Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Crowded Outfield Situation

Posted by Mike on March 27, 2006

Jeff Zrebiec wrote a column for the Baltimore Sun's website that detailed the Orioles' crowded outfield situation.  Considering the attention that this subject has gotten in my comments sections, I suppose it is time it got its own post. 

The premise of the article is to lay out the various scenarios that could unfold by opening day.  Let's see what Zrebiec had to say:

The Orioles could make a trade and they have let teams know, according to multiple sources, that Patterson, Newhan and Matos are all available. They nearly traded Matos to the Cubs for Todd Walker, but the talks have ceased, at least for now.

But if they trade Matos, they'll have very little insurance if Patterson, who hit just .215 last year, and Markakis, who has played only 33 games above Single-A, falter.

I know these are Zrebiec's words and not Flanaquette's (TM), but this makes little sense to me.  Let's say that Matos gets traded and Markakis starts the year in Bowie- don't you think the O's would have to give Patterson a full six weeks or so to prove he is every bit as bad as he was last year before they pull the cord?  And if Markakis is then promoted and struggles, don't you think he would be given an even longer look before the O's sought out a third option?  By then, the O's would be months into the season.

Oh and earlier in the article, Zrebiec mentions that:

"Newhan, once thought to be the odd man out, is the Orioles' leading hitter this spring with a .429 batting average and has earned a role, Perlozzo said." 

If Newhan is not good enough to be that third option in CF, then I have some serious doubts about his place on this team at all.

I'm going to put Zrebiec's next two points back to back.  Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this:

(1)Perlozzo could keep all six of the outfielders on the 25-man roster, but that would mean that they'd only keep two catchers, leaving Perlozzo short-handed late in games.

If he decided to pinch run for starting catcher Ramon Hernandez, he would be left with Javy Lopez, the team's likely starting first baseman, as the late-inning defensive replacement, a role he's not suited for.

(2)Perlozzo could play either Patterson or Matos in center and Markakis in left, but that will take a ton of at-bats from both Conine and Millar. Conine agreed to sign with the Orioles, largely because Perlozzo told him he'd play regularly.

"I wish I could tell you," Conine said when asked about his role. "I'm preparing myself to be ready to play left field and first base. But we have a lot of options in the outfield and at first base."

Let's say the situation comes up where Perlozzo wants to pinch-run for Hernandez, is that really good enough reason to keep the likes of Geronimo Gil on your roster? 

Looking at BP's Davenport Translation Defensive Rate's of both Geronimo Gil and Javy Lopez's defense, we can see that Gil is the superior defensive player at this point.  In his career, for every 100 games, he has saved 2 runs above-average.  Surprisingly, so has Lopez.  Of course, Lopez is aging and had his worst defensive season last year at 8 runs below-average per 100 games.  Now, let's say that there are 10 instances this year when Hernandez has to be pulled so someone else can run the bases for him.  And let's say that the backup catcher would have to catch for an average of 3 innings each time.  For you math majors, that leaves 30 innings in the hands of either Lopez or Gil.  Using Gil's career average and Lopez's worst season, Gil would save the team 1/3 of a run being used in those situations over the entire year.  It's quite possible that a discrepancy that small could be compromised simply by plugging in a superior defensive 1B, like Conine, at the same time.  Clearly, as so often is the case, keeping a third catcher is a waste of a roster spot.

As for Conine, I find it hard to believe that he still wouldn't find a way to get at least 350 AB's.  With Josh Willingham apparently getting reps in LF and Mike Jacobs at 1B, even his former employer would have trouble squeezing him in that much. 

Perlozzo could start Markakis in center, where he has looked better than in left, and primarily use Conine or Millar in left. However without a trade, that would leave Matos and Patterson as backups. Privately, club officials are concerned how Patterson, whose confidence they are trying to build up, and Matos, whose work ethic has been much questioned in the past, would react to reserve roles.

First off, LF is the only outfield position that Markakis does not have experience playing.  It's quite possible that he has actually looked better in CF than LF, but I would hesitate to draw any sweeping conclusions about his ability to play the easier position from only a handful of games. 

Beyond that, I see little reason to keep both Matos and Patterson in reserve roles.  Should this situation present itself, and it won't, Patterson should be left to dominate AAA for a while and be forced to address his strike-zone issues.  Matos, however, makes an ideal 4th OF- speed, defense, and the ability to sub in for a few weeks at a time without killing you. 

