Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Mora Deal Finalized

Posted by Mike on May 23, 2006

I'm a couple days late to the party, but the Melvin Mora deal is now official: 3 years/$25 million.  I'm certainly happy for Melvin and his 26 kids, but the deal is a bit overextended for my tastes. 

In a previous post, I took a look at Mora's top comparables and looked at how they fared in their age 35 to 37 seasons.  The results were a bit mixed, but the final graph looked like this:

I ended up concluding that a two year deal would be defensible, but a three year deal would not.  This is particularly true due to the fact that the money is certain to be backloaded for the 2009 season. 

Let's say that Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, Brandon Erbe, Nolan Reimold, etc. etc. are all up and contributing to a winning club by 2009.  The Orioles will now have an $8 million sinkhole tied into the diminishing performance/playing time of a 33 year old Ramon Hernandez plus another $9 or $10 million tied up in a player who, according to his comparables list, has a six in ten chance of being an offensive drain or out of baseball.  And what are the O's going to do if the standard Melvin Mora midsummer 20-game vacations turn into 30, 40, or 50-game breaks? 

I don't mean to be overly pessimistic about this- Melvin's contract could certainly work out.  It's just that the odds aren't in his favor.  If the O's are ever going to get this rebuilding thing right, they're going to have to get away from aiming for .500.  Avoiding giving an injury prone 37 year old $10 million would be a good first step.   

As usual, Chris Kahrl had a few pithy comments concerning the signing:

PECOTA's valuation anticipates that Mora will be worth more than $12 million during that three-year stretch, and Mora's still hitting, so signing him to an extension might make all sorts of sense… unless it's for more than twice as much money, and the deal is reported to have enriched Mora to the tune of $25 million. As much self-pity as the Orioles like to indulge themselves in over whether or not free agents won't come to Baltimore unless they overpay–a la Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez–this seems more than a little excessive on the self-flagellation scale.

  • Penn DL'ed, Loewen Recalled

I really, really don't like this move.  Really.  But first things first- Hayden Penn will not be making Daniel Cabrera's starts due to the fact that he has appendicitis.  He'll have to be put on the disabled list, but how much time he'll ultimately miss is unclear.  If anyone out there has ever had appendicitis, feel free to let us know how long it was until you were full strength in the comments section.

Hayden Penn being called up makes a bunch of sense.  He's certainly the guy who would give the O's the best chance of winning every fifth day.  It would even have been likely that had he met any success, Chen would have been moved to the pen upon Cabrera's return.  Carmudgeon that I am, I would have rather the O's see if Cory Morris had anything to offer before forcing Penn up, but even I could understand the inclination to go with Penn.  Morris is not exactly tearing things up, after all, and Penn is doing just that.  Still, I speculated earlier that Penn would have to stay in Ottawa until June to avoid Super Two status after the 2008 season.  It would be a shame to waste an entire pre-arbitration season for one start during a season when the O's aren't viewed as serious contenders. 

Unfortunately, Penn got sick and all that reasoning was for naught. 

Now, Adam Loewen has been recalled and, what's more, may not even be starting.  For those of you that are unaware, the Orioles drafted Loewen out of high school with the 4th overall pick in 2002.  After a year at Chipola College, many speculated that he would be the 1st overall pick in 2003, before the O's and Loewen finally came to terms.  Those terms included a major league contract, which will force Loewen to stick in the majors by opening day 2007.  No matter how badly he struggles, he can not be sent back to the minors without being exposed to waivers. 

Fortunately, Loewen's star has grown continuously brighter since his disappointing 2004 season.  He dominated the AFL last off-season and now sports a 2.72 ERA in Bowie with 55 K's and 26 BB's in 49.7 ip.  He very well could be among the O's best five starting pitchers already. 

The problem I have is that the Orioles have dug a pretty deep hole for themselves if he is not.  With only a few months left in which Loewen will be able to polish his game, the Orioles can't afford to sacrifice any of his development time.  Both Hayden Penn and Jeff Fiorentino took several weeks to get back to normal even after they were demoted to the minors last year.  According to Deric McKamey, "…it isn’t uncommon for players to struggle after a promotion of this sort."  If that happens to Loewen, he'll have lost much of his final minor league season and will be that much further pressed to succeed in 2007.  With 49.7 ip above A-ball, how confident can you be that Loewen will succeed against major league hitters?

