Orioles Think Tank

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Archive for December, 2005

Miguel Tejada is a Dick

Posted by Mike on December 30, 2005

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2274777

Once again, Miguel Tejada has taken it upon himself to declare that the Orioles exist only for his satisfaction.

“Now, I am more upset than when I requested the trade because it’s been a month and they haven’t done anything,” he told the AP before a winter league game.

That’s it Miguel, bitch because Pavano and Konerko decided they wanted to win more than get every last dollar out of Peter Angelos when it was their turn at free agency. After all, I’m sure it was the promise you saw in the 2003 Orioles that made you sign here. It had nothing to do with the $72 million that no one else was offering you at the time.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Miguel Tejada’s criticisms are generally fair. Despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to realize that we are more than an ‘ace pitcher’ away from contention, he rightly suspects that the O’s front office is making less than optimal moves this off-season. It’s just tough for me to feel sorry for a guy that willingly agreed to accept $12 million a year to play for a team coming off of a 71 win season.

And am I taking crazy pills or is anyone else realizing that Miguel Tejada is single-handedly destroying any remaining hope that free agents might want to come to Baltimore in the future? So, his whole “I might actually be doing them some good” rationale has about as much credibility as a Skip Bayless NFL Draft Day analysis. It is quite possible that Tejada is adversely affecting Baltimore baseball for seasons to come. I’m sure his teammates appreciate that.

Manny Ramirez’s trade demands were a key factor in Johnny Damon going over to the (other) dark side. That’s coming from a guy departing from a team that has been consistently good for years. Imagine what Baltimore’s own superstar’s cry-baby escapades might mean to a franchise already on the brink.

Posted in Orioles | 7 Comments »

The Case for Bruce Chen

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

12/27/05

Bruce Chen is the red-headed step-child of the Baltimore Orioles. Once the fourth rated prospect in all of baseball (1999, Baseball America), Chen taking the mound now elicits as many whinces as Mike Flanagan talking about prospective trades with Billy Beane. For some reason, when the O’s pick someone up off the scrap-heap, he doesn’t get the respect that others like Todd Jones, Jose Mesa, and Paul Byrd have in the past few years.

Few out there realize that Bruce Chen was actually the most valuable Oriole pitcher in 2005. Following are the top three finishers in VORP:

Bruce Chen- 33.7
Erik Bedard- 25.7
B.J. Ryan- 25.3

To you and me, that means that over the course of the season, Bruce Chen was worth about one win more than any other pitcher on the Orioles. Granted, his main competition was limited by injuries and usage patterns, but no one else was even close.

Still not convinced? Let me make one more comparison. I’ll list Chen’s stats next to another prominent pitcher who also happened to be 28 years old last year.

Chen ——— Player X

IP
197.3 ——— 224.0

K/9
6.1 ———– 6.3

BB/9
2.9 ———– 1.7


HR/9
1.5 ———– 1.4

ERA
3.83 ———- 4.22

Chen’s stats seem to match up pretty nicely in this comparison. He has a slight edge in ERA, probably from his lower BABIP. He has a higher walk rate than Player X, to a degree that is significant (but both markers are above-average). So what we have here are two pitchers who are/have; 28 years old, workhorses, decent but uninspiring K rates, good to excellent walk rates, and below-average home run rates.

Now, factor in that Chen pitches in a ballpark that is neutral to slightly favoring the hitter while Player X pitches in one of the most notorious pitcher’s parks in baseball. It seems pretty clear to me that Chen is the better pitcher.

Player X? Well, he’s no other than one of the top three starting pitchers in this year’s free agent market: Jeff Weaver. You may be saying ‘Wait, this had to have been an off year for him!’ Nope. Besides 2002, when he only pitched 121 innings, 2005 ranks up there with any season he’s had. And you can bet that he’s taking his reputation as a durable workhorse who can give you slightly above-average production to the bank. Weaver is, after all, next on Scott Boras’s to-do list.
All you Orioles fans have to ask yourselves, do we need another Bruce Chen? Scratch that, do we need a lesser version of Bruce Chen?

And maybe, just maybe, we should be grateful to have a durable workhorse who can give you slightly above-average production while still a year away from free agency.

Posted in Orioles | 3 Comments »

The Ramon Hernandez Signing

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

12/12/05

Lost in the hoopla of Miguel Tejada’s bitchfest was the signing of this year’s best free agent catcher, Ramon Hernandez. I imagine hearing the godfather of one of his children practically declare himself on the trading block has dampened a bit of his enthusiasm for Baltimore. Nevertheless, Ramon Hernandez is now the primary catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Let’s examine how this might work out.

Hernandez signed a 4 year/$27.5 million deal, or about $7 million a year for his ages 30 through 33 seasons. Coming off of a Petco Park induced .290/.322/.450 line in 2005, Hernandez is still best reputed for his glove and his work with pitchers. Seemingly, the only fault one can find with this picture is a startingly low walk rate. However; though he will never be mistaken for Rickey Henderson, his 2005 walk rate is out of line with his career numbers and can be expected to normalize somewhat. So what we have here is a defensive stalwart behind the dish who makes good contact and has some pop. Certainly sounds like he’s worth $7 million to me, and I expect that he will be in 2006 and 2007.

