A few weeks after the end of the Baltimore Orioles 2012 season, and a few weeks prior to the Winter Meetings; Baltimore Sports and Life has reached out to Matthew Pouliot (NBC Sports / Hardball Talk) for his thoughts on the Birds.
BSL thanks Mr. Pouliot for taking the time to respond.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “As the 2012 season was beginning, Dan Duquette made clear the Orioles organization goal was a .500 or better year. Around the same time, FanGraphs* ranked the O’s as the worst organization in baseball, saying as part of their 2012 Outlook, “The Orioles would be a long shot to be a contender in any division in baseball… When you add in the level of competition they face in the American League East, it would take something close to the largest miracle in sports history for the Orioles to win their division this season.” Do you consider what the O’s achieved this year to be miraculous, or was there better talent here than advertised by most going into the season?”
*FanGraphs was not alone with their doubts on Baltimore, I had the O’s pegged for 74 wins, thinking a .500 season was possible but unlikely.
Pouliot: “Factoring in just how the Orioles did it, it doesn’t seem much short of a miracle. To finish 24 games over .500 while only scoring seven more runs than their opponents is just ridiculous.
The way I saw it, the Orioles were more lucky than good in the first half. In the second half, though, they were a legitimately good team, with Tillman, Gonzalez and Saunders stepping into the rotation in place of Arrieta and Hunter, Machado taking over at third and both Hunter and Matusz finding niches in the pen.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “With additions like Anderson, Peterson, Rajsich, Haas, Ferreira, Poitevint, Walters, Thomas, and Gelles; Duquette added a lot of new thinking to the organization this past Winter. If there were concerns across the game about working for the O’s, has the success of the Orioles this year alleviated those concerns? Do you believe the O’s should invest in another waive of brain power added this off-season? (For example, Baltimore employs Anderson and Thomas as Special Assistants to the EVP, but do not employ an Asst. GM. In comparison, Atlanta employs Bruce Manno as their Asst. GM, and also has employs 9 Special Assistant to the GM.”
Pouliot: “I’m not nearly close enough to the situation to try to measure the Angelos effect on steering away front-office talent. It does seem like Duquette had more free rein with his choices than the previous EVPs did (I wish they’d just call them general managers already), and his performance in year one would appear to give him even more room to maneuver. Sure, the Orioles should add more brains if they can, particularly on the player development side of things.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Rick Peterson is interviewing for the Pitching Coach job in Boston. Should the O’s be willing to pay him a salary equal to a MLB Pitching Coach to remain their Director of Pitching Development? Would losing him from the organization constitute a significant loss to you?”
Pouliot: “Absolutely. I think Peterson is likely in his ideal role as is; he’s better utilized shaping young arms than major leaguers already set in their ways. Of course, there’s much more prestige that goes along with being a major league pitching coach, and one imagines Peterson wouldn’t have interviewed with Boston if he didn’t want the job. He’s probably he gets the offer, but if the Red Sox look elsewhere, the Orioles should definitely spend to keep him around.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “A panel comprising representatives of three other teams has been charged with reaching a settlement between the O’s and Washington Nationals regarding the MASN TV fees between the organizations. How do you see that ruling going? Do you believe that ruling (either way) will have an impact on the O’s Baseball Operations Department this Winter? Will the new National Television deals between MLB and ESPN, FOX, and TBS?”
Pouliot: “I don’t know much of anything about the MASN situation. If they can look forward to more TV funds locally on top of what extra is coming in from the new national deals, then there’s no reason the Orioles can’t be one of the winter’s biggest spenders. Well, I suppose there is one reason. But Angelos can see that the Orioles should be looking at a nice attendance bump next year after all of their success last season.
Unfortunately, though, pretty much every team is going to have extra money to spend this winter. All of the big names are going to cost more than people perceive them to be worth.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “I was caught by surprise a bit with the Adam Jones extension. Even in the week prior to the deal, I had incorrectly believed a decision to trade or extend Jones would not come until the off-season. At that signing Duquette stated that,“Jones forced the issue, with his play. You build with players you can rely on.” I think Duquette deserved a lot of credit for getting a reasonable contract for both sides done, and allowing Jones’ play to dictate the decision making process. Do you think removing the uncertainty of Jones’ future with the O’s, helped the team avoid a potential distraction?”
Pouliot: “I doubt it would have been much of a distraction. He wasn’t going to become a free agent this winter either way.
The deal was fair, though. It only takes Jones through his age-33 season, so the Orioles aren’t going to be paying for much of the downside of his career. I’m not all that optimistic Jones with be worth $50 million from 2016-18; he’ll probably be a corner outfielder by then and it’s not like he ever figures to post particularly good OBPs. Still, it’s not a deal that figures to sink the Orioles. I like it a lot better than the similar extension Andre Ethier received from the Dodgers.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Jones recently won his 2nd consecutive Gold Glove. In a Baseball America poll in 2011, Jones was ranked as the 2nd best CF in the AL by opposing Managers. The available advanced defensive metrics peg him as below average. I can not speak for all O’s fans, but I believe the majority were surprised that he won the award over Trout. How do you rank Jones defensively, and should he have won?”
