Recently Chris Stoner hosted a Q&A with several national baseball analysts on a variety of Oriole-related topics. My goal here is to provide some of my thoughts on those questions, as well as reactions to the thoughts of the national panel Chris queried. As such I’ll list each of Chris’ questions with my thoughts directly below it. Chris’ questions can be identified by the “CS:” prefix, as well as the entire question being bolded. My answers will follow in normal text.
Discuss my answers and your thoughts on these questions on the BSL Forums here.
CS: The O’s arrived at the All-Star Break with a similar offensive profile to their past two seasons. Plenty of power (5th overall in slugging %), with mediocre on-base (13th overall in on-base %) skills. Currently 9th in runs scored, how do you view the Baltimore offense overall?
JL: All three analysts agreed on some level that this is about where the Orioles should expect to be in terms of record given their individual performances so far this season. As Matthew Pouliot pointed out, there are guys that he should expect to regress and guys we should expect to show some progress in the second half.
CS: Baltimore and Nick Markakis hold a mutual option for $17.5M in 2015 ($2M buyout if the O’s decline), that nobody expects to be picked-up. My guess is we see ’15 redone, with two additional years tacked on at a lower average annual value. Do you agree? How do you see things working out with Markakis and the Birds?
JL: I think there’s a lot of different ways to handle the Markakis situation this coming offseason. First off it’s important to note that he’s having a decent season posting 1.3 fWAR in the first half. He’ll probably end up at about 2 fWAR total for the season, worth about $15MM. My inclination is to go the route Matthew Kory identified which is to let Markakis become a free agent and seeing what the market sets for him.
One interesting opportunity though would be for the team to decline his option, and then offer him a qualifying offer. That would put the total investment in Markakis at ~ $17MM assuming he accepted it. If he declined, then the O’s would get a sandwich round (between the first and second rounds) pick, instead of losing Markakis for nothing. I ultimately think he’ll sign a 2/$25MM deal somewhere (maybe 3/$33 tops) which could mean he’d turn down the QO giving the O’s a pick. If you’re ok with paying Markakis slightly over market value for 1 season, it’s not a bad play.
CS: Coming off his PED suspension last year, the O’s surrendered their 2nd pick in the June 2014 Draft to sign Nelson Cruz to a 1 year $8M deal. Cruz headed into the All-Star game with 45 xbh’s, and a wOBA at .393. The O’s figure to extend a qualifying offer, that will likely be rejected. What type of deal will Cruz (now 34) be looking at on the open market?
JL: There’s not likely to be much competition for Cruz in free agency as the list of left fielders available next offseason is uninspiring. At designated hitter there is a bit more competition with Victor Martinez likely to be the #1 target. Beyond him though Kendrys Morales might be Cruz’s next best competition. If Cruz really falls off in the second half he could be competing with Adam Dunn as well.
Regardless, I think Cruz likely signs a deal in the 2/$30MM or 3/$40MM range this offseason. I can’t imagine that type of offer would come from the Orioles, though it’s possible that the O’s could want to extend him to provide stability at DH. Options are limited though, so if the O’s opt to not go with a platoon at DH or left field, Cruz could be a viable option for the club.
CS: It was an interesting 1st half for JJ Hardy. He missed some time early due to his back, but seemingly got past that. He had 18 doubles, but just 3 homers in his first 328 ab’s (each of the homers in last 152 ab’s). Compared to 2013, his K% is up, his BB% is down. The defensive metrics continue to love his play at SS. It would not shock me to see him finish with +/- 15 homers. As with Cruz, I expect a qualifying offer to be made and rejected. If you were in the Orioles Front Office, would you advocate a 3 year deal?
JL: Hardy is an interesting case as Chris pointed out. I think the biggest thing for him is that he plays well above average defense, so even if he has a down season at the plate he can still provide solid value to his team. With the power upside we all know he has, it’s a no-brainer for teams looking to lock down SS for the next 3 or 4 seasons.