Looking passed these numbers, though, there are some disturbing trends. Hernandez, in the last four years, has caught in 136, 140, 111, and in 2005, 99 games. On top of his declining usage, catchers are always a poor bet to survive their early thirties intact. Among his most comparable players are Dan Wilson, Andy Etchebarren, and Chad Moeller; all of whom entered their decline phases between ages 28-34. That’s not the most positive trend amongst a list of comparables for a guy you just paid $7 million for each of his age 30, 31, 32, and 33 seasons.

Any free agent signing will have it’s proponents and detractors. What is most important is how the signing fits within an organizational philosophy. For instance, the Orioles may be thinking that they can now flip Javy Lopez to a contender for some young talent. They may even be hoping that Hernandez bridges the gap to Brandon Snyder’s triumphant arrival in 2009 or so. Or, they may just have Geronimo Gil and Brook Fordyce so ingrained in their memory that they didn’t care how much the best catcher on the market cost, so long as they never had to experience the humiliations of 2003 again.

Unfortunately, it is much easier to see how this signing does not fit into any sound organizational philosophy. Ramon Hernandez may be worth the money in the early part of his contract, but he is unlikely to be the difference between contending and not contending in those years. And towards the back end of his contract, when the Orioles might be in a better position to contend, he is unlikely to be worth the money.

So, how exactly could Ramon Hernandez fit into the Oriole’s plans? The only way to make this signing make sense is to go balls out to contend in the next two years; something that, for a multitude of reasons, would likely be a mistake. Otherwise, the front office can flip Javy Lopez for something young and useful to help justify this $7 million a year investment. If they don’t, or if you see Darin Erstad wearing Javy’s uniform, you’ll know that the Orioles are just spinning their tires. Without a sound organizational philosophy and specific goals in mind, the Orioles will soon be looking up at four teams in the AL East.

Posted in Orioles | 2 Comments »

The State of the Oriole Nation

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

12/09/05

Miguel Tejada took the conclusion of the winter meetings as his opportunity to do his best Manny Ramirez impression. He told the AP “I’ve been with the Orioles for two years and things haven’t gone in the direction that we were expecting, so I think the best thing will be a change of scenery”.

Now, a trade demand happens in the NFL where there are no guaranteed contracts. It can happen in the NBA where clubs can execute sign-and-trade agreements. But, in the MLB, where the players union is stronger than in any other sport, you can not demand a trade. Miguel’s options, should the O’s refuse to trade him, are to play for them or retire. With the passion for baseball that Tejada has displayed for all of us to see in the past two years (excluding the last two months of last season), I find it unlikely he’d ride off into the sunset. In fact, it is his passion and excitement that has enthralled countless fans during his tenure here. However, as easy as it is to pick at the front office, and as easy as Tejada is to like, he is absolutely wrong to act this way. Consider:

- Just two years ago, he signed a lucrative six year deal with an Orioles team that was much worse than this one. He did this knowing we were in a division with two perennial superpowers.

- He can criticize Angelos all he wants, but you can’t say ol’ Pete isn’t at least trying. He was the high bidder for Konerko and offered as much money as the Yankees for Pavano last off-season. I don’t blame Miguel Tejada for taking the most money he could get when he had the chance but his anger is misguided if he blames the front office for other free agents not doing the same.

-The real problem is the lack of direction in this organization. Throw all the money you want around, you’ll never out-Yankee the Yankees or out-Sox the Sox. We need a steady stream of developing players to support the occasional free agent signing, not vice versa. And, Mike Flanagan may not be anyone but Peter Angelos’ idea of a good General Manager candidate, but isn’t that what’s most important? when dealing with an overbearing personality like this, having someone in a position of power that has his full trust is as important as any appreciably greater skill other GM’s might have. And Miggy gives this guy what, a month before he goes all Brenda Walsh on us?

So, where do we go from here? We have two offensive building blocks on the whole team. One is nursing an arm explosion and the other is making outrageous trade requests. It doesn’t help that Melvin Mora is sticking up for his good buddy Miguel.The easy answer is to just keep Tejada. It is impossible to get full value for him. He is among the five best players in baseball, he plays a premium position (well), and he is locked up for four more years at an (increasingly) reasonable rate. Beyond the problem of seeking out equitable talent, Flanagan is stuck at the disadvantage of everyone knowing his hand before the cards are dealt. Of course, it goes without saying that there is an inherent disadvantage to Flanagan doing the bartering, but I digress. The Orioles also don’t want to be responsible for setting a disturbing precedent of trading a pouty superstar mid-contract.

Then, there is the only other option. Let’s burn this mother down. Seriously, the O’s are not going to compete in 2006, probably with or without Tejada. It is time to start preparing for those seasons when we might contend now and end this cycle of mediocrity. Let’s get rid of anyone who will not be contributing to those teams and get some cheap, young talent that might.

Having said this, the Orioles have a number of outfield bats on the way and some promising young pitching in the major and minor leagues. What we lack are quality infielders and impact bats. And who has more of those than the Anaheim Angels, who are incidentally in a win-now mode and have an interest in Javy, instability at third base, and would jump at the chance to get a bat as big as Tejada’s to protect Vlad Guerrero. Here it goes:

Javy, Melvin, and Miggy for Brandon Wood, Dallas McPherson, Ervin Santana and Casey Kotchman.

They can even throw in Steve Finley (which they would prefer) to shed some salary. They can worry about flipping Orlando Cabrera or shifting him to 2B later.
The Angels suddenly become as powerful as the Sox or the Yankees and one of the favorites to win it all. The Orioles really aren’t that much worse in 2006 and start to get better every year after that, building towards 2008 or so. Next on the chopping block; Rodrigo, Jay and… well, I guess that’s all we’d have left. But you gotta admit, Bowie and Ottawa would be pretty nasty next year.