Pouliot: “I think there are four elite defensive center fielders in the AL: Trout and Peter Bourjos in Anaheim, Austin Jackson in Detroit and Franklin Gutierrez in Seattle. Obviously, neither Bourjos nor Gutierrez played enough to be Gold Glove candidates this year, but I thought Trout or Jackson should have won.
Jones has always struck me as an average defensive center fielder. He has good range, but he doesn’t always get the best jumps.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Wieters is a Free Agent after 2015. Do you believe the Orioles should be approaching Wieters and his Agent Scot Boras this Winter about a potential extension?”
Pouliot: “It doesn’t hurt to ask. Of course, his being a Boras client suggests that a deal buying out free agent years is unlikely. Assuming that he stays healthy, Wieters is due $20 million-$25 million in his three arbitration seasons coming up. To sign him beyond that would probably take more than $15 million per season. I doubt it will happen, but I think it’d be a great idea to offer him a six-year, $76 million deal; $25 million for the next three years and then $17 million per year after that.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Jason Hammel proved to be an excellent addition, with his new 2 seam FB just eating up bats. When healthy enough to take the mound, he looked the part of a legitimate front of the rotation starter. A Free Agent after next year, should a 1 or 2 year extension be an attempted priority for the O’s?”
Pouliot: “I imagine it’d have to be a two-year extension; there’s not going to be much incentive for Hammel to give up his chance at free agency for a one-year deal. I’d rather make Hammel do it again if I were Duquette. He was terrific last season, but it was just 20 starts.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Another excellent addition was Wei-Yin Chen. Chen was a very reliable starter, capable of providing innings, and getting a high percentage of swing and misses off of his fastball. With this full year of MLB experience now behind him, do you him maintaining or improving his ’12 production next year? Or do you think he will regress?”
Pouliot: “If the velocity sticks around, he should be just as good next year. That was the big question with Chen entering the season; he lost something off his fastball in his final season in Japan. It came back last year, and he was typically throwing 89-93 mph. As is, he’s one of the 10 best lefties in the AL.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “One shame of the 2012 season, was that Nolan Reimold wound up on the shelf after just 16 games. When former All-Star Nate McLouth joined the O’s lineup August 4th, the OF defense was immediately improved. McLouth showed to have pop, speed, and an ability to work a count. In the Minors, LJ Hoes had a productive 300+ ab’s for AAA Norfolk. If you were the O’s, would you attempt to resign McLouth? Should the O’s be comfortable with this trio comprising LF in ’13?”
Pouliot: “I’m OK with the idea of a healthy Reimold as the starter, but I don’t trust either McLouth or Hoes as the top alternative. Fortunately, they’ll still have Davis and Betemit around. I assume Davis will be the starter at first or at DH, but he should keep the outfield glove handy as an alternative to Reimold in left. And then Betemit can fill at first/DH.
They can still re-sign McLouth in that scenario. I just wouldn’t pencil him in for a significant role. With McLouth back, I imagine the bench would be comprised of he, Teagarden, Betemit and either Flaherty, Casilla or Andino.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The infield defense took off with the promotion of Machado (and Reynolds taking over 1st full time). Machado competed with the bat. While it did not show in his K to BB ratio, he showed a good knowledge of the strike zone, and an ability to go opposite field with power. His play at 3rd was just remarkable. Not surprising that a SS by trade would make a good 3rd baseman, but his reactions and instincts at 3rd were just outstanding. Should the O’s keep Machado and Hardy at their current positions?”
Pouliot: “Machado adjusted so well to third that I’d leave him there for as long as Hardy is on the team. But his future remains at shortstop, and it’d be for the best if the Orioles could trade Hardy for an equivalent third baseman. I don’t know how they might pull that off, though. I imagine they’ll go with Hardy at short and Machado at third for one more year, but that Machado will be at short comes 2014.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Despite the promotion, many O’s fan believe Dylan Bundy will begin ’13 in the Minors with a promotion in late May / early June. The major benefits of course being the additional year of service time that can be gained, and a limiting of innings that could occur to allow Bundy to finish the 2013 season in it’s entirety. Are O’s fans reading this correctly? Do you see it as possible that Bundy could force his way North next Spring?”
