Friday, December 26, 2008


Peter Schmuck took the gloves off today:
Frankly, and I know I'm going to offend some of you, if you're calling him
McFail after 18 months, then you deserve an organization that starts a new
five-year plan every two years under pressure from its fans.

Personally, I couldn't agree more. Orioles fans have complained for a decade that the team didn't use The Oriole Way to rebuild, and now that, belatedly, the organization has committed to rebuilding, those same fans are impatient and complain every time a major free agent signs somewhere else. This organization IS on the right track, DOES have lots of talent that will be ready in a short while and WILL contend again in the near future. If you can't see that, then you're blind.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yankee Sized Payroll

Holy. Crap.
The total base salaries of A-Rod ($32 million), Jeter ($20 million), Teixeira ($20 million), and Sabathia ($14 million) for 2009 will be $86 million, or more than the Opening Day payrolls of more than half the league last year (Brewers, Indians, Giants, Reds, Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Royals, Twins, Nationals, Pirates, Athletics, Rays, and Marlins).

Pinstripes are Slimming

Maybe Mark Teixeira just likes the way he looks in pinstripes and navy blue better than he does in orange and black.

Peter Schmuck sums up the reaction from much of the fanbase, and puts it all in perspective:
That level of frustration is understandable at a time like this, but if
you're a baseball fan, you're not going to stop being a baseball fan because
Boras acted like Boras, the Yankees acted like the Yankees and the Orioles acted
like the Orioles. I expect you to take a couple of days to cool off and then be
back here first thing Friday morning.

I understand and share the frustration with rebuilding. Since previous administrations were so inept, Orioles fans have been given a three-year time horizon for more than a decade and have nothing (well, except a few Jay Gibbons, Rodrigo Lopez, Daniel Cabrera and Luis Matos memories) to show for it. This time it really is different, though. Joe Sheehan wrote last week, and I agree, that Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters are the types of players that form the core of a championship club. He also wrote that the Orioles should sign Teixeira, but the point remains: the Orioles actually have talent. Couple those guys with all the young pitching on the way (with the obvious caveat about the difficulty of developing young pitching), and this legitimately is a team that can compete in the very near future. Not in 2009, but maybe we can dream a little in 2010.

Clearly, as a baseball player, Teixeira would have been a perfect fit for the Orioles, a switch-hitting slugger to hit in the middle of the lineup and play excellent defense at first base. Economically, it's not quite as clear he was a great fit. In 2008, the Orioles had a team payroll of $67 million. In 2007, that number was $93 million. Assuming that the Orioles were willing to go back to or a little above 2007 levels, commiting roughly 23% of your payroll to one player is typically not a formula for success. Couple that with the uncertainty surrounding today's economy, and pulling out of the bidding may turn out to be a very wise decision.

So how do the Orioles move forward? Very clearly, they need to develop some of that young pitching in the minor leagues. Finding five (heck, two) competent starters is priority 1A, B, C and D. After that, they need long-term solutions for the middle infield, first base, third base (OK, the whole infield) and left field. Is Brian Roberts here for the long-term? Can the club live with a great-field, no-hit shortstop? What can Nolan Reimold provide in left? Can Aubrey Huff return some value? Where is the middle-of-the-lineup power production going to come from? Not all of those questions can be answered in 2009, but not all of them need to be; complementary players can fill many of those roles, and MacPhail has proven adept at returning value in trades. It may not feel this way while watching Sportscenter this morning, but the future is bright.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Has Scott Boras Lost His Touch?

First the A-Rod saga. Then the Pedro Alvarez fiasco. And now the bidders for Mark Teixeira are dropping like flies. If you have any insight to offer on where Teixeira is going and for how much money, feel free to offer it. Because at this point we don't even know which teams are interested.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great Field, No Hit

Baltimore fans have long had a soft spot in their hearts for great field, no hit shortstops, and with good reason. Luis Aparacio, Mark Belanger (who earned MVP votes in a season in which he batted .225), and Mike Bordick all played a slick shortstop but didn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of pitchers. Some guy named Cal Ripken brought a new dynamic to the position, but Baltimore fans, perhaps more than any other franchise, knew that a championship caliber team needed a championship caliber gloveman up the middle. Now, modern sabermetrics lends new credence to the anecdotal evidence accumulated at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. And, if you're interested, Rob Neyer has a great discussion with FanGraphs' Eric Seidman (who liked the Izturis signing) where Seidman does an excellent job explaining how the numbers available today can adjust for the value a great shortstop provides.

Mark Teixeira Capable of Saving World

or so one might think from the intrigue generated by his contract negotiations this offseason. Peter Schmuck gives the Baltimore-centric rundown at The Sun:
Here it is in a nutshell: If the Orioles defy the odds and win the Teixeira derby, then maybe the team really has changed direction under MacPhail and maybe it's time to start coming back to the ballpark after a decade of declining attendance. If the Orioles get outbid - no matter how big the winning bid turns out to be - then it's the same old, same old. The Orioles weren't really serious and stayed on the fringe of the bidding only for public relations purposes.

As a fan, I'd like nothing more than to see Teixeira manning first base and taking aim at the Warehouse during batting practice. As an objective observer, I have very real concerns over the length and dollar value of the contract it will take to lure Teixeira back to the Inner Harbor. As a fan and an objective observer, I think it's best not to get tooooo worked up over these negotiations. A free agent situation with Scott Boras involved tends to take on a life of its own, and that doesn't typically work to the benefit of the club. I believe that Andy MacPhail has played these negotiations relatively well so far, declining to negotiate through the media and refusing to bid against himself. He knows that the contract offer the O's have on the table is competitive and I suspect that he believes Teixeira won't be signing anywhere without giving MacPhail one last phone call. All evidence from the past 18 months points to MacPhail being an extremely competent general manager, and the fan and objective observer inside of me are satisfied with the direction he's taking the organization, regardless of the outcome of the Teixeira bidding.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Final Daniel Cabrera Thought

Until he wins the Cy Young for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009.

Joe Sheehan comes down a bit harder on Andy MacPhail than I did:
Cabrera has never come close to meeting the expectations set by his talent and his performance in 2005 and 2006, when he was a strikeout/ground-ball machine who needed just an improvement in his command to become a number two starter. That improvement never came, and in chasing it, Cabrera lost what he did well and watched his strikeout rate fall to half of its peak last season, his second straight with an ERA above 5.00. The innings he threw and his service time would have led to a mid-seven-figures arbitration award, regardless.

I can almost understand the decision... almost. Cabrera has shown few signs of improvement, and will be kind of expensive for a fourth or fifth starter. At the same time, the Orioles aren't exactly deep in the rotation. They have prospects coming, and coming quickly, but the major league rotation could use some bodies. To take a pitcher who at the least has established that he can make 30 starts and who retains his upside—if little chance of getting there—and turn him loose just for want of some cash seems a little shortsighted. If this were a different team, one needing to win a lot of games in '09, or one with seven or eight starters, I would feel otherwise. Cutting loose Cabrera denies the Orioles a player they could use, and cuts them off from the chance that he could find his way back. That the Orioles, who know him as well as any team, would let him go is valuable information, but I can't help but think that Cabrera is going to have 425 soft-focus, "they didn't believe in me" features written about him next summer as he starts the year 6-1, 2.66 for a new team.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Daniel Cabrera Non-tendered

It's official: Daniel Cabrera has pitched his last game for the Orioles. Suffice to say, Cabrera has been one of the most promising and most frustrating pitchers in all of baseball over his five year career. When he was able to throw strikes, he was dominant; his complete game one-hitter against the Yankees in his final start of 2006 was but one example of what he was capable of doing. Unfortunately, those examples were few and far between. He's never finished below third in the league in walks allowed despite only once cracking 200 IP; he finished first in both 2006 and 2007, but "improved" to second last year, largely because injuries cost him about five starts in the final two months of the season. For his career, he averaged nearly 7 K/9, but also an amazing 5.11 BB/9.

I have mixed feelings about non-tendering Cabrera. As we all know, the Orioles are missing a few links in their rotation; Jeremy Guthrie is the only player on the 40-man roster you could even pencil into the rotation, much less count on to make 30 starts. Cabrera would have been a relatively low-cost option to contibrute 180 innings. Granted, they wouldn't have been 180 particularly good innings, but at this point the Orioles don't have enough pitchers to make it through April, much less September. At somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million, a case can certainly be made that those innings, and the potential that Cabrera finally fulfills his promise, are worth the cost.

Still, as a fan, I will not miss watching Cabrera pitch every five days. The walks, the wild pitches, the atrocious defense. No more, thanks. None of that is solid, rational analysis, but it sure makes me feel better to know that whichever crappy pitchers the Orioles run out there next year, it won't be the same crappy pitchers as the last five seasons. He's always seemed like a hard worker and quality person, so I wish Daniel Cabrera well, but I do hope he doesn't win a Cy Young award with his next organization.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mark Teixeira Update

It looks like the Angels are the current high bidders in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. So how does the O's deal stack up in comparison? Reports put Baltimore's bid at seven years and between $140 and $150 million, Boston's at 7/$150 and Washington's at 8/$160. Let's assume that the Orioles are at the high end of their range and have thus matched the Red Sox offer, meaning the Angels have a $10 million advantage in the headline number. But how real is that advantage?

