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National Writers Discuss The Baltimore Orioles

Recently we had the opportunity to ask several leading Sabermetricians their thoughts on the Baltimore Orioles. You can find that interview at: http://baltimoresportsandlife.com/?p=1753

Following-up on that Q&A, I have posed some additional Orioles related questions to some of the most recognized Baseball writers throughout the country.

Baltimore Sports and Life thanks each of the following writers for taking the time to provide their analysis.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/columnists/cs-phil-rogers,0,1373147.columnist
http://twitter.com/#!/ChiTribRogers

Scott Miller, CBSSports.com
http://www.cbssports.com/columns/writers/scott_miller/archive
http://twitter.com/#!/ScottMCBSSports

Craig Calcaterra, NBCSports.com / Hardball Talk
http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/author/ccalcaterra/
http://twitter.com/#!/craigcalcaterra

Joe Lemire, Sports Illustrated
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/writers/joe_lemire/archive/
http://twitter.com/#!/SI_joelemire

Baltimore Sports and Life: “With Pitchers & Catchers a few weeks away, the O’s roster currently looks like:

Roberts 2nd
Hardy SS
Markakis RF
Lee 1st
Scott DH
Reynolds 3rd
Wieters C
Jones CF
Pie / Reimold LF

Bench:
Reimold / Pie, Tatum, Fox, Izturis

Rotation:
Matusz, Guthrie, Arrieta, Bergesen, Tillman  (Britton in AAA)

Bullpen:
Locks: Uehara, Gonzalez, Gregg, Johnson, Berken
Potential: VandenHurk, Accardo, Rosario, Patton, Rapada, another FA lefty -?

What immediately jumps out at you when looking at the roster?”

Rogers: “Looks like an interesting team but two things – too many older guys in the lineup who need bounce-back type years to make it as good as it could be with Wieters and Jones 7-8, and still counting too much on untapped potential in the starting rotation. The roster could use more proven guys in their mid-to-late 20s.”

Miller: “What immediately jumps out to me, first, is what did a year ago: Young, talented players like Wieters, Matusz, Arrietta, Tillman and Adam Jones. Especially the pitchers. To compete in the AL East, you have to have stoppers. I think Matusz in particular can develop into that guy, but it’s a process. As for Wieters, we saw in San Francisco last year how valuable a young catcher with tools can be in Buster Posey. And this is a big year for Jones. His development arc wasn’t as steep in 2010 as some thought it would be. He’s a future star. He needs liftoff now.”

Calcaterra: “The vastly improved infield and another year on the odometer of each of the starters. I was pleased with the additions of Reynolds, Lee and Hardy. Not because they were the absolute best players available at every position, but because each was an improvement on what came before. At this stage of the team’s development, that’s the key. Not hitting home runs with The Biggest Free Agent Signings Out There.”

Lemire: “It’s better. Andy MacPhail has done a nice job improving the Orioles. The club’s infielders combined for a .247/.302/.348 batting line with just 55 home runs last year — its homer total and OPS were both second worst in the AL, beating only Seattle. MacPhail did a nice job recognizing that power was more scarce than bullpen arms, so trading Hernandez and Mickolio for Reynolds was a coup because he then brought in Gregg.

That said, this Orioles team will still take plenty of lumps this year because, as much as it improved, the rest of the AL East is still significantly more talented — at least in 2011. There’s enough young talent on Baltimore’s roster, however, that a wild-card push in 2013 is not unreasonable.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “If the price was right, the Orioles apparently have some interest in Guerrero. The signing would move Scott to LF, and result in either Pie traded or Reimold to AAA. Do you think that is a move the O’s should pursue?”

Rogers: “Sure. Vlad could be a first-half force at Camden Yards and give Andy Mac a valuable trading piece at mid-season. Both Pie and Reimold have enough experience that you shouldn’t worry too much about costing them at-batgs. They’re largely who they are, and if they are forced to be fourth and fifth outfielders, so be it.”

Miller: “I’d do it for a couple of reasons. First, attendance has been shrinking so severely in Baltimore that the O’s are walking a thin line between needing to grow young players into a nucleus, and needing to pop for star players the fans will enjoy watching. Vladimir definitely is the latter. I don’t see Pie or Reimold as an essential piece of a young nucleus. Pie’s tryout in Chicago and now Baltimore has lasted long enough: You know what you’re going to get in him. And Reimold isn’t the long-term answer, either. The future of this team is in its young pitching, Wieters, etc. I don’t think Vladimir Guerrero on a one-year deal is a bad idea.”