Pouliot: “I agree with the late-May suspicion. That’d probably be the way to do it even if not for the service-time issues. Bundy threw 105 innings last season, so even 150 will be pushing it next year. If it were ever done in baseball, the right move would probably be to have him start his spring training in late March, instead of mid-February, and then have him pitch his first minor league games in early May. That’d be the best plan for the Orioles. Of course, that’s just never happened.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Arrieta (and Matusz in particular) excelled out of the pen when they returned to the Majors. Do you believe Arrieta has found a home in the bullpen? Matusz enthusiastically spoke about the change, saying he benefited from mentally preparing to be ready each day. Should Matusz be moved back to the rotation next year, what does he need to carry over from this relief experience? Does it start with fastball command for both pitchers?”
Pouliot: “Both pitchers have the arsenal to start, but Matusz seemed so much more comfortable in relief that I’d probably leave him there, at least for one year. Arrieta is trade bait, I think. He still projects as a decent enough No. 4 starter, but he doesn’t have so much upside to make the Orioles really regret letting him go. If he does stay, I’d have him compete for a rotation spot in spring training rather than work with the relievers.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Jonathan Schoop played in 124 games at AA Bowie, and accumulated 485 ab’s. He finished with a .245 average, 14 hr’s, 56 rbi’s, 24 doubles, 1 triple, 50 bb’s, with 103 k’s. His OPS was .710. Everyone that sees Schoop, seems to believe the Curacao native will hit in the Majors, with a question on his ability to provide average ML defense at 2nd. If the O’s believe Schoop will be ready for the Majors by mid-season, should they be willing to go into the year with one of Casilla/ Flaherty / Andino as the starter at 2nd?”
Pouliot: “I look at Schoop as a third baseman, and he didn’t make enough progress last season to suggest that he’ll be a 2012 option at either spot. Ideally, I think he’s the 2014 third baseman, with Machado sliding back to short.
The Orioles need to go get themselves a one-year option at second base. Kelly Johnson is the best choice in free agency, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Duquette looks at the Japanese options; Hiroyuki Nakajima and Takashi Toritani. Toritani would be an intriguing possibility for a team in need of a leadoff hitter.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Reynolds had an $11M team option with $500,000 buyout for the 2013 season. The team turned down the option, but he is eligible for arbitration. Defensive metrics did not love him at 1st, though he received a lot of positive comments from those who saw him. With the belief he is average defensively at 1st, and remains a threat with the bat (.763 OPS in ’12, .807 for his career), how should the O’s handle things with Reynolds this off-season?”
Pouliot: “I thought he was pretty good at first, too. Some of the postseason accolades for his work there were over the top, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he turns into a well above average first baseman with more experience at the position.
Obviously, the option has been declined. As a free agent, I’d peg Reynolds as being in line for a one-year deal at around $7 million. If he’s willing to accept that now, then the Orioles might as well keep him. If not, they could go with Davis at first and sign a designated hitter.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Davis has had 1,520 MLB ab’s and has career OPS of .775. I think that should be the expectation for his ’13 production. That would be regression from the .827 mark he had in ’12, but still positive production given his salary. Do you agree or disagree? Some O’s fans would like to use him as a piece of a larger trade, your thoughts on that?”
Pouliot: “I don’t think he has all that much trade value; too many teams will be scared off by the strikeouts. And I agree with your expectations; he’s more likely to come in around .250/.310/.470 next year than his 2011 line of .270/.326/.501. But that’s still fairly valuable at his modest salary. I’m comfortable with him as a starter until he starts getting expensive.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Among many O’s fans, Tillman entered 2012 a bit of a forgotten man. In Spring Training it became apparent that his off-season workouts had made a positive impact. He went back to AAA and continued to work. After being promoted back to Baltimore on Independence Day, Tillman was been consistently good. Thoughts on what Tillman achieved this year, and what awaits going forward for the 24 year old?”
Pouliot: “Tillman’s development is definitely one of the things I’m excited about headed into 2013. He was bordering on being a lost cause a year ago. Now the fastball is back, the walk rate is down and all signs point to him being a productive member of next year’s rotation. He’s still in the AL East, so maybe a sub-4.00 ERA isn’t on the way. But I like him.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “While he struggled over his last couple of starts, Britton had overpowering stretch over 4 starts between 8/18 – 9/4. What I like most about Britton is not it seems that not a lot has to go right for him to succeed. If he gets ahead in counts, he uses the 2 seam to just eat up bats and get a lot of grounders. I thought he showed a lot of movement in that strong run as well. Where do you see Britton fitting in next year?”
Pouliot: “There’s going to be a lot of competition if the Orioles add a starter, which I expect they will. Hammel and Chen should be guaranteed spots, so that would leave two openings for — and this is how I’d rank them entering camp — Gonzalez, Tillman, Britton, Arrieta and Johnson. That doesn’t even account for Bundy and Wada, both of whom could be ready by June 1, and Hunter and Matusz, both of whom I believe should be in the pen.