First, let's discount the future cash flows back to present value. Using an 8% rate, which would seem to be reasonable given salary inflation in MLB, and spreading out the entire value of the contract evenly over the seven years, the Orioles/Red Sox deal is worth about $111.6 million and the Angels contract about $119 million, a difference of $7.4 million or $1.05 million per season. But living in Maryland does not equal living in Southern California, at least when it comes to taxes. In Maryland, the top marginal tax rate for 2008 is 5.5%, and in California that rate is 10.3%; in Massachusetts the number is 5.3%, so we'll consider the Red Sox offer equivalent to the Orioles offer. Accounting for the difference, the Angels deal is worth just $1.2 million--total, over seven seasons--more than the Orioles deal. Teixeria may decide to play for the Angels or the Red Sox, but it is certainly not because those teams have offered significantly more money. Perhaps not surprisingly, each team has an offer that is virtually identical, and Teixeira will have to weigh the "other" factors when making his decision.

One confounding factor could be the apparent willingness of the Nationals to guarantee an eighth season. At $160 million and a tax rate equivalent to Maryland, the Nats deal is worth about $2.2 million more than the Orioles, which is the equivalent of a Year 8 salary of about $4.2 million. Teixeira, even in decline, would likely be worth more than that sum. The Nats will have to either up the dollar value or, ironically, shorten the length of their bid to present the most attractive financial package to Teixeira.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cesar Izturis

FanGraphs is much smarter than me, and they have the hard numbers that show the Izturis deal is a good one for the Orioles. Well-done by MacPhail and Co.

Teixeira Update

The Baltimore Sun has an update on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, and it looks like the Orioles are in the final four. While the exact details of all the offers are not known, the O's certainly have a competitive bid on the table: seven years and between $140 and $150 million. The Nationals, and perhaps the Angels and Red Sox, may have guaranteed an eighth year and up to $160 million. All the Orioles can do is make a competitive offer and hope that Teixeira chooses playing close to home instead of in the sunny weather of Southern California or in the virtually guaranteed pennant races of Boston.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So Far So Good

Though November was rather quiet, the hot stove had a few more logs thrown on the fire in December. The Orioles have traded Ramon Hernandez for Ryan Freel and are nearing a deal for Cesar Izturis. Neither deal is exactly headline worthy in an offseason where C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Kerry Wood, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell and Ben Sheets are all on the free agent market and Jake Peavy is the most sought after player widely known to be available via trade, but each fits nicely into MacPhail's strategy to remake the Orioles into a contender.

Hernandez was a spare part for this organization. Man-crush Matt Wieters has nothing left to prove in the minors and deserves to be the full-time catcher next season, and moving Hernandez, even for a relatively paltry return like Freel and two marginal prospects, was a smart move. Freel is a valuable utility player; if healthy, he can play all the outfield spots, third base and second base, provide solid on-base skills, and potentially steal a few bases. And he provides a right-handed bat to pair with Luke Scott, and potentially Nolan Reimold, for platoon situations.

Izturis also fits nicely, even though he is clearly not a long-term solution for the Orioles shortstop woes. As a low-cost and short-term option, Izturis can provide excellent defense while offering replacement level offense. None of the other options on the market this winter (Edgar Renteria, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera) are likely to come with such a low price tag or provide significantly more value. After employing a revolving door at the position last season, Izturis will at least provide support for a work-in-progress pitching staff. Teams seem to have figured out in recent years is that a run saved is worth just as much--and perhaps even more--than a run scored and that turning batted balls into outs is a great way to save runs. Taking the great defense until a long-term solution for the position can be found is a smart move by MacPhail.

Offensively, this would seem to leave two holes for the Orioles to fill: 1) first base and 2) back-up catcher. A veteran back-up who can catch 30 or 40 games is a necessity; Wieters will be the full-time starter, but it certainly won't hurt to have him take a day off or spend time at DH once or twice a week. Mark Teixeira is obviously the wild card. While recent rumors have him headed to Boston, the Orioles haven't given up hope. He's an expensive player for a team with the Orioles budget, but he's a great hitter. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it is wise to spend the sums it will take to lure Teixeira, but his presence in the lineup would absolutely be welcomed. If the Orioles fail to sign him, they would still need another bat to play first base, since Aubrey Huff is limited to DH. One potential internal solution would be to play Nolan Reimold or Luke Scott at first base.

Potential lineup, without Teixiera:

2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora
RF Nick Markakis
DH Aubrey Huff
LF Luke Scott
CA Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
1B Nolan Reimold
SS Cesar Izturis

Potential lineup, with Teixeira:

2B Brian Roberts
RF Nick Markakis
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Aubrey Huff
LF Luke Scott
CA Matt Wieters
3B Melvin Mora
CF Adam Jones
SS Cesar Izturis

That's not a bad looking line-up right there. Personally, I have higher hopes for Matt Wieters and would like to see him bat fifth, in part to break up the lefthanded hitting Huff and Scott.

Obviously, there is still much work to be done on the pitching staff. Only Jeremy Guthrie is assured of a spot in the rotation, and it is unlikely the Orioles will be able to sign any of the headline starters on the market. With help on the way in the minors, targeting draft-pick-cost free veterans is the right move for a team that is largely in search of placeholder innings. Hopefully, young pitchers like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Radhames Liz, David Hernandez and others will develop into viable options for 2010.

It's shaping up to be a productive offseason for the Orioles even if they don't make a big splash. Add Mark Teixeira would tremendously shore up the offense but still leave the team in search of a lot of pitching. The team is definitely on the right track, but 2009 is not likely to be a year of much progress in the standings. The division is just too good and the promising pitching at least a year away.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A.J. Burnett

It's been a while since I've posted (full-time job + night MBA program + end of the financial world = very busy), but I wanted to go on record and state that signing A.J. Burnett would be a terrible move by the Orioles. The only good reason for signing Burnett seems to be that "Hey, he lives close by and he might actually want to play for us!" And, well, that's not a good reason. Not when reports have the Yankees being willing to offer five years and $80 million (!!!) for a 32-year old pitcher (2009 age) that has only three times exceeded 200 innings. It should also be noted that after his last two 200+ IP seasons he totaled 23.0 and 135.2 IP the following season. That does not bode well for the first year of his mega-contract.

Is Burnett talented? Sure. He has struck out 8.36 batters/9 IP over the course of his career. Scouts rank his "stuff" as among the very best in the game. He has proven he can succeed in the difficult American League East. Does that mean he's someone on whom the Orioles, a team that is much more than one starter away from making the playoffs, should be spending $14 million per season through 2013? No. Save your pennies for a true franchise player or pitcher and continue the long, slow process of building from within. It may not have shown on the field last season, but the Orioles are light years closer to fielding a competitive team now than they were this time in 2007. A pitcher like A.J. Burnett would be a nice luxury, but right now I'd prefer a Major League shortstop, a big corner bat for the middle of the order and continued development from the crop of talented young pitchers that make up the Orioles Top 10 Prospects.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Revisiting the Draft

I started graduate school last week--in addition to working full-time--so my Orioles postings are going to be relatively few and far between. Plus, it's hard to watch this team right now. I'm ready to chalk this season up as a success and move on to 2009.

In a Q-and-A with DraftInfo,'s Keith Law answers lots of questions about prospects and the draft. When asked how he would fix the draft, his thoughts mirror mine:
Depends on the goal. Let’s not mince words: The draft is an anticompetitive,
anti-player mechanism designed to screw 18- and 21-year-old kids out of millions
of dollars on behalf of the billionaires who own MLB teams. It is simply
disgusting, and I am nauseated whenever I read an article that states or implies
that these kids should be willing to play for peanuts.

We've had this discussion before so I won't get too far into it, but I'm always amazed by the fans who complain about Peter Angelos on the one hand and then about the players seeking large bonuses on the other. The players have earned their bonus money with their talent; pay them their worth.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eastern League Awards

In addition to Arrieta, a pair of Bowie Baysox also collected postseason hardware. Lou Montanez picked up the league MVP award, and Brad Bergesen pitcher of the year. While neither is the same caliber of prospect of Arrieta, this is still a feather for the player development cap. Combine the surprisingly inspired play of the major league club with very positive developments in the minor leagues and 2008 can only be considered a whopping success for the Baltimore franchise.