Posted in Orioles | 2 Comments »

Transactions

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/28/05

With all the significant trades going on before the upcoming Winter Meetings, this promises to be an interesting off-season. Here’s my take on a few of the trades that impact the Orioles in some way.

The team listed by the player’s name indicates where they finished the year, not necessarily where they played the majority of their games.

Red Sox
Acquire:RHP Josh Beckett, Florida, 25 3B Mike Lowell, Florida, 31 RHP Guillermo Mota, Florida, 32


Marlins
Acquire:SS Hanley Ramirez, Boston, 21 RHP Anibal Sanchez, Portland (AA), 21 RHP Jesus Delgado, Greenville (Lo A), 21 RHP Harvey Garcia, Greenville (Lo A), 21

Following the 2004 season, the Red Sox lost Pedro Martinez to free agency and Curt Schilling to karma. In Josh Beckett, they again have one of the top ten pitchers in baseball. The only question has been his durability. He has never made more than 29 starts in a season or pitched 180 innings, making eleven trips to the Disabled List in his brief career.

It is worth noting that Beckett’s strikeout rate has slipped somewhat in the past two seasons. He has gone from strikeing out 9.6 batters every nine innings in 2003 to 8.4 in 2005. However, during that same time frame, he has made corresponding improvements in his walk rate. Overall, 8.4 K’s/9 seem like plenty to me, and the slight dropoff from 2003 can likely be attributed to Beckett refining his control and putting more balls in play.

Guillermo Mota emerged as one of the better relievers in the National League in 2003 with the Dodgers. His control regressed somewhat in 2005, but I like his chances to rebound.

Of course, the catch to this trade is that the Red Sox had to take on Mike Lowell‘s 2 year/$18 million contract after he provided no offense for the Marlins at all. He did, however, win a Gold Glove (as if that means anything).

The Marlins finally get to fill their perennial hole at SS with Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is a favorite of scouts; who love his speed, strong arm, range, raw power, and ability to travel through time. After his 2004 season (.310/.360/.512 in 129 AA at bats), it looked like Ramirez was putting it all together. However, he regressed in 2005 to the tune of .271/.335/.385 (in 465 AA at bats).

Anibal Sanchez posted a 158-40 K:BB ratio in 136 innings between High A and AA. He has a lively 93-95 fastball, a usable curve, and a changeup that serves as his out-pitch.

Jesus Delgado came back after two years off to pitch in relief in Low A. His fastball can touch 98 mph. Harvey Garcia is a similar hard-throwing reliever out of Low-A ball. He was actually originally signed, and subsequently released, by the Marlins. Neither Delgado nor Garcia have much in the way of secondary pitches.

Analysis: This one looks like a pretty big score for the Red Sox. They will likely assume some of Lowell’s contract and peddle him elsewhere (Minnesota?). Assuming Beckett stays somewhat healthy, they sure didn’t give up much to get a pitcher who could be one of the game’s best for the next decade. As a throw-in, I love the addition of Mota to the Sox’s depleted relief corps. The Marlins look to get back an everyday SS who is looking less and less like the future superstar everyone was predicting, a solid pitching prospect, and two live arms that may or may not make an appearance in the show one day.

Mets
Acquire:1B Carlos Delgado, Florida, 33

Marlins
Acquire:RHP Yusmeiro Petit, Norfolk (AAA), 21 1B/C Mike Jacobs, New York (NL), 25 3B Grant Psomas, St. Lucie (Hi A), 23

How does this impact the Orioles? Well, we didn’t get Delgado. Apparently, we refused to include Hayden Penn in any deal. If I may digress a moment, exactly why is this kid untouchable? Yes, he’s a fine prospect and he may one day front a big-league rotation. But what are the odds of that? 1 in 10? 1 in 20? More likely, he’s another servicable mid-rotation guy that will never have higher trade value than right now (when he’s cheap and looks like he could become a front-of-the-rotation starter). Delgado, on the other hand, is a proven commodity if there ever was one.

Carlos Delgado had another fine year. He hit .301/.399/.582 on his way to belting another 33 home runs. Despite the back-loaded nature of his contract, I have few doubts he will be worth the money for the next three years.

Yusmeiro Petit has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues over the past two years. Over his minor league career, he has averaged 11 K’s/9 innings to go along with a sparkling 2.71 ERA. In 2005, he had a 144-24 K:BB ratio over 133 innings mostly in AA. While his statistics can’t be ignored, some scouts are not sold on this right-hander’s inability to hit 90 mph consistently. He does, however, also throw a curve, changeup, and slider. His most frequent comparison is to Livan Hernandez.

Mike Jacobs had a breakout season of sorts. After being drafted in the 38th round, it took a .321/.376/.589 season in AA to get him a cup of coffee. He took advantage, hitting .310/.375/.710 in his first 100 Major League at bats. His career could go in any number of directions, but the Mets clearly did not believe in him. Then again, they clearly didn’t believe in Scott Kazmir either. Grant Psomas was a throw-in with some interesting similarities to Jacobs. Both were unheralded as amateurs (Psomas was a 15th round pick) that have exceeded expectations. While he was old for the league, Psomas did hit .301/.399/.517 in his first full season in low A. His defense is regarded as nothing more than average.
Analysis: The Mets appear to be an organization mesmerized by tools and unimpressed by production. For the Marlin’s yield, it is interesting to see how divergent these prospects are from Hanley Ramirez in this respect. Jacobs, Petit, and Psomas will try to see if they can find a cozier home in Florida, where their respective skills may be valued higher.
I feel like the Marlins got better value in this trade than in the their dealings with the Sox. Of course, I value a cheap young ace more highly than a slugger on the wrong side of thirty. Delgado is more proven, though, so it’s all about an organization’s priorities.

