O’s Q&A with Jonathan Mitchell, MLB Dirt

With the hiring of Dan Duquette, and the hot-stove league kicking into high gear, Baltimore Sports and Life has reached out to Jonathan Mitchell for his thoughts.

Mitchell has been a guest on ESPN Radio and has had posts featured on ESPN, FanGraphs, and The Platoon Advantage.

You can find Mitchells’ work with MLB Dirt at:

You can find Mitchell on Twitter at:

You can find MLB Dirt on Twitter at:

Baltimore Sports and Life thanks Mr. Mitchell for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Dan Duquette  has been named the Orioles GM / Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I get the impression that Duquette has a chip on his shoulder, is hungry, and believes Epstein received too much of the credit he felt he deserved.

I’m thinking that even though the GM search was another PR nightmare for the O’s, that they still came out of this with a quality hire. Tony LaCava was a popular choice among many fans of the Birds for this position. I certainly recognized him to be capable, and would have supported that hire as well. For what ever reason, that hire was not able to be completed. Had LaCava been hired, the Orioles would have announced a 50 year-old first time GM. Instead they are announcing the hire of a 53 year-old, who has sat in the big chair (with success) a couple of times. Whatever went well (or bad) for Duquette with the Expos and Red Sox; Duquette has the advantage of leveraging those prior experiences.

My take is that O’s fans should give Duquette a fair shake and only concern themselves with what happens going forward.

What are your thoughts on Duquette, and how much does his absence from the game concern you?”

Mitchell: “I, personally, like Duquette and think he will do well with a good budget. He has a solid track record with free agent signings and making trades. But, he lacks in drafting and being away from the game for a while could hurt him here if he does not lean heavily on his scouting director. The game has changed a lot in his absence and he will need to rely on his personnel a lot more than he was probably used to.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Duquette takes over a team which has not had a winning season since 1997. He also takes over a team which has not even won 70+ games since 2006. Yet, it would also be unfair to say he inherits a total reclamation project either. There is enough talent on the Major League roster, that heading into the 2011 season the averaged predicted win total from 19 different analysts was 78. I still think the O’s underachieved this year. While all of the existing core players have plenty of questions, I still believe there is a decent group of players to move forward with.

Duquette made clear in his Press conference Tuesday that he plans to build the organization through Scouting (Amateur and International) and Player Development. If it seemed unlikely to Orioles fans that the O’s would bid on Fielder, or Darvish, etc. this off-season, I think it is fair to say those odds have been reduced further with the hiring of Duquette.

I see the O’s at a fork in the road. I lean towards believing a deeper rebuilding is necessary and should be the path traveled. However, there is a prevailing belief by many that Orioles Manager Buck Showalter wants to augment around the existing core. I can support heading in either direction, but what I want to see is a complete commitment to which ever road the O’s want to take.

What are a couple of things you believe the O’s should be working to accomplish this Winter?”

Mitchell: “I think they have to look towards the future and figure out which current pieces work in their proposed future scenario. They play in the toughest division in all of baseball and it is very likely, as crazy as this may sound, that the four teams ahead of them each get better this offseason. They either need to sign all of C.J. Wilson, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Jose Reyes or rebuild. I don’t see that happening. They must rebuild around their young core and wait to spend in the exciting free agent market that awaits next offseason.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “During this past 2011 season, Showalter met regularly with Majority Owner Peter Angelos. Showalter has enough influence within the organization, that he was part of the interview committee with the prospective GM candidates. Presumably, Duquette and Showalter are currently on the same page.

However, if it becomes apparent that Duquette, and Showalter have differing philosophies of how the organization should be built (both in the immediate, and long-term) do you agree that Showalter’s opinions should be considered, but that the Manager reports to the GM; and thus the GM should have autonomy to make the moves they desire? If the O’s are going to listen to Showalter first, should he have been the one named the GM?”

Mitchell: “I believe Showalter’s input needs to be considered but at the end of the day it is Duquette who has the final say. If Showalter knows the direction of the organization and has agreed to it then I see no problem unless Duquette deviates from the plan.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “In a Baseball America poll (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/majors/best-tools/2011/2612213.html) of Major League Managers, Adam Jones was ranked as the 2nd best defensive CF in the American League. On the other-side you have the most advanced defensive metrics which state Jones is a below average CF. I tend to believe that the truth lies between those two extremes. Jones finished ’11 with a Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) of .339, and his Isolated Power (ISO) was .185. For the 2nd consecutive year, he has played in 149+ games. For the 3rd consecutive year his OPS fell within the range of .767 to .792. He finished with 25 homers, and 26 doubles. Jones is a Free Agent after the 2013 season. By Opening Day 2012, do you think the O’s need to have either extended him or traded him? If you would like to see him extended, what type of contract do you think would be fair?”

Mitchell: “I think an extension would be great. He has 30 homer power and plays an adequate center. You don’t come by those guys easily. An extension in the 4yr $34M-$36M range sounds appropriate. He is due about $5.8M in 2012 through arbitration and likely $8M in 2013. The next two years buys out his first two in free agency at roughly $10M-$11M each. He would still hit the open market at age 30.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “If the O’s are ever going to be competitive in the near term, their young pitching has to produce. Matusz was extremely strong over his last 10 starts of 2010, and abysmal over his 12 outings in 2011. Like Jones’s defense, I think the truth about Matusz is probably somewhere in the middle, but he absolutely needs to earn his spot next Spring.