Carolina League Pitcher of the Year

In another sign of just how far the Orioles farm system has come in the past two years, Frederick's Jake Arrieta was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. Over 113 1/3 innings, he struck out 120 batters, held opponents to a .199 batting average and compiled a 2.87 ERA. He did, however, walk 51 batters, so there is some cause for concern over his command as he advances to the high minors. Still, as a 22-year old, this was an impressive performance; Arrieta is a legitimate prospect.

Monday, August 25, 2008

No Wieters this September

Dave Trembley, despite professing a desire for another catcher after rosters expand in September, has said we won't be seeing Matt Wieters in Baltimore this September. From
"Matt Wieters will not be coming up here in September," Trembley said. "We've
hopefully put that situation to rest. He'll play in the Arizona Fall League if
that's where we send him. It's his first year as a pro baseball player, above
and beyond everything. There's no reason for him to come up here this September.
There's no reason at this particular point in time to put him on the roster.
He's going to play in the fall league, get ready for Spring Training, and then
we'll go from there."

Wieters is clearly ready for the majors, or at least as ready as playing in the minor leagues can make anyone for the majors. He's had a phenomenal year. Why not reward the future of the franchise--and the player who should be the opening day catcher in 2009--with a call-up to the big leagues? He's earned it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Really? A.J. Burnett?

The Baltimore Sun has Dan Connolly and Peter Schmuck debate whether or not the Orioles should sign Mark Teixeira. Connolly votes yes, and Schmuck votes no. Without getting into the merits of Connolly's argument, Schmuck votes no because the Orioles should instead spend the money on starting pitching, which he correctly determines the O's need desperately. However, he also correctly notes that CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets won't be signing with the Orioles. And thus he says the O's should go after A.J. Burnett. The same A.J. Burnett that will be 32 next season and who has only twice in his career pitched at least 200 innings. To be fair to Burnett, barring a late season injury, he is likely to exceed that number again in 2008. To be fair to the Orioles checkbook, Burnett also has a 4.51 ERA and 1.41 WHIP this season. Burnett signed a five year, $55 million deal with the Blue Jays after the 2005 season, but he has an opt-out clause this year. He is slated to earn $12 million each of the next two seasons.

Burnett would not opt out of his contract if he and his agent were not reasonably sure that they could get a deal that would pay significantly more--for significantly longer--than his current salary. And therein lies the problem. MASN conveniently just put up the following graphic tonight, showing just how well a few "recent" big-money free agent signings have worked out:

Kevin Brown: $105 mil/7 years
Darren Dreifort: $55 mil/5 years
Mike Hampton: $121 mil/8 years
Kei Igawa: $46 mil/5 years
Gary Matthews, Jr: $50 mil/5 years
Chan Ho Park: $65 mil/5 years
Richie Sexson: $50 mil/4 years
Mo Vaughn: $80 mil/6 years
Barry Zito: $126 mil/7 years

Quite simply, these huge deals almost never work out (Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez are the only ones that come to mind), especially when injury-prone pitchers are involved. Schmuck is right to argue that the Orioles need lots of pitching; he's wrong that the Orioles should go after A.J. Burnett. I sincerely hope this is the last time he floats that horrible idea.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The AL East Moves West

It's not directly about the Orioles, but Rob Neyer, via ShysterBall, has an interesting post about the Red Sox setting up a west coast office and what that means to the future revenues of the big market and small market teams. The NFL had just this issue play out during its most recent labor negotiations, with those teams that have truly national brands lining up against the local and regional organizations. I don't mind that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have more money to spend; victory against them is much sweeter than a win over the Blue Jays, and those teams winning does help the Orioles in the long-run since it makes baseball more attractive to the casual fan. However, as we saw with the Johan Santana situation last winter and are likely to see with the CC Sabathia negotiations this offseason, it does not benefit baseball if only a handful of teams can afford the very best players.

Gary Thorne Must Go

Put me down as hoping this is Gary Thorne's last season with the O's. Two painful comments from tonight's game:
  • Thorne said the Pirates traded away Bay and Nady from "one of the league's best outfields" to save on payroll. While the deals did save on payroll, that wasn't the only purpose. The Pirates are a long way from contending, and neither Bay nor Nady was likely to be around when the team was ready to win again. If an announcer doesn't understand that, he has no place communicating in an official position for a team rebuilding.
  • Taking a look at the MLB wins leaders list, Thorne wondered who should win the AL Cy Young award: Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett or Mike Mussina. Lee is an outstanding candidate, but only in a very small way because of his 18 wins. And when Thorne started diminishing Lee's candidacy since he pitches for a last place team, I was speechless. It's 2008. If you don't understand that pitcher wins are a meaningless statistic and that the Cy Yound award doesn't just go to the pitcher who wins the most games on a playoff contender, you have no business working in baseball.

Between Thorne, Dempsey and The Hall of Famer, the Orioles have an announcing team that truly does not seem to understand the game of baseball in 2008.

UPDATE: Mariano Rivera comes on after Aubrey Huff reaches to attempt to record the final out of the 8th. Thorne says, and I'm quoting after rewinding the DVR, "He has not been a guarantee this year the way he's been in past years... He's still very, very tough but there are nights you can get hits off Mariano Rivera." Thanks to Jim Palmer for pointing out that "he's been awfully good in the least year, [converting] 57 of the last 60 save opportunities." Oh, and that "lefties are hitting .178 and righties are hitting .191" against him. Looking at Rivera's numbers at, I see that Rivera has allowed a 0.745 WHIP this season, which would be the best mark of his outstanding career. His .185 BAA would be just the third best mark of his career, behind 1999 when Rivera finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and 2005 when he finished second in the voting. He's also been significantly better than in 2007, when Rivera posted a .248 BAA and a 1.12 WHIP. But I guess Gary doesn't like those numbers. Or didn't look at them.

UPDATE # 2: "Alex Rodriguez, runner goes. That one in the air towards the gap, left center field (voice rising) aaaaannnnddd... CAUGHT!!! In the stands. For a two RBI shot. Or one. A double." He just gave the "I can't believe he made that play!" voice for a fan in the stands who sat in his seat and had a ground rule double bounce into his lap. And he miscalled it as a homer. Stop talking!!!!

Cleaning Out the Links

Running down some links still in my RSS reader from the past few days...

Law gives a very positive assessment of Tillman, though he does believe that his command (or lack of it) will keep him from being a true number one. Still, at just 20 years old and with a clean delivery, he could develop that command.

Look at the teams who are also on the top of that list from Gammons: the Royals, Rays, Red Sox, Giants, Pirates, Brewers, Rangers, Twins, Orioles and Astros. The Red Sox, Twins, Rays and Brewers have each reaped significant benefits from spending in the draft, and the Rangers Royals, and Pirates each have relatively new front offices that have placed a priority on rebuilding through the farm system. The Giants and Astros have poor records signing players and developing talent. Aside from those two, that's a great list on the which the Orioles appear, and perhaps the best evidence yet that MacPhail has truly ushered in a new Orioles era.

It's also a great development that the Orioles have shown a willingness to pick the player they deem to be the best talent and not just the player they can sign for a reasonable bonus. Matt Wieters was clearly the best of his draft class, and while the debate will certainly linger over whether the Orioles made the right pick with Matusz over Smoak, he was the first player on their draft board.

Finally, to see Nick Markakis and Adam Jones (another MacPhail acquisition) rated so highly is quite encouraging. But most exciting is that Matt Wieters is the most promising prospect in the minors.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Draft Signing Deadline

Kevin Goldstein gives his thoughts on the August 15 deadline by which teams must sign their draft picks, and I agree that the new deadline benefits no one. The most interesting part of his piece is that there could be a change to that deadline:
Many are suggesting another move of the deadline to July 15... Such a
deadline was discussed at this week's scouting meetings in Arizona, and the
response was generally favorable. It would require a modification of the current
CBA, but there is reason to believe that the union might be open to such a

August 15 clearly doesn't work. While it wouldn't fix many of the problems with the draft, moving the date to July 15 would at least avoid the six weeks that teams and agents refuse to negotiate with each other.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MacPhail on Wieters

The Baltimore Sun had a big article this morning about the debate over whether or not to call up Matt Wieters this September. Andy MacPhail has the money quote:
"I'm of the mind that the most important thing for Matt is to continue to get as
many at-bats and as much experience as he can," Orioles president Andy MacPhail
said recently. "I don't see it likely that we'll bring him up here and have him
sit. That just doesn't make much sense to me. When he comes here, he should
expect to play."

I agree; when he gets to Baltimore, he should be in the lineup everyday. And that should be in September, as soon as the Baysox finish the Eastern League playoffs.

Injury Updates runs down injury updates for Chris Ray, Matt Albers and Adam Jones. All three are key players for 2009 and beyond, so I would expect the club to exercise the utmost caution with each. But great to hear that Ray, especially, is making such rapid progress.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Arbitration, Free Agency and Contracts

Keith Law has an outstanding primer on major league contracts, arbitration eligibility, free agent status, and roster rules. As these issues affect roster and player development decisions today more than ever, it's important to understand the minutiae involved.

