Archive for the 'Baltimore Orioles' Category

Benson trade won’t net much for O’s

Sorry, folks. I have to do a cross-posting tonight. I’m too tired to write more! This post was originally written for and posted in its entirety at Statistically Speaking at the Most Valuable Network.

The lost Orioles are at it again.

This time, the Team With No Plan has landed New York outcast Anna Benson and her husband pitcher Kris Benson in exchange for reliever Jorge Julio and prospect hurler Chris Maine. Unless new pitching coach Leo Mazzone can work some magic, this trade won’t bring much to Baltimore.

For the Mets last year, Benson seemed perfectly average but had exceedingly poor peripherals. He made 28 starts and threw to an ERA of 4.13. His ERA+, a park-adjusted number, was 101. You can’t get much more average than that. In 174.1 innings, he gave up 171 hits while walking 49 and striking out just 95. His 4.90 K/9 IP was the lowest of his career and his 1.94 K/BB rate is fairly awful. Additionally, Benson gave up 24 home runs last year.

All of these numbers raise red flags in my mind for one reason: Park Effects. Kris Benson, making 16 of 28 starts in a pitcher’s park, enjoyed the deadening effects of Shea Stadium. Let’s look at his splits: In those 16 starts, Benson threw to an ERA of 3.66 while giving up just 8 home runs in 98.1 innings. On the road, Benson threw to an ERA of 4.74 while surrendering an astounding 16 home runs in 76 innings.

According to the Bill James 2006 Handbook, Shea Stadium was a good place to pitch when it came to home runs. The park effect for home runs in Shea Stadium was 90. It was 10 percent harder to hit a home run in Shea Stadium than in the rest of the parks, on average, in the National League.

So what happens to Benson when he moves to Baltimore?

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Burnitz defections clears the way for Manny-Miggy blockbuster

A week ago, the Baltimore Orioles were on the brink of signing Jeromy Burnitz to a two-year, $12 million contract. Five days after I criticized the team for their lack of direction, Burnitz has switched direction and is close to a one-year deal with the Pirates, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

For the Pirates, this is a bad move really. Pittsburgh, perennial bottom-feeders in the NL Central, already had a better-than-average hitter in Craig Wilson. While ESPN didn’t list him as a Pirates starter, it’s hard to imagine Wilson, who hit 29 home runs in 2004 before missing much of 2005 with injuries, lingering on the Pirates’ bench. Much like the Orioles, the Pirates a team going nowhere fast while flushing money down the drain.

However, the Burnitz deal is only tangentially about the Pirates. More importantly, Burnitz’s decision to spurn the Orioles or the Orioles’ decision to look elsewhere for a right fielder matters more for the fact that the Orioles aren’t wasting payroll or a roster spot on Burnitz. In fact, it may pave the way for the Manny-Miggy blockbuster that’s been rumored in major media outlets and blogs across the country.

The Orioles have their backs to the wall with Miguel Tejada. He wants to be traded, and other teams are courting Baltimore. The Cubs have inquired about Tejada and are willing to part with Mark Prior if the price is right. But the biggest suitor seems to be one of Baltimore’s AL East rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are rumored to be offering up Manny Ramirez and pitcher Matt Clement for Tejada and one of Baltimore’s outfield prospects Nick Markakis.

Without Burnitz, the Orioles need to do something for their team. While Burnitz wouldn’t have been an offensive savior for a struggling Baltimore franchise, his decision to sign with the Pirates may be a sign that the free agent, much like the All Star short stop, wasn’t keen on playing on a team going nowhere. By trading Tejada for Ramirez, the Orioles may well be signaling that they are ready to go somewhere.

If the Red Sox and Orioles consummate this complicated trade, I see two possible outcomes. The first is that Ramirez stays on with Baltimore. He’ll slot nicely into the Orioles’ lineup and would mash the ball in Camden Yards just as well as he would mash anywhere. As a bonus, the Orioles would get a decent mid-rotation starter in Matt Clement, and Clement would have three years to work with pitching guru Leo Mazzone in an effort to put his talent together and possibly put his inconsistencies behind him.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox would get a short stop for the next five years who’s at the top of his game. Tejada would fill in the gap nicely that Manny leaves open in the lineup. And it’s hard to believe that Tejada in 2008 for $12 million would be a worse deal than Manny in 2008 for nearly $20 million. While the Red Sox would still have to find a left fielder, Tejada would certainly be an adequate replacement for Manny’s bat in the lineup. Plus, a Miggy-David Ortiz duo is fairly fearsome.

In the second scenario, the Orioles keep Clement but spin Ramirez to the Mets for a pitcher and a prospect. The pitcher could be Kris Benson and the prospect could be Lastings Milledge. Both of those names have been bandied about. In this scenario, the Mets get their man, and the Orioles get another pitcher who could enjoy Leo Mazzone’s tutelage along with a prospect. These moves could both benefit the Orioles further on down the line.