Blue Jays ink B.J. Ryan to 5 years/$47 million

This deal looks crazier than Nick Nolte on roofies. Why the shit would you pay a guy $9.4 million to pitch 70 innings a year for you? Old school baseball executives will tell you the importance of a proven closer, blah blah blah. But old school baseball executives are also the last to believe a guy can be successful long-term in a closer’s role. It’s a little funny that this money would then go to a guy who has only been a closer for one season. I am having trouble wrapping my mind around what J.P. Ricciardi was thinking. Weighing leverage into the analysis helps some. The average closer (30 saves or more) came into situations with a 1.6 leverage rating in 2005 (Ryan’s was closer to 1.4, but that is mostly subject to the way he was utilized in Baltimore). This basically means that Ryan can be expected to pitch in situations 1.6 more important than the average pitcher. Even factoring for this, the Jay’s are still paying almost eight figures for the equivalent of 110+ innings. Silly, just silly.

Let’s hope Chris Ray continues his remarkable development. I have a feeling this signing just made all those “stop-gap” solutions the Orioles were persuing a lot more expensive.

Posted in General Baseball, Minor Leagues, Orioles | Leave a Comment »

Viewer Mail

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/17/05

I’m an Orioles Fan from Germany- we’re really rare here! About “The Off-season: A Guide to Contention Part III: Our Final Roster”: I really like a lot about what you’re saying but I have to disagree with your suggestions about “our” roation. I think we need one new pitcher at the top of our rotation. Personally I would let all the teams try to get Burnett while I would try to sign Millwood for three years. He is a AL pitcher and whould be good for at least another three years. the main reason I would try to sign him or someone else is to take some pressure of our young arms. I think Bedard and D-Cab would do much better if they knew that they’d always have somebody to take the pressure of them. Lopez was never able to do that last season. His value is at it’s highest point so I would trade him to Texas for one of their young bats.
-Christian

Well Christian, I’m glad to see Angelos is upsetting people as far east as Germany. A lot of people seem to share your sentiment about the need for another starter. I’d like to reiterate that anytime you nail down a potential roster in November, it is going to get you in trouble. I just wanted to point out one permutation that could be successful and give sound logic behind it. My earlier argument hinged on two points:

1) I expect big things out of both Bedard and Cabrera next year.
2) The money that would go to any free agent pitcher (that is a significant upgrade over our current staff) could better be allocated towards our deceptively meek offense. No team had a higher percentage of its offense tied up into its top two players (B-Rob and Miggy) than the Orioles. Some balance is needed.

However, I am currently of the belief that we should trade for Javier Vazquez and dangle Rodrigo Lopez to the Rangers for Adrian Gonzalez, but these things are always subject to change throughout the off-season.

I agree that Vazquez is very talented and his stuff is certainly still dominant at times. He’s worth the risk for the right deal because the upside is so high. However, his tendency to get shelled is noteworthy.
However, his home runs allowed totals are very high. I don’t buy the band box argument because his home and away splits show he’s giving up about the same amount of home runs regardless of where he’s pitching. His home runs allowed rates are higher in both 2004 and 2005 than in 2003, but not dramatically. But I think that slight rise makes all the difference. His home runs allowed rate the last two seasons is closer to what it was at the beginning of his career when he struggled.
-SidhRock

I’ve gotten a lot of flack about sticking up for Javier Vazquez. I argued that his peripherals indicated he pitched better in 2005 than a 4.42 ERA. In the case of his home runs allowed rate, I chalked it up to his home ballpark.
The most valid argument I’ve heard against him is that his home field played little role (judging by his home/away splits) in the large amount of home runs he gave up. To clarify, here are his splits for 2005:

Home: 96.7 ip, 8.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.18 WHIP, .249 BAA,…. 1.49 HR/9
Away: 119 ip, 7.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.30 WHIP, .280 BAA,…. 1.44 HR/9

His home/away splits certainly indicate that he gives up nearly as many home runs on the road as at the former BOB. This, in turn, indicates that his HR/9 rate can not be blamed on his home ballpark. However, this logic is making the mistaken assumption that he pitched equally well on the road and at home in 2005.

If you look at his home/away splits above and take out his home runs allowed rate, everything indicates that he pitched significantly better at home this year than on the road. If he pitched so much better at home, then why would his home runs allowed rate not improve at home as well? Because, in order to only give up the same amount of home runs at home as on the road, he had to pitch better there. Had he pitched equally effective at home and on the road this year, his home runs allowed rate would be significantly higher at home.
So, the fact that his HR/9 rate is the same at home and on the road is not an indicator of the former BOB not impacting his ERA or HR/9 rate. It is an indicator that he pitched better at home than on the road.

Using some rough math and ESPN’s park factor ratings, I can make an educated guess that Vazquez’s HR/9 rate would’ve been something around 1.33 had he pitched 2005 in a neutral ballpark. Still an unspectacular number, but certainly tolerable given his excellent K and BB rates.

