Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rebuild = Better?

It's usually a foregone conclusion that a rebuilding team is going to be awful. Young players finding their way in the majors usually doesn't bode well for a team's record. The same can be said of the Orioles now that they've entered their first true rebuilding season of the last 10 years. But as I view things, I think the Orioles could actually be better than they were a year ago.

That's not saying much, since the Orioles only won 69 games last year, but I think it says a lot about where this team is headed. They've slashed payroll, gotten deeper and could be better in 2008 than they were in 2007.

As a matter of fact, I'd be somewhat shocked if they were worse than they were last year.

Here's why...

The Bullpen - the Orioles' 2007 bullpen was one of the worst bullpens in the history of modern baseball. Right off the bat the bullpen should be better in 2007 simply because it can't be much worse. They've lost Baez for at least a year (addition by subtraction) and gained another solid reliever in George Sherrill (from the Bedard trade) who'll likely fill in for the injured Chris Ray as closer. The Orioles also have some solid candidates to fill in a few more bullpen spots -- Rule 5 draftee Randor Bierd, veteran pitcher Greg Aquino, flame-thrower Fernando Cabrera, and returning bullpen arms such as James Hoey, Rocky Cherry, and Brian Burres. The only bright spots in last year's bullpen, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are also returning. What the O's lack in sure-fire talent in the bullpen they make up for in depth.

Upgrades - Luke Scott replacing Jay Payton in LF is like replacing a Pinto with a Toyota. The 30 year old Scott has never played an entire season in the majors, but has shown immense pop in his bat in his limited time. Although it's his first full season, it won't be hard for Adam Jones to improve offensively over Corey Patterson. And while Jones is supposedly a defensive specialist, much like Patterson, he's struggled in CF so far this spring training season. No one would dare say Luis Hernandez would be an overall upgrade over Miguel Tejada, but Luis is bound to be at least a defensive upgrade over Tejada, whose range was growing more limited each season. Luis will be little than an automatic out in the line-up, but his defense should help out the pitchers.

Deeper Rotation - Losing Bedard will hurt the team's record. But what they've lost in Bedard, they've made up with depth. Late last year, when most of the starting rotation was on the disabled list, the Orioles' rotation wouldn't have scared most high school teams. Not this year. When the inevitable injuries start to mount and pitchers become ineffective, the Orioles will have a deep pool of pitching prospects (Patton, Albers, Liz, Olson, Penn, etc...) to choose from when needed.

Bounce Back Years - Aubrey Huff has always been a slow-starter, but his first half last year was absolutely abysmal. From April to June he put up a Brandon Fahey-esque .686 OPS. In the second half, he returned to form with a .897 OPS. Huff strained his groin this offseason (painting nude strippers on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show is hard work) so expect him to struggle in the first half again. But as long as he doesn't repeat his terrible first half from last year, Huff should improve in 2008.

Jay Gibbons had a year to forget in 2007. He was noticeably smaller, left without a position, got injured, struggled when he was healthy (.620 OPS) and then was named in the Mitchell Report during the offseason. Now that Gibbons is off the juice, hence his smaller frame, his slugging percentage should go down a bit, but there's no way he's as bad as he was last year. If Gibbons can stay healthy (which is a feat in and of itself), he should return to his mid-.700 OPS self.

Ramon Hernandez had a down year in 2007 after coming off what what was a career year in 2006. He also battled injuries and attitude problems. Maybe that's what happens when you come into the season out of shape. However, reports are that Ramon is back in shape and has a positive attitude, so one must think that he will improve upon his lousy .382 slugging percentage in '08.

Improved Bench - to go along with the bullpen, last year's O's bench could have also been one of the worst benches ever assembled. It was littered with back-up catchers and slap-hitting utility men and was severely lacking in late-inning pinch hitters. This year's bench is also bound to be better than last year's, simply because it can't get any worse. For one, it looks to have an improved Jay Gibbons, a back-up catcher in former 1st-round pick Guillermo Quiroz, a utility man with some pop in his bat in Scott Moore and speedster Freddie Bynum, who surprisingly didn't suck in his limited playing time last year before being sidelined with an injury.

Rick Kranitz - it's hard to say that the Orioles have upgraded their pitching coach when their last one was Leo Mazzone, but I think it holds true. Mazzone clashed with many young pitchers and reportedly neglected others. Kranitz, who was with the Florida Marlins, knows young pitchers and will work to their strengths instead of making everyone work his way.