Fixing the Draft

David Pinto at Baseball Musings has a thought provoking post on how to fix the MLB draft. The crux of his plan is a ranking system for prospects and then teams, based on their finish the previous season, are allowed to negotiate with tiers of players based on those rankings. It's an intriguing idea, but I have a few reservations.

For example, based on the rankings submitted to MLB, Joey Smith is ranked as the fifth best player available. Players one through four are widely agreed to be the best of the draft class and sign with teams one through four. Team five isn't especially enamored with Joey Smith, instead preferring Michael Jones, who is ranked as the seventh best prospect. Team Five signs Michael Jones instead. Now, as Pinto writes, one of the pluses of his proposal is that "players can't fall that far through the draft. The five best players sign with the five worst teams or [they] are out of a job for three years. The World Champions would not have access to the best 25 players in the draft." How is it fair to either Joey Smith or Team Five to have this rule in place? Either Smith doesn't get to sign--at all--or Team Five is forced to accept a player that they deem a lesser prospect. Would teams one through five have another shot at signing Joey Smith in Round 2?

While difficult in football or basketball, ranking prospects in baseball is an especially dicey proposition. Teams often can't agree which position a player should play (see: Markakis, Nick), much less where that player should go in the draft. Different organizations value high school and college players and pitching and position players differently. Using the example above, even the top five or ten players can be viewed differently by a small group of teams. After you move past the first 25 or 50 players, it's quite possible that a team will not have an opportunity to negotiate with a player that they would take in a draft scenario. For instance, assuming I'm reading Pinto's proposal correctly, team fifteen would be precluded from negotiating with prospect number 86, even if under a draft scenario, they would have used the 75th pick on this player.

While I definitely agree with Pinto that the draft isn't really accomplishing what it was intended to do, I'm not sure his proposal is the way to fix it. So what could be done? A few suggestions...
  • Allow teams to trade draft picks. If the Kansas City Royals are picking third but know that they don't value the consensus top three prospects as highly as the teams picking slightly lower, why should the Royals be forced to forego the extra value that the market assigns to their third pick? Shouldn't the Washington Nationals have the opportunity to trade the 9th pick in the draft and a 4th round choice to the Royals for the right to pick third? The Nationals would get their man and the Royals would get theirs plus a bonus selection.
  • Make all players in the world free agents and allot a "bonus cap" to teams--benchmarked for salary inflation and tied to the league-wide revenues--and allow each team to spend its cap however it sees fit. Perhaps a team would rather sign the top two prospects for 90% of their budget than sign five top-100 prospects or fifteen top-200 prospects for the same dollar amount. A premium would be placed on an organization's ability to identify talent and would create numerous opportunities for management to creatively allocate its bonus budget. However, given the issues with the bonus skimming scandals in Latin America, this system is probably not palatable.

Whatever the ultimate solution, it will require a great deal of creative thinking on the part of Major League Baseball, something which is all too often in short supply. But thanks to David Pinto for getting the discussion started.

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's Official

Brian Matusz is an Oriole. No terms were disclosed, but it appears that he signed a major league deal which immediately places him on the 40-man roster. Since he signed so late and the deal would require use of an option year for him to join an affiliate this year, he won't be pitching until the fall leagues. Assuming that's the case, he'll need to be on the major league club full-time by 2013 or the Orioles risk losing him to waivers. Considering that he is widely considered very close to the majors already, he would be a huge disappointment if he failed to meet that timeline. Now, wasn't all that angst over whether he would sign a little overdone?

UPDATE: The Sun is reporting that Matusz will get a $3.2 million signing bonus. That seems very reasonable for the fourth pick in the draft.

Signing Day & Waiver Trades

It's Brian Matusz signing day! Assuming the t's are crossed and i's dotted, of course, but with Matusz in town for a physical, that seems very, very likely.

The Sun also has info on Orioles players and their revocable waivers status:
  • Aubrey Huff has passed through
  • George Sherrill was claimed and pulled back
  • Jay Payton passed through
  • Kevin Millar passed through
  • Jamie Walker passed through

Huff wasn't claimed because he is still owed a significant sum of money and is largely a DH only. That doesn't fit the needs of any AL contender in a competitive race--at this point only Tampa Bay, Boston, Chicago and Minnesota. Tampa could probably use another bat, especially with their recent spat of injuries, but they've been down the Aubrey Huff road before and the parting was not amicable. Boston has David Ortiz, Chicago has about four DH's, and while Minnesota could use the bat, they probably wouldn't take the money.

I'm curious to know who claimed Sherrill--the Sun notes it was at least one unnamed AL team--and whether the Orioles attempted to work out a trade or if they pulled Sherrill back without negotiating. Sherrill is under team control for a few more years, so even though he profiles as an aging middle reliever, MacPhail has asked for significant return should he be traded. Depending on just how much he's asking for, I'm not sure I agree with that decision.

As for the others, I don't see any team looking to acquire those sorts of spare parts. Walker hasn't had any success against lefties this year (they have a shocking 1.049 OPS against him), and since he's a LOOGY that means he hasn't really had any success at all this year. Millar and Payton could both be useful to a contender, but since they are playing key roles for this mildly surprising Orioles team, neither is likely to be dealt, even though they have zero long-term value.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Matusz Update

I've been working on a fairly comprehensive post, but until that's ready, it appears the Orioles are close to signing Brian Matusz. It's amazing what a deadline and a few million bucks can accomplish.

That notebook is full of interesting tid bits:
  • Nick Markakis frustratingly equates a "successful season" with RBI; RBI are surely a source of pride for a player, but they are extremely overrated by fans when evaluating the merits of individual players
  • Bradley Bergesen could be coming to the Majors to start on Saturday, though there are several other candidates to start, including one--Dennis Sarfate--who would be pitching on full rest and is already on the roster
  • Chris Ray has begun pitching for the Gulf Coast Orioles; may he pitch well and be ready for Spring Training

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

MLB Draft

Joe Sheehan has a thought provoking article up today at Baseball Prospectus. I completely agree with assessment of the draft:
The draft is a broken system, one in which Major League Baseball openly and unashamedly restricts the career options of hundreds of young men in order to save itself millions of dollars each year, and everyone nods and smiles. We accept the concept of a draft in sports because it has largely been sold as a mechanism for increasing competitive balance—the worst teams get the highest picks. In fact, drafting high and drafting well are completely different things, as any fan of the Pirates—or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Braves—could tell you. That the draft may help competitive balance in a league is a tertiary factor in its existence. What a draft actually does is keep teams from competing for the services of the best talent on the market, and keeps that talent from having any options when it comes to choosing their employer for their prime earning years. It’s a beautiful system…as long as you’re not a supremely talented baseball player trying to have a career.
As I discussed a few weeks ago, teams pay for talent based on the value they provide to the organization. Sheehan discusses this with, typically, much greater insight and forethought:

What is it to "grossly overpay" the second-best amateur player in the nation? Kevin speculated last week that the end result here would be a $6-8 million major league contract, which would mean an immediate place on the club's 40-man roster. Is that overpaying? What if it were $9 million, or $10 million? What is the value of a 22-year-old third baseman who is expected to be one of the better power hitters in the game—if perhaps at a different position—in short order? What is the value of owning that player’s rights for the next seven, eight, or even 10 years, as he ascends through the minors? What is the value of being able to pay that player near the league minimum for three full seasons, and perhaps the better part of a fourth? What is the value of being able to keep that player off of the free market for talent by paying below-market salaries for three years beyond that? What is the value of never having to compete for the services of a player of that caliber?

It's always popular to bash the drafted player for "unreasonable" demands because they are so "unproven." But, as Joe describes much more eloquently and forcefully than I did, only in sports do we do this:
Engineering firms don’t draft the top engineers and pay them below-market rates... We also wouldn’t tell them they had to work for a lousy firm, or in a city they might hate, far from their families. As a nation, we wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing, but we do in sports. In sports, we’re handing over the prime of players’ careers without ever giving them a chance to find out what they were worth. For many players, the step from amateur to professional is, in fact, the only time in their lives that they will have any leverage at all in their salary, if not their employer or place of work or management team. It is embarrassing to take so much away from them, then complain that they’re not being reasonable when it comes to the one thing that they can negotiate.

So while fans bash Brian Matusz and the other unsigned draft picks for being "greedy" and "only caring about the money," I hope they step back and ask themselves what they would do if they were among the best in the world at their chosen professions and not allowed to sell their skills on the open market. Because I would be asking for every penny possible from the only employer with whom I am allowed to negotiate.

Signing Deadline Looms

The Orioles have until Friday night to sign their first overall selection, Brian Matusz. He is "hopeful" that a deal will get done.