Posted in General Baseball, Orioles | 7 Comments »

Our Second Chance at Javier Vazquez

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/11/05

Javier Vazquez has formally demanded a trade from the Arizona Diamonbacks. This provision is his right as a player traded in the middle of a multi-year contract and gives Arizona the off-season to execute a trade before he has the opportunity to become a free agent (and sacrifice the $24 million left over two years remaining in his deal). He would not be likely to find a suitor willing to match that ransom, based on his past two year’s performance, so it would take a trade to wrestle him away from the Diamondbacks. At this point, they may not put up much of a fight.
Considering the perception of his value, relative to his actual value, I am convinced that Vasquez is exactly who the Orioles should persue if they want to upgrade their rotation. Let’s see if you can’t be convinced as well.
On the surface, Vazquez appears to have gone downhill since leaving Montreal after the 2003 season. The following are his stats from the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons. He was with the Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively.

2003: 230.7 ip, 6.87 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9, 3.20 ERA
2004: 198.0 ip, 6.82 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 1.50 HR/9, 4.91 ERA
2005: 215.7 ip, 8.01 K/9, 1.92 BB/9, 1.46 HR/9, 4.42 ERA

Judging by ERA, and granting that the National League generally shaves a half run off of a pitcher’s ERA, it looks like Vazquez has continued to struggle in 2005. Judging by every other metric, with the exception of home runs allowed (which, to some extent, can be explained by the fact that he pitches in a bandbox), Vazquez has significantly improved over the stellar 2003 season that earned him all those Yankee dollars. So, how can this disparity be resolved?
Let’s take a look at his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls put Into Play). Voros McCracken (check the side-bar to see more of his work) and others have recently shown that a pitcher, at the very least, has much less control over BABIP then once assumed. What is more important is what the pitcher can control; strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

Based on this, we can assume that a pitcher can pitch equally well in two different years and have significant disparities in his ERA. So what does this all mean for Javier Vazquez? (sidenote: most years, the average BABIP is in the low .290s)
His BABIPs for the last 3 years:

2003: .289
2004: .278
2005: .308

We can see that he was about average on the lucky scale in 2003, lucky to not have had an even worse ERA in 2004, and very unlucky in 2005. His ERA can not tell us what his BABIP, strikeout rate, and walk rate can; Javier Vazquez is back and as good as ever.

Now, how good is that? Well, roughly speaking, Javier Vazquez compares favorably to A.J. Burnett, this year’s top free agent starting pitcher. They are both in their late 20’s with front of the rotation reputations. A.J. Burnett has a slightly better strikeout rate and HR allowed rate, but a slightly worse walk rate. Also, Vasquez is clearly the healthier of the two. A.J. Burnett is going to get about 4 years and $45 million dollars on his next contract, or about $11-12 mill a year. Javier Vazquez will make $11.5 mill in 2006 and $12.5 mill in 2007. Of course, the Diamonbacks will have to pay for part of that for two reasons:

1) the $9 mill they got from the Yankees to help pay for Vazquez’s contract last off-season and,
2) Vazquez’s perceived value (based on his deceptive ERA and poor 2004 season) necessitates that they pay for part of the contract.

Now, if I told you that we could get a healthier version of A.J. Burnett for about $8 mill a year and only have to give him a two year committment, what minor leaguers would you be willing to give up? Thanks to the misconception that Javier Vazquez pitched as poorly this season as he did in 2004, we won’t have to give up nearly as much as we probably should.

Posted in General Baseball, Orioles | Leave a Comment »

Top 7 Hitting Prospects

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/07/05

1) Nick Markakis, 21, OF
2005 line:
Fred.- .300/.379/.480
Bowie- .339/.420/.573
Combined- .310/.390/.504

Analysis: Markakis came into the season as the Oriole’s top hitting prospect and then increased his stock throughout the season. He won several of Baseball America’s Best Tools surveys for both the Carolina and Eastern Leagues; including best strike-zone judgement, best hitter, and perhaps best fastball, had he been considered. He earns comparisons to Steve Finley and Brady Anderson. He should develop into either a #2 or #3 type hitter and may see some all-star games. Scouts are divided as to whether he can stretch into a CF or will remain a very good defensive RF’er. Either way, his bat will land him in Baltimore by mid-2006.

2) Nolan Reimold, 22, OF
2005 line:
Aber.- .294/.392/.550
Fred.- .265/.371/.554
Combined- .285/.385/.551

Analysis: Was considered a first-round talent at Bowling Green until slumping in the spring and fell to the Orioles in the second round. He promptly tore the cover off the ball upon his pro debut, even making BA’s draft (college) all-star team. He’s another tweener like Markakis, and will likely be a good RF’er who can play CF occasionally. He is a favorite among statheads and scouts. Look for him to start in Bowie next year.

3) Val Majewski, 24, OF
2004 line (2005 DNP):
Bowie-.307/.359/.490

Analysis: Yeah, I’ll probably get flack for putting him ahead of Brandon Snyder (and maybe I’m stretching it a bit to make a point), but I am very bullish on Majewski. He missed all of 2005 with a torn labrum, but has come back strong in the AFL. If a guy is going to miss an entire season of development you want him to have the work ethic of a chinese laborer, and Majewski does. He needs to refine his plate discipline, but he has worked hard at becoming a good RF’er (who, while not as good as Reimold or Markakis, has also played CF in a pinch). He may even end up at 1B (his position in college), given our glut of outfield talent. With a strong spring, he could start the year in Baltimore. More likely, he’ll get 100 or so AB’s in Ottawa before clamoring for time in the show.