Calcaterra: Only if it’s really, really low money. I worry about Scott in left, and with a young staff I think you want to make sure you can run with the best defense you can muster with what you have. It would be different if I thought Vlad had a big year left in him, but his second half fade and MIA act in the playoffs is cause for concern.”

Lemire: “I wouldn’t pursue it, no. While signing Vlad will undoubtedly improve the club in 2011 and attract more fans, it would stunt the growth of Reimold and/or Pie, not to mention that Scott isn’t a very good fielder. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told me that what accelerated the Rays’ progress was this: “The key to their turnaround is when they stopped trying to be competitive right now at the major-league level instead of trying to build something for the long haul.” Tampa Bay had been spending too much money on guys like Greg Vaughn, Tino Martinez, et al., and Baltimore signing Vlad would be of the same ilk. They already have Derrek Lee, which is helpful because there’s no first baseman knocking on the door and there is a need for a basic threshold of team performance at the major-league level. But Vlad would keep Reimold from getting at bats.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “If Pettitte does not return, whose rotation has more upside Baltimore or NY? (Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett, Nova, Mitre with Brackman in the wings).”

Rogers: “Amazingly, the young Orioles are deeper and potentially better. But the Yankees’ situation could change if they get Betances and Banuelos off to fast starts.”

Miller: “For me, right now, the Yankees still have more upside on the short-term because the O’s do not have anybody close to doing what CC Sabathia does. And, Phil Hughes is coming off of a stellar year, and as knuckleheaded as A.J. Burnett is, he’s at least had years where he’s done it. The fourth and fifth spots, for me, Baltimore has more upside right now as things stand. But this is a very good question. And if Matusz and TIllman develop, the O’s very quickly could gain the advantage here.”

Calcaterra: Depends on if you mean short term or long term upside. Not to knock the O’s, but if it’s short term, I think the answer is still New York. Sabathia is an ace and, if we’re talking upside, both Hughes and Burnett are excellent pitchers who, at their best, are better than the guys the Orioles have at this time. Long term the Orioles do, simply because there will be a day when Sabathia is gone and Burnett it toast. Put differently, barring free agent signings (which, yes, I know there will be some by the Yankees), the Orioles have a better staff to project to three or four years from now than the Yankees do.”

Lemire: The Yankees rotation is still better in 2011 and likely 2012 with the crew they have, but eventually Matusz, Tillman, Britton, Arrieta will pass them. Baltimore’s starting staff is about two years of development behind Toronto’s. That’s the better parallel. And Guthrie could end up like Shaun Marcum — traded for more prospects.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “How would you compare the O’s current roster to teams outside of the AL East?”

Rogers: “I’d say they’re definitely behind three teams in the AL Central, and two in the AL West. That would probably be the best place they could be, because they arguably stack up against Oakland, and some think the A’s can contend this year. In the Central, they’re probably ahead of Kansas City and Cleveland, but that’s it.”

Miller: “The O’s roster compared to teams outside of the AL East remains a work in progress, and so much of it will be dependent on health. Is Brian Roberts still capable of playing at an All-Star level, for example? Derrek Lee was nicked up last year — if healthy this year, is he still capable of doing what he once did? I don’t see the overall roster matching up in terms of talent with the Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Angels or possibly even Oakland, depending on how some things break down there.  Mark Reynolds will be a key. If he can cut down at least a little on his strikeouts and still produce big power numbers, it will help. I’m not sure the bullpen is where it needs to be yet.”

Calcaterra: Overall I think the O’s would stand a chance of surprising people in most divisions outside of the East, where they’re probably, at best, a fourth place team in 2011. I don’t think I could pick them for a playoff spot anywhere else, but I wouldn’t pick them last in any division outside of the AL East. Probably a mid-pack team elsewhere, with a chance to challenge later than most people think if everything broke right.”

Lemire: Baltimore would be a year or two closer to contention if they weren’t in the hellacious AL East, which is just a real gauntlet, a division of attrition after facing each other 18 games per season. But the rest of the AL is pretty strong too, with Chicago, Minnesota and maybe Detroit battling for the Central and Texas being pushed by Oakland and possibly Los Angeles out West. But those two divisions are a bit more top-heavy than the East. The O’s are on the right track but it’s a process. And it should be comforting to realize that, under MacPhail, the club has been acting smartly.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “The O’s signed Kevin Gregg to a 2 year $10M deal with a vesting option for 2013. Gregg’s signing did not cost the loss of a compensatory draft-pick.

