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Red Sox Team Health Report 2012

This was the first Team Health Report I set up and the last one I wrote, for a lot of reasons. The season ended with an epic collapse, but more than the on-field dropoff, it was the off-field implosion that tore down the house that Henry built. Out went Terry Francona, sullied as he left for the Fox studio by anonymous rumors. Out went Theo Epstein, pushed as much as he walked out. There are still plenty of smart people running the team and a manager who could be one of the best around at the mind games necessary, even if he does come with a shelf life slightly longer than generic yogurt. We'll leave the drama to Dan Shaughnessy's upcoming book and focus on what didn't contribute to the collapse -- injuries. Sure, the Red Sox had their share of injuries, but there was no single factor that broke the team down and made them "less than." Some will point to Kevin Youkilis' hip or Clay Buchholz's back, but the team that the Sox put out on Sept. 28 was remarkably similar to the one they used on Opening Day. This season, five of the eight starters are the same, with only Youkilis out for injury. There are fingers left to be pointed, but none of them should go toward the medical staff.

Health Keys: Intergrate the medical staff with the new field staff, building the trust that a team needs to have while simultaneously dealing with a lot of injury risks. The availability of Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz are the ones to watch most closely.

(HEAD TRAINER: Mike Reinold; FIVE YEAR RANK: 13; 2011 RANK: 23)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
GREEN LIGHT
LF Carl Crawford
Ignore this. Crawford had wrist surgery in January and the 2012 data isn't reflected here. The perfect comp for this is Rickie Weeks, who struggled with wrist problems over a couple of seasons before things came back in a big way. Crawford certainly struggled and his '11 season looks a lot like Weeks' '08. There's every reason to think that Crawford can come back from this, but the media scrutiny as he misses much, if not all, of spring training isn't going to help things.

RF Cody Ross
Ross is going to platoon with Ryan Sweeney to start the season, replacing J.D. Drew. I'll take a moment to tip my cap to a guy who had a pretty decent career (874 career OPS, 242 homers) despite being tagged as injury-prone and difficult early on.

SP Jon Lester
Lester came back from cancer and showed that he didn't lose anything. He missed the 200-inning mark because of a mild lat strain that cost him a couple starts, but he came back from it well enough that it's only worth noting, not worrying about. The change in coaching didn't seem to bother him last year, but another change will test a guy who absorbs coaching.

Also Green:
RP Marc Melancon
YELLOW LIGHT
1B Adrian Gonzalez
Last year, Adrian Gonzalez told a reporter that he was losing power because his surgically-repaired shoulder was weak. The next day, he told another reporter that it was no big deal. Gonzalez isn't a media master, but besides the power loss -- which was expected -- he performed up to every expectation. The power would normally be expected to return a year out from surgery, but reports of late-season weakness temper that a bit.

2B Dustin Pedroia
The ultimate high-effort player, Pedroia has dealt with foot, ankle and knee problems over the last few seasons. Instead of sapping speed, he seems to have doubled down on the effort to show he hasn't lost anything. Pedroia escaped what looked to be a nasty knee injury in June and was one of the first athletes to have a needle arthroscopy, which is a fiber-optic camera the size of a large-gauge needle. Doctors were able to see that Pedroia had nothing more than a severe bruise and he missed very little time. Expect to see more of these. With Pedroia, these small injuries will start to build up on him. He can't back off, but Bobby V is going to have to protect him from himself.

SS Mike Aviles
Aviles isn't a bad SS, just an unexpected one. He's played better as a super-sub, aside from his rookie campaign, and doesn't have the arm he did before Tommy John surgery. He shouldn't be too exposed by starting at SS, with Nick Punto as an available sub. Still, counting on him for much above 100 games played will be risky.

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Ellsbury answered a lot of the questions about his durability with a 158-game, MVP-caliber season. A lot, but not all. He still runs and dives a lot, and has a history of slow healing (though all of his injuries appear to be traumatic), but observers tell me that it wasn't just his steal totals that signal a slight shift in his playing style. He dialed things back a little, relying on talent more than hustle. That sounds like a bad thing, but it's not, especially when a player has as much talent as Ellsbury. The yellow is pretty low given how bad his '10 season was, but I think it's about right.

DH David Ortiz
Ortiz is the prototype DH, relatively durable, but his size posdes some issues when looking at comparables. Most don't last this long at this level, which makes it very tough to profile. Red Sox fans always think Mo Vaughn, but Carlos Delgado is a better comp all around. Of course, the downside there is that Delgado was out of the game at 37. Ortiz is 36.

SP Josh Beckett
The clubhouse stuff is for others. I want to focus on Beckett's conditioning and change in demeanor. Many pointed to his happy marriage, saying it kept him from being as "mean" and driven. His conditioning was a bit questionable, but he's always been moving toward a more Clemensian physique. Beckett's bounce back above 190 innings is a very positive indicator.

RED LIGHT
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Salty has been relatively healthy, but never really tested as a catcher. He caught 103 games last year, his first time over 100 since 2005, when he was in A-ball. With Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway behind him, Salty won't be asked to do much more than that, but since he is the starter this year, the System expects more games played than the Red Sox are likely to ask from him. His lack of track record and durability makes this red reasonable, but perhaps a bit overstated.

3B Kevin Youkilis
Did playing 3B take more of a toll on Youkilis than expected? Maybe. Back and leg problems plagued his season, forcing days off before a sports hernia derailed him in September. He was likely playing with it long before that, perhaps as a cascade injury from the back problems. Youkilis didn't lose power after his wrist surgery, which is a plus for this season. The System profiles Youkilis with an unlikely comparable in John Kruk, which is too negative for me. Youkilis might follow Kruk into the media someday, but I don't think he'll follow Kruk out of the game at age 34. That said, expecting Youk to play more than 120 games is a high bar given the past couple seasons.

SP Clay Buchholz
Buchholz had a stress fracture in his spine, similar to what David Wright dealt with last season. The downside is that it was his pitching motion that caused it. It's a very unusual injury, and while he progressed, he wasn't able to get back on the mound in '11. He's rehabbing well and is expected to be ready for spring training, but this is going to be a major concern for the next year or more. With every pitch, he's putting the same stresses on his back and his work in rehab and his motion is going to have to hold up if he's going to return to level.

SP Daniel Bard
Bard has the stuff to close, but questions about his mental makeup came up late in the year as he appeared to tire. The laser focus on the collapse seemed aimed at him, forcing the Sox to shift him to the rotation. (Well, that and the Andrew Bailey trade, and the lack of other available options.) It looks like a big innings increase, but we've seen relievers deal with it well recently. The bigger concern is that heavy fatigue at the end of the season and how that could affect his adjustment.

SP John Lackey
Lackey will miss the season after Tommy John surgery in November. The exploratory surgery showed a significant but incomplete tear that necessitated reconstruction. The year gives Lackey some distance from an utterly terrible season in all phases and gives the Sox an extra year on his contract. Expect the Sox to flip him if he shows he can pitch toward the end of the season. The Sox will fill this slot with one of several options while they wait for Daisuke Matsuzaka to return around midseason from his own elbow surgery.

CL Andrew Bailey
Bailey was available because he was cheap to the Sox, not cheap to the A's, and because the durability risk was equally spread. In Moneyball terms, the Sox can handle Bailey's volatility due to the presence of Melancon and others. The forearm strain he had midseason is the same thing Brett Anderson had in '10 if you want to mess with a Sox fan.

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