That said, this offseason is a great time to need SS help, as Matthew Kory pointed out. For the O’s, they should have a lot of flexibility here. Shortstops or third baseman available this offseason include:
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
SS – Stephen Drew
SS – JJ Hardy
SS – Hanley Ramirez
SS – Jimmy Rollins
3B – Chase Headley
3B – Aramis Ramirez
3B – Pablo Sandoval
The Orioles would be well-served to see how these markets play out before deciding if Manny Machado is a third baseman for good, or if he’s moving back to shortstop next season. I’d think that Hanley Ramirez, Hardy, and Sandoval will get the longest deals here, so short term options are there. Personally I’d be intrigued by the idea of pairing Machado with Pablo Sandoval on the left side. It all just depends on how the free agent markets play out.
CS: Now that the O’s have obtained an additional year of service time with Kevin Gausman, the young righty can be expected to be part of the rotation here on out. That means someone has to leave the rotation, and the most logical candidates are Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez. Either could potentially be a weapon out of the bullpen; who should stay, who becomes a reliever?
JL: I think this is a unique opportunity for the club to sell while ‘buying’ as their depth in mid-rotation starters gives them plenty of options. I’ll come back to that, but for now let’s just look at moving someone to the bullpen. For me it’d have to be Miguel Gonzalez as he’s not going as deep into games as Norris or other pitchers in the rotation. Jimenez would be nice, as Dan Szymborski points out, but unrealistic.
What would be perfect is if the O’s could move Gonzalez to another team to get second base help. Using their depth created by bringing up Gausman, the club can improve another roster spot without wasting Gonzalez’s talent in the ‘pen. Keep in mind that even though Gonzalez is under team control for several seasons, he’s not really in the long term plans as Gausman, Jimenez, Tillman, and Bundy will likely make up the core of the rotation next season anyway.
CS: Gausman’s talent is evident to anyone who sees him, but he still lacks much professional experience. What are you expecting from him the remainder of the year? The ups and downs of youth, or someone the O’s will be able to hitch their wagon to?
JL: I think Gausman has done a lot of learning despite an up-and-down relationship with the 25-man roster. He’s really improved since his first season in the big leagues, and his raw stuff is as impressive as ever. He’s learning to pitch and utilize all of his pitches. His split-change is a plus pitch to go along with a very hard fastball. My only wish is that Gausman would harness and throw his slider more often. It’s another above average offering that he simply doesn’t have the confidence in right now.
Gausman likely won’t ascend to the league’s elite starting pitchers like a Matt Harvey or Joe Fernandez, but he is ready to be a leader on this staff. He’s arguably the best pitcher on the team already.
CS: The O’s are the American League East leader, and pretty clear favorite to win the Division. That said, in the AL hierarchy they likely trail Oakland, Detroit, and the Angels as favorites to represent the league in the Fall Classic. While the O’s would have a punchers (sluggers) chance vs. anyone; the Baltimore rotation does not match those teams. If Gausman is one Wild Card for the O’s, Jimenez is another. It was a poor 1st half for Jimenez, with mechanical issues which impacted his control, velocity, and movement. The O’s signed Jimenez based off of his exceptional 2nd half last year. Do you think Jimenez can lock in, and be a positive difference maker the rest of the way?
JL: I agree with Matthew Pouliot on this one and couldn’t have said it better myself:
Pouliot: Based on what I’ve seen this year, I don’t expect a turnaround. He’s a mess, and it’s actually kind of impressive that he’s kept it together as well he has. Between the walks and the sub-par velocity, it’s not hard to imagine him with a 5.50-6.00 ERA, rather than his current 4.52 mark.
