The Orioles: The “Off” Season

As promised, I will be writing this first post to evaluate the Orioles offseason as I see it. The first move was one that I was not particularly pleased with: the replacement of our GM Andy MacPhail. MacPhail wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t exactly like he has coming into much when he first took the job here in 2007. In his time in Baltimore, MacPhail built up a solid core of good, young players (Markakis, Jones, Wieters). Unfortunately, somebody got impatient with MacPhail and decided that a changing of the guard was necessary.

Frankly, I would usually have no problem with this philosophy. During MacPhail’s tenure, the O’s never won more than 70 games. However, as stated, my problem is not with his exit but with his replacement. Dan Duquette built some great teams in Montreal and in Boston. However, the man has been out of baseball for a long time. Didn’t it occur to the powers that be (whether that be Angelos, or whoever else) that there may be a reason for this? In my opinion, he is not an upgrade over MacPhail. In fact, judging by many of his moves this offseason, he may be a downgrade. While this opinion may render me bias to dislike Duquette, the man definitely could have earned my respect by making quality moves. I’m about to explain where he failed.

Here were the needs of the Orioles heading into the 2011-2012 offseason:

  • Starting pitching- The Oriole’s pitching staff was dead last in E.R.A. last season. It doesn’t matter how much you can score, you WILL NOT compete with a pitching staff that does that.
  • Bullpen- I seriously think I almost had an aneurism every time Kevin Gregg took the mound. Seriously, the guy is awful; at this point, I would cut him loose and eat his contract. At least it would free up a roster spot. Even when we had a lead late in the game, the ‘pen had a tendency to blow it far too often.
  • Utility Players- We needed some depth off of the bench. All the talk of acquiring some big name player for the offense was just dumb. Our offense was middle of the road for the league last year, 14th in run scored, 14th in average, and 19th in OBP. While not amazing, this offense is feasible for a contender; the money would be better spent on the pitching staff. All that was really needed was some more depth on the roster.
  • Reforming the Minor League System- I understand bad luck, but why in the hell does it always seem to be our prospects that fizzle out or fail? My guess is that our scouting department and lower-level coaching staffs just aren’t as good as those for other teams. Changes had to be made at the organizational level.

Now that I have set out our needs, I will evaluate the moves that Duquette made to satisfy those those needs.

  • Starting Pitching Moves: Duquette made the move to acquire Wei-Yin Chen for about 3.5 million a year. He also signed Tsuyoshi Wada for about 4 million a year. Duquette traded Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel (…ugh), traded for veteran lefty Dana Eveland and also signed Armando Galaragga and Casey Fossum. There is also speculation that perhaps Jim Johnson could move into the rotation.

Evaluation: This is sickening to even think about as it stands. The best moves on here are the signings of Wada and Chen, and they aren’t even proven players. It’s great that the Orioles want to get into the foreign market, but they aren’t even hedging their bets. Galarraga and Fossum, though they don’t really hurt, only provide minor league depth realistically. The Eveland trade was a decent move; he was great in September this past year. However, and I may get chastised for saying this, the Guthrie move may be one of the worst trades I have ever seen. Here’s why: Not only did we give away a guy that has been our best pitcher over the past 4 years, we got Hammel, who at best seems to be a number 5 pitcher, and is already 29 years old. Guthrie’s run support was awful in Baltimore, on the Yankees he probably could have won 17 games; as it is I predict Guthrie to go 15-12 with an ERA around 3.80 in Colorado (once again, I’m going to get chastised for saying things like that). Duquette really got jobbed. If this was the best he could do, he might as well have tried to wait and sell high at the deadline for prospects. Now we really have to hope Matusz, Arrieta, Britton and Hunter can pan out because I highly doubt that any of these moves gave us the ace of the staff that we so desperately need.

What I would have done: I have no problem with the Galaragga and Fossum signings, and the Eveland trade was good for depth. I would have used the money from the Chen and Wada signings to sign Edwin Jackson and Paul Maholm instead. Maholm and Jackson are 29 and 28 respectively, and should be entering the prime of their careers. They seem to have made breakthroughs last year, and it really would not have cost us all that much more. I would also have kept Guthrie. My rotation would have looked something like this: 1. Guthrie, 2. Jackson 3. Maholm 4. Hunter 5. Eveland, with Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, Galaragga and Tillman in AAA, with Fossum in AA. If Eveland were to get knocked around, we could get rid of him and bring one of the kids up to take his spot. Worst come to worst, we would at least probably have some trade chips come the deadline. Instead, Duquette is going to ruin Hunter by putting him in an ace spot. The kid is going to be completely alienated being knocked around in Baltimore this year. Worse yet, I don’t even know what we’re going to do about the other 3 spots beyond him and Chen. Duquette failed MISERABLY in a place where we needed upgrades the most.

  • The Bullpen: We have not yet decided what to do with Johnson, but for now I’ll pencil him in as the closer. We still have Strop, who was very good for us at the end of last year, and Patton, who I think is going to be a pretty good lefty (the second coming of Mike Remlinger). Berken is coming off of a weak 2011, but has shown promise in the past. Simon/Bergeson could end up as either starters or as long men. Wada also projects as a possible long man if he fails to make the rotation. We acquired Lindstrom in the Guthrie, a potential closer, but probably will end up in the set up role, and signed Luis Ayala. We also picked up Darren O’Day off of waivers, and signed Pat Neshek. We signed a number of other players for depth such as Ross Wolf, Denney Reyes, and Francis Beltran, none of whom really project to make an impact at the major league level. And we still have… Kevin… Gregg…

Evaluation: We really didn’t pick up any proven relievers. O’Day had a solid 2010, but was supposedly hurt last year. Who knows if he’s truly recovered; if so, this could be the best signing in for the pen. Lindstrom was good last year but his stats seem rather inconsistent, and as a closer, he wasn’t much better than Gregg. He also cost us our best pitcher; he was hardly worth the cost unless he becomes a closer of George Sherill-esque quality. Ayala was a good signing. Also, and this concern applies to the starting pitchers as well, we have a number of guys who have no options left. I just think that there are too many odd-men out. Duquette did ok in this area, but I think we should pull a trade with one or two of these players, if for no other reason than to just free up some space on the roster.

What I would have done: To save money for my hypothetical signings of Jackson and Maholm, I probably would not have made so many signings in this section. Ayala was solid, I definitely would not change that, but O’Day and Neshek just seem unnecessary. Have a pen of Johnson, Ayala, Strop, Patton, Bergeson, Berken and Simon. The lower level signings are fine for depth in case one of these guys gets injured or plays really awful. And I would honestly eat Gregg’s contract at this point, or trade him for