There are plenty of organizations that get accused of coddling their prospects.  The Orioles sit on the other end of the spectrum.  I see a lot of fans arguing "let's see what the kid's got, etc." and the O's seem to be listening.  Unfortunately, that's an overly simplistic approach that can cut short a lot of promising careers.  It took Brian Giles and Jason Bay until their mid-20's to establish themselves as major league hitters.  It took Melvin Mora until his thrities.  Randy Johnson didn't become The Big Unit until he was almost thirty.  And all of these guys are all-stars. 

Yet, many expect a 22 year old kid to either be ready for the major leagues or they'll consider him worthless to the organization.  Just like people in other facets of life, baseball prospects develop at different paces and follow varying career paths.  The key for the O's organization is to identify each prospect's personal developmental needs and protect them as long as is reasonably possible.  I highly doubt that a promotion to the majors after less than 50 innings above A-ball is what is best for a kid that is still walking a batter every other inning, especially when he will never get another chance to address his command issues in the minors.  Don't get me wrong, the Loewen call-up might very well work out.  But what if it doesn't?  In this case, I think the potential downside far outweighs the potential benefits. 

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3 Responses to “Mora Deal Finalized”

  1. Kilbs said

    The key stat for Loewen: 26 BB’s in 49.7 ip.

    So yeah, I am happy with his development in that he is a prospect and not some other first round flame out. However, if he is walking this many guys in AA, how many will he walk in the majors? God forbid he pitches against the Red Sox or the Yankees.

    But, if he is demoted after making a few starts (regardless of his performance) this could prove out promising. He could learn what he needs to adjust and focus on those things for the last remaining months that he can be in the minors. I am going to hold onto those thoughts as he walks Raul Ibanez three times.

  2. Ben said

    Mora’s new contract is not the personnel coup of the century, and I can’t add any statistical details to either bolster or refute Mike’s excellent work. Nonetheless, I look at the 3Y/$25M number and find myself unable to get upset.

    Why? Let’s assume that Mora will probably more-or-less earn his salary for 2007 and 2008 (and I’m talking relative to the always-inflated free agent market, not PECOTA’s stats). So the issue is 2009, where Melvin might be due $9-10M. Will he be worth that? Unlikely. Would he be worth $4-5M (relative to the inflated market and given his MLB service time)? That seems possible (Scott Speizio stole $3.2M from the Mariners in 2005, while Mike Lowell made $7.5M).

    Verdict: the O’s are overpaying, to be sure. But this is not an albatross. This is not Albert Belle, nor is it Glenn Davis, for that matter. Not sure why Davis is applicable, except I want to make my position crystal clear: overpaying for Melvin Mora will NOT rank among the franchise’s stupidest decisions. Baltimore is overpaying MODERATELY for a guy who:

    – Has been significantly underpaid (vs. his production) since 2003,
    – Almost singlehandedly made Orioles games worth watching in 2003 (well, OK, I got a kick out of Tony Batista’s stupid batting stance, too),
    – Is Tejada’s friend and a not insignificant reason why Tejada isn’t still demanding to be traded [note: my own view is that Tejada’s “demand” wasn’t quite what everyone thinks, but that’s another post],
    – Has made the preposterous statement that he wants to stay in Baltimore,
    – At least has the possibility of “earning” his walk-year salary. As opposed to Belle, Ponson, Sosa, Segui (2004) and other stupid contracts in the last decade or so.
    – Is EXACTLY the kind of team-oriented, “high quality person” that Flanagan has said that he wants the team to build on. Remember that move to 3B–where Mora had all of 14 innings of prior MLB experience–with minimal complaining? Remember his hitting stats that year?

    If you’re going to moderately overpay, isn’t this one guy who might deserve it, and isn’t this a case where moderate overpayment might reap other benefits (slightly better mood from the fans, slightly better team reputation among free agents, etc)?

    The Orioles organization has deep and fundamental problems, but giving Melvin Mora too much money is not one of them.

  3. Eddie said

    Loewen is another head-scratcher. He has great stuff. I am especially excited about his great cutting fastball. Though his walk totals should have some people concerned. Though it’s not the usual case of blatant bad control. Sometimes when he doesn’t have his best control he’ll get into bad 3-ball counts, but sometimes comes back with 3 fastball strikes on the black. Last night, the inside fastball strike at the knees against Sexson is an example of that.

    In general, I am glad to see the overall level of quality of prospects the Os have been bringing up lately have all been quite good. Right now Os fans should be glad to say that we’ve produced Bedard, Cabrera, Roberts, Ray, Markakis, Penn, Loewen…add to that Patterson then that’s a pretty nice core to follow…

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