I’m still a Britton fan, and while the ERA wasn’t much to look at last year, the way he started missing more bats was very encouraging. Perhaps he won’t have a rotation spot on Opening Day, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up being the team’s best starter.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Strop and Johnson do not get a ton of k’s, but their stuff is filthy, and they had some of the best G/F ratios in the game. Is there anything they did during ’12, which is not sustainable? What are your thoughts on bullpen construction in the AL East?”
Pouliot: “The odds would seem to be against every member of the Baltimore pen having a 2.50 ERA again next year, right? Johnson is probably going to give up a few more hits, and Strop’s walks will likely result in a few more runs scoring.
Hang with me for a second: one of the reasons every Orioles reliever was so effective was that all of the other Orioles relievers were so effective. Those inherited runners just didn’t come around to score, so everyone was helping everybody else’s ERAs.
There’s no way the Orioles are going to be quite so strong there again. Still, I’m fine with the group as is. Johnson won’t be a world beater again, but he should be a perfectly fine closer. And while Ayala, Strop, O’Day and Patton all figure to post higher ERAs, full seasons from Matusz and Hunter could prove really helpful. Hunter looked great out of the pen with his velocity bump.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “After returning from the DL, Markakis was on-fire throughout the 2nd half, posting a .879 OPS over 221 ab’s. Is there any reason he should not lead-off for the Birds next year? The available to the public advanced defensive metrics crushed his play in RF this year. How did you rate his defensive play? Do you think the oblique and wrist injuries hurt him?”
Pouliot: “I imagine it was the injuries taking a toll on his defense. He still projects as being pretty good in right, in my opinion.
I like Markakis leading off, but I thought it was more of a “we have no one else to stick here” idea than something Markakis and Showalter truly embraced. Maybe I’m wrong. If Markakis wants the job, then by all means, keep him there. It’s hardly ever a bad idea to have a team’s best hitters batting at the top of the lineup.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “It probably took me longer than it should have to trust what I was seeing from Miguel Gonzalez. His change/splitter appears to be a true plus pitch. With what he accomplished overall, including his last regular season start in Tampa Bay, and in the ALDS vs. NY; should he go into the Spring with a rotation spot waiting for him?”
Pouliot: “He has to be a heavy favorite to claim a spot, at least. He threw the change more in the end there, and it was a great weapon for him. The rest of his arsenal isn’t half bad, either. As a flyball pitcher in Camden Yards, he’ll give up more than his share of homers, but he was looking like a guy who can go out there and throw six or seven solid innings most times out.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Many marginalized the success of the Orioles this year (specifically pointing to the overall run differential, and the below average on-base % of the offense); while paying minimal attention to the O’s excellent bullpen, good power, and as discussed above – a defense that improved during the season. Overall, the O’s won 93 games. As you evaluate the O’s today, do you think they project as a .500 or better team next year?”
Pouliot: “Definitely. The team that they put on the field in the second half was a legitimate contender, and by the time August rolls around next year, it’s possible a Britton-Bundy-Chen-Hammel-Tillman rotation could be among the game’s best. How crazy would that have sounded a year ago?”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “What will the O’s organization need to accomplish (general-terms) to allow for contention to be likely again in 2013? What specific goals should they be looking to accomplish prior to the Winter Meetings? If you were running the O’s, what are some moves you would pursue?”
Pouliot: “A star would be nice, obviously. David Wright has to be the dream scenario, and if the Mets can’t extend him, the Orioles should try to put together an offer. Tillman, Schoop and Arrieta or Strop? The Mets would probably want Britton.
The Orioles don’t have any gaping holes, so they can just wait and see what happens with the free-agent market. If an Edwin Jackson or a Mike Napoli starts to look like a potential bargain, go for it. If not, no big deal. The Orioles already have more than five starters to choose from and the bullpen is full, so there’s no urgency. First base and second base are the potential needs on offense, and they just happens to be the two easiest spots to fill with veterans.
I’d like to see Duquette take a flier on Grady Sizemore or Lance Berkman if either is interested. Sizemore is a long shot, but he’s still pretty young and if he does get healthy, he might turn out to be a clear upgrade over Reimold. Berkman would only be an option if Reynolds leaves. He doesn’t want to DH, but the Orioles could let him play first base when he’s healthy and then go to Davis at first and Betemit at DH when he’s not. Because they’re covered at all of the key spots, the Orioles can target upside.
And then there’s Josh Hamilton, of course. I’d certainly be open to giving him a try at $100 million for five years, but I don’t think he’ll have much trouble getting that. I don’t think the Orioles should spend what it takes to get him or Zack Greinke. There’s a lot of hope with this team right now, but a couple of bad contracts could lead to Angelos deciding that spending was a bad idea or that giving Duquette control was a bad idea and so on. If the Orioles just stick with what they have now, they may not make it back to the postseason, but they’ll at least be competitive and interesting, which is a whole lot better than what they were the previous decade.”