The waiting game is maddening and frustrating, but I predict the Orioles will ultimately get a deal done. Both sides stand to lose too much for a complete failure in the negotiations.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Draft Signing Updates

Kevin Goldstein runs down the entire first round of the 2008 draft, and has the following comments on Brian Matusz:
Negotiations: This is one of those interconnected deals. The Orioles and Matusz have had few productive discussions, because the Matusz side has been watching the talks with involving the ninth overall pick, Aaron Crow. They know that Crow wants a massive deal, and Matusz, as the top pitcher selected, won't settle for a penny less... but what if there's no deal to compare to? OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Prediction: A $4-6 million package that includes a major league deal.

Personally, I'm very opposed to giving amateurs Major League deals since, as we saw with Adam Loewen, roster requirements drive development time tables. However, Matusz is widely considered to be a polished arm that is close to the Majors, so a four-year timeline for his inclusion the 25-man roster is probably realistic. If he can't contribute in that time frame, it will be because injuries derailed his progress or he has significantly underperformed expectations. With those considerations, a Major League contract may be a tolerable risk in order for the O's to sign their top draft pick.

Big Night for Wieters has all the details about the big night Matt Wieters turned in yesterday for the Bowie Baysox. The 3-for-3, two home run, six RBI performance brings his Bowie line to .368/.463/.647 with 9 homers and 39 RBI in 133 at-bats over 41 games. Oh, and he also has 26 walks against just 19 strikeouts. Wieters has nothing left to prove in the minors; there is no reason that he should not be the opening day starter next season, and thus should receive a September call-up this year. If you can't tell, I'm really looking forward to the Matt Wieters era.

More on the Bradford Deal

Baseball Prospectus runs down the benefits of the deal. The key takeaway:
As a one-for-one replacement on the roster for Bradford, this could be a
right-now upgrade, and whoever Mr. TBNL turns out to be will make it better
still, since that's basically a free body for buying back the roster time to
look at Cherry instead of employing the Moneyball celeb.

They ignore the $4.0 million in savings (the difference in cost between employing Cherry and Bradford), but for a team that is still looking to sign its number one pick and perhaps make a run at a very big-money free agent this offseason, that makes the deal even more of a postive from the Orioles perspective.

It's nice to have a GM that understands how to build a competitive organization; MacPhail and his staff realized that paying Bradford large sums of money to perform a job that Cherry could do for much smaller sums of money was not a wise decision. The trade emphasizes the importance of minor league depth, especially on the mound for largely interchangeable bullpen arms, and the folly of paying "proven veterans" lots of money on multi-year contracts to pitch limited innings out of the bullpen. If a deal involving a 33-year old middle reliever and a player to be named later can be deemed exciting, this one fits the definition for Orioles fans since it shows the people in charge finally know what they're doing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

MacPhail on the Trade

This quote from the Baltimore Sun today:
"Chad did a terrific job for us," MacPhail said. "It's no surprise he was
attractive to a team that's in first place. We just felt going forward it would
give us an opportunity for some others in our organization who have some upside
to get a look over the rest of '08 and '09. I think we have that guy [a
right-handed setup reliever] in our system, and I'm going to need to fill some
other needs, so I can use the dough."

Lots of people are criticizing the O's for dumping the salary, saying that it shows a lack of commitment to winning. I don't buy that argument. By saving the money here, the Orioles can redirect the funds towards prospects, free agents, player development, etc. A middle reliever set to earn $4.5 million over the next eight months has almost no value to a 73ish win team, but could have significant value to a team looking to lock up a bid to the postseason. Even though the player returning to the Orioles, as yet unnamed, is unlikely to be an impact player, this is still a good trade.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bradford Traded to Rays

The Orioles shed their first veteran, trading reliever Chad Bradford to the Tampa Bay Rays for the infamous Player to be Named Later. Since it appears that the Rays will pick up the remaining $4.5 million on Bradford's contract, the prospect coming back to the Orioles is certainly not one who will be an impact player. Still, saving the cash and freeing the roster spot is valuable for the Orioles as they rebuild from the ground up, so this is still a good deal for the O's. As the Orioles have proven over the past few years, middle relievers have such variable performance from year-to-year that spending significant sums on veterans is seldom a good idea. It is much cheaper to stock the organization with young power arms and hope that seven can form a balanced bullpen.

Roster Moves

Baseball Prospectus runs down the fallout from this week’s transactions, including the Chris Waters and Luis Montanez promotions.

Mid-Summer Prospect Fest

At the risk of incurring the wrath sure to accompany complimenting the Red Sox, the team has a fantastic idea of hosting a minor league day at Fenway Park. While the situation for Red Sox fans and Orioles fans isn’t exactly comparable (tickets to Fenway are extremely difficult to come by, for instance), considering the proximity of the Orioles minor league franchises to Baltimore, this could be a great idea for the Orioles, too. Hosting a weekend doubleheader (or tripleheader!) for some combination of the Baysox, Keys, Shorebirds and Ironbirds could be a fun day for all involved. The Orioles would have a great opportunity to build a little community good will if tickets were to be priced in the ultra-affordable ($5 for box seats) range so that families could easily afford the outing and experience Camden Yards from the good seats, the players are sure to love playing on the Major League diamond and the fans will have a cheap way to spend the day at the ballpark and see the prospects. As much as I despise the Red Sox, the organization does a fantastic job thinking of creative ways to build their brand.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Montanez, Teixeira and Wieters

Cleaning up a few links...

  • Like Chris Waters last night, Lou Montanez made his debut a memorable one this afternoon, homering in his first Major League at-bat.
  • With the Orioles in Anaheim, there has been lots of ink spilled over the upcoming Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, especially as it relates to the Orioles chances of signing the hometown slugger. There are legitimate cases to be made for and against signing Teixeira, and we'll debate the issue thoroughly, but I sincerely doubt he'll take any sort of sentimental discount to play for the Orioles. Still, if there's anyone for whom Peter Angelos might be willing to open the vault, it is probably Mark Teixeira. If the Orioles make the best offer, he'll sign here. If they don't, he won't. I really think it's that simple.
  • Spencer Fordin at discussed September call-ups with Dave Trembley, and the early returns aren't looking too promising for our first glimpse of Matt Wieters. It's only August 6, however, and I doubt we've heard the last of this issue. Personally, if Wieters continue to hit in Bowie for the next month, there is no reason not to bring him up this September, let him catch half the time and DH the other half.

Chris Waters Debut

Chris Waters had a fantastic, if unlikely, Major League debut last night. Just how unlikely? Rob Neyer at breaks it down. Congratulations to Waters, but I certainly hope that no Orioles fans are thinking he's going to be a savior down the stretch.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Even More on Luis Montanez

It's Luis Montanez week here at the Birds Nest! As the Baltimore Sun is reporting, Montanez had his contract purchased from Bowie after Adam Jones was placed on the DL. While it's clearly a bummer that Jones will miss significant development time with his injury, Montanez has earned his promotion. Let's hope he keeps hitting like he was in Bowie.

Also of note is that Derek Jacques over at Baseball Prospectus posted a follow-up to his weekend article about minor league translations. He walks through a very clear comparison of three players from the same league with the same EqA and looks at how park factors and age affect their translations. As usual, outstanding stuff.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Evaluating Minor Leaguers

After my post earlier this morning about Luis Montanez and his age disqualifying him from prospect status despite his excellent statistics, Baseball Prospectus posted a discussion of their own about evaluating minor leaguers based on their stats. A quick comparison of Luis Montanez and Matt Wieters (go here and search for "Montanez" to see Wieters, Reimold and Montanez side-by-side):

Montanez has peak translated EQA of .248.
Wieters has a peak translated EQA of .360, the highest number in the minors.

Read those numbers like a batting average (and just ignore for a minute that Wieters has compiled his in only 107 at-bats) and you'll see why I man-crush on Matt Wieters and have ignored Luis Montanez until today. For comparison's sake, only one Major Leaguer has a 2008 EQA above .360: Albert Pujols and his .370 number. Even the league-leading .309 Wieters compiled in Frederick is impressive; it's much lower because the Carolina League is farther from the Majors than the Eastern League, and Wieters was the same age in both leagues.

Ramon Hernandez

Apparently, Ramon Hernandez is under contract with the Orioles for the 2009 season since he signed a four year deal (including a 2010 option!) prior to the 2006 season (back when they were already paying Javy Lopez $7 million a season to be their catcher). Somehow, I missed that this was a four-year deal and was under the assumption that this would be the final season we were subjected to his .308 on-base percentage. In this case, the Orioles should do everything possible to get out of his contract for next year and make Matt Wieters the starter behind the plate. Unfortunately, I bet there is no team willing to pay him $8 million plus the buyout on the option. But that doesn't mean Wieters shouldn't still be the starter next year. If the Orioles can't unload Hernandez, he's welcome to stick around as the back-up, but continuing to play him above Wieters is pointless for a team trying to rebuild around young players.

Between Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Ramon Hernandez, Jay Gibbons, and Jay Payton, the Orioles sure have spent a lot of money on mediocre players in recent years.

