Looking to the Left for a Lefty

 

Dan Duquette has said multiple times during Spring Training, that the Orioles still aren’t done building their roster, and that they still want pitching depth for the rotation.

Duquette wanted to get a left handed starter this offseason to replace Wei-Yin Chen but watched Scott Kazmir – the ideal candidate – sign with his idol Sandy Koufax’s team, the Dodgers, so that left the Orioles dealing with a trade if they wanted to get that starter.

I’ve mentioned Alex Wood from the Dodgers before, who Kazmir would have bumped out of the rotation, but with injuries to several Dodgers pitchers, including Wood himself, that seems out of the question now.

However, sticking in the NL West, there is one team that has multiple left handers that would each meet the Orioles needs for rotation depth in varying degrees, and that’s the Colorado Rockies.

The Veteran:  Jorge de la Rosa

 

At 34 years old, de la Rosa has pitched most of his career with the Rockies, and has put up textbook middle of the rotation starter numbers while serving as the Rockies’ ace the past few seasons.  He has a career FIP of 4.34,   K/9 of 7.54 and groundball to flyball ratio of 1.44 to go with a 93-75 record.

Innings wise, de la Rosa isn’t going to be a workhorse.  When healthy he’ll pitch around 185 innings and give you 32 starts (5.78 IP/G).  The key is “when healthy” though as he’s missed a lot of time with various ailments throughout his career.  On a bad year, you could expect to only get 20-25 starts out of him, but that might be all the Orioles need.

The Rockies are clearly rebuilding, even though they don’t want to say they are, and de la Rosa is only signed for this season, so it makes sense they would deal him for the right return.  His contract is for $12.5 million. so it isn’t hard to swallow for the Orioles who have shown that money is not a problem this offseason.  If he pitches well enough, the Orioles might even get a draft pick back for him by offering him a qualifying offer.

The Out of Options Guy:  Chris Rusin

 

Rusin doesn’t look like he has great numbers, but when you are out of options and left handed, you don’t have to have great numbers to be a somewhat attractive candidate to acquire.

He’s certainly not a strikeout pitcher with a career 5.65 K/9 but he does generate a lot of groundballs – a must to pitch in Coors Field, but also useful to pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the other parks of the AL East.   Rusin’s 1.92 GB/FB  would have led the Orioles’ starting rotation in 2015.

The best thing about Rusin is that he should be fairly cheap to acquire as he is out of options, 29 and not a part of the Rockies’ future.

The worst thing about Rusin is that when he did give up fly balls, over 15% of the time, they left the ballpark.

It’s a tradeoff, but Rusin may be the most affordable and low-risk option for a left-handed starter that the Orioles can get at this point.

The Wild Card: Tyler Matzek

 

Dan Duquette loves acquiring former first round draft picks, and Matzek is another one of players he could add to the roster.

Matzek is talented, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s also suffering from performance anxiety (just look at his walks – yikes!) and has bounced back and forth between the majors and minors to get his head right.

Orioles fans are quite familiar with this sight as we’ve seen numerous pitchers flame out like Daniel Cabrera and Hayden Penn, but Matzek is still young at only 25 years old, and has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in 2014 when he pitched a complete game shutout and was worth 1.7 fWAR in only 20 starts.

The Rockies don’t want to give up on him, and he does have one option left.  Still they have to weigh the risk of his value tanking if he can’t get his act together.

Dave Wallace had a lot of success with the Orioles pitchers in 2014 and with the Braves and Red Sox before that, and might be able to help Matzek achieve his potential if he can get his head right, and a fresh start in a new organization could do just that.  The minor league option could give Matzek more time to work on things in Norfolk, and Harbor Park is just about the coziest minor league park any pitcher could want to play in.

Because of his potential though, Matzek could prove more costly in terms of talent to acquire out of all the Rockies’ options, but in term of reward, he certainly has the highest potential.

The Return

As I’ve mentioned before, even though the Orioles’ farm system has a low ranking, they still have useful pieces to offer.  Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson. Parker Bridwell, Christian Walker and Trey Mancini are all possible trade chips that should be expendable.

Jorge de La Rosa should cost only one of those players and Chris Rusin probably wouldn’t even take one of those players.  Tyler Matzek on the other hand might take a couple or perhaps somebody like Miguel Gonzalez or maybe even Dylan Bundy.

Regardless of which deal they would make, there is no doubt the Rockies are currently the best match for what the Orioles are looking for.   Now the Orioles need to decide who they want and what price they are willing to pay to get them.

Why Jay Bruce might be what the Orioles need

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I’m reminded of the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” when I think of the failed Fowler pursuit by the Orioles.

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need”

The Orioles wanted Fowler to play RF for them, badly enough to give up their compensation pick that they got for losing pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, in spite of their farm system being ranked among MLB’s  worst.  They didn’t get him as he signed a 1 year deal with an option with the Chicago Cubs, so they still have a need for another RFer.

Looking at the free agent market, there isn’t a whole lot there.  There’s been some chatter about Austin Jackson, but he has only 22 games in RF with only  6 starts, and they all came last season when he was traded to the Cubs.  Like Fowler, his arm strength is also questionable.

That leaves the trade market, and although I’ve advocated for the Orioles prying away Andre Ethier, the Dodgers don’t seem to be motivated to move him any longer as they have questions marks of their own in the outfield.

So who else is out there?  Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds.

Bruce was a potential Plan B to signing Fowler as the Orioles have liked him for awhile, but now he could be Plan A.  The Orioles almost lost out though to their rivals to the north, but a potential three way trade between the Jays, Angels and Reds died when medical concerns about a prospect in the deal were raised, luckily for the Orioles.

So why is Jay Bruce even available?

Before 2014, Bruce was a perennial 30+ HR rightfielder that took walks (9-10% BB%) and got on base (.344-.365 wOBA) and played good defense, a perfect fit for the Orioles.  Then he had to have surgery on his right knee in May of 2014 and everything went downhill from there.

Last season Bruce still managed to slug 26 HRs, but his wOBA was only .309 in spite of his BB% returning to his career norm (8.9%).  The reason – Bruce’s BABIP was only .251, his lowest mark since his rookie season.  Teams are employing the shift more and more, and Bruce has had a lot of trouble trying to beat it as he continues to pull the ball to RF to generate power.