I certainly don't mean to pick on Mr. Zrebiec, it's just that I have seen all of these arguments in lots of different forms and this was a convenient way to address them at once.  Still, Zrebiec left out what I feel are the most important points of all- Nick Markakis A) is not so advanced that sending him to the minors for a while would impede his development; and B) will not be arbitration eligible until after 2009 or eligible for free agency until after 2012 if he starts the year in the minors.  Bump both of those one year closer if he makes the team out of spring training.

2006 is a season when Markakis being on the roster an extra two months will almost certainly not be the difference between contending and not contending.  It makes little sense to threaten his development and fast-track his salary bumps all for the sake of seeing what the kid can do.  Furthermore- should the Orioles decide to play Markakis on opening day over recent acquisitions like Jeff Conine or Kevin Millar, then I fail to see the purpose of those signings in the first place.

So, what do you guys think?  Is Zrebiec off base?  Am I?  Who do you think should start 2006 in the OF and why?


10 Responses to “Crowded Outfield Situation”

  1. Mike said

    EDIT: Geronimo Gil has been DFA’d. Regardless, the argument I made concerning him holds true for any of the replacement level roster waste they may yet replace him with. If this is an indication that Javy will serve as the primary back-up, then I applaud the move.

  2. Dave said

    Wow, I never would have imagined that Gil would make that little difference as a defensive replacement. It sort of makes me rethink the how specialized the bench has become. Like maybe people are paying TOO much attention to it.

    Also, I vote for Conine, Patterson and Gibbons. Matos would be used as a 4th outfielder. If Patterson sucks after a month or so, then I see how Markakis is doing in the minors. If he isn’t ready then I give it to Matos. LF should become Val Majewski’s as soon as he is hitting in AAA.

  3. Dave said

    P.S. I remember reading that same article and thinking how odd it was that he didn’t mention the fact that Markakis would be a free agent a year earlier if he made the team out of spring training.

  4. Hemster said

    No way Conine should start over Millar or Matos. I think Millar could have a big bounceback year and Matos is much better defensively and pretty much the same offensively at this point.

  5. Stephen said

    I couldn’t disagree more Mike. Play the kid. See what he’s got. If he’s ready, he’s ready. worry about the financial stuff in 2011 or whatever. You can;t concede the season on opening day. If he gives us the best chance to win, then play him.

  6. Nate said

    “If he gives us the best chance to win, then play him.”

    I don’t think Mike is ruling out the fact that Markakis may indeed end up being the best of the bunch.. even this year without any experience. The point is, even if he miraculously put up Andruw Jones 05 numbers this year, it would still make no difference to our team in terms of competing in our division. Thus, if the team is banking on this guy for the future(which they are) there is absolutely no harm in letting him start in Bowie and get some work in there. This way, if and when the guy does become something special, which it is doubtful he could do in his first year at his level of experience, we will be able to have him locked up for an extra year (with the idea being that those years we will be in a position to contend, since we clearly are not this year)

  7. Stephen said

    “even if he miraculously put up Andruw Jones 05 numbers this year, it would still make no difference to our team in terms of competing in our division. ”

    You don’t know that for sure so why risk not competing when you might be blowing a big opportunity?

  8. Oriole Way said

    I personally would like to see Newhan get a starting job. Millar and Connine are over the hill and we know what they are capable off. Newhan is having a great spring. What if he is one of those late bloomers?

  9. Eddie said

    …today Perlozzo was quoted as saying that if they think at all that he might sit the bench in the Majors, then he’d opt to send him down…I think Perlozzo is getting it right there…the bottomline is that Markakis needs to be starting somewhere, whether at Bowie, Ottawa, or Baltimore…right now I am on the fence…he wouldn’t be the youngest prospect ever to jump to the majors…and he is showing that he is pretty advanced for his age…you’d hate to ruin him but, what kind of message would you be sending to the kid if you send him down in order to start Matos or Patterson over him…if would be different if either of those guys were making it a competition but as yet, those guys are biting Markakis’ dust…

  10. Sam said

    Not related to the article, but Erubiel Durazo got released by the Rangers. I see no reason why we shouldn’t bring him in.

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