With all the talk about how terrible Jimenez has been it’s hard to believe he’s pitched to a 4.5 era so far this season. I think even minimal improvement would be huge, and if he’s able to lower his walks he could start going deeper into games which would be huge. Honestly I’d be ecstatic id Jimenez improves only in the sense that he could go 6.1 IP with a 4.50 ERA in the second half versus 5.1 IP with a 4.52 ERA in the first half.
CS: Last year, Chris Davis slugged .634, this year his OPS is currently .701. On July 4th, Beyond the Boxscore pointed out, “His .255 BABIP lies 1.56 standard deviations below the mean, while his 26.1% line drive rate lies 1.53 standard deviations above the mean. In the batted-ball era, no players — NONE — have beaten 1.5 in both arenas.” Do you like him to finish with an OPS above or below .850? What is your current opinion on the merits of an extension for Davis? Should the O’s be pushing for one, and if so what would you suggest the O’s offer?
JL: Davis is an enigma right now. Everything in his statistics say that he should be bouncing back and improving his performance, but that lift never seems to come. He’s clearly struggling at the plate, and I think part of it is pitch recognition. Craig Goldstein and I went back and forth about Davis’ woes on Twitter, but ultimately there’s no one clear answer. Davis has made adjustments in the past, but he’ll really need to adjust if he wants to bounce back this season.
As for extending him, you know it’s a tough decision. I still think his agent would push for $18MM per season now, even given his down season. If you can get him for $15MM maybe you start to entertain the idea of a long term contract, but that’s still a huge commitment. Let’s say Davis agrees to a 6/$100MM contract. If his performances moving forward are closer to this (let’s say .220/.310/.400) then that deal becomes a huge albatross for the next 6 seasons.
I think you wait it out, prepared to deal him at the trade deadline next season if you have to. If the O’s are in contention than being ok with taking just a first round pick for losing Davis is a price they may have to pay.
CS: With his sinker, Britton overwhelmed hitters in the 1st half. Great location, with strong velocity and movement. He had an extremely high GB%, with the ability to get k’s as well. Are you a believer, or need to see more?
JL: I’m a believer in Britton, though he’s not necessarily one of the best relievers in the game. Basically what Dan said:
Szymborski: I’m a believer to the extent that he’s a solid, above-average reliever. That ERA is going to regress quite a bit, though, he’s not actually an elite relief talent.
CS: Going into this year, my assumption with Wieters was that the O’s would allow him to play out the remaining two years (through ’15) on his contract; and allow him to walk. He was off to a positive start prior to being lost for the year. How does the injury impact what you think the O’s should be looking to do with Wieters (push for an extension, let him play out ’15, look to trade) this off-season?
JL: Wieters’ injury makes these decisions a whole heck of a lot more difficult for the Orioles. It’s kind of the same situation as Davis, except Wieters’ injury hurts his trade value as opposed to ineffectiveness. I’m going to side with Matthew Kory again and say that you hold onto Wieters and see what his trade value is this time next year. You can obviously broach an extension with Wieters and Boras, but those talks aren’t likely to get very far. So you see what you can get at the trade deadline.
At that point it’s simple math. Do you take what you can get in a trade? Or do you keep him for a potential playoff run and settle for one draft pick as compensation for losing a franchise catcher.
CS: Adam Jones became an All-Star for the 4th time. For the 3rd straight season, his OPS is above .800. His BB% has dropped from 4.9% in 2012, to 3.6% in ’13, to 2.7% here in ’14. A superb hitter when hot, easily pitched to when he is not. His UZR/150 – which has been negative every year since ’09, currently shows him to be above average. Does Jones simultaneously not get enough credit for his positives, and not enough credit for his negatives?