Still there were some positives to take away from 2015.  In spite of still having an swing percentage of pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) of 32.2%, Bruce managed to have his highest contact rates of his career – with a 77% contact rate overall and a 61.7%  contact rate for pitches he swung at that were out of the zone (O-Contact%).

Working with Scott Coolbaugh, who helped bring Chris Davis back from his dreadful 2014, and who improved Manny Machado’s hitting skills, should do wonders for Bruce IMO.

Defense currently might be Bruce’s best asset as he owns 73 career assists and has 30 DRS for his career in RF.  Bruce has an excellent throwing arm that would probably remind fans of Nick Markakis’.

His 5 DRS for 2015 in RF ranked him 7th out of qualified fielders according to Fangraphs and his 30 DRS over his career ranks him 7th for all RFers from 2002-2015.

Contract wise, Bruce is similar to what the Orioles would pay for Fowler as he’s signed for $12.5 million in 2016 with a $13 million option and $1 million buyout for 2017.  The Reds should be willing to eat some of that, but it shouldn’t take much to make a deal as at even $10 million per season Bruce could have value.

So let’s say the Reds kick in about $3.5 million – enough to reduce his salary for 2016 and pay the buyout for 2017.  What do the Orioles have to give up?  We don’t know what was headed back from the Angels or Jays to make the deal, but it shouldn’t take much.

I propose a package of Henry Urrutia, Tyler Wilson and Parker Bridwell for Bruce and cash.  Urrutia needs an extended shot to show what he can do at the major league level and he isn’t going to get that in Baltimore and Cincinnati needs somebody to play the OF to replace Bruce while their prospects develop.  Wilson and Bridwell are  future back of the rotation starters or bullpen arms that shouldn’t be missed too largely.  Even with the loss of Wilson and Bridwell, the Orioles still have enough pitching depth and should get more with this 2016 draft.

With Bruce, the Orioles would have this potential lineup against RHP:

3B Machado
LF Kim
CF Jones
1B Davis
DH Trumbo
C Wieters
RF Bruce
SS Hardy
2B Schoop

Against LHP, Bruce may still play but it’s likely he’d probably be platooned with somebody like Nolan Reimold or Dariel Alvarez as like most LH batters, he’s weaker career wise against LHP  (113 wRC+ vs. RHP,  97 vs. LHP).

Still with Bruce in the lineup, if he can recover his hitting skills from before 2014, and continue to play good defense, the Orioles would have a deeper lineup with better on-base capablity throughout, and they will have thoroughly improved their corner OF positions from what they were in 2015.

The Orioles wanted Dexter Fowler, but in the end they just might get what they need in Jay Bruce.

Image:  CC Image courtesy of Patrick Reddick on Flickr

Chris Davis is back, now what?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you know that the Chris Davis saga finally came to an end early Saturday morning when Davis agreed to a 7 year $161 million contract with $42 million deferred.  That only gives him a payroll commitment of $119 million over the 7 years of the deal, or $17 million per season, giving the Orioles some extra payroll flexibility during that period.

With Davis back in the fold, the Orioles projected lineup also looks a lot more powerful than it did at the end of 2015:

3B Machado
LF Kim
CF Jones
1B Davis
DH Trumbo
C Wieters
SS Hardy
RF Reimold
2B Schoop

Bench: C Joseph, OF Rickard, UT Flaherty, OF Urrutia

Still, the Orioles could use a leadoff or #2 hitter so that they can hit Manny Machado third in the batting order where he should remain for many seasons.  Nolan Reimold might be able to fill that role, or maybe Henry Urrutia, but the Orioles really could use a more proven player in RF, and preferably left handed.

So who is available?

There are still plenty of free agent OF bats out there, but really a trade would work out best for the Orioles as they aren’t going to spend for another OFer like Upton when they have needs elsewhere, and all of the lower tier players are platoon or reserve players at best. The Orioles still could get Upton on a 1 year deal, but he’s likely to get a multi-year deal from somebody this offseason.

Cespedes is someone Buck Showalter reportedly wants no part of, so I don’t see him on a 1 year deal either.

With the free agents and internal options off the board, that leaves the trade route, and the Orioles could fill two needs at once:

Trade with the Dodgers for OF Andre Ethier and LHP Alex Wood.

I’ve mentioned Ethier numerous times, but he fits the need in right field and could either bat second or leadoff .  It’s such a natural fit and this time with Wood coming back as well, it would be an even better fit.

Alex Wood was bumped out of the rotation when the Dodgers signed Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda and he struggled a bit in 2014 after being traded to the Dodgers with a 4.35 ERA and a dip in his K/9 and increase in his BB/9.

Orioles’ pitching coach Dave Wallace helped Wood gain the form he had in Atlanta when he was the minor league pitching coordinator for the Braves, so one would think Wallace would be able to help Wood if he were to be acquired by the Orioles.

His last full year in Atlanta, Wood had a 2.59 ERA in 24 starts with a 1.09 WHIP and 8.7 K/9.  He’s also not eligible to be a free agent until after 2019.

Dylan Bundy is the first name that comes up in a return for this package because he’s expendable, being out of options and having to slot in the Orioles bullpen.  With Davis back, a first base bat like Christian Walker also becomes expendable, or even Trey Mancini. The Orioles also have a number of other minor league arms like Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright or Parker Bridwell they could use to complete a deal.    I would also see if I could dump Brian Matusz’s salary as part of the deal considering the money left on Ethier’s contract.

Even with Wood acquired, the Orioles still could use more rotation depth:

Sign a couple of “injury ward” pitchers

Dan Duquette has had success in this area before,signing Bret Saberhagen to a 1 year deal before the 1997 season to essentially rehab with the Red Sox and re-signing him after that to a multi-year deal when he contributed to the Red Sox winning a wild card berth in 1998 and 1999.

The Orioles have a good sized list of pitchers in this category they could go after such as Doug Fister, Bronson Arroyo, Cliff Lee and Justin Masterson.

