By Will Carroll
March 01, 2011
Signing young players to long contracts can be a good thing, but signing old players to long contracts rarely is. Jim Hendry's Cubs locked up a number of players in 2007-2008 including Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Kosuke Fukudome, knowing that it was unlikely all four would retain their value throughout the life of their deals. It's coming time to pay the piper as that crew is beginning to age, compounding their existing injury issues. Trainer Mark O'Neal has improved the team's injury statistics to a bit over the midpoint since taking over the Head Trainer position in 2007, but he'll be under the gun with a rotation that profiles as high risk almost across the board and outfield that averages 34 years old. The team has just one player, Matt Garza, who doesn't come with an elevated injury risk -- and the Cubs just acquired him from the Rays. While that doesn't guarantee that the training room at Wrigley will have a line out the door like a Friday night at The Metro, it's another hurdle the Cubs will have to overcome as they attempt to keep pace in a division that has improved as much as any in baseball over the last few seasons.

(HEAD TRAINER: Mark O'Neal; FIVE YEAR RANK: 13; 2010 RANK: 5)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
SP Matt Garza
On a staff full of reds, Garza's green is a welcome oasis. A lot of ink was spilled about the trade that brought him to the North Side of Chicago, but the prospect of having a young, healthy arm at the top of this rotation could be very important if the injury bug hits this staff as hard as The System thinks it could. One interesting note on Garza - his UCL is actually covered in scar from a youth injury, which doctors believe makes it stronger than normal.
C Geovany Soto
Soto missed the end of the 2010 season due to right shoulder surgery, but it's the time he missed with Koyie Hill-itis that's likely producing this rating. Soto's playing time in 2011 will probably depend more on managerial preference than any lingering shoulder issues, though any issues post-surgery could hurt him at the plate early in the year.

SS Starlin Castro
Castro will barely be able to grab a pint in Wrigleyville when Opening Day arrives. His age, lack of track record, and the expectation that he'll play a very high percentage of the Cubs' games make him an injury risk.

CF Marlon Byrd
Byrd rounds out the Cubs' aging outfield, and like his compatriots, he doesn't have specific body parts to worry about as much as generalized risk. He played a career-high 152 games in 2010, but faded badly in the second half, dropping his OPS by 163 points after the All-Star break. That slide and his advancing age are reasons to question his durability going forward.

RF Kosuke Fukudome
This yellow stems largely from the fact that Fukudome missed more time in 2010 than he did in 2008 and 2009 combined, and that he'll be just a year younger than Soriano. Fortunately, outfield is one of the places where the Cubs have some options, so Fukudome's injury risk is mitigated somewhat by Tyler Colvin, who will see time at all three outfield spots.
1B Carlos Pena
Pena avoided the hand injuries that hurt him in 2008 and '09, which is good news. That said, despite objections to the contrary, the plantar fasciitis he dealt with in 2010 could linger into 2011 and depress his production, especially since he's moving to a new team and medical staff.

2B Blake DeWitt
DeWitt will get a crack at the starting job for the first time in his career and as such will almost certainly see a career high in games played. I think the red overstates his risk, but there's always some concern for young players who see a large jump in their expected contribution.

3B Aramis Ramirez
Since signing a five-year, $75 million contract in '07, Ramirez has yet to play 150 games in a season, leaving the Cubs scrambling to find a replacement. He has to stay on the field if the Cubs have designs on competing in NL Central, something he has struggled to do.

LF Alfonso Soriano
Soriano was healthy last year for the first time since '07 and it helped him rebound from a disastrous '09 season. Nevertheless, he's a 35-year old with recent injury issues; his injury risk is high now and is likely to climb from here.

SP Ryan Dempster
Dempster's success in transitioning from closing to starting isn't unprecedented, but it is unusual enough to throw The System for a loop. He's been solid as a starter, never making fewer than 30 starts for the Cubs since his switch, but he's fighting against the clock at age-34. I think this red is overstated, but his risk is going up with each passing year.

SP Carlos Zambrano
Is a bad attitude a type of injury? It can certainly hurt Zambrano's performance, and last year it held him to his lowest inning total since 2002, when he was relegated to the bullpen, so perhaps it ought to be. Big Z's innings have dropped consistently over the last four years, which makes The System see risk. The big issue with Zambrano is probably less than his body will fail him and more that his emotions will get the better of him.

SP Randy Wells
It isn't always a big increase in innings that gets younger pitchers in trouble, sometimes it's just the sheer number of innings they're asked to pitch. Wells hit the 190-inning mark last season for the first time, which could precipitate issues this season. Andrew Cashner could step in to replace Wells in the rotation, but the Cubs don't have a lot of depth if more than one of their starters goes down.

SP Carlos Silva
Silva missed the first day of spring training with a fever. It's not anything that will linger, but it seems almost apropos for a player who hasn't thrown 200 innings in a season since 2007. Silva has been afflicted with a multitude of conditions over the past few seasons, so while it's hard to say exactly what will keep him off the mound, it's very likely that something will.

RP Kerry Wood
Wood spent more than two months of the 2010 season on the disabled list and made just 47 appearances, his third straight year of declining games. His return to the Cubs is a great story, but Mark O'Neil and his staff will be fighting an uphill battle to keep him on the mound.

CL Carlos Marmol
If you've watched Marmol pitch, it's not surprising that he's a high injury risk. His motion includes a ton of moving parts and leaves him falling off the mound to the first base side, reminscent of Mitch Williams -- which brings up the risk profile. That said, he's been healthy so far and he's actually a low red. If we discount 2008's command issues, something that can precipitate elbow issues, he'd be a solid yellow.

Dan Wade contributed to this report

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