Luis Montanez Hits for the Cycle

Luis Montanez, left fielder for the Bowie Baysox, hit for the cycle last night. I haven't written about Montanez yet, mostly because he's a 26-year old in AA for the fourth consecutive season. However, he is having a fantastic season for the Baysox: .332/.383/.595 with 25 homers and 94 RBI in 440 at-bats over 113 games; he's also a former first-round pick (in 2000, by the Chicago Cubs). After getting off to a fast start in rookie ball, Montanez didn't hit much until he was 22 and playing in the Northwest League, his fourth straight year in Single-A ball. Since then, he's thrived in situations where he repeats a level and struggles when advancing. In two stints at AAA, he's hit .224/.281/.371 and .259/.332/.410. He has no big league experience, and 2008 is the first year that he's hit more than 14 home runs.

Montanez has clearly lost his "prospect" status, not only because he hasn't hit, but also because he has been forced from the middle infield to a corner outfield position. Were he able to play shortstop defensively, his season at the plate would likely have earned him a trip to Baltimore this season. Instead, he plays a position that is expected to provide significant offensive punch, and nothing in his track record suggests he will be able to do that. Still, 25 home runs can't just be written off, even if they are by a 26-year old who has never shown any power in the past. While there are pros and cons to a September call-up for Matt Wieters, Montanez should receive a September call-up and given an opportunity to hit against Major League pitching. After this season, I'm assuming he will need to be on the 40-man roster or he will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. An organization with holes in the outfield may be willing to take a $50,000 chance that 2008's leap forward is real. At 26 and with nine professional seasons, its sink or swim time for Montanez; he'll likely get his chance this September.

Spring Training

Somehow I've missed this in the Sun over the past two days, but the Orioles are getting a new spring training home in Vero Beach, Florida. The deal is not official yet, but considering the Orioles currently have what may rank as the worst spring training situation in the league and Fort Lauderdale has been unable to reach an agreement with the FAA about upgrading the facilities the Orioles currently use, I'll be surprised if a deal doesn't get done.

The most important aspect of the Orioles getting a new spring training site will be the consolidation of minor league and major league camp. Currently, the Orioles minor leaguers train in Sarasota, while the big club is in Fort Lauderdale. Obviously, that creates all sorts of complications. It is also emblematic of how far the Orioles had let their farm system fall under previous regimes. Moving the camps to the same location would, at worst, be a symbolic gesture that player development is again an organization priority and, at best, would allow for more effective evaluation of talent within the organization and greater flexibility during preseason preparataions. I can't wait to make my first trip to Orioletown in Vero Beach.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Roch Kubatko Update

Well, that didn't take long. Roch Kubatko will be joining MASN, where he'll cover the team through the new School of Roch blog. Good to see Roch will keep his excellent coverage of the Orioles alive, but I hope that MASN uses some better blogging software than the Sun.

Since MASN is team-owned, I wonder how much leverage he'll be given to write what he wants, and how MASN's expansion of coverage beyond its TV network will affect the access to sources that other media outlets will enjoy in their own reporting. Personally, I feel that the Sun has done an excellent job with its Orioles coverage and I hope that the team doesn't try to push that voice into a secondary role just to expand the value of its TV network.

Brian Matusz Update

The Baltimore Sun reports the negotiations between the O's and Brian Matusz are in a holding pattern. The Orioles have just two weeks to sign Matusz or they will relinquish his rights, but I have no doubt that the O's will eventually get a deal done. Unfortunately, with the way MLB has mismanaged the draft, we're likely to see a lot more of these hold outs go down to the very last minute, just like the Wieters negotations last year. Since MLB has tried to limit bonuses through it's "slotting" system (where it suggests an appropriate bonus amount for each pick), several teams--the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees and others--have routinely stocked up on premium prospects because they were willing to go above slot and pay the prospects their asking prices. Now, more teams, realizing that premium talent can command a premium price, are willing to pay but they are still leery of going against the commish. Thus, teams are playing a ridiculous game of chicken not wanting to be the first to dole out a bonus far above slot.

Several commenters to the Sun article have, predictably, lamented that today's ball player just wants to get paid and doesn't play for the love of the game. That's a lame argument. Teams give players bonuses on the expectation that they will produce future wins and, correspondingly, revenues. Teams that don't spend money on talent--whether at the prospect level or at the big league level--don't win, and then the fans complain that their owners are too cheap to put a winning ballclub on the field.

As a former player, all my sympathies lie with the drafted player. After he signs that first professional contract, the player cannot negotiate a new contract for years. The team controls the pay the player will receive throughout his minor league career and then for his first three Major League seasons. Then, for the next three years, the player's salary will be determined through the arbitration process. Granted, by this time, the player is making some pretty good cash, but it is only until after six full seasons that the player gets to choose his own employer through the free agent process. It's not for seven to ten years that players have full control over where they play! A player is absolutely right to use all their leverage in this situation; it will be a long time before they can use it again.

Felipe Lopez to be an Oriole?

He's no longer a National. Since the Orioles still don't really have a Major League shortstop (no offense, Juan Castro), I wonder if they sign him to a no-risk deal?

Matt Wieters and September Call-ups

Peter Schmuck, who is apparently going to fill the void left by Roch Kubatko’s departure from the Baltimore Sun, goes over the pros and cons of calling up Matt Wieters this September:

The Pros: Wieters would get some big-league experience and, if he can hold his own against major league pitching, garner some extra confidence going into spring training next year. He also would get a chance to bond with his teammates and learn a thing or two from Ramon Hernandez.

The Cons: His presence with the major league club would put the service time clock in motion, and any significant playing time could wear him down and make him more susceptible to injury, since he has never played anywhere near that deep into a season.

He notes that the service time issue only becomes a concern if Wieters hops the Norfolk shuttle over the next few years and an extra thirty days of service time become a real issue in his quest for super two arbitration eligibility. I posed the arbitration/free agency question to Keith Law in an chat last week, and Law responded “Assuming he's going to start 2009 in the big leagues, a Sept call-up wouldn't affect either. It's 30 days of extra service.”

Since Ramon Hernandez is a free agent at the end of the season and Wieters has proven himself worthy of his top prospect label, there is no reason to believe that Wieters will begin 2009 anywhere other than behind the plate in Baltimore. Equally as important, there is no evidence to suggest that, aside from some minor adjustments common to virtually all young players, Wieters will struggle enough to be forced back to the minors. Among the scouting community, there is virtually unanimous agreement that Wieters is not only the Orioles catcher of the very near future but also a significant long-term building block for the organization.

Thus, if one of the cons isn’t really an issue, the question becomes whether or not Wieters is better served getting his big league-ready feet wet in September or relaxing by the pool in Florida. Certainly that oversimplifies the issue, mostly because there is a significant chance that Wieters could spend much of September in Bowie playing in the Eastern League playoffs. The Baysox are currently in second place in the league’s Southern Division, 3.5 games behind first place Akron and 2.0 games ahead of third place Harrisburg; no other team in the division is in playoff contention. The top two teams will face off in a best-of-five divisional playoff that begins on September 3 with the winner advancing to the championship series, another best-of-five contest. Since the Orioles seem committed to keeping a core of prospects together at Bowie and allowing them to “learn to win” together (a strategy of which I very much approve), it is far from inconceivable that Bowie’s season would last until mid-September. At that point, there would be just two weeks of the Baltimore season remaining.

Wieters has played 102 minor league games thus far, but only 72 at catcher; the Baysox have 29 games remaining. If Wieters plays in all of those games and 10 playoff games, he will have appeared in 141 games and, assuming a similar rate of catching to DH appearances, he will have caught about 100 games. In college, Wieters played a spring college season, summer league season and then a all practice season, and while the grind of professional baseball is a different beast entirely, that experience should prepare him to play 140+ games in his first professional season. However, the Orioles are right to be cautious with their investment; players of Wieters’ size (6’5”, 230 lb) are rarely catchers because of the strain catching takes on their bodies. The last thing the Orioles want is for Wieters to develop injury issues because of overuse in the minor leagues and during a September call-up.

Still, nothing says that Wieters has to catch every day if he’s called up. Kevin Millar holds no place in the Orioles future plans and he could easily give up at-bats to allow Wieters to DH while Aubrey Huff plays first base. Ramon Hernandez, if he’s not traded in August, can’t play every day, and Wieters could catch once or twice a week, perhaps to help develop a rapport with Jeremy Guthrie and Daniel Cabrera. Fifty Major League at-bats could be a valuable development tool, especially if it forces Wieters to deal with failure for the first time in his baseball career. However, my guess is that the Baysox will make the playoffs, adding a few more games than anticipated to the load Wieters will bear this year, and the Orioles will use that as a convenient excuse to hold down his service time and allow him to take the rest of September off. Baltimore may have to wait until April to see Wieters in his Orioles uniform.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Still Standing Pat

From the Trade Rumors Blog:

Camden Yards has been filled with rival scouts looking at closer George Sherrill and second baseman Brian Roberts in the month of July. But two hours before the deadline, Orioles GM Andy MacPhail did not believe he would make a trade.