I’ve mentioned Fister and Masterson before here and both make sense but the idea of bringing in Cliff Lee really is intriguing. Lee would most certainly require a major league deal, but he also mentioned the situation would have to be “perfect” for him not to retire and sign with a club. Well with Chris Davis back, as well as one of the best bullpens in baseball, the Orioles seem like a “perfect” situation to me. Lee could spend some time to in the minors if need be and come up in June to help the Orioles secure a playoff berth.

With these moves let’s take a look at what the Orioles’ roster would look like:

Lineup:
RF Ethier
LF Kim
3B Machado
1B Davis
CF Jones
C Wieters
DH Trumbo
SS Hardy
2B Schoop

Bench:  C Joseph, OF Rickard, UT Flaherty, OF Reimold

Rotation:
SP Tillman
SP Jimenez
SP Wood
SP Gausman
SP Fister/Lee/Masterson

Bullpen:
LR Worley
MR Gonzalez
MR Jones
MR Brach
MR Givens
SU O’Day
CL Britton

That’s a pretty deep lineup, and moving Gonzalez to the bullpen would make it one of the deepest in baseball.  The rotation would be solid, and the Orioles could always add a TOR at the deadline if they felt they needed one.

Most importantly with all these moves, the Orioles never give up their first round draft pick.

There’s plenty that needs to be done before Opening Day, but there are some good options still available to the Orioles to complete their offseason re-tooling and put a World Series contender on the field on Opening Day.

It’s time to finish the job.

Why Chris Davis is still the best fit for Peter Angelos and the Orioles

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Happy New Year, Orioles fans!  With a new year comes another season of Orioles baseball for all of us to enjoy.   First, though the Orioles need to complete their offseason moves, as they still have a gaping hole in right field, the lineup and the rotation.  There is no need for the Orioles to rush to fill these holes however, as the free agent market continues to simmer for several Orioles targets and players are still available to trade for from other clubs.  One of those players is of course, Chris Davis

The backlash against Davis from some fans that are growing impatient is somewhat understandable.  The Orioles offered him a more than generous offer, but how many Boras clients have actually taken the first offer that was presented?  Even Mark Teixeira turned down the first offer he got from the Yankees, the team he wanted to play for according to a New York Times article written back in 2009:

“Once Leigh chose the Yankees, Teixeira instructed Scott Boras, his agent, to try to make the deal happen. Eleven days later, after a strained meeting, in which the Boston Red Sox walked out on Teixeira, he agreed to an eight-year contract with the Yankees.”

“Teixeira noted how he would not have taken “half as much” to play in New York, his first choice. But, once the Yankees increased their offer to $22.5 million a year from $20 million, he called it an easy decision. The improved offer came less than a week after Boston’s unsuccessful meeting with Teixeira.”

Soon, like Teixeira did with the Yankees, Davis will have to instruct Boras to work something out with Peter Angelos if he does want to play for the Orioles.

I’ve also seen backlash against Angelos for not moving on from Davis entirely.

Fans are saying instead the Orioles should sign one of the three premium outfielders on the market – Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton.

Had the Orioles not signed Hyun Soo Kim, I would agree any one of these outfielders would be a good fit, especially Gordon, but by signing Kim, the Orioles filled the hole they had in left field, as that is where he fits the best defensively.  Once that LF hole was filled, two of the outfielders, Gordon and Cespedes, were no longer good fits.

Why, you might ask?

There are no available records that show Cespedes has played right field professionally in either Cuba or the United States.  Gordon has only played right field in 3 MLB games and 7 minor league games.  He’s had more experience at first base with appearances in 54 games and 30 starts total.  Regarding their defense playing LF in MLB, Cespedes has a total of +32 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 409 games while Gordon has +97 DRS in 775 games.

As you can see, both of these players get most of their value from their tremendous defense in left field, so why would Angelos commit to have the Orioles play either player $100 million or more and move them to a position where they may not have the same value? 

Right field is not the same as left field, especially at Oriole Park at Camden Yards where you have to play the angles, the tricky right field corner and the out of town scoreboard.  So when fans say that Angelos should commit $100 million or more for a player to essentially play out of position, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  It would be a similar situation as if the Orioles signed Miguel Tejada in the 2003-2004 offseason to play third base.  Could he have done it?  Probably, but his defense (or reputation of) at shortstop was where the value was.  Now Tejada did wind up playing third base for the Orioles eventually, but it was on a one a 1 year deal for $6 million and the Orioles wound up trading him in July, so they didn’t even pay for the whole contract.  The Orioles aren’t going to make and shouldn’t risk making a tremendous investment for defensive value, when they have no idea if it will translate to another position.

Justin Upton however, has extensive experience in right field, having played the position with the Diamondbacks before being traded to the Braves and Padres, so it’s fair to say he could be an alternative to Chris Davis because he actually fits the hole the team has, even though he doesn’t bat left handed.

Both Davis and Upton have been looked at as being inconsistent offensively, so let’s see how the two stack up by looking at their career splits by month according to Fangraphs:

Chris Davis – Career
Month AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% wOBA wRC+
March/April .265 .350 .506 .856 10.4 .365 128
May .259 .333 .534 .867 9.0 .367 129
June .237 .310 .491 .801 9.3 .343 113
July .230 .287 .450 .737 7.0 .316 94
August .237 .321 .492 .813 10.0 .347 116
Sept/Oct .294 .369 .554 .923 9.5 .393 145
Justin Upton – Career
Month AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% wOBA wRC+
March/April .277 .357 .529 .886 10.4 .381 138
May .279 .366 .490 .856 11.4 .369 129
June .269 .366 .409 .774 11.7 .343 112
July .273 .340 .479 .819 9.5 .353 119
August .280 .356 .500 .856 9.8 .368 129
Sept/Oct .250 .322 .434 .756 8.8 .326 99

As you can see, Davis in spite of his down year in 2014, has had the more consistent pattern of peaking in the spring, tailing off in July before rebounding in August and especially in September. Especially of note is that he has a wRC+ of 145 in September and October  which bests Upton’s wRC+ of 138 in March/April and is much larger than Upton’s wRC+ in the same month.