Basically, the Orioles can't be much worse in 2008 than they were in 2007 because there is no where to go but up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Crowded House

The Orioles have done a good job acquiring a lot of decent talent to compete for the 2008 roster. Competition is good and will bring out the best in younger players. But that also means that some fringe players aren't going to make the team, and since they are out of options, they'll probably be released.

So get to know guys like Rocky Cherry, Brian Burres, and Scott Moore while you can, because there's a good chance they don't make the team.

This bothers me more than it probably should. Here's why...

The Orioles are in a full rebuilding mode. Gone are any fantasies of the Orioles reaching that serene mountain that is a .500 season. This year's team is going to be bad.

So it makes sense to give different guys a shot. But as it stands, the likes of Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff and Jay Gibbons are crowding the roster which means that someone like Scott Moore doesn't stand a chance to make the team, much less get a decent amount of playing time, like he should.

Who is Scott Moore you ask?

Moore was acquired along with Cherry and a PTBNL when Andy MacPhail pulled that rabbit out of the hat and traded Steve Trachsel to the Cubs last year.

Moore has some decent MiL numbers including a career .793 OPS. He strikes out a ton, but has decent power and could become a solid 3B as Mora declines, and could even play some 1B. Problem is, he's blocked at every turn by the above veterans.

Andy MacPhail isn't close to trading or releasing any of the vets, and things may change as sprint training begins, but I can't see the O's trading enough of their dead weight to make room for Moore, and the chances of them eating a contract or two become even less likely.

Dave Trembley loves veterans, he lived by them last year even at the end of the season when all hope was lost, and one has to think that if Mora, Payton, Millar, Huff and Gibbons are on the team in 2008, they will get their fair share of playing time. Add to that the likes of Freddie Bynum and Brandon Fahey, Trembley favorites who are solid defensively, but swing swiss-cheese bats at the plate.

One also has to think that Steve Trachsel, who signed a MiL contract with a ST invite, has a pretty good shot of cracking the rotation as well, blocking one of the several pitching prospects who deserve to be given a shot in the starting rotation.

We are rebuilding after all.

Losing someone like Scott Moore isn't likely to raise many eyebrows in Oriole Nation. But it's just another small example of the Orioles not embracing the rebuilding process, like they failed to do last year when J.R. House and Jon Knott were busy spitting sunflower seeds in Norfolk while Fahey, Bynum, Fahey, Bako and Payton all collected their meaningless AB's.

The O's may be paying for the sins of past GM regimes, with all these declining veterans and their hefty contracts to sort through, but if they want to get better, they should find a way to shed them one way or another.

I'll wait to see what happens, but it doesn't look good.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Follow the Trax

The O's threw a monkey-wrench into the Josh Fogg signing speculation by signing Steve Trachsel to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training today.

One would think that this makes the proposed Josh Fogg signing redundant, but these are the Orioles after all. Don't put it past them to scrounge up as much pitching as they can, both young and old.

Anyway, I believe that the O's wanted Trax back to mentor the younger pitchers for another season, whether that is in Baltimore or Norfolk, since a lot of the O's pitching prospects will no doubt be spending a lot of time there this season as they wait for their turn in Baltimore.

Apparently, Trachsel enjoyed his time with the Orioles and the young pitchers, so if he wants to come back with that as his primary objective in 2008, that's fine with me.

It also doesn't necessarily mean that the O's won't sign Fogg, either.

But if Trachsel and Fogg end up in the rotation at the same time while our pitching prospects are racking up meaningless innings in Norfolk, the old-school Bad Oriole will be back with a vengeance, baby!

Fogg horn

According to reliable inside-sources on the Orioles Hangout message board, the Orioles have agreed to a contract with veteran starting pitcher Josh Fogg, which will be announced sometime this week.

But, after the Bedard trade was dragged out, I'm guessing that the Fogg signing will be announced sometime between now and Armageddon.

Fogg is a 31 year-old RHP, has a career ERA of 4.90 in the NL and doesn't strike out many batters. On the surface, he appears to be a younger Steve Trachsel. He'll get you about 170 inning a year and is pretty consistent.

You know what you're getting with Fogg. And that's the problem.

It's understandable that the O's want some insurance when it comes to their 2008 rotation. Even though they have a surplus of young arms that could easily fill out the '08 starting rotation, it's safe to have at least one guy who gives your bullpen a rest while giving you the average 6 IP and 4 ER each start.