The Orioles made it clear to other teams that they were looking for a shortstop in return in any deal for Sherrill, and very few teams were in position to even consider that request during the season -- and the Orioles probably also were hurt by the fact that there were so many left-handed relievers available.

Without mentioning which players he considered trading or what he asked for, MacPhail said, "The spectrum of teams that we could deal with just gets bigger in the offseason."

Deadline Day

Today is the trade deadline, and it doesn't look like the Orioles are going to make any moves. Still, George Sherrill's name has been repeatedly mentioned in rumors this morning on Even if the O's don't make any moves today, this has been a great week of rumors and deals: Mark Teixeira, Manny Ramirez, Jason Bay, Matt Kemp, Ken Griffey, Jr., Greg Maddux. That's a lot of All-Stars and Hall of Famers rumored to be/actually changing teams. Anecdotally, at least, this is the best trade deadline in a long-time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Make 'em earn it

Following a report from Amber Theoharris that the Matt Wieters, Brad Bergeson and Hayden Penn all had excellent outings in the minors tonight, Buck Martinez addressed some of the mounting speculation that the Orioles will overhaul their rotation, in addition to plugging in Dennis Sarfate, with some of their top propects from Bowie. Martinez explained that MacPhail seems to be of the opinion that it makes no sense to rush the pitching prospects just because the big league rotation is in shambles. I agree.

Martinez went on to explain that he believes there is nothing wrong with allowing Wieters and Bergeson to dominate their levels for the remainder of the minor league season. Again, I agree, although with a few caveats. Neither Bergeson nor Wieters is exceptionally young for their level, and the difference between AA and AAA is relatively small. If these prospects were enjoying this level of success in Frederick, they should be advanced to offer new developmental challenges. Since they have already reached the upper levels of the minors, they can be held at a given level for a full season, unless the organization deems them ready to contribute at the big league level. "Ready" obviously has many considerations, from purely baseball to service time and roster construction, and, as a team with no playoff hopes, the Orioles should resist the temptation to jump Bergeson to the rotation when the Orioles need a fifth starter next week.

As for Hayden Penn, I cannot believe he is still just 23 years old; we've seen him in an Orioles uniform since 2005, back in just his third professional season. At the time, he was a hot-shot prospect, having begun his career in Bluefield in 2003 and then jumping all the way to Bowie in 2004. In 2005, he made his major league debut despite never pitching in AAA. Things did not go well: 38.3 IP, 6.34 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and more walks (21) than strikeouts (18). He pitched great in AAA in 2006, and terribly in the majors; 2007 was a season lost to injury. His 2008 season got off to a slow start, but reports have him pitching much better of late in Norfolk. As someone who has had success in the minors, it might be time to give him another shot in Baltimore if the player development department believes he is capable of getting big league hitters out. At age 23, Penn still has plenty of time to develop, but I fear he may be yet another top pitching prospect previous regimes failed to develop. Though just one of many cautionary tales, Penn's rapid ascent and early big league struggles give MacPhail ample reason to handle the new crop of prospects cautiously.

Trade Talks Heating Up

Baseball Prospectus reports the Orioles are active on many fronts:
  • The Dodgers may be interested in Brian Roberts
  • The Marlins are asking after Ramon Hernandez
  • The Phillies have inquired about George Sherrill

The Orioles would probably ask for Jason Donald (SS) from the Phils, and that's a pretty steep price for a left-handed middle reliever. The Dodgers are known for being cautious on trading prospects, though they have lots of young players worth asking for in return. No idea who the Marlins might be talking about for Hernandez, but the organization is pretty deep in young pitching.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Roch Kubatko

Roch Kubatko, of the famous (infamous?) Roch Around the Clock blog, is leaving the Baltimore Sun, and he says he's taking his blog with him. Much of why his blog is so popular is that he has reporter access to the team and can use that access to provide scoops and insider info unavailable to most of the online community. It will be interesting to see how his blog evolves now that it is no longer tied to the "old media" of the Sun. He'll still have his cell phone, so he can still work the phone lines, and he's very well liked by the PR staff of the O's. If he fails to (or chooses not to) land with another traditional media outlet, I hope the O's will still renew his press pass. This will be an interesting test for the O's media access policies in the age of the internet. I know Roch from my days with the Orioles and I wish him the best.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adam Jones

After a leadoff double from Vlad Guerrero, Adam Jones just tracked down a Torii Hunter fly ball to right center. It was a routine fly ball and not very deep, so there was virtually no risk of Guerrero, who looked far from fleet on that double, tagging up and heading to third. Jones, though, made the catch with textbook precision: he took an extra four steps or so to get behind the ball, made the catch coming through the play and delivered a one-hop throw to third. I like Adam Jones.

Pitch Counts

There was a fantastic article from Joe Sheehan over at Baseball Prospectus this week regarding pitch counts, abusing young pitchers and veterans throwing more than 100 pitches in an outing. Spurred by the second time this month the Mets removed Johan Santana with a reasonable pitch count after the 8th inning only to have the bullpen blow a lead to the Phillies, Sheehan concludes that today's game has taken a noble idea--limiting the abuse to young pitchers--too far and that nearly all of today's starters are babied.

As anyone who regularly watches the Orioles knows, Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne love to discuss just how many pitches Palmer used to throw when he was pitching for the Orioles. It's one of my pet peeves when former starters use the workloads they endured in the 1970s to justify the need for today's starters to go deeper into games, but the point does have some merit. The money quote from Sheehan:
The solution here is fairly simple: forget that anyone ever mentioned the
number "100." That number isn’t meaningful in any sense. If you really want to
use numbers to guide you, here are two: 25 and 120. Once a pitcher is 25 years
old, you can generally consider him physically mature enough to handle a full
workload. A full workload for a mature, healthy pitcher should include starts of
up to 120 pitches without inviting injury risk. Usage beyond that mark—actually,
121 pitches in the PAP^3 framework—do raise the risk, but that risk can be
measured against the context of the situation. Flags fly forever, and the
pursuit of one does sometimes outweigh the risks involved.
I'm all for keeping young pitchers healthy; the Orioles have been especially bad at this over the past decade, and I hope the MacPhail regime is thoroughly evaluating the pitcher development programs in place throughout the organization to determine if there was a systemic failure that led to so many injuries. However, Sheehan is right that many veterans could throw more pitches without increasing the risk of injury.

Keep in mind, though, that Sheehan is looking strictly at injury risk and not at performance. It's popular to say that Jeremy Guthrie--especially since he's the only effective starter for the Orioles--should be throwing more pitches; he has just five starts where he's thrown more than 110 pitches, and he has a number of very effective starts where he's failed to surpass the 100 pitch mark. However, he has a very noticeable split for OPS against for pitches 0 to 100 and pitches 101+. If he's not effective beyond a certain point, Trembley is right to remove Guthrie and try to preserve a victory, regardless of whether or not an additional 15 pitches will raise the injury risk. Just don't tell that to Jim Palmer.

Things could be worse...

We could be Dodgers fans. The Dodgers have a chance to win now, a team with lots of young talent, and a front office with no clue what it's doing. Keith Law is reporting that the Dodgers are looking to trade third base prospect Andy LaRoche for relief help. The Orioles should see if the Dodgers would rather have Chad Bradford or George Sherrill than a potential long-term answer at third base.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Trade Deadline Approaches

Now that I'm back from vacation, I'm caught up at work and my Google Reader has been restored to a manageable situation, I can finally get back into posting my thoughts on the Orioles. Since today is July 25, the trade deadline is less than a week away. The Orioles are 48-53, have less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs, and since entering June 29 three games above .500, are just 7-15 over their past 22 games. This should force a reality check on the fan base and allow the front office to continue with the plan to rebuild this team into a legitimate contender.

In recent weeks, several different forums have requested fan input on what the Orioles should do for the remainder of the year. Many answers were predictably trade our crappy players for prospects, sign Nick Markakis to a long-term deal, sign (or trade) Brian Roberts, etc. Now that we're less than a week away, I'm ready to explore the question in depth. What should the Orioles (realistically) do from now until their final game on September 28?

The first step is to realistically assess whether or not the 2009 team can compete in a division that includes the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays. Unlike, say, the Giants, who have the luxury of rebuilding in a division where 81 wins could very well mean the playoffs, the Orioles are faced with the reality of needing 93 or more victories for a playoff berth. Since 1996, the first full season after the strike, only the 1996 Yankees (with 92) and 2000 Yankees (with 87) have won the division with fewer than 95 wins. In that same time span, the 1996 Orioles won the wild card with 88 wins, and in subsequent years it took 96, 92, 94, 91, 102, 99, 95, 98, 95, 95 and 94 wins to win the AL wild card. The 2008 Orioles currently have the run differential of a 49-52 team, and predicts the team to finish at 76-86; Baseball Prospectus, using their PECOTA adjusted standings, pegs the Orioles for 74.4 wins. The Orioles will need to win 17 to 19 games more in 2009 than in 2008 to have a shot at the playoffs, assuming that they actually finish the season like the predictions and not like previous seasons. Regardless, this is a team that will need to make significant advances to be competitive.

