BSL O’s Roundtable: Early Offseason Topics

There are already several rumors, possible trades, intriguing free agents, and much more swirling about early in the MLB offseason. BSL’s O’s Analysts took a look at a few of the hot topics people are talking about, and give their opinions on what the O’s should do.

You’ll get our opinions below, but we’d love to hear yours on the BSL Forums here.

Patrick

Jeff, Lance -

I’m sure you guys have seen the news that the Orioles are open to including catcher Matt Wieters in a trade package. According to sources, he’s not actively being shopped around, but the team definitely isn’t hanging up on people when they hear his name.

(September 19, 2013 - Source: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images North America)

(September 19, 2013 – Source: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images North America)

My thoughts are that we’ve pretty much seen what Wieters is, and it’s not who we thought it would be in the minors. His offensive numbers have been declining since he came into the league. He tends to rate poorly in pitch framing, which is an under-appreciated ability that has only recently gotten a real quantitative analysis. I’ve only heard anecdotal evidence that he’s good with game planning and handling young pitchers, so I can’t speak to his effectiveness there. I don’t know that this is a unique trait, either.

I think his price will driven up by the fact that he’s got some of the better offensive numbers among catchers, but we can get the same production for less if we focus on other positions. A left fielder, for instance, with similar offensive numbers would be relatively inexpensive. Nate McLouth had a better OBP, SLG, OPS+, and slightly less oWAR (1.7 to 1.5) and would cost a fraction of what Wieters would get on the open market. I’d like to see the Orioles use that money to fill other holes, like OBP, and get a guy at catcher that can replicate what Wieters did defensively (which in 2013 was not much: he held a -0.3 dWAR and -13 DRS). He plays a ton of games, and that leads to injury and position moves as catchers get older more often than not. It would be a shame to see the Orioles break the bank to get an unlikely extension done and then have to move him to first, where he would be overpaid for his production.

That being said, this seems like a bad time to trade him. He’s arbitration-eligible through 2015, so why not ride out another year of relatively inexpensive, above-average offense and defense from the catcher position? I know that part of his trade value is tied to that low arbitration salary but he can hopefully only do better than what he did in 2013. I’d like to think he’d look better as a player next year, even if a team looking to trade for him wouldn’t benefit from that extra year of arbitration. At the least, maybe he improves his play enough to cancel out any change in value from contract status and we get another year of good, cheap, catching.

What do you think? Time to trade the Switch-Hitting Jesus?

 

Lance

I disagree that this is a bad time to trade him. I think this is the absolute best time to trade him because we could pick up his replacement in free agency. While Brian McCann is likely out of the picture from a financial standpoint, I am a huge fan of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and believe that it’d be worth signing him to a four year deal to alleviate the loss of Wieters if we were to trade him.

At least under that scenario you have certainty at the catcher position for the next four years or so at a locked in cost, which would be far less than you’d pay Wieters in a long-term contract, and it would be with a guy that could provide adequate defense and better than average offense from a very thin position across the majors.

On top of that, I don’t think we’d be selling low on Wieters. Catcher is such a thin position that even with his down year offensively he’s still a top four catcher across the board. You could get a front-line starter, or a guy with that kind of upside who is already in the majors, for him and some. It’s worthwhile trading him while you can get a solid replacement in free agency and wouldn’t have to worry about taking a lesser deal just to get a catcher in return.

 

Jeff

You both bring up interesting points, and I think there’s merit to both sides. On one hand, Wieters didn’t exactly light the world on fire last season. He posted his lowest wRC+ since 2010, his first full season in the big leagues. To Patrick’s point he’s gotten progressively worse over time, dropping in the fWAR rankings of hitters since 2011: 27th in 2011, 39th in 2012, and 89th in 2013.

That said, he was still a 2 and a half win player last season according to FanGraphs, which has a ton of value for a catcher. He plays a ton of games, no fewer than 130 games since becoming a full time player, and gets 500 at-bats a season. His defense is supposedly great, but some of the intangibles are big question marks with him.

Ultimately you get a wash in market forces. The free agent market has a lot of options at catcher which means teams will be less apt to pay big for Wieters, especially coming off a poor offensive season. That said, it would be easier for the O’s to replace his production because there are a lot of options out there.

Ultimately, I think you move him. Better now than later I suppose, because you’d like Bundy or Gausman to get fresh starts with a new catcher if you sign someone long term. Also, you’ve got to be wondering what you can replace him with, and there are a lot of good (Salty?) and cheap (Navarro?) options out there. The question is: do you get an offer that you can’t not move him for?

Jeff

Staying with the trade topic; rumor has it that the O’s reached out to St. Louis to see if they’d be interested in a JJ Hardy for Shelby Miller swap. The Cardinals reportedly turned it down, but what kind of package would you be looking to get in return for a guy like Hardy?

