Thursday, December 17, 2009

O's getting busy

The Orioles made some moves yesterday, signing former Rockies 3B Garrett Atkins and former Braves relief-pitcher Mike Gonzalez. There were also rumblings about the Orioles getting in the mix for free agent OF Matt Holliday and Padres 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who is likely to be traded this offseason.

Where to begin?

Let's start with the surest bet, which is LHP Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be 32 in 2010 and was signed for 2 years, so it's safe to assume that he will continue to be the rock-solid 2.57 ERA, 11 K/9 pitcher that he's been over the life of his contract. He's filled in as closer during his time in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, which means that Gonzalez is your closer in 2010.

Gonzalez strikes out almost 11 batters per 9 innings pitched.

Gonzalez may remind a lot of people of George Sherrill, minus the flat brim, since he is left-handed, strikes out a ton of batters, but also walks his fair share too. But, his signing makes the bullpen much stronger, as it moves Jim Johnson back into the set-up role, where he flourished in 2008 and 2009 before shakily taking over the closer role for Sherrill.

Atkins looks to improve on his horrid 2009 season in which he had a .650 OPS.

Moving on to Atkins. After a rocky 2009 in Colorado, where he was replaced as the Rockies 3B after suffering through a miserable .650 OPS season, Atkins will look to get back to his former self. During 2006-2008, Atkins hit 21+ home runs. A change of scenery might do Atkins some good, but when looking at Atkins home/road splits, it appears Atkins was a product of Coors Field and its hitter-friendly high-altitude. Atkins career splits are .892 at home and .735 on the road. And over the last 2 seasons, Atkins failed to get that road OPS above .661. Ouch.

But let's face it, Camden Yards is not a pitcher's park by any means, so Atkins should improve a bit as he gets comfortable in Baltimore. He's known as a solid defensive 3B, so at the very least, he should be able to field his position well if he doesn't do much at the plate. And let's not forget that 3B prospect Josh Bell is waiting in the wings, and could force his way onto the Orioles at some point in 2010, so it makes Atkins' 1-year contract a safe risk for the Orioles to take.

As for the rumors surrounding Matt Holliday and Adrian Gonzalez, I am not sold on the Orioles actually following through with either player. Here's why:

Holliday will command a lot of money and years after his excellent 2009 season with Oakland and St. Louis. And with Holliday, it's important to remember that, like Atkins, he played a majority of his time in Coors Field. Holliday's career road OPS is .808. Above average, but nowhere near the 1.066 OPS he had during his career in Denver. But, if Andy MacPhail deems Holliday worth the contract he will get, Holliday instantly becomes the Orioles clean-up hitter and makes a line-up full of potential that much more dangerous.

To land Adrian Gonzalez, the Orioles will have to part with at least 2 of their top pitching prospects, which would likely be Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta, and that's not even factoring a 3rd or 4th prospect it would likely take to land Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the best young hittrs in baseball, and will be only 28 in 2010. His offensive stats have improved over the last 4 seasons. If the Orioles were expecting playoff contention in 2010, it would make perfect sense for the O's to trade for him. But it appears likely that the Orioles will be in for at least one more year of rebuilding in 2010, and Gonzalez becomes a free agent after 2011. It's also unlikely that he will extend with any team since he's so close to a massive payday in 2012.

So I'd pass on A. Gonzalez and look at free agent 1B such as Adam LaRoche or Carlos Delgado. Keep the pitching prospects.

So coming away from yesterday's Orioles movement, the O's filled two decent sized holes going into 2010. They've got a sure bet in Mike Gonzalez for closer and they've got a 3B in Garrett Atkins who could be a hit or a miss.

Neither move makes the O's substantially better, but it does make them a more fundamentally sound team.

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