Now, while it’s fun to play virtual General Manager, a few obstacles stand in the way of this trade. First, the Orioles are not too keen on trading Miguel Tejada to a division rival. While the Orioles are in no danger of competing against the Red Sox in 2006, they don’t want to have to face Tejada 19 times a season every year until the end of the decade. Second, Manny’s no-trade clause represents a bit of a challenge in this move. Ramirez could threaten to veto the trade if he doesn’t get a significant contract extension; he may ask the Orioles to guarantee his options through 2010 at $20 million a season. A guarantee of that amount until Manny is in his late 30s could cripple the Orioles (or Mets) financially.

In the end, I remain skeptical that this trade will happen. The Orioles are under no obligation to trade their best offensive player and to assume a ton of money in the deal. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Peter Gammons reported just a few minutes ago that the long rumored four-way trade has never really been a reality. Executives seem to think Tejada will remain with the Orioles, and the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for their short stop solution and a destination for Manny Ramirez.

Either way, we should know by the end of this week. The Orioles are determined to resolve this issue sooner rather than later. It’s a tough situation for a struggling team, and I don’t envy them this decision.

Orioles signings show lack of direction

The Orioles are a beaten and beleaguered team these days. They’ve suffered through steroid scandals and disgruntled stars. With eight straight seasons under .500 and just one third place finish among a sea of fourth-place seasons since winning the American League in 1997, the Orioles are a team without much of a plan. No where is that more obvious than in the team’s recent decisions to go with Jeff Conine and Jeromy Burnitz for the 2006 season.

Last week, the Orioles and 39-year-old Conine came to terms on a one year deal. “It looks like he might get more playing time than he bargained for,” Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said about the Conine. That’s quite a statement about a team struggling to retain any semblance of competitiveness in a division that features the Yankees, Red Sox, and a revamped Blue Jays team.

Conine, for a 39-year-old, isn’t awful. Last season for the Marlins, he hit .304/.374/.403 with just 3 home runs in nearly 400 plate appearances. He created 52 runs last year as a part-time player and shouldn’t be anything more than that. However, the Orioles, according to Perlozzo, seem to have greater plans for him.

As far as I can tell, Conine would probably play first base or maybe the outfield. In either case, his production would be far below league average for the position. In the American League, he would have been dead last among first baseman for home runs and second to Scott Podsednik among left fielders. While I admire his .374 on-base percentage, teams need a little more power out of the first base or left field slot.

Furthermore, with Conine hogging a position in the field, the Orioles would be denying Walter Young or Val Majewski a shot at a job. Young, 25, is being groomed to play first base for the Orioles. He had decent AAA numbers and showed that he could hit Major League pitching albeit in just 33 at-bats this season. Due to an injury, Majewski isn’t as close to the Majors as Young is, but he seems to have a higher ceiling. He’s hit well in the Minors and has shown marked improvement over the last few years.

The Orioles are a team that needs new blood. Why should they waste a starting position with a utility player turning 40 in June? I think the Orioles should use Conine as a bench player. He would be an excellent fourth outfielder/emergency first baseman for the team. But to give him a starting job or award him the DH slot now seems like a waste of an offensive position.

A week after signing Conine, the Orioles inked Jeromy Burnitz to a two-year, $12-million deal. In Burnitz, they are getting a 37-year-old strike out machine who plays sketchy defense. Since turning 30, Burnitz has seen his OBP drop from .402 in 1999 to .322 in 2005. Except for one year playing in Coors, he hasn’t hit above .258. But he has struck out 100 times or more every season since assuming a full-time role in 1997.

So now, the Orioles are stuck with an immobile outfielder who may very well be ready to retire at the end of this contract. Once again, the team is blocking a future outfielder – Majewski – and they are clogging up the offense.

Furthermore, looking at Burnitz’s comparables on Baseball-Reference, I get the sense that the Orioles may not get much production from their latest addition. His highest comparable (a similarity score developed by Bill James) is Jay Buhner who retired at 36. Next is Darryl Strawberry who had just over 40 at bats at age 37, and then Ron Gant who had a decent enough season at 37 but only played 102 games. The Orioles expect Burnitz to play ball at a $6-million-per-year level for two seasons when most players like him don’t last much beyond 36. This doesn’t seem like smart money to me.

The Orioles are in an unenviable position. They have faced on-field and off-field problems. In 2006, they’ll be playing three powerhouses – the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays – 57 times. They’ve seen a decline in attendance and a increase in Camden Yards boos. In fact, with the Yanks or Sox in town, it seems as though more fans are rooting for the visiting team.