4) Brandon Snyder, 18, C/3B
2005 line:
Combined (Bluefield + 28 AB’s at Aberdeen)- .291/.386/.488

Analysis: Our first round pick this past draft, he has done nothing but meet expectations. He has great athleticism, plate discipline, and power. He drew pre-draft comparisons to Justin Upton at the plate. He has a lot of work to do to become a big-league catcher, but he has athleticism on his side. Should he fail in this endeavor, or should the Orioles try to avoid the offensive stagnation that inflicts all young catchers, Snyder will make a solid 3B. He should play a full season at Delmarva next year with a late promotion to Frederick a possibility.

5) Jeff Fiorentino, 22, LF
2005 line:
Frederick: .286/.346/.508
Baltimore: .250/.277/.364
Combined: .282/.337/.489

Analysis: Despite the Oriole’s woeful handling of Fiorentino, he snapped back to earth late in the year to get his SLG back above .500. He does need to shore up his plate discipline to continue his success at higher levels. No matter what the Orioles brass tells you, he is nothing but a LF’er. He is not a CF’er, nor a catcher. He should start the year in Bowie, and given a full year of development at one level, I expect bigger things than this year’s up and down performance.

6) Walter Young, 25, 1B
2005 line:
Ottawa- .288/.335/.438
Baltimore (33 AB’s)- .303/.378/.424

Analysis: Big Walter Young came back down to earth a little bit after beating Calvin Pickering’s home run record at Bowie in 2004. We all know the weaknesses: he strikes out a ton, he’s streaky, he looks like he couldn’t play first base (he can- even at 300+ lbs). He is ranked sixth on this list for one reason; his ceiling. Walter could turn out any number of ways. He’s earned comparisons from Sam Horn to a poor man’s Ryan Howard to, you guessed it, Calvin Pickering. Next year won’t be a bigger year for anyone, in terms of development, than Walter Young. 2006 should tell us a lot about his future.

7) Nate Spears, 20, 2B
2005 line:
Frederick- .294/.351/.429

Analysis: Nate Spears is an average defender with little patience at the plate and less speed than you’d expect from a guy listed at 5’11” and 160 lbs. However, he has shown the ability to hit for average, even as one of the youngest regulars in the Carolina League. Spears could go in a number of directions, but if he doesn’t start developing patience or power or both, he might end up as a reserve.

Honorable Mentions

Tripper Johnson, Brandon Fahey, Paco Figueroa, Dustin Yount, Arturo Rivas

Conclusion

I stopped after seven prospects because after that there is a big dropoff. Between Markakis, Reimold, Fiorentino, and Majewski, we should be able to develop three outfielders. And, I see no reason they couldn’t all develop into regulars. Brandon Snyder also looks like the real deal. A good year from him in 2006 (while donning the tools of ignorance), could make him a prospect on the level of Markakis. Walter Young and Nate Spears look more like role players to me, but one is a legitimate 80 on the 20-80 power scale and the other is a 20 year old who will be playing full time in AA next year. Either one could surprise us.

Posted in Minor Leagues | Leave a Comment »

A Guide to Contention: Part III

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/04/05

Part III: Our Final Roster

I’m not going to take the cheap way out. Despite the thousands of permutations that could shape the 2006 Orioles Roster, I am going to give you my exact picks.

Starting Pitching

SP- Erik Bedard
SP- Daniel Cabrera
SP- Bruce Chen
SP- Hayden Penn
SP- Rodrigo Lopez

Notice, I haven’t signed anyone to my O’s rotation. Penn may need 8 or so starts in AAA, but this has the makings of a good rotation. I don’t see the need to put ourselves back behind another large contract when we have such solid in-house options. Should a second-tier starter fall through the cracks and depreciate in value this off-season, i could see the O’s making such a signing to provide some depth and perhaps make Penn’s AAA conditioning easier to bear. I’ll admit I’m not being specific, but when you’re looking for rotation depth, as opposed to finding an ace, you let the market dictate where you strike.

Bullpen

CP- Chris Ray
LHP- Steve Kline, John Parrish, Steve Byrdak
RHP- Sendy Rleal, Aaron Rakers, Cory Morris, Eddy Rodriguez, Rodney Ormond, Todd Williams, Jimbo Baldwin
Not all of these guys will work out. Enough will, though. I guarantee it. I am not taking crazy pills. This could be a very good bullpen.

2B, 3B, SS

2B- Chris Gomez 100 ABs, Brian Roberts 550 Abs (just a guess)
3B- Melvin Mora, David Newhan
SS- Miggy

1B, DH, C

Between these three spots, there will probably be about 1800 ABs. I’ll assign them without regard to position and leave the rest to your imagination:
Javy Lopez (C, 1B, DH), 500 ABs
Walter Young (1B, DH), 200 ABs
David Newhan (DH), 50 ABs
Ramon Hernandez (C), 500 ABs
Adrian Gonzalez (1B), 550 ABs
I signed Ramon Hernandez to a 3 year deal for $20 mill and give him the majority of starts behind the plate. Javy spells him on occasion and spends some games at 1B, but mostly DH’s. I also packaged John Maine and Jorge Julio and whatever other B pitching prospect the Rangers asked for and got a productive 1B in Adrian Gonzalez. Walter Young is brought in merely to sell tickets.