In 2011, Arrieta saw improvement in his K/9, Line Drive %, Ground Ball %, and First Strike % numbers. With the removed bone spur not directly at the elbow (and with him having surgery when he did), there seems to be confidence in his ability to have a normal throwing program this Winter. Obviously 21 homers in 119.1 ip is too much, and his fastball command has to increase.

There was been a lot to like about Britton’s rookie season, especially with how he responded to the adversity of July. Overall he finished 11-11, with a 4.61 era. In his 154.1 ip, he allowed 162 hits, 12 homers, 62 bb’s, with 97 k’s. His OPS against was .735, and he had a G/F ratio of 1.24. Like Arrieta, his fastball command needs to improve.

What are your current thoughts on these three?”

Mitchell: “They are a good group to build around but they all come with question marks. I still believe Matusz has #2 potential in him but that velocity has to come back. Britton also has #2 potential and showed it last year but he relies on his defense to get outs and the defense behind him just isn’t very good. Arrietta is the darkhorse. If I ran the Orioles I would give him 2012 to fix the fastball command. If he does then you have a potential #3 guy. If not then you move him to the pen and hopefully his stuff plays up in short stints.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Wieters finished with 50xbh’s (.450 Slugging) and was lauded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. If you were starting a team – which catchers do you take before him?”

Mitchell: “Man, that is a tough question. If money is not an object it would be hard to pass on Brian McCann. If current contracts are in place I would probably take Carlos Santana first and wrestle between Wieters, Buster Posey, and Alex Avila.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Prior to any external additions, the O’s likely 2012 roster currently resembles something like:

Guthrie, Britton, Hunter, Arrieta, Matusz
Johnson, Gregg, Strop, Tillman, Simon, Bergesen, Patton

Hardy SS
Markakis RF
Jones CF
Reynolds 3rd
Wieters C
Davis 1st
Reimold LF
Andino 2nd

Roberts, Backup C, Angle, Adams

The Orioles 2011 payroll was roughly $85M. Those 23 players above are likely due somewhere between $65-$70M.

In 2011, the O’s spent about $10M on Amateur Scouting, and I believe around $1.5M on International Scouting. I think in generalities, you can estimate that the O’s have been willing to spend roughly $100-$105M combined on their Major League roster, Amateur Scouting, Intl. Scouting, Player Development, and Pro Scouting.

With Duquette stating he wants to build the organization, I think you have to expect that the 2012 payroll figures to be in the $85-$90M range, and could possibly be reduced. Considering Tampa Bay just went to the Playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years with a payroll of just $41M, I feel that nobody should cry if the O’s 2012 payroll is reduced and reallocated to the other facets of Baseball Operations.

Beginning with the starting point of the existing roster, and an understanding of the limitations which will mark the O’s search; where and how can Baltimore improve through external additions? Do you agree that if the O’s are to have tangible improvement, it will come from within with currently existing parts?”

Mitchell: “I think for most teams that you have to improve from within before improving completely as a ballclub. Even the big market teams have stars that came from within. I don’t see any reason Baltimore should try to improve from external options unless it is someone, like Fielder, who can fit into the long term plans. They really need to look into turning Guthrie, Gregg, Reynolds, guys like that, into pieces for the future and spend big in the draft, especially if hard slotting (horrible idea) is implemented in the next CBA. If 2012 is the last year without hard slotting then it will be imperative that they spend big in this upcoming draft.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Let’s say the O’s signed the following players for the following contracts:

Sizemore: 1yrs $9M
Buehrle: 4yrs $50M
Barajas: 1yr $2.5M  (Note from BSL, Barajas signed with Pittsburgh yesterday)
DeJesus: 1yr $5M

That would equal a $29M investment for ’12. Adding that to the $65-$70M payroll which currently exists, and we are talking about a payroll in the $94-$99M range. That would be elevated over last year, but probably palatable to the O’s.

This would leave the O’s looking like:

Buehrle, Guthrie, Britton, Arrieta, Matusz
Johnson, Gregg, Strop, Tillman, Simon, Hunter, Patton

Hardy SS
Markakis RF
Jones CF
Reynolds 3rd
Wieters C
Sizemore DH
Davis 1st
DeJesus LF
Andino 2nd

Roberts, Barajas, Reimold, Adams

While I think those moves would improve the O’s, Baltimore would still figure to reside in the bottom of the American League East (unless Britton, Arrieta, and Matusz drastically raised their games). If they are unlikely to move out of the cellar with such moves, do you think Baltimore would be better off saving their money?”

Mitchell: “I think they’d be better off saving that money. The free agent crop next offseason is going to potentially be great and I’d rather see them save it for that offseason or, if ownership is making Duquette spend that money he should spend it on a player like Fielder or Pujols that he can build a team around rather than a group of one year stop gaps for the same amount.”

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About the author

Chris Stoner   

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.

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