But if the O's were going to sign a veteran SP like this, to eat innings and give the bullpen a rest, they should have been a little more creative.

For instance, Bartolo Colon is still a free agent. Now, he has been injured the last 2 years, limited to only 56 and 99 IP each year. So he's not exactly inning eating material right now. Colon has also looked horrible during the last 2 years, too.

But healthy, Colon gives you 200+ innings easy, and can be Cy Young worthy.

If the O's wanted to maximize their returns, while also insuring their young rotation, they could have signed Colon to a cheap, incentive-laden deal, hope he gets back to his old self, and then trade him at the deadline when the youngsters have had some time to get their feet wet and don't need the veteran leadership in the rotation anymore.

Worst case scenario, Colon is hurt or ineffective, fails to meet the incentives of the contract and sits out the rest of the season on the DL while the next young pitching prospect gets his shot. No harm, no foul.

With Fogg, you know he's going to give you a 5-something ERA. You know he's going to be mediocre enough to not get benched in favor of the next young pitcher who is waiting for his turn.

Fogg is also not going to get you a lot in return if you look to move him at the deadline. Granted, Andy MacPhail was able to squeeze the Cubs for more than we thought he could when he traded Trachsel to Chicago last year, but that was a magic act that likely can't be repeated. No, Fogg is likely here the entire season.

It's not horrible. But I would've just liked to see the O's think creatively here. This just reeks of "let's get the most mediocre guy we can get and see if the planets align for him". And when the O's appear to be changing for the better, it still hurts a bit to see them make a move like this, which was their M.O. over the last 8 years.

And for that, it seems like the O's aren't completely out of the Fogg just yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Keep in mind...

When Erik Bedard is racking up 20 wins and pitching the Mariners to the postseason next year, just remember, this trade needed to happen.

Believe me, it's going to be hard to keep it in perspective.

But the Orioles finished no better than 70 wins in the 2 seasons where Bedard flipped the switch on and became a dominant pitcher. And as they stood at the time of the trade, the O's weren't going to be any better with him either.

Things are probably going to get worse, a lot worse, before they get better for the Orioles. But unlike the last few years, with the losing comes a real sense of optimism, that any of the 10 players acquired for Tejada and Bedard thus far, can help the Orioles get on the winning track.

Never before have the Orioles had this many options at pitcher. The O's have had their share of problems in the past, but they've never had this problem. There are probably 12-15 pitchers in the system right now that all project to be impact players in the majors.

Of course, not all of them are going to make it. Hell, I think having 5 of those 15 pan out are about as good as it gets. But let's not forget the importance of competition.

Before, a guy like Bedard or Loewen or Markakis has simply been given the job and told it's theirs to lose. And while a lack of competition may not have hurt any of these players, competition for their position wouldn't have hurt either.

Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Hayden Penn, Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz... all of these guys are gunning for 1, maybe 2 spots in the starting rotation in 2008 and the competition will make them better for it.

And that's what the Orioles needed more than anything, was a system where guys are always on their toes, playing hard, and surrounded by others like them.

We've been prematurely mentioning a return to "the Oriole Way" the last few years, but now I think it can finally be mentioned again.

It's only the beginning. But at least we've begun.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Today, the Orioles completed the long-gestating Erik Bedard-to-the-Mariners trade that had dragged on for two grueling weeks.

Wait, only two weeks? That felt like two months.

Many fans (myself included) were waiting for the trade to fall apart, like most O's dealings have in the past few years. But sources throughout the MLB maintained that the deal was going to get done, even though they didn't know when.

It'll be a long time before we ever find out what took so long, but that doesn't really matter now that the trade is final. Just chalk it up to the Orioles still not being able to do much of anything easily, but at least they finally got it right.

Trading Bedard was a difficult thing to do. He's clearly one of the top arms in baseball, and a lefty to boot, but the Orioles were left without a choice. Trading him for as much young talent as they could get was the way to go.

And now it's official. What a relief.

As I mentioned before, Adam Jones should be a fixture in CF for years to come, and a few of the young arms acquired in the deal should be popping up in the starting rotation and bullpen starting in 2008.

Now the team's focus should shift to finishing another long rumored deal -- Brian Roberts to the Cubs.

