Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of Snow, Airlines, Beer and the Orioles

Considering that there is more than a foot of snow on the deck outside (and still plenty more to come, apparently), the 7:00 AM BWI to SLC flight didn't quite happpen this morning. On the plus side, we found this out last night and didn't wake up at 4:00 AM just to drive to BWI and sit at the airport all day. On the down side, Delta refuses to transport my wife and I to Oregon until Wednesday. Unless, of course, we're willing to pay them $1,500 to upgrade to first class. Instead, I'm sitting at home by the fire (ok, space heater), enjoying a malted beverage, and getting caught up on all the baseball news in my Google Reader.

As we all know, the Orioles made two signings this week: Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins. I've posted my initial thoughts on Gonzalez already, and nothing there has changed. I should note, however, that his 2007 and 2008 innings totals are a product of May 2007 Tommy John surgery, not a series of recurring injuries. Regardless, I don't like the move. Before I move on to Atkins, here are some other reactions from around the Web:

Gonzalez has never been worth $6M in free agent dollars throughout his career
and while he should receive a boost from increased leverage, I guess I’m more
concerned about Gonzalez’ health than anything. Factor in the loss of next
year’s second round pick and I’m not sure I completely approve of giving decent
– not great, mind you – cash to a injury prone reliever coming off his heaviest
Rob Neyer:
On balance, I think it's difficult to justify Gonzalez's contract for one big
reason: last season was the first of his career in which he threw more than 54
innings. If there's a better than 50/50 chance of Gonzalez breaking down at some
point while he's in the Orioles' employ, he's not worth $12 million. And I think
he's going to break down.
Keith Law (in chat, when asked about Fernando Rodney as a pick-free alternative):
I can't object to that signing. I'd rather have Gonzalez than Rodney + a 2nd
I think that about sums it up: Gonzalez has good talent, the money isn't exhorbinant (but is non-trivial), he's injury prone, and this costs a draft pick. On to Atkins...

The specs of the Atkins contract are 1-year guaranteed at $4.0 million plus an $8.5 million option with a $0.5 million buyout for year two. Since I sincerely doubt that Atkins will be worthy of the option, let's look at this as a 1-year, $4.5 million deal. FanGraphs does the heavy lifting on the analysis and concludes:
Including positional adjustment, over 150 games Atkins projects as about a 1.3
WAR player for 2010. Assuming $4.4 million per marginal win as average market
value, his $4.5 guarantee plus incentives seems to be in the right neighborhood.
So the Orioles paid a fair price for about what they're likely to be getting: a below average hitter and defender. Now, Atkins has had lots of success in the past, albeit in a very favorable run environment in the weaker league. If he can somehow rekindle that ability, this would be a nice coup for the Orioles. More likely, he keeps the position warm for Josh Bell, either later in 2010 or in 2011. Atkins does have the advantage of batting right-handed. His career splits are notably better against left-handed pitching, so it is also possible that even if he can't handle the everyday duties he caddies for Bell to protect the youngster who is still very much a work in progress from the right side of the plate. The FanGraphs conclusion mirrors my own:
It is worth reiterating that consistently paying “fair market value” isn’t
really a “smart” thing to do. Teams on budgets need to get more for their money
to win consistently, especially going up against New York and Boston in the
American League East. On the other hand, it isn’t particularly “dumb,” either.
It’s “average…” on average. It makes sense in this particular case. They
certainly didn’t want to bring back Melvin Mora, who has entered the undead
phase of his career. Baltimore’s prospects at third and first aren’t ready for
the major leagues yet. Atkins isn’t a star, and will be lucky to be league
average again. While Baltimore surely isn’t trying to contend, as has been noted
elsewhere, sometimes a team simply needs to put a competent player on the field
for fans. That’s okay as long the team doesn’t pay out the nose. Baltimore isn’t
paying excessively for Atkins, and he won’t be blocking any prospects who might
be ready for 2011. Way to bridge a gap, Mr. MacPhail.
Agreed: MacPhail didn't overpay in years or dollars, and someone had to play third base on Opening Day. Maybe the O's get lucky and Atkins bounces back. If not, they don't pick up his option and slot Josh Bell into the lineup for 2011.

One final point about Atkins, though, and it's that I think Keith Law's reaction is worth noting: "I don't get it - I wrote on Twitter the other day that I would hesitate to give him a roster spot." This certainly suggests that the projected numbers for Atkins aren't matching the decline in skills that scouts saw last season.

In other news, Baseball America released its Top 10 Orioles Prospects list under the headline "Help Is On The Way". I'll hopefully have more later.

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