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.