Just looking within that timeframe of September into October, let’s see how the two players have performed over the past 4 seasons:

Chris Davis – September/October
Year AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% wOBA wRC+
2012 .320 .397 .660 1.057 9.5 .440 181
2013 .216 .304 .451 .755 11.3 .331 106
2014 .256 .326 .436 .761 7.0 .339 116
2015 .318 .469 .787 1.211 17.6 .494 220
Justin Upton – September/October
Year AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% wOBA wRC+
2012 .320 .362 .522 .884 8.7 .379 135
2013 .260 .336 .406 .743 10.3 .330 110
2014 .169 .233 .325 .559 5.6 .252 57
2015 .239 .337 .420 .757 11.9 .329 112

Upton’s production in September 2014 was downright terrible, and above average in the other years, with his best year in 2012, and he hasn’t come close to that yet.  Chris Davis had a monster September in 2012 and topped that performance in 2015 with his best September to date.  Davis’ BB% and wOBA have also been higher than Upton’s each year.

While Upton is a good player, and would be a good fit on the Orioles, he isn’t Chris Davis, nor can he produce like Davis can when he is locked in, so he still isn’t the best fit.

Davis, when healthy and locked in, can be one of the best hitters in baseball, and in 2015 during the month of September into October, Davis did have the best production in baseball with .001 wOBA and 1 wRC+ just above Bryce Harper.  His 220 wRC+ meant he had the production of more than two league average hitters.  The Orioles could have fielded only an 8 man lineup of league average hitters in that timeframe, and still would have had league average production.  Now that’s called making a difference.

Also Davis is one of five Orioles hitters to have at least two seasons with a wRC+ of 145 or more with the other four being Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken.  That’s pretty good company.

So when you see that breakdown, and look past the batting average, strikeouts and look past the ADD drug issues that ruined his 2014 campaign, you can see the ability Davis has for carrying a team, and why Peter Angelos continues to keep the conversations going.

Chris Davis is the best fit for the Orioles, and Orioles fans deserve to see some more history made in Baltimore with him wearing the orange and black.

Image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Chris Davis Saga – Less Like Teixeira, More Like Holliday

Greetings once again Orioles fans, and actually I should say “Seasons Greetings” as we are in not only the holiday season but the offseason of MLB as well.  It’s been awhile since I last wrote here on this site, but I wanted to weigh in on the Chris Davis saga that is the headline of the Orioles’ offseason thus far.

Here’s what we know:

  • The Orioles offered a deal to Davis some time before the Winter Meetings in the ballpark of 7 years, $150 million, with possible deferred money.
  • The Winter Meetings is where they hoped to get a deal, but Davis’ agent, Scott Boras basically slow-played Duquette and Peter Angelos, who still wants Davis back in an Orioles uniform.
  • The Orioles have only talked with Boras and not Davis.
  • Boras is looking for an 8 year/$200 million deal for Chris Davis
  • The Orioles have apparently withdrawn their offer but have left the door for either Davis or Boras to come back and re-start negotiations, but the Orioles have not guaranteed they will have the resources to make the same offer if they move on to other options.

Got all that?

One might get the impression that Davis does not want to play for the Orioles again, because the tactics that Boras seems to be employing, and the way negotiations are playing out, sound somewhat similar to the Mark Teixeira saga of the 2008-2009 offseason.

In that negotiation, the Orioles made an offer, never withdrew it, thought they were still in negotiations all along with little to no progress with Boras, only to be spurned by Teixeira as he signed with the Yankees.  It’s worth noting that the Red Sox were really spurned the worst, as they thought they were close enough in negotiations that they flew all the way to Texas with a contingent including the owner John Henry  to try to wrap things up, only to leave with nothing but expended jet fuel.

So is Davis going to spurn the Orioles like Teixeira did?

I don’t think so, and the reason for that is that he wants to return to Baltimore, and also I think  that the Orioles learned an important lesson with the Teixeira negotiations, and have copied some of the Cardinals’ negotiation tactics with another Boras client, Matt Holliday in the offseason of 2009-2010

The Cardinals had acquired Holliday from the Athletics at the deadline after he had been traded from the Rockies in the previous  offseason because Boras refused to have him sign a 4 year extension worth $18 million per season.  Holliday helped propel the Cardinals to the NL Central title, and there was mutual interest in him coming back on a long term contract.

Of course, Scott Boras, seeing as he got an 8 year/$180 million deal for Mark Teixeira in the offseason before, immediately recognized that besides Jason Bay, Holliday was the best position player on the market and he let people know it:

Boras called Holliday one of “less than 30 franchise players” in the major leagues, and indicated that he considers Holliday on a similar plane with Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million contract with the New York Yankees last winter.

“I’m not here to put ceilings on players,” Boras said. “But certainly, I think the comparison of the type of players they are and the impact they could bring … it’s there for the two of them.”

In that offseason, Holliday’s market, like Davis’ was fairly limited.  At that time, only the Cardinals, Mets, Angels and Giants were looked at as possible suitors, with the Yankees as an outside candidate.  The Orioles should have been a suitor as well, but I digress…

The Cardinals’ first offer to Holliday – $15-16 million over eight years – was reportedly below that annual value what he turned down for an extension from the Rockies earlier.  That offer would also be about $52-53 million short of what Boras wanted but it was also the highest offer ever offered by the Cardinals to any player.

Sound familiar?

Boras of course, didn’t accept that offer and the Cardinals weren’t going any higher:

Boras has attached Holliday’s market value to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million deal as a free agent last winter. Teixeira also is a Boras client.

The Cardinals steadfastly refuse to enter that neighborhood; hence, a seeming impasse. Though classifying a continuation of talks as encouraging, a source familiar with the process denied significant movement in the past several days.

A seeming impasse, continuing talks, yet no significant movement.  Yep this is definitely sounding familiar.

Let’s move forward to December 31, 2009 as Holliday remained unsigned, while Jason Bay, his competition, had signed with the Mets with a 4 year, $66 million contract.  After several weeks had passed since making their initial offer, the Cardinals were suddenly close to a deal:

The Cardinals have had a growing sense of optimism in recent weeks that they would be able to re-sign the left fielder and former batting champion, willing to let the market move around them while they focused on Holliday. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations said progress is “strong” and a resolution could come as early as next week.

Holliday’s representatives and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed ongoing talks.

“I’m still hopeful,” Mozeliak wrote in a text message. “But there is still work to be done.”