Without getting too bogged down in a position-by-position analysis, where could the Orioles expect to improve next season? The most obvious answer is catcher: Matt Wieters (who is currently batting .345/.427/.560 with four home runs in 86 at-bats at Bowie) will be the starting catcher next season, and all indications are that he is capable of producing at the Major League level in a big way. He'll be a significant upgrade from Ramon Hernandez and his .244/.291./409 line. Otherwise, the Orioles have five offensive players worth keeping around, on a purely production based basis: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott. The production that Kevin Millar, Melvin Mora and whoever is playing shortstop offer are very replaceable. Millar will be a free agent at the end of the season, and I sincerely doubt the club brings him back, at least in a role that will offer significant playing time. Unfortunately, Melvin Mora is set to make $9 million next season ($8 million base salary plus $1 million buyout on 2010 option), so any upgrade at third base involves benching a highly paid player, something teams are traditionally loathe to do despite the sunk cost of the investment.

One popular option to upgrade the offense next season is to sign Mark Teixeira this offseason. As a native Marylander and a career .285/.386/.501 hitter, he has long been the object of Oriole fan desires. Unfortunately, his pricetag may be upwards of $150 million for a six-year contract that would take him through his age 35 season, plus the draft pick forfeited by his signing. While Teixeira would certainly be attractive in an Orioles jersey and I'm not de facto opposed to his signing, the club is also likely to receive better value for that $150 million by spreading it over several other needs.

The Orioles most pressing need is a shortstop; they have not had a Major League quality player on the roster all season, and there are no prospects in the system currently. Somehow, the team will need to acquire someone for the position for next season. Rafael Furcal is an intriguing free agent name, but his age (30) and recent injury history suggests extreme caution, and I doubt he's a risk the front office would be willing to take. Orlando Cabrera is probably the next best available, but he's 33 and hitting .265/.325/.354 for the White Sox. My guess is that the Orioles bring in a veteran who can play defense but offers almost no offensive contribution to serve as stopgap for 2009, and that MacPhail's top priority is identifying a prospect in another organization that can be added via trade, much like Adam Jones became this past offseason's target. The lack of organizational depth up the middle is really an Achilles heel because it complicates efforts to trade Brian Roberts, who is the O's most marketable trade chip. If Roberts is traded for a shortstop, the club would then face the same dilemma at second base.

One possible solution would be to target a leftfielder and allow said new leftfielder, Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff to split time between first base, designated hitter and left field. Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn are all names that will be mentioned this offseason, but each comes with a hefty price tag and is not without warts of their own. Plus, Nolan Reimold is batting .288/.360/.497 with 17 home runs in 382 at-bats at Bowie, and he likely deserves every chance to win a roster spot, either through a September call-up or in spring training.

In examining the offense, replacing Kevin Millar with Nolan Reimold and Ramon Hernandez with Matt Wieters would provide upgrades and save money. That could free up the Orioles to trade Luke Scott or Aubrey Huff, if a suitor could be found, and perhaps still make a run at a free agent acquisition like Mark Teixeira. If the O's could somehow acquire a Major League shortstop, they could potentially field an offense that is much better than even this year's surprising group.

So while scoring runs may not be a major source of concern going into next season, preventing them likely will be. Jeremy Guthrie is the staff ace, but that's simply by default; he's a valuable starter, but is certainly not the frontline starter the team would like to have anchor the rotation. Daniel Cabrera continues to frustrate, though at least he can eat up some innings. Radhames Liz and Garret Olson are suffering lots of growing pains, Brian Burres is not a long-term answer for any pitching staff, and Adam Loewen is going to give hitting a try since he could never stay healthy as a pitcher. As for the minor leagues, the rotation in Norfolk is filled with non-prospects and the perpetually frustrating Hayden Penn, who is 4-6 with a 5.17 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. There is much more excitement about the rotation in Bowie, however. Twenty-year old Chris Tillman is 7-3 with a 3.11 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 92.2 IP, though with a needs-improvement 48 walks. Twenty-four year old Jason Berken is 8-3 with a 3.67 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 27 walks in 110.1 IP. Twenty-three year old David Hernandez 5-4 with a 2.63 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 55 walks in 109.1 IP. Those three arms would seem to be legitimate prospects, and a fourth, Bradley Bergensen (12-3, 2.91 ERA, 55 K, 20 BB, 108.1 IP) is also producing solid results, though with red flags because of a low strikeout rate. If Matt Albers and Troy Patton can recover from their injuries, the Orioles will have a number of arms to compete for the rotation. While caution must always be exercised when projecting contributions from young pitchers, it is very possible that pitching help is on the way, if not in 2009 than in 2010.

In the bullpen, the best possible strategy has seemed to be accumulate quality arms as cheaply as possible and hope seven of them can form a well-balanced bullpen. Chris Ray will be back next year, and it would be great if Dennis Sarfate could take a step forward with his control. Otherwise, hopefully the current collection in the majors and minors will produce a few guys capable of contributing next year.

So where does this leave the team for the rest of 2008? Efforts should be made to trade Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez. While Huff is a solid hitter, he's also expensive and could provide significant value to a team in search of a lefthanded bat for the stretch run. He is under contract for next season, and if the Orioles were willing to eat a significant amount of money, he could bring back some value in return. Millar has a reputation as a great clubhouse leader, and perhaps a contender would find that trait useful in a right-handed bat off the bench. He has minimal value to the Orioles in the short-term and his long-run value is nil. Using the see what sticks bullpen theory, I would try and acquire a bullpen arm with some upside for him. Hernandez holds no long-term value to the Orioles and is a free agent at the end of the season. I do not know if he will bring a draft-pick when he leaves in the offseason, but if he will not, the Orioles would do well to trade him now; I doubt they'll find any takers, however.

Those are easy decisions; more difficult are what to do with the more marketable players, Brian Roberts and George Sherrill. Sherrill would be desirable for a contender; teams nearly always need more help in the bullpen. However, there seems to be a plethora of quality lefthanders available on the trade market this year, driving down the price MacPhail could hope to extract from a trade partner. MacPhail may well decide that the prospects that could be had in return for Sherrill, who is still under team control until 2011, are not worth the cost of losing more games this season and needing to find another lefthander in the bullpen for next season.

Brian Roberts is in a similar situation, though under contract through the end of the 2009 season. No team that is out of the playoff race would be likely to deal for Roberts during the season; that leaves the contenders as possible trade partners. Let's look at each, first in the NL:

NY Mets - Just signed Luis Castillo to a three-year contract
Phillies - some guy named Chase Utley
Marlins - Dan Uggla
Cubs - this offseason's rumored Brian Roberts destination, they could never offer enough to entice MacPhail; have since dealt nearly all the players rumored to be involved a potential trade
Brewers - Rickie Weeks and Ray Durham
Cardinals - could use a second baseman, but have never been mentioned as a possible destination
Diamondbacks - Orlando Hudson
Dodgers - Jeff Kent, though Roberts would be an upgrade

Red Sox - Dustin Pedroia
Yankees - Robinson Cano
Rays - Akinori Iwamura
White Sox - rumored to be interested in Roberts, though talks haven't progressed very quickly
Twins - Alexi Casilla
Tigers - Placido Polanco
Angels - Howie Kendrick

Only three teams might realistically be interested in Roberts: the Cubs, White Sox and Cardinals. One tried, failed and moved on, one has apparently contacted MacPhail recently but failed to impress with their offer, and the other seems to be much more focused on acquiring bullpen help. Thus, any Roberts trade is very unlikely. But if Roberts was a hot commodity, should the Orioles trade him? As a rebuilding team, MacPhail should be listening to nearly any offer a team brings; no one is untouchable, but Roberts is very popular with the fans and a rare commodity: a lead-off hitter and very good offensive performer at a premium defensive position. However, he is 30 years old and only under contract for one more season. He has expressed frustration in the past with the Orioles inability to compete; he may decide that he'd much rather sign with another organization than re-up with the Orioles, even for more money. Or, his asking price could exceed what the Orioles are willing to pay and the club will receive only draft picks in return. The team is already in dire need of one middle infielder; trading Roberts would mean they'd need two. Still, as we've established above, they are very unlikely to compete in 2009, and Roberts' status as an Oriole for 2010 and beyond is iffy, at best. If the right deal comes along, the Orioles should trade Brian Roberts.

Since there is little than can be done in the next week to upgrade this team for next year and beyond between now and the trade deadline, any improvement will be of the much less exciting variety. We'll take a look at those projects and decisions next.