It's unlikely that the Cubs would part with their top CF prospect, Felix Pie, but maybe the added waiting time will make the Cubbies more likely to give into the O's demands. Spring training is only a few weeks away and the Cubs have their eye on first place in the weak NL Central.

Meanwhile, an O's OF of Jones in LF, Pie in CF and Markakis in LF would be amongst the best, and youngest, in the major leagues.

Just don't mention the infield. It's still horrendous.

Anyway, if Pie can't be had, the O's wouldn't lose much by acquiring OF Matt Murton in his place. Murton is four years younger than Luke Scott, and already has very similar numbers. Acquiring either Pie or Murton would also make Scott expendable too, and many teams would like to have him, leaving even more options open for the O's.

On top of Pie or Murton, the O's would probably also be able to pry SP Sean Gallagher as well as one of Ronny Cedeno or Eric Patterson away from the Cubs. If I had my pick, it'd be Eric Patterson and his .827 MiL OPS.

At any rate, the lines of communication with the Cubs are there, but it's unknown whether Peter Angelos will allow Brian Roberts, the "face of the franchise" (a term that I hate) be traded.

So, the bulk of the Orioles' work this offseason is now complete, but there is still work to be done. Trading Brian Roberts is not as urgent as trading Bedard was, but now is as good a time as any.

The O's rebuilding process is now officially underway. And I couldn't be more excited.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Waiting Game

Ok, this is getting re-god-damn-diculous.

It's been almost two weeks since the O's/Mariners trade involving Erik Bedard was rumored to be complete and we're still inching toward a finish that may never come. Word is, all of the players the Mariners will be sending to the Orioles have taken their physicals. However it's still unknown if Bedard has taken his physical, is in Seattle or on his way to Seattle.

What's that saying? I know enough to know that I don't know?

The Erik Bedard trade has become a joke around MLB media circles and the Orioles, as usual, are the butt of said jokes. And rightfully so. A team that is looking to improve its image as much as its record in the standings shouldn't be getting so bogged down in such a trade.

What happened with the Tejada trade? Why did that happen so fast, and why has this taken so long? There is no reason the final announcement of such a trade should take this long. The players have apparently been agreed upon. Physicals have been taken, or are in the process of being taken.

So what's the hold up?

I hate to beat a dead horse, but how can I not come back to Peter Angelos in times like this? He's infamous for holding up transactions one way or another. So one has to think that he at least has some kind of involvement in slowing this trade down.

As for the trade, it's a very good trade for the Orioles, and one they should have been quick to pull the trigger on, before the M's realize what they're giving up and change their mind.

In total, the O's will reportedly get 5 players from the Mariners. The centerpiece of the deal is CF Adam Jones. Jones is one of the top-rated prospects in baseball and often compared to Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron. Jones would be the Orioles' opening day starter in CF, and if everything goes well, he'll be a long-term staple there like Brady Anderson was in the 90's.

The other MLB-ready player is relief pitcher George Sherrill. He's most likely be a candidate for closer in the absence of Chris Ray. At 30, Sherrill is a bit old to be a part of a rebuilding process, but his career 3.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP can offer some stability in the bullpen, something the O's desperately need after last year's disaster.

The other players in the deal are likely to be pitchers, including 20 year old Anthony Butler, 20 year old Chris Tillman and 24 year old Kameron Mickolio.

Butler has only thrown 141 innings in the minors, both at the A-ball level, but he's looked promising with a 3.95 ERA and 150 strikeouts.

Tillman is another A-ball pitcher, but with less promising results. Through 166 innings, he's collected 184 strikeouts, 81 walks, and a 4.91 ERA.

The final piece of the deal, Mickolio, has only pitched 85 innings in the minors, but 24 of them came at the AAA level. He boasts a 2.73 career ERA in the minors. While Mickolio will likely begin the year in Norfolk, he's the player most likely to reach the majors behind Jones.

So, like the Tejada deal, the Orioles will be getting two major league ready players, and some more quantity to fill out their once-barren farm system.

But that's only if the deal is completed.

It's not like this trade is the last thing the Orioles need to do this offseason either. There's still Brian Roberts to trade (which he should be), and a few of Huff, Millar, Payton, Mora and Gibbons to trade or jettison.

So, I don't know what MacPhail and the Orioles are waiting for. If Angelos is involved in this slow-down, god help us, but if not, let's close the deal and move on. There's still a lot of work to be done.