The Cardinals have led the pursuit of Holliday, first making a formal offer three weeks ago to his agent, Scott Boras. The exact details of the Cardinals’ current offer are not publicly known. Sources indicated the sides have discussed several structures, including a five-year guaranteed deal and an eight-year framework.

And here’s what happened that next week on January 6, 2010 as we all might know:

Matt Holliday has agreed to the richest contract in the illustrious history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

On Tuesday, the free-agent slugger announced on The Doug Gottlieb Show on ESPN Radio that he is re-signing with the team for seven years. The deal is worth $120 million — Holliday will make $15 million a season, plus another $2 million a year in deferred payments — with a vesting option for 2017. If the option doesn’t vest, then the Cardinals can either pick up the option at $17 million or take the buyout for $1 million.

The contract is contingent on Holliday passing a physical.

“Well, I think first of all going into free agency I had in the back of my mind that I really liked my time in St. Louis and felt it was a good fit for me and my family,” Holliday said on the show.

“At the end of the day we decided that was best for us.”

So at the end of it all, Holliday re-signed with the Cardinals for far less that Scott Boras wanted.  Holliday’s deal was 7 years for $106 in present value, with $14 million deferred and a vesting option for an additional $17 million, a far cry from the 8 year $180 million deal Boras thought he could get.

The reason is he had no market other than the Cardinals.  The Red Sox’s offer wasn’t even close enough to the Cardinals’ original offer to be worth consideration.   Once the Mets had signed Jason Bay – nobody else was looking for an expensive,  yet productive outfielder.

Some like Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal even questioned why the Cardinals increased their offer:

The Cardinals will say they caught a “break” on the average annual value of Holliday’s seven-year deal — $17.1 million, or about $16 million in present-day value when factoring in deferrals. That is a win of sorts, considering that Holliday wanted at least $18 million per season.

But seven years?

The contract will cover Holliday from ages 30 to 36 — his late prime, then post-prime. Holliday is a hard worker and tremendous physical specimen; those are not the issues. It’s just that A) deals of this length rarely work to the club’s benefit and B) the Cardinals did not appear to be seriously pushed by other suitors.

The Orioles were involved, no matter how much they deny it, but they would have needed to make a monster offer to persuade Holliday to leave St. Louis.

The Angels and Yankees never appeared serious on Holliday. The Red Sox made an early run. The Mets signed Jason Bay.

Sure looks like the Cardinals bid mostly against themselves.

I still don’t believe that part about the Orioles as I’m pretty sure Boras made them a mystery team just to make it appear like there was competition.

The takeaway is that Cardinals got Holliday, who wanted to stay in St. Louis to begin with, and they got him for the price they were willing to pay, not Scott Boras’.   Looking at that deal as well, it was good value for what they have got out of Matt Holliday so far.

So how does this apply to Chris Davis and the Orioles?

Well we know that Chris Davis would like to return to Baltimore just like Holliday wanted to return to St. Louis, so the Orioles have that in favor, as Teixeira wanted to be a Yankee.

Also the Orioles are the only known serious suitor right now for Chris Davis.  The Cardinals, ironically are the other team that as seen as a good fit and they have more interest in Alex Gordon and adding to their pitching staff.

The key with this negotiation is the Orioles don’t seem to want to play the waiting game like the Cardinals did, but ultimately if they are to re-sign Davis for the price they want to pay, that’s what they will have to do.  They could move on to other options and have said they will, but they haven’t closed that door.

Personally, I think the Orioles will play the waiting game with Davis, continuing the seemingly unproductive dialog with Boras, and you’ll see other bats like Alex Gordon, Justin Upton and other outfield and/or left handed bats sign elsewhere.  The Orioles might make a few moves like signing  Pedro Alvarez.  However,  like the Cardinals and Holliday, Davis is the player they want the most, especially owner Peter Angelos, who always seems to get the player he wants for better (Matt Wieters) or worse (Albert Belle) when he gets involved.

Eventually Boras won’t have a market other than the Orioles, and he’ll realize that the Orioles are the best fit financially and personally for Chris Davis and the two sides will reach a deal for close to what the Orioles originally offered, though potentially slightly higher – maybe an additional vesting option year like Holliday got would be added.  Folks like Ken Rosenthal will also surely say that the Orioles bid against themselves, but if they want Davis, they’ll have to do something to move the needle – that’s how negotiations work.

Of course I could be totally wrong and the Orioles could sign Justin Upton tomorrow, but in the end, they will not have been spurned, rather they will have spurned Chris Davis and Scott Boras in that case.

That would be a welcome change for Orioles fans that are so used to the opposite.

The wasted potential of Matt Wieters

When I think back to the 2008 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year season of Matt Wieters, I think of the following lyrics:

“So much time to make up everywhere you turn, time we have wasted on the way.”

Those of course are the lyrics to “Wasted on the Way” by Crosby, Stills and Nash and that song title is a perfect description for what the Orioles have done to Matt Wieters’ offensive potential over the course of his career in MLB.

Matt Wieters was once the best hitting prospect in baseball and his 2008 minor league season is one of the best performances in the past 10 seasons.    Fangraphs confirmed this with their new calculated stat of mWAR.

Wieters’ 2008 season performance checked in at #4 on the list behind the 2014 season of Kris Bryant, 2010 season of Brandon Belt and 2011 season of Jed Gyorko.  However, if you just look at the offensive component, Wieters “Bat” category is 3rd best behind Belt and Bryant.

Kris Bryant is the best prospect in baseball much like Wieters was heading into 2009 and Brandon Belt had a .841 OPS in 2013, but Matt Wieters has yet to crack a .800 OPS for any full season he has played.

Here’s what Wieters did in 2008 compared to his career splits with the Orioles:

AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% ISO
2008 Minors 0.355 0.454 0.600 1.053 15.4 0.250
Orioles 0.257 0.320 0.423 0.743 8.5 0.166

As you can see, Wieters hasn’t come close to meeting the numbers that he put up in the minors.  Now a dropoff was to be expected, but the dropoff that occured is quite shocking.  How did the Orioles let this happen?

The answer is they focused too much on what he did behind the plate instead of at it.

Baseball America ranked Wieters as the best college hitter in the 2007 draft yet the Orioles were obsessed with his throwing arm and skills behind the plate from Day 1.