Outfield

LF- Matt Lawton
RF- Jay Gibbons
CF- Luis Matos, Val Majewski, and Nick Markakis
I know, Majewski and Markakis may not even be ready. Beyond that, neither are natural center fielders. I still would sit tight and hope they can combine for 500 quality major league at-bats and keep Matos to reserve duty. Lawton will likely come cheap and provide excellent OBP. He makes a good transitional signing as we wait for the likes of Markakis, Majewski, Reimold, and Fiorentino to assume full-time roles.

Bench

David Newhan, Luis Matos, Walter Young, and Chris Gomez make up a useful, multi-dimensional, and cheap bench for the black and orange in 2006.

Conclusion

I’m assuming the Orioles will have similar payroll parameters entering 2006 as they do now. BJ Ryan and Rafael Palmeiro come off the books, but the O’s will likely have to pay the majority of Sidney Ponson’s contract (that doesn’t look that bad, next to him anyway). Arbitration and back-loaded contracts will eat up most, if not all, of the money saved. However, Angelos has made it clear he is willing to spend when he is convinced it’s the right player. I don’t think asking for Ramon Hernandez and Matt Lawton is too much.
I think the most intriguing part of my roster design is my bullpen construction. My version is cheap and effective. If we need an extra arm, they could always go trade for, say, Steven Andrade (you can’t beat those peripherals with a stick).

Posted in Orioles | Leave a Comment »

A Guide to Contention: Part II

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/04/05

Part II: What’s Out There?

This list is far from comprehensive. It is a list of many of the premier free agents with any reasonable chance of signing with the Orioles. A few likely trade partners are also exposed.

The Hitters

Ramon Hernandez, 29, Free Agent Catcher
2005 line: .290/.322/.450
Analysis: Hernandez and Molina are the two best catchers on the market. He will likely command around 3 years/$20 mill. His plate discipline is shaky, but he should be worth that money for the duration of the contract.

Bengie Molina, 30, Free Agent Catcher
2005 line: .295/.336/.446
Analysis: May get a better deal than Hernandez due to his post-season exposure, and is therefore less likely to be worth the money, especially if he gets more than three years.

Brian Giles, 34, Free Agent Corner Outfielder
2005 line: .301/.423/.483
Analysis: He didn’t get a fair shake until well into his twenties because of the great Indians outfields of the 90’s, but has been one of the most underrated players in baseball ever since. I see him getting a deal similar to Steve Finley’s this past off-season, around 2 years/20 mill. He may even get three years. Every indication is that he will be worth every penny, but unathletic, old-person skill set outfielders often do not age well. He is also unlikely to leave the west coast, but we’ll see what the Yanks and Sox have to change his mind. Seriously, though, that OBP makes him look about as good as Kris Benson’s wife.

Jacque Jones, 30, Free Agent Outfielder
2005 line: .249/.319/.438
Analysis: Jones has always had a hard time taking a walk. He had an uptick in his walk rate this year, but I suspect that has more to do with the severe lack of protection in the Twins lineup. Regardless, it was negated by his season-long slump. He will command about 3 years/$15 mill and not be worth it. Jones has long suffered from being overrated.

Matt Lawton, 33, Free Agent Corner Outfielder
2005 line (Pittsburgh only): .273/.380/.433
Analysis: I didn’t include his stats with the Cubs or Yankees but, in summary, he went about 150 ABs without a hit. This, coupled with the revelations that he was taking Miguel Tejada’s B-12 shots, may make him a steal. His value is tough to guage because of the lack of precedence of his situation. He could get as low as 1 year/$3 mill or as high as 2 years/ $11 mill. That OBP makes him a perfect #2 hitter.

Preston Wilson, 30, Free Agent Center Fielder
2005 line: .259/.325/.470
Analysis: His slugging percentage is inflated by the time he spent in coorsbut the BA and OBP stayed about the same in the much less hitter-friendly RFK Stadium. He’s probably in the 2 year/$9 mill range.

Mike Piazza, 36, Free Agent Liability
2005 line: .251/.326/.452
Analysis: He could be useful as a DH, spelling Javy for 40 games behind the dish. But do you really want that combination of defensive wizardry handling our young staff? He’ll probably get 1 or 2 years at $3-4 mill per.

Daryle Ward, 30, Free Agent First Baseman
2005 line: .260/.318/.405
Analysis: The O’s brass seems to see some value in him. I don’t. I guess he can play an outfield corner in a spot. That might add to his value. He still hits like my sister.

Brad Ausmus, 36, Free Agent Catcher
2005 line: .258/.351/.331
Analysis: His defensive prowess, along with his ability to draw a walk, will keep him employed for a few more years. My guess is he gets a 1 year deal for about $3.5 mill. Catchers in their late thirties have a tendency to fall off the map fast, even defensively. By the by, he did not save the the Astros pitching staff a run and a half per game, as Jeff Brantley might have you believe.

Adrian Gonzalez, 23, First Baseman (available via trade)
2005 line: .227/.272/.407
Analysis: Texas seems to have soured on him after taking him in the first round of the 2000 draft. He will ultimately be a serviceable, albeit gold glove caliber, first baseman. With their lack of pitching, he might be available for a package including someone like Rodrigo Lopez or John Maine.