In the past 3 years, some of Gregg’s numbers are:
2008:
72 games, 68.2 ip, 51 hits, 3 hr’s, 37 bb’s, 58 k’s, .203 baa, .585 OPS, 0.88 G/F
2009: 72 games, 68.2 ip, 60 hits, 13 hr’s, 30 bb’s, 70 k’s, .229 baa, .740 OPS, 0.64 G/F
2010: 63 games, 59 ip, 52 hits, 4 homers, 30 bb’s, 58 k’s, .237 baa, .712 OPS, 0.76 G/F

This pretty clearly illustrates what Gregg brings to the table. A guy that is pretty durable, that figures to give up less than a hit per IP, have mediocre control, and good k rates. Did the O’s over-spend to sign Gregg?”

Rogers: “No, I don’t think so. He’s an average closer – the concern I have after watching him with the Cubs is a tendency to give up homers, which could hurt him in Baltimore – and an average closer is a valuable piece to have. It gives Showalter a chance to line up guys behind him.”

Miller: “I think to a degree they did, given that Kevin Gregg is a solid reliever who has not proven to be dominant. However, this is Baltimore’s lot in life right now: The O’s HAVE to overpay to a degree on the free agent market because one, they’ve had so much trouble attracting free agents to sign with them in recent years and, two, no pitcher in his right mind wants any part of the AL East with those fearsome lineups. Something has to give somewhere, and Baltimore has had difficulty putting a bullpen together in recent years. So it’s hard to blame them for overpaying.”

Calcaterra: Not radically so. I think he got a bit of a premium over what guys like Grant Balfour got because he has some saves after his name on Baseball-Reference.com, but it’s not like his deal was ridiculous. He’ll make about $1.5 million more than the Blue Jays are paying Octavio Dotel to close games, and I’d much rather have Gregg doing it than Dotel. Basically, I think Gregg profiles as a pretty good setup man who is being paid like an average closer. If it is too much money it’s only a tad. There are a great many worse contracts that were handed out this winter.”

Lemire:Probably not. There’s a certain measure of satisfaction in holding onto wins when you have the lead — blowing saves can be crippling for the morale of a young club — and as I mentioned above, it was easier to replace arms in the bullpen via free agency than obtain power potential like Reynolds’.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “During 2005-10 period the O’s have had 17 picks during the first 3 rounds of the Draft. In that same period the Yankees have had 18, Tampa 21, Toronto 27, and Boston has had 30. Is this evidence of a failure of the O’s Front Office to gain (or protect) compensatory draft-picks, or is this evidence of a flawed compensatory system?”

Rogers: “This is a very intriguing point. I can’t fault the Orioles, as they haven’t had guys leaving who are in demand elsewhere. I’d say it illustrates a third point – the Red Sox have a dangerous combination of brainpower and spending power. They’ve worked the system very, very well.”

Miller: “A little bit of both. But mostly, I think that time period is too arbitrary to determine for sure, and here’s why: Andy MacPhail came to the Orioles in June, 2007, and one of his missions was to improve the draft and improve the farm system. I think since his arrival in ’07, the philosophy has changed and more value has been put on the draft (i.e., Wieters). I haven’t broken down the numbers since Andy has been in charge, but I’d be surprised if time doesn’t show that the O’s drafting, in both numbers and talent, improve in the MacPhail era.”

Calcaterra: Good question. I wish I had a more informed answer (I haven’t studied the Orioles’ drafts as much as I might have). I’ll cop out and say it’s a little of both. I don’t like the compensatory system because it’s really hard on teams who want to get bullpen help in the free agent market. That said, I seem to recall them losing a number of picks in 2007 and 2008 due to some ill-advised signings.”

Lemire: “My instinct on this is that Baltimore simply has suffered from disappointing performances. The Type A and B designations for free agents — which result in compensatory picks — are assigned based on a formula of performance concocted by the Elias Sports Bureau. The O’s haven’t drafted and developed star talent nor have they acquired (via trade or free agency) the type of players who rank highly in that system. Aubrey Huff, for instance, received a three-year, $20 million contract, the type of guy who ought to return a compensatory pick when he leaves. He was on track to be a Type B free agent at the end of 2009 before Baltimore traded him to Detroit where he so badly underperformed that he was no longer classified. But the trade worked out for Baltimore, as it acquired reliever Brett Jacobson, who was then shipped to Minnesota for J.J. Hardy.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “The O’s spent $8.8M on the 2009 Draft, and a similar amount in 2010. After graduating Wieters, Reimold, Matusz, Bergesen, Arrieta, Tillman, and Berken to the Majors over the past two seasons – the organization was recently ranked just 21st overall by Baseball America heading into 2011. With 13 consecutive losing seasons, the O’s have had trouble obtaining marquee Free Agent talent. With the goal of infusing cheap talent controlled long-term by the organization, do you think the O’s should drastically increase their Draft spend (perhaps up to $15M) for 2011?”