Here’s what then co-GM Mike Flanagan and scouting director Joe Jordan had to say about him after he was drafted in an article for the Baltimore Sun:

“He has very soft hands and sets a good, low target,” Flanagan said. “And I like the way he calls a game.”

Said Jordan: “Pitchers love to throw to this guy. He’s not a vocal, throw-a-bat type of guy, but every pitcher that I’ve spoken with, the coaches at Georgia Tech, this guy is a leader.”

It was quite evident he would be a catcher first and a hitter second.

Then Wieters had his monster 2008 season and had a follow up 2009 Spring Training performance with a slash line of .333/.395/.513/.908 .  What did Andy MacPhail think after optioning him to AAA Norfolk?  Here’s what he said in an article for the Baltimore Sun:

“I think he had a good camp,” MacPhail said. “He certainly had a good spring offensively. He’s certainly one of the best disciplined young hitters that I’ve ever seen in my career. I think there is probably more work to do on the defensive side of the equation. Hopefully, he’ll continue the type of year he had last year and it won’t be long before we see him in Baltimore. Those things become self-evident over time.

So he was one of the best discplined hitters that MacPhail saw, yet the Orioles were focused on him improving defensively.

Wieters made his debut in late May of 2009 and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his bat with a .288/.340/.412/.753 line in 96 games that year.  In 2010 Wieters struggled mightly at the plate with a .249/.319/.377/.695 line, the worst of his career.

What was the problem?

Alex Eisenberg of Baseball-Intellect.com had this to say in July of 2010 when he looked at Wieters’ swing:

The first thing I noticed was Wieters’ hands were lower in 2008 than they are in 2010…What Wieters is doing in 2010 is really wrapping the bat behind his head. He’s creating a longer swing for himself…The high hands, the barring of the right arm, and the wrapping of his bat all combine to make his swing longer. Wrapping the bat can also keep the bat head from staying in the hitting zone for as long a time as it should.

So mechanical flaws were evident in 2010, especially his hand placement.

What did Wieters think?  He was interviewed by MLB.com before the 2011 season:

“My No. 1 job is to call a good game and get the most I can out of the pitchers,” Wieters said in a phone interview, “but I definitely want to help out the team a lot more [at the plate] than I did last year. I feel like I can have a better offensive year than I did last year, [and I’ve] been working hard to make that happen.”

Wieters did have a better season in 2011, with a slash line of .262/.328/.450/.778 and improved his ISO from .128 to .188.

He basically maintained his offensive output in 2012 with a .764 OPS but had a 10.1% BB rate, the highest of his Orioles career. However Wieters also started 132 games behind the plate for the Orioles, then a career high.

In 2013, he appeared in 140 games, starting 134 of them and led MLB in innings logged behind the plate with 1201.0 innings.  It should come as no surprise that his offensive production dropped off a cliff as he had his worst year since 2010.  Wieters managed only a .704 OPS and his OBP dipped to a career worst .287.  His power was still there though as he maintained a .182 ISO.

After logging that many games and innings it also took a toll on Wieters’ throwing arm and he began to feel discomfort in his forearm and elbow in April according to an article in the Baltimore Sun:

Wieters had been dealing with some right arm pain that initially started in his right bicep and flexor tendon. He missed a game April 22 in Toronto with what he called right forearm soreness that developed after he made a throw to second base a few days earlier in Boston.

“It was kind of forearm, and even a little bicep, just when I first did it on that throw [in Boston],” Wieters said. “And I think those symptoms we got a hold of and got control of, and then it kind of set into the elbow a little bit, and that’s when the real concern happens that you want to make sure you get it checked out and looked at.”

In spite of the soreness in his throwing arm however, he was hitting .341 with a .570 SLG, his best start in his MLB career.  In that same article manager Buck Showalter said that hitting didn’t  bother him at all:

“It doesn’t hurt him to hit at all,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s not a factor either way.

His career OPS vs. RHP (.709) was always worse than when he faced LHP (.830), but in 2014, Wieters was hitting RHP (.849) better than he was LHP (.799).

Why the sudden change?  Wieters finally made the adjustment that Alex Eisenberg noticed that he needed to make back in 2010.  Hitting coach Jim Presley talked about it with Roch Kubatko from MASNSports.com:

Wieters concentrated over the winter on finding a solution to his uneven splits and studied video with hitting coach Jim Presley before they came up with a few simple adjustments.

“He lowered his hands,” Presley said. “He was standing more erect. He’s lowered his hands where he can load up and keep his hands there and he doesn’t drift. That’s the main thing. So now he’s loading up and staying there. He’s not drifting as bad as he was the past couple of years.”

So it took five seasons for Wieters to fix what had been holding back his offense?  Why didn’t the Orioles see this sooner and why didn’t Wieters try to fix it sooner?

As I mentioned in an entry in 2014, the Orioles and Jim Presley were fine with what they were getting from Wieters even though they knew he had flaws in his swing vs. RHP.

With those flaws corrected though,  it seemed the Orioles were finally seeing the sustained offensive potential that Wieters showed in that huge minor league season in 2008.   When he threw however, the soreness persisted, so in spite of his hot start at the plate, he elected to have Tommy John surgery in June to deal with his sore elbow, ruining what would have likely been a breakout season for the switch-hitter.

He was a catcher first, and hitter second so he wanted to make sure he was ready to catch for the Orioles in 2015 before entering free agency instead of DHing.

But was it really worth it?

Matt Wieters did win two Gold Gloves and has had three All-Star appearances, but it was all mainly based on the reputation of his throwing arm which now may never be the same.

His pitch framing skills, however were average to start out at best and have become worse each season as pointed out by John Shepherd at Camden Depot.

The 2014 season also proved the Orioles could win without Wieters behind the plate as the two catchers that replaced him – Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley were much better framers of pitches.

The Orioles could have found multiple catchers via trade or free agency with Wieters’ receiving skills behind the plate or better, yet they focused on Wieters’ throwing arm instead of his best attribute – his bat.