Ryan Shealy, 25, First Baseman (available via trade)
2005 line (91 ABs): .330/.413/..473
Analysis: Similar to Gonzalez, with a better stick and less defense. He will be a decent, maybe even good, first baseman for the next six or seven years. Unfortunately, he is blocked by Todd Helton. Hopefully, the O’s can take advantage of the Rockie’s crappy situation and throw a Julio/Maine (or thereabouts) package at them.

Lyle Overbay, 28, First Baseman (available via trade)
2005 line: .276/.367/.449
Analysis: Excellent OBP, some power. Certainly better than any option we have, but do you trust Flanagan in any deal with the man who made a fool of John Schauerholtz this past off-season?

Ryan Howard, 25, First Baseman (available via trade)
2005 line: .288/.356/.567
Analysis: Yes, he’s for real. But I suspect that his value may never be higher than it is right now. He is certainly not the type to age well and have a long CrimeDog-like career. He would likely cost us at least Hayden Penn, maybe with a Jeff Fiorentino thrown in.

The Pitchers

AJ Burnett, 28, SP
2005 line: 209 ip, 198 k, 79 bb, 3.44 era
Analysis: He’s going to get at least Carl Pavano money, and he really is a better pitcher than his former teammate. However, I don’t see it being the right move for the Orioles to invest $45 mill or so over 4 years in a serious injury risk. I could very well be wrong, but this has all the makings of an albatross at some point. I will say, though, that this guy is a front-of-the-rotation guy. Some people will argue that Dontrelle Willis is the better pitcher. They are idiots.

Jarrod Washburn, 30, SP
2005 line: 177.3 ip, 94k, 51 bb, 3.20 era
Analysis: Think Rodrigo Lopez. Don’t let the era fool you, this is a mid-rotation starter. He’ll probably be overpaid at about 3 years/ $21 mill.

Jeff Weaver, 28, SP
2005 line: 224 ip, 157 k, 43 bb, 4.22 era
Analysis: I am coming around on this guy. He is a pretty good #3 starter. He’ll give you a ton of innings and he makes guys hit the ball. My biggest concern is that he allowed 35 home runs in spacious Dodger Stadium. He’ll probably get about the same as Washburn, maybe a little better. My best guess is 4 years/ $30 mill. That’s a lot of money for a guy you know won’t be starting game 1 of any playoff series, but he is about as safe a bet of anyone this side of Livan Hernandez to give you 200 innings a year, however average they are.

Kevin Millwood, 30, SP
2005 line: 192 ip, 146 k, 52 bb, 2.86 era
Analysis: What is this guy’s deal? Seriously, Kevin Millwood is an asshole. He has two bad years, then a brilliant one. Go ahead and give him the 3 year/$27 mill or more he might command; you’ll get one all-star caliber year (if that) and a whole lot of Sidney Ponson.
Matt Morris, 30, SP
2005 line: 192.7 ip, 117 k, 37 bb, 4.11 era
Analysis: Matt Morris came back from the dead to look like his old self in the early part of 2005 for the Cardinals. I suspect his 5.00 era after the all-star break is closer to what we can expect from him from here on out. Hell, if Kris Benson got 3 years/$21 mill, why can’t Matt Morris? OK, I just wanted to share that link again (and again…).

Tom Gordon, 37, RP
2005 line: 80.7 ip, 69 k, 29 bb, 2.57 era
Analysis: Another super year for this old fella. He’ll probably get rewarded with 2 years/$10 mill or so and will likely perform to his employer’s satisfaction. Still a lot of money to pay to block Chris Ray

Trevor Hoffman, 37, RP
2005 line: 57.7 ip, 54 k, 12 bb, 2.97 era
Analysis: When I looked up Hoffman’s stats for this year, I was surprised at how good of a year he had. I suspect the Padre’s will hang on to him (ie overpay) for sentimental reasons. 2 years/ $12 mill sounds right.

Paul Byrd, 34, SP
2005 line: 204.3 ip, 102 k, 28 bb, 3.74 era
Analysis: Byrd is efficient enough, throwing strikes and getting hammered by lefties. He’ll see about $14 mill over the next two years and might help a team shore up the back of its rotation.

Kyle Farnsworth, 29, RP
2005 line: 70 ip, 87 k, 27 bb, 2.20 era
Analysis: Haven’t we all expected this season from Farnsworth since 2001? I don’t think he’s as good as he was for the Braves this year, but he’s certainly not as bad as he was in the playoffs. He’ll catch on somewhere for about 3 years/ $14 mill. In three years, he’ll either be a good set-up man or a second-tier closer (or rehabbing his shattered right arm).

Ugueth Urbina, 31, RP
2005 line: 79.7 ip, 97 k, 39 bb, 3.60 era
Analysis: Barring any unforeseen kidnappings, Urbina will probably try to reestablish his value next year with a 1 or 2 year contract at about $4.5 mill per. That K rate looks enticing.

Todd Jones, 37, RP
2005 line: 73 ip, 62 k, 14 bb, 2.10 era
Analysis: What the hell am I supposed to say? Find me someone who knows what this guy is gonna do next year and I will kiss a homeless man on the mouth. My very best guess; he gets a 1 year deal for $4 mill to go all Danny Kolb.

Julian Tavarez, 32, RP
2005 line: 65.7 ip, 47 k, 19 bb, 3.43 eraAnalysis: Will likely command a deal similar to what we gave Steve Kline, about 2 years/$5 mill. Doesn’t have overpowering stuff but has been a consistent set-up man for the Cardinals

Posted in Orioles | Leave a Comment »

 
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