healthy. Outfielder Craig Monroe, who's probably more famous for shoplifting a $30 belt last December than for anything he did from April to September, has a strained shoulder. No big deal.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have several minor, day-to-day injuries on their staff, but nobody expected to miss serious time at this point. On the other hand, if you have to be worried about whether or not 79-year old Kevin Appier is going to make the rotation, your team has bigger concerns.

Minnesota Twins

The #1 pick of the 2001 draft, Joe Mauer, was expected to contribute at the major league level last year, but got hurt in the second game of the season and hasn't quite been the same since. Mauer hit well in the approximately 100 at-bats he got upon his return, but the knee still isn't 100%, and the Twins' backups aren't going to push a team towards a division championship if pressed into daily service. This is one of the few teams that has enough supporting offense and pitching that they can get by with a catcher who hits .250/.320/.400 for half a season, but it sure would be nice to see Mauer's .300/.370/.550 instead.

New York Yankees

With Derek Jeter having returned from his bruised foot, and Bernie Williams effectively rehabbing his back, the Yankees' biggest injury concern isn't Steve "Recunstructive Surgery" Karsay, or even Randy Johnson. No, the Yankee's biggest injury concern is Tony Womack. Womack isn't injured, and that's the problem, because he's had an unbelieveable spring, is coming off a career year, and is 35 years old, which means that there's nowhere to go but down from here, and down he'll go. Baseball Prospectus projects Womack to "hit" .261/.303/.353 this year, and frankly I'll be surprised if he does that well. The best thing that can happen to the team is for Womack to sustain some kind of non-life threatening injury and miss most of the year, making the decision to play Andy Phillips at the keystone easy for Joe Torre.

Oakland Athletics

The A's apparently don't have any big injury issues, possibly becaus ethey're all so, well, athletic.

Seattle Mariners

Erstwhile "Everyday" Eddie Guardado hasn't pitched in the majors on any day starting in August of 2004, but expects to be ready to start the 2005 season with the team. An effective closer was one of the lowest concerns for a team that lost 99 games last season, but the mariners expect bigger things this year after spending eleventy million dollars on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, himself a perpetual injury concern. Nobody on the staff who pitched more than 140 innings had an ERA lower than Joel Piniero's 4.67, and Piniero may not be either healthy or good if his shoulder isn't as healed as he says it is. Even with a healthy Piniero and Guardado, Seattle's climb back to competitive respectability in the AL West will be all uphill. Like Mount Ranier.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Not that they're expected to do much, but the Devil Rays will miss Rocco Baldelli, currently on knee-hab and not expected back until mid-season. The D-Rays set franchise records last year in wins and division place finishing in 2004, but as they were only 70 wins and 4th place, I wouldn't get too excited yet.

Texas Rangers

Texas relies on its offense to succeed, and would like to rely on 2B Alfonso Soriano to leadoff that attack, his poor strike zone judgment notwithstanding, but his strained hamstring makes his one asset as a leadoff hitter, his speed, a non-entity. Closer Francisco Cordero is nursing a shoulder injury, but is making progress in his return, facing minor leaguers without pain. Relief pitcher Frank Francisco's sore elbow has him on the 15-day DL, but he should be able to throw folding chairs off flat ground in the next twoo weeks, and if that goes well, he's expected to start throwing chairs from a mound shortly thereafter.

Toronto Blue Jays

Perpetually gimpy Ted Lilly is making progress returning from his most recent shoulder injury, and should be back to facing major league hitters soon. Newly aquired 3B Corey Koskie is nursing his groin strain, which is not as much fun as it sounds. The Blue Jays' main concern is not finishing behind the Devil Rays again, which seems a pretty likely fate as long as Roy Halladay is healthy this year.

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