Matt Wieters played some first base and DH at Georgia Tech as well as closing so he didn’t have to be a catcher full time.   The fact that he did do some closing at Georgia Tech as well as caught in the same game should have also raised some red flags to the Orioles that they needed to protect his throwing arm instead of exploiting it as the injury he had may have indeed originated in college and just became more aggravated the more he used his throwing arm as a catcher.

Instead, the Orioles used him and abused him behind the plate game after game, and in turn likely robbed themselves and the fans of seeing one of the most potent bats in MLB history.

Imagine if Wieters didn’t have to focus on his defense behind the plate and could concentrate more on his hitting.  Perhaps he would have lowered his hands earlier and got back to his minor league stance and with it, the tremendous production.  His sore arm may have also not been as much of an issue if it cropped up at all.

In 2015 the Orioles will get one last chance to see what kind of hitter Matt Wieters was supposed to be before he likely leaves the team in free agency.

With his recovery from elbow surgery, the Orioles have the advantage of being able to have Wieters focus more on his offense as a DH and if he keeps his lowered hands and upright stance, the results should be similar to what he started in 2014.

If I were the Orioles, I’d make Wieters the primary DH vs. RHP for awhile and not let him catch more than 80-100 games total.  If they do that, fans should hopefully see what they saw for a brief point last year and should have seen all along from 6 seasons ago.

There’s so much time to make up, and the Orioles have wasted Wieters’ offensive potential on the way.

Let Wieters’ offense finally blossom, free of the burden of catching every day, and he could carry the Orioles to a World Series title.

 

 

 

What I learned from Scott Coolbaugh about the Orioles’ offense in 2015

Last season at this time of year, hitting coach Jim Presley was a guest on the “Hot Stove Baseball” show on WBAL, and just about everything he said made me and likely many Orioles fans cringe.   I wrote an entry about it, because I knew he was setting the tone for another year of an unbalanced offense of free-swingers, stranded runners and wasted opportunities.

Although they won the AL East, that offense was largely to blame for the Orioles missing their best shot at a World Series in years when their power was neutralized against the Royals in the ALCS.

Fast-forward one year later, Presley is gone, and new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh was a guest on “Hot Stove Baseball”, now on 105.7 The Fan, to talk about his philosophy and what he thought about the Orioles’ offense in 2015.

Here’s what he had to say:

Coolbaugh started off the interview by saying that he was “aggressive”  and wanted the Orioles to have their bats “moving” during an at bat.

Uh-oh, here we go again?  Not so fast.

He said he could mention all the cliches about hitting, but his relationship with the hitters was what was the most important.

When asked about changing styles and getting free-swingers  like Adam Jones to walk more is when the change in philosophy was evident.

This leads me to the first point.

1.  Orioles hitters will have a plan at the plate this season

Coolbaugh mentioned that he wants to find out what the hitters are thinking when they were at the plate.  He said that he would work with each hitter to maximize their strengths.

When asked about Jones, he wanted to sit down with Adam and have a conversation.  Perhaps he wouldn’t swing at a certain pitch  in an at-bat (slider low and away would be one)?   Overall he didn’t want to take away what made Jones successful, but felt he could add some things in the way Jones approached his at-bats that might get him to be able to take a few more walks and get on base more as a result.

This was quite refreshing to hear about Jones.  He’s an aggressive hitter, but if he could refine parts of his game – he could be a monster.  Presley wanted to leave him alone, while Coolbaugh is going to try to make him better.

The biggest takeaway for me was that Orioles hitters weren’t just going to go up to the plate, guess and swing away as they did under Presley. They would have a plan for each pitcher and a different approach depending on how they were being pitched.

2.  Hitters will know their role and be asked to stick to it.

Coolbaugh mentioned that the bottom of the order is where he thought he could refine some hitters like Schoop who should be striking out less, putting the ball in play and getting on base instead of trying to hit for power all the time.  He wanted to make sure top through bottom that guys were able to score runs.

Schoop was mentioned in particular as a guy that Coolbaugh would work with to cut down his aggressive swinging and strikeouts to get him to get on base more.

Again, this is quite refreshing because Orioles hitters 1-9 always seemed to swing for the fences, Machado and Schoop in particular, when a base hit could have been enough.

3. OBP will be a priority this season.

Coolbaugh mentioned that while he wanted hitters to be aggressive, OBP and scoring runs in general were a priority of his.  He mentioned Earl Weaver’s three-run HR as a staple.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard an Orioles hitting coach mention OBP as a priority.  I think we all know too that you don’t hit three- run HRs without guys on base.

Finally it seems that Dan Duquette and the coaching staff are on the same page when it comes to wanting a more balanced offense that can take advantage of the power it has in the lineup.

Overall I feel so much better about the direction of the Orioles’ offense this season than I’ve felt in years.  It will remain to be seen how Coolbaugh interacts with the veteran players like Jones to see his philosophy take fruit, but already, it’s miles beyond where Presley wanted to steer the offense.

A  new hitting coach, and new philosophy will hopefully maximize the potential of the Orioles’ talented hitters in 2015.

The Orioles would be A-OK with Nori Aoki

The Winter Meetings have come and gone and the Orioles still have at least one corner outfield spot open.  Sure they state they can play a combination of Pearce, Lough and De Aza there, but the reality is that none of those players are really suited to be a full time option. The Orioles also think that Dariel Alvarez  and/or Mike Yazstremski might be ready to take over a spot soon as well, so the Orioles aren’t looking for a long term option in either corner.

Outfielders are scarce in quality and quantity this offseason, but there is still one free agent left that fits the Orioles and that is Nori Aoki.  The Orioles are said to have “limited interest”, but Aoki has been the best fit to replace Nick Markakis at the top the Orioles’ order and in right field all offseason.

I’ve been a champion of Aoki since he was first introduced to MLB three offseasons ago because he does all the little things – working the count, getting on base and has good speed once on the basepaths.  He’s not exactly a gazelle in the outfield by any means, but he makes the plays and rates well overall (+10 DRS, +8.4 UZR/150) in spite of his down year in Kansas City (-8 DRS).

The quality I like most about Aoki is that he battles pitchers and doesn’t give away at-bats.  With a 3.80 P/A mark last year and having a 3.76 P/A statistic for his three year career, Aoki certainly does not fit into the free-swinger category.   His 26.4% O-Swing (percentage of swings outside the strike zone) would have ranked him first on last year’s Orioles above their two most disciplined bats, Steve Pearce (28.9%) and Nick Markakis (27.1%).