While the Orioles have seemingly taken the “throw in the towel” approach toward competing in the American League East, they would do well to imitate the team they could finish below in the standings this year. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have shed payroll and have developed a young core of exceptional players. The Orioles keep pursuing over-paid, over-the-hill guys on the edge of retirement. It just doesn’t work as a plan.

Hey, must be the money. Or is it the winning, Miguel?

Since demanding a “change of scenery” last week, Miguel Tejada has backpedaled faster than a clown on a unicycle.

Tejada, the Orioles’ All-Star short stop who signed a six-year, $72-million contract before the 2004 season, publicly bemoaned the Orioles’ commitment to winning and improving last week. “I’ve done many things with this team and I haven’t seen results, and the other teams are getting stronger while the Orioles have not made any signings to strengthen the club,” Tejada said to the Associated Press.

In a tirade against the Orioles’ front office which has stood idly by while the Blue Jays and, to a lesser extent, the Red Sox have made waves in the division, Tejada hinted that maybe he would be better elsewhere. “I’ve been with the Orioles for two years and things haven’t gone in the direction that we were expecting,” he said. “So I think the best thing will be a change of scenery.”

At the time, this was construed as a backhanded trade demand. Tejada, unhappy with losing, wanted out. But as rumors swirled over the weekend that the Orioles were seriously investigating a trade and the Red Sox, Cubs, and even Mets came up as possible destinations for the short stop, Tejeda and his teammates have quickly reversed course. According to today’s Washington Post, Tejada’s new teammate, catcher Ramon Hernandez, said Tejada wishes to stay in Baltimore. Melvin Mora, the Orioles’ third baseman, had expressed similar sentiments a few days earlier.

While Tejada’s soap opera has been playing itself, another player on the Orioles is unhappy. This time, it’s their erstwhile catcher Javy Lopez who seems destined for the designated hitter spot now that Hernandez is joining the team. Lopez, the incumbent catcher who claims he wasn’t consulted before Baltimore landed Hernandez, is rightfully upset. He wants to catch, but instead he received a vote of no confidence from his employers. What’s going on with the Baltimore Orioles?

At this point, it looks doubtful that Tejada will be dealt, but this escapade highlights a few issues surrounding Miguel Tejada and the Orioles. I have to question Miguel Tejada’s commitment to winning. In 2003, it was a foregone conclusion that Miguel Tejada had, through his MVP season and all-around stellar playing, priced himself off of the Oakland A’s. During the winter of 2004, Tejada opted to sign with the Baltimore Orioles. At the time, the Orioles hadn’t won more than 74 games since 1999 and hadn’t finished above .500 since 1997. They had no plan, and they have yet to make an effort to develop one.

In my opinion, Tejada has no ground upon which to stand here. In 2004, any baseball fan, executive, agent, or writer could have told Tejada that the Orioles weren’t a team that could or would win. The Orioles, as they’ve been for years, were a team that would throw money at an All Star and hope for the best. Tejada bit, and he landed on a team with a two-headed, bipolar monster as a General Manager.

Now, two years later, he wants to win, but as one who has to be responsible for his own decisions, Tejada is stuck. He opted for money over winning, and so far, all it’s gotten him is money over winning and a fleeting month and a half in first place at the very start of 2005. Tejada made a commitment to the Orioles, and he should honor it. He had his chance to pick a winning team with a rosy outlook, and he didn’t. The Orioles aren’t obliged to trade Tejada and should keep him if they can’t find a trade partner willing to give up some value. Tejada now has to be a good teammate and has help his team win. P

Plus, that $12 million ain’t too shabby.

But on the other hand of this divide are the Baltimore Orioles. They are certainly not blameless here. First, they’ve upset their start short stop. If I give Miguel the benefit of the doubt, maybe the Orioles misled him. If they said they were going to try to compete by 2006 and Tejada signed on, then the Orioles haven’t really delivered on their promise. They haven’t landed any of their target free agents. They lost their All Star closer. They were engulfed in a steroid scandal in which Tejada was named, baselessly it seems, by a player once respected for his integrity and honesty. The Orioles, no matter how you spin it, have fallen off the tedious bandwagon they were once on.

Then, the Orioles showed how poorly they handle their players by insulting their catcher. To skip asking Lopez about the arrival of Hernandez shows poor judgment on behalf of the Baltimore front office. This is a team that needs to eke out every contribution it can from the 25 guys on the roster just to retain any semblance of competitiveness in the American League East. To insult one of their offensive cornerstones hardly wins them any points.

So now the Orioles are left with a disgruntled, but rich, short stop and a rightfully upset former catcher. They’ve sat by and watched the Blue Jays improve. With a young crop of Devil Rays on the way and little hope for Baltimore, Miguel Tejada, his $72 million, the Baltimore Orioles may soon be staring up at the rest of the American League East from that lonely fifth position in the division.


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