By Will Carroll
February 29, 2012
Theo Epstein stepped out of that Chicago Starbucks, into the surprisingly small office suite at Wrigley Field, and everything changed. Well, not everything and not all at once. There might be a new attitude and a new "10-year plan" inside the Friendly Confines, but nothing seemed to change when it comes to sports medicine. The Cubs have the same athletic trainers and the same team doctors, but given Mark O'Neal's results the last few years, that's hardly a bad thing. Epstein might have come in and said "this part isn't broke," and given the Red Sox's focus on sports medicine the last few years, it's not like he didn't know what to look for. The Cubs don't have some of the most advanced facilities and their training room and rehab facilities are as archaic as the rest of Wrigley's infrastructure, but the days of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood taking up long-term residence there are gone. The Cubs have a relatively low risk profile, with their best players relatively healthy. If O'Neal can engineer a third year of Top-10 performance, the Cubs may not win, but it will provide a great base for the rebuilding project.

Health Keys: Keep tradable commodities like Matt Garza healthy while making sure that young players don't develop any chronic issues.

(HEAD TRAINER: Mark O'Neal; FIVE YEAR RANK: 9; 2011 RANK: 6)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
1B Bryan LaHair
The System doesn't think this AAA crusher will be able to hold off Anthony Rizzo long enough to get up to yellow status.

2B Darwin Barney
Darwin Barney doesn't sound like a 2B, but he sure played like one last year. In fact, the Wall Street firm of Darwin Barney, Starlin & Castro should be what the accounting firm of Epstein, Hoyer & McCloud build around.

SS Starlin Castro
Castro thrived with the increased workload in '11. He's still young for the position and is just shy of yellow because of concerns about what even a minor leg injury could do to his game.

P1 Matt Garza
He finished just shy of 200 innings, but the mark that really matters is 190. Two hundred is a nice round number, though, and people like round numbers. Garza's scar-strengthened UCL keeps him durable, but I don't recommend it.

P2 Ryan Dempster
The Angels point to Ryan Dempster when they're asked about C.J. Wilson and his big contract. The career paths aren't identical, but with these results, it's surprising more teams don't at least try it. Then again, there was Andrew Cashner.

C Geovany Soto
Soto's had the normal, nagging injuries that catchers have without having the devastating ones that too many do. He's never lived up to his rookie breakout, but he's a solid catcher who still has some upside. He gets a Red rating if the Cubs suddenly expose him to 140-plus games, but the dings tend to keep him from that.

LF Alfonso Soriano
Hamstring injuries don't tend to go away once they've gone chronic. They've taken away most of Soriano's speed and some of his power, but there's enough there to remind you why Soriano got that big contract. While last year's availability is possible again, he's more likely to be a 120-game guy.

CF Marlon Byrd
Byrd's yellow rating isn't a good one. His playing time was down last year because the franchise was looking at options. Actually, Byrd's work with Victor Conte -- yes, that one -- have kept him mostly healthy during his time in Chicago. He's a trade candidate if he can have a good April and May.

RF David DeJesus
DeJesus was always compared to his predecessor, Johnny Damon. It's valid until you get to the injuries. DeJesus was always dealing with something while Damon was among the healthiest players in the game. That difference is why Damon's getting some debate in the Hall of Fame discussions and DeJesus is a placeholder for the Cubs.

SP Chris Volstad
Volstad is not Carlos Zambrano and that's enough for the Cubs. He's going to top out at around 160 innings and that seems to be a problem for baseball execs. Those starters who run out of gas between 150-180 innings confuse them, but that's a lack of creativity rather than any real lack with this pitcher type. He's yellow on the chance the Cubs slag him, but they have some depth.

3B Ian Stewart
Knee and wrist injuries have held Stewart back over the past couple seasons. Before that, it was all on him for not establishing himself. The Cubs had hoped Josh Vitters would be knocking at the door by now, so Stewart's a decent enough placeholder when healthy.

SP Paul Maholm
Maholm is coming off shoulder surgery and that could explain his ground ball rate reduction. If the ball starts sinking again, the lost velocity shouldn't be that big a deal for how he pitches. With this defense and grass, Maholm is a bounce-back candidate, assuming he can get healthy. Shoulders are lot more tricky than elbows.

SP Randy Wells
Forearm problems augur elbow issues. Velocity loss tends to predict shoulder issues. Control problems point to elbow issues. Stamina problems tend to go hand in hand with shoulder issues. What happens when you have all of them? You warm up Travis Wood and Jim Andrews.

RP Kerry Wood
It's Kerry Wood. Do I really have to explain it?

CL Carlos Marmol
Marmol showed some fatigue and velocity issues in the second half. Given his long standing mechanical issues -- or should I say, alleged issues, since we really don't know if they're bad, but they sure don't look good -- it's reasonable to think that the velocity loss is predictive. Managing Marmol isn't just going to be a medical issue and might give us a lot of insight on Chris Bosio, the Cubs new pitching coach.

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