JL: I think this might be a total cop out, but I agree 100% with Matthew Kory:
Kory: It’s difficult to say Jones doesn’t get enough credit when he just finished making his fourth All-Star Game. Jones is what Jones is: a high power outfielder. Those guys tend to get a lot of credit. When he’s going good he can carry a team and when he isn’t he can bury one. Fortunately for the O’s, Jones gets hot and stays hot long enough to make the cold streaks worth it. We know all that. The end package is a very good offensive player. Defensively, it’s harder to say. A half season worth of UZR isn’t particularly telling. For example, FanGraphs thinks Jones has been worth a bit more than five runs (about a half win) defensively this season while Baseball Prospectus thinks he’s almost cost his team an entire win in the outfield. I’m more likely to look at the last three years and take the median, especially for a guy like Jones who has been playing the same position in the same ballpark during that time, and when you do that you end up with an average to slightly below defensive outfielder, but one good enough to stay in center and good enough not to hurt the value he provides with the bat. The end result is Adam Jones is a very good player.
CS: Like Jones, Markakis’ UZR/150 was negative each year since ’09, and is positive this year. Are the numbers this year a matter of limited sample size, or do you see something else (positioning?) possibly at play here?
JL: I think it’s a little bit of both. I do believe the O’s have tweaked their OF positioning this season, but it’s also way to small of a sample size to draw any conclusions from. Jones was always poorly positioned and he made bad reads on balls / took bad angles. All of those things are easily fixable, so here’s hoping this improvement per UZR is here to stay!
CS: Machado missed April, was poor in his first Month back (not a surprise after not being able to train all Winter), and also lost his mind that weekend vs. Oakland. He’s been turning it on lately though. I think if you are going to pick at him offensively at all, you can look at his BB’s to K’s. (Last year he had 29 bb’s, vs. 113 k’s.) That doesn’t concern me all that much, as I would think that as he grows and matures as a ML hitter, that ratio will improve. (Those ratios – obviously for numerous reasons – were better at the MiL level.) I firmly believe he is going to be a guy that hits for power to all fields; regularly a guy that hits for average and power annually throughout his prime. What do you think Machado will be the rest of ’14, what do you expect from him going forward?
JL: I expect big things from Manny Machado, and still believe he will be one of the best players in baseball in his prime. I think that eventually he’ll hit for power to all fields, especially considering his propensity to spray flyballs all over the field in his first few seasons as a pro. He also showed a propensity for good plate discipline in the minors which makes me think that in time he’ll improve in that area as well.
It’s important to keep one fact in mind. Manny Machado is extraordinarily young. When he rehabbed at High-A Frederick this season, he was the second youngest player on the roster. His career MLB batting line is .278/.312/.435 despite his youth, and I think that in his prime he’ll be a .300/.350/.500 type hitter. While I’d love some more OBP from him, I think that a batting line like that to go along with superb defense will make him a star.
CS: There has been plenty of talk at the BSL Board of potential acquisitions for the O’s prior to the Non-Waiver Deadline. Bullpen help like the Rangers Jokim Soria, and 2nd Base help like the Rays Ben Zobrist have been mentioned as possible options. Who could be available that you see as potential match for Baltimore?
JL: I’ve mentioned a lot of possible trade options but I ultimately think the O’s go with the small-mid sized splash as opposed to making a blockbuster type deal and acquiring Zobrist. I’ll echo the sentiment from the national panel that I’d love Utley in Baltimore, but I don’t think that’s likely. What is more likely is that the O’s will acquire some bullpen help and maybe a middle of the road second baseman to boost production from that spot in the lineup. The highest I can see the club going is looking for someone like Daniel Murphy from the Mets.
CS: What has to occur in the 2nd half for you to believe the O’s could claim their 4th World Championship?
JL: I think this all comes down to pitching. In order to make the playoffs the O’s will need better performances out of Jimenez and Tillman, as those two guys are being relied on to eat up some serious innings in the second half. Beyond that we pretty much know what to expect from Chen, Norris, etc. Once the team gets to the playoffs they’ll need one of the two guys mentioned above, or Kevin Gausman to become an ace for the team. All three of those pitchers have the potential to be shut down starters, and the club will need at least one of them to reach that in the playoffs if the Orioles want to win a World Series.