Rogers: “Look at how the Rays improved form bad to very solid under Andrew Friedman. They invested heavily in building up young talent in every means available, both through the draft and in international signings. The upcoming draft – 2011 – could be the last time that a team can get more than its share of talent by spending “above slot” to get guys who have fallen because of financial demands. It is expected to be a very good draft. So it seems that 2011 would be a good year to spend heavily in the draft. But beyond that we’ll have to see what comes from MLB’s push for a firm slotting system in its negotiations with the players union.”

Miller: “That’s a tough question because after 13 consecutive losing seasons, rebuilding projects become cliche and the fans don’t want to hear anymore about what’s going to happen in 5 years. I never think it hurts to improve the budget where the draft is concerned. I think you’ve got to take it on a year-by-year basis: In years where the draft is deep, devote more money to it. In years where it is not, maybe take that extra $3 million and put it into the International free agent market, or, into the major-league free agent market. I don’t think there is a blanket answer that is correct here.”

Calcaterra: My answer to this question is always yes, simply because I’m a huge fan of building through the draft. That said, if that core that came up before 2011 begins to gel, it’s going to be way easier to attract bigger named free agents. It’s simply a matter of guys wanting to go someplace where they think they can win. There was a time when people didn’t want to go to Philly. That changed once they got better. It’s not rocket science.”

Lemire:Scouting, draft, developing. That’s the trick to building — look at the Rays and Jays in the division, not to mention the job the Red Sox have done spending above slot in the draft in order to either promote those prospects or trade them for a guy like Adrian Gonzalez. So the O’s should save the money they would spend on Vlad and devote it to the draft. The rate of return is better. A few extra-hundred thousand in a signing bonus can go a long way toward signing a pick — much farther than it would toward a free agent.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “The O’s were 37-37 in their last 74 games last season, with a 4.13 ERA. After Showalter took over, the O’s had 36 Quality Starts in 57 games with a 3.16 ERA. The O’s have now majorly upgraded at 1st, SS, and 3rd. To me, it should be realistic for this team to compile a 4.20 team era, and score 115+ more runs. As is, I think their legitimate (median case) prospects are between 81-85 wins. Looking at the current roster, would record would you predict for the Orioles in 2011?”

Rogers: “Buzzkill here. I’d see them still in the 75-80 range. In part, that’s a tip of the hat to the AL East, which is going to be very good given Boston’s upgrading. Tampa Bay and Toronto may be a little down but I see a best-case scenario that has either of them contending with the Red Sox and Yankees. I don’t see the same picture for the Orioles. I also think you should be careful not to read too much into the improvement that happened after the managerial change in 2010. It’s much easier to take the first step forward than the subsequent ones. History shows that over and over.”

Miller: “79-83.”

Calcaterra: I think it’s awfully hard to predict a 15-19 win jump like you do, if for no other reason than because those wins have to come at someone’s expense, and (a) I don’t think anyone in the AL East has regressed so much that those games are easy to identify; and (b) I don’t think the Orioles play enough games outside of the division thanks to the unbalanced schedule to find that many wins wither. I’d say that a run at .500 is not unreasonable, but I also tend to think that’s the top end of expectations, not the low end. I’d say anywhere between, I dunno, 76-81 wins is fair. Which is a big improvement to be sure. I’ll admit, though, that I am not a stat-head by training and this is just gut feeling more than anything else.”

Lemire:I’m afraid I’m not as optimistic about the club, given the strength of the division. The Orioles should improve a few games on their 24-48 intra-division record, but I don’t see them eclipsing 28, maybe 30, wins against the East. They were already fair against the Central (17-20) and the West (18-17) and could pick up a few wins there too, but I’d peg Baltimore in the range of 72-76 wins. That’s still an improvement of 6-10 wins over 2010.”

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Written by Chris Stoner
6 years ago
Baltimore Orioles, Q&As / Podcasts,

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 [email protected].

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