(September 17, 2013 - Source: Winslow Townson/Getty Images North America)

(September 17, 2013 – Source: Winslow Townson/Getty Images North America)

For me, Hardy is another asset that likely has more value than many O’s fans suspect. I think the team was doing the right thing in pursuing Miller for Hardy, as young and talented pitching is a key to success in MLB these days. Miller was ranked as the 5th best prospect in Major League Baseball by Keith Law in 2012, behind a guy that we’re all pretty familiar with. While he tumbled to 21st in Law’s 2013 rankings, he showed he has big time stuff posting a 3.07 ERA in 170+ innings this season.

Perhaps Miller is off the table altogether, but the O’s should come back with a counter involving Hardy + additional pieces to see if the Cardinals will budge. Miller should be priority number 1 if the team moves Hardy.

Moving off Miller, you’re going to want to target the same profile there: young, pre-arbitration eligible, talented, starting pitcher. Obviously if someone offers you a top 25 hitting prospect for Hardy you think about it very long and hard (or not, depending on who it is). I think there might be other prospects on the Cards that the O’s would want to inquire on as well:Carlos Martinez (39), Trevor Rosenthal (58), Oscar Taveras (2), and Kolten Wong (96). The last two guys are nearly MLB-ready hitters who could fill huge holes on the O’s roster immediately.

What do you think makes sense for the club, if they do end up moving Hardy this off-season?

 

Patrick

I think if you move Hardy, you move him for pitching. I was surprised to hear that the Cardinals were so quick to turn down a Hardy-for-Miller swap, straight up. You’d think that if they had any intention of moving Shelby Miller, they’d come back asking for Hardy plus a high-level prospect. That they didn’t makes me think that they would need to be overwhelmed to trade Miller, and I don’t think the Orioles should do that. Our top prospects look promising, but past a handful of guys, my impression is that it’s pretty thin.

The Orioles, in my opinion, are in a good place regarding Hardy: they have Manny, who is capable of playing very good shortstop (whether he will or should be moved there is a totally different discussion), they have a team made up of power hitters, which is JJ’s calling card, and he’s under contract for another year. They can afford to sell a few home runs from a usually power-depleted position and not lose a step. The Orioles can wait for a good return in a deal. They can look to win in a trade or bring back a fantastic shortstop with unusual power numbers, which I would still consider a win.

The only downside to holding onto him is that he probably won’t be worth a QO, so he might leave in a year without the Orioles getting anything back. I’d be willing to take that risk if the return for Hardy in a trade isn’t enough.

I’d keep pushing along the same lines: Hardy for young, quality pitching. Personally, I want a guy who has already done a stint in the minors and is major-league ready because I’m pretty pessimistic about the Orioles’ development of young pitchers. Sticking with the Cardinals, I’d inquire about Wacha. He’ll probably come back to earth a little bit, but I think he projects to be a good, consistent starter. His 1.098 WHIP in 15 starts would look great in black and orange. What about asking for a package of guys including someone like John Gast? He might be cheap coming off of an injury, looked okay in 3 starts but very good in his last year in the minors, and he’s just 24. By the way, I haven’t kept track of MiLB until I started writing, so my knowledge of farm systems is limited. Let’s delete that if Gast is really horrible.

Lance, since you have some more experience of farm systems, I’m really interested to hear what you think.

 

Lance

Sticking with the rumor that the Cardinals turned down a straight up swap of Hardy for Miller, I think I’d counter with a “we’ll trade you Hardy for Lance Lynn and Pete Kozma”. Lynn profiles better for Camden Yards anyway, in my opinion, due to his arsenal being better able to induce ground balls and while he doesn’t have the ultimate upside that Shelby Miller does I think getting a return of a solid number two/two-a starting pitcher and a defensively gifted shortstop in exchange for Hardy would be a deal you shouldn’t scoff at.

If we weren’t going to trade Hardy for pitching then I think second baseman Kolten Wong would be a solid target, although I think I’d prefer the Lynn/Kozma package but that’s just my personal preference. Plus, you wouldn’t have to give up any of your top prospects, what’s left of them anyway, to acquire Lynn and Kozma. If we were seriously going to continue our pursuit of Miller than you’re likely looking at a package consisting of Hardy/Ohlman at the very least even though I’d really prefer not to deal Ohlman because I tend to view him as the organization’s catcher of the future if he continues to develop his bat, which he appears to be doing.

That’s why I’d prefer to go after a guy like Lynn for Hardy and have them add in our replacement shortstop for the time being. He wouldn’t hit a whole lot but he can play the hell out of shortstop defensively. There’s value in that if you can also shore up the rotation.

Lance

One guy that is reportedly on the trade block from the New York Mets is Ike Davis. Before the uncontrollable laughter starts rolling in, hear me out.

Ike Davis is a guy who was on a career trajectory that would have seen him become one of the premier power-hitting first baseman in baseball. Injuries, a loss of confidence, and the Mets seemingly giving up on him this past season have helped contribute to his incredibly poor results. I think a change of scenery would do him good and I think we could hit big with him, similar in fashion to how we did with Chris Davis, by making a trade for him and sticking him at DH.

His on-base skills and eye for the strike zone started to come back to him in 2013, even though the batting average would seem to suggest he can’t hit at all, and even though the power wasn’t quite there he really didn’t have the opportunity to get anything going with any consistency throughout the season. I think a new environment, a more supportive clubhouse and manager – such as the Orioles and Buck Showalter could get him back on track and we’d be able to reap the rewards from it.

What do you guys think?

 

Jeff

Ike Davis is an interesting name, and I think that he is primed for a bounce back to some degree, as you mentioned. That said, I don’t know if I’d want to move anyone of significance for Davis, a guy who would probably be our DH, and would need to hit pretty darn well to be a good value at DH.

For me, I think these high-upside plays work better when you’re signing free agents, where the cost is only money. Davis for someone like Mike Belfiore might be something I could do, and I don’t even know if that’s what it would take to get him. This would be similar to the Hoey for Hardy trade the O’s pulled off during Andy MacPhail’s tenure.

(September 19, 2013 - Source: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America)

(September 19, 2013 – Source: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America)

For me, there are other bounce back names I’d be more apt to target this offseason, like Chris Young (the outfielder, not the pitcher). He had pretty intense platoon splits last season, so he COULD be a platoon guy in Left Field at worst, but it’s possible that he could bounce back and become a legitimate starting option in the outfield.

I think that Duquette will bring a lot of guys in on minor league deals with Spring Training invites, which is always a good strategy. If he’s hoping to sign a guy to a 1 or 2 year deal at a reasonable cost with serious upside, I think that guy could be Chris Young. As recent as 2011 and 2012, Young was a 4-win player for Arizona, a plateau that Nate McLouth has never reached in his career. If you want upside, Young certainly has it.

 

Patrick

I like your thoughts on Ike Davis, and I agree with you… just not for the Orioles. We’ve already got a power-hitting first baseman, plus a team full of power guys. He feels like more of what we have, but not as good. I’d rather go for better on-base numbers and give our already-powerful lineup the opportunity do more with the home runs we have. Plus, as an added bonus: when the entire team goes into a power drought, we could still have a shot at scoring by moving men around with singles. I’d be willing to keep running a platoon at DH to create a player that adds that to the team. And I do like the flexibility that we have with being able to keep Chris Davis, Wieters, and Jones in the lineup more often and late in the season.

And to play the opposite side: Ike Davis is terrible against left-handed pitching. That would give him an icebreaker in joining the Orioles clubhouse (“Oh, you can’t hit lefties? Me too!”) but would be bad for our lineup. Right now, he looks like a platoon player himself, and one that can’t benefit the team in the field in any way. He would have to be the opposite of Ike Davis in 2013 to be worth it.

I tend to agree with Jeff: if I’m making a bet that a guy isn’t as bad as he looked last year, I want to be in for some cash and not much else. I think he’ll be dealt and both the Mets and the team that gets him will be happy after next season, but I’m not sure it’s what the Orioles need to get better. I was pretty big on that Hardy trade, Jeff. I wouldn’t be as happy about this one.

Patrick

Rumor has it that Tim Hudson is available. 38, no qualifying offer, coming off of ankle surgery – sounds promising! But he does have ties to two new Orioles hires, he’s a groundball pitcher, and he’s got a long history of being solid. What do you think?

 

Jeff

It’s funny because when someone mentions Tim Hudson, I have a very gut reaction that him in an O’s uniform sounds awful. Then I look up the numbers.

(July 18, 2013 - Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

(July 18, 2013 – Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

In 15 seasons as a pro, Hudson has had an ERA above 4 exactly twice (2000 & 2006). This past season was nearly the third time he’s eclipsed an ERA of 4, but finished at 3.97 with a FIP and xFIP that suggests it shouldn’t have been that high. Hudson’s 2.64 K/BB was actually a fairly decent number last season, and .40 higher than his career mark. He also induced his fair share of ground balls, with a 55.8% GB rate last season, something that no doubt makes him attractive to the O’s.

That said, last season he injured his ankle but is expected to make a full recovery. He’ll be 38 as you mentioned, and I think it’s fair to wonder if he can still execute at a high level. While his 90.5 mph fastball and sinker won’t blow hitters away, it does get plenty of ground balls. Obviously ground ball pitchers do better than fly ball pitchers in a small park like Camden Yards. Not to mention that he’ll have one of the better infield defenses in baseball behind him.

At first the idea of Hudson felt like a reach to me. Upon further inspection though, I think that Hudson is actually a great fit for the club, though he isn’t without risk.

 

Lance

For me, the decision to bring on Tim Hudson or not is fairly simple: I think Tim Hudson is a great option for the Orioles. He’d likely command a two-year contract but that’s not a deal breaker in my opinion. If the team were to sign Hudson then the likelihood of them trading for a quality starter goes down. I’d prefer them to explore that avenue first but I certainly wouldn’t be upset if they signed Hudson instead.

That’s about all there is to it for me.

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About the author


Jeff Long   

Orioles Analyst

Jeff was the owner of the Orioles blog Warehouse Worthy, which focused on making advanced statistics a part of the conversation for the average fan. Outside of baseball, Jeff is a graduate of Loyola University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration. The Maryland native currently works for an Advertising Agency in downtown Baltimore. Previously a contributor to Beyond the Boxscore, he joined Baseball Prospectus in September 2014.


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