It’s true that he has very little power (career .387 SLG), but the Orioles have plenty of power even after losing Nelson Cruz with Chris Davis, Adam Jones,  J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters still in the lineup, and they could still get more from Machado and Schoop.  What the Orioles don’t have is a patient bat to put at the top of the lineup with speed to set the table and take advantage of that power and that’s why they need a bat like Aoki.

Contract wise, he should fit right into their plans as he’s seeking a three year deal, which means the Orioles might be able to get him for a 2 year deal with an option.  An $8-9 million figure per year also seems pretty reasonable for a 2.0+ fWAR performance.

The Orioles lost the ALCS because they didn’t have the on-base capability to account for their neutralized power, so they couldn’t manufacture runs like the Royals were able to do.  The Orioles have too many guys trying to be the hero and not enough players just willing to set the table.

Aoki is that guy, a journeyman now, but a solid addition to any lineup and the perfect fit, both as a  player and contract wise, for an Orioles team looking to fix their weaknesses and get back to the World Series.

Looking back at 2014

So it’s been awhile since I’ve written here, and as we approach the Winter Meetings, it’s the time to look back at the Orioles’ 2014 season.   Let’s look back specifically at some predictions I made earlier to see how clairvoyant or completely out in left field I was:

1.  Manny Machado won’t return to the Orioles until May. 

Dead on with this one.  Machado returned to the lineup on May 2nd after we’d heard he’d make the Opening Day roster in the offseason. And now once again he’s on the DL with another knee issue that ended his season.  Let’s hope the Orioles actually go get some insurance this time because I wouldn’t bet any money on Machado being healthy for Opening Day in 2015.

2. We will see the 3B and SS combo of Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado for the first of many seasons beginning in 2014.

Dead wrong here.  Hardy stayed healthy enough to play 141 games in 2014 and Schoop got all of his playing time at 2nd or 3rd.  With the extension now signed by Hardy, it seems Schoop will not be playing SS or 3B for that matter unless there is an injury.

3.  Tommy Hunter will lose the closer role by May. 

Hunter was removed from the closer’s role in mid-May and Zach Britton took over and never looked back.  I said that Britton as closer would be an interesting storyline and it was, as he was able to save 37 games for the Orioles.  This seems to be his new role going forward, while Hunter is very much likely to be trade bait with his cost going up.

4.  Johan Santana will be in the Orioles’ rotation by June.

This one looked like it was going to come true until Santana blew out his Achillies tendon and was lost for the season.  He’s still working out in Sarasota, so he might give it one more shot with the Orioles on a minor league deal.

5.  David Lough will play his way onto the bench by July.

Lough struggled early and sure enough was removed to have Pearce, Cruz, Young and then De Aza take away his playing time in LF while he was reduced to pinch hitting and running.  Lough likely will be non-tendered this December.

6.  Ubaldo Jimenez will emerge as the ace of the Orioles over Chris Tillman by the All-Star Break. 

Yikes, this was bold, and wrong.  Jimenez had a few flashes, but pretty much was a disappointment for the Orioles, culminating in his being left off the postseason roster.  Now the O’s are looking to move his contract elsewhere.  Odds are though he’ll wind up breaking camp with the Orioles in their rotation next season.

7.  Delmon Young will be DFA’d by September

Another wrong prediction, however, wrong in a good way.  Delmon Young was a fantastic PHer and even played a crucial role in the playoffs.   Young is a free agent, so I’m not sure if the Orioles will bring him back, but he certainly earned the role he had on the Orioles last season – something I did not expect.

8.  One of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez will not be an Oriole by the end of August. 

This came true when the Orioles dealt ERod to the rival Red Sox for crucial bullpen piece, Andrew Miller.  It’s a trade I would have made any day of the week, but the Orioles should have done more at the deadline and may have been able to package ERod in a bigger deal.

9.  The Orioles will make a major trade or two by August. 

I guess you could count Andrew Miller as a major trade, but in reality the Orioles did not trade for a top starter or impact bat.    They were able to win the AL East and progress to the ALCS without those additions, but the Royals exposed how badly they needed to improve their rotation and OBP.

10.  Steve Clevenger will play his way into a platoon with Matt Wieters.

Well Wieters did get hurt, but it was Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley that was the platoon.   Showalter just doesn’t like Clevenger for some reason.  I don’t really get it as his bat is solid and so is his pitch framing.  He may not have the best throwing arm, but neither did Jason Varitek.   We’ll see if Clevenger will just be minor league fodder or if the Orioles will actually let him have a bigger role.

Bonus prediction – The Orioles will play Game 163 against the Rays for a Wild Card berth and the winner will win the World Series.

Well this one was wrong too – as we all know the Orioles won 96 games and the AL East.  The Rays faltered and traded off David Price and finished in 4th.   The Oriole did advance to the ALCS but fell short of their World Series goal.

So I’ll say I got 4.5 out of 10 right.  We’ll see how the offseason will shake out, and that will be my next entry on what I think the Orioles should do versus what I think they’ll do.

 

 

Give Pearce a Chance!

When Chris Davis was hurt and was placed on the DL, many thought the team would struggle and that Davis’ offense couldn’t be replaced. However, Steve Pearce, who was foolishly DFA’d by the team a week earlier, took over at first base full time and put up a .271/.327/.521/.848 line while having a +17.0 UZR/150 defensively.

His reward?

6 PAs since Davis came back from the DL with his last appearances on the 13th.

Meanwhile Delmon Young has also had 6 PAs and David Lough has had 16. They’ve combined to go 3-19 with Lough having the 3 hits.

Even though he put up the numbers he did with Davis out and with the team struggling to score runs, they are once again leaving him to rot on the bench.

Pearce has better career numbers than David Lough and had a good year defensively in LF when he played there in 2013. He has also proven he can more than hold his own vs. RHP as well as hit LHP.

Why then does Buck Showalter continue to not put his potent bat in the lineup?

Steve Pearce has proven he can help the Orioles win multiple times but he can’t do it on the bench.

Buck Showalter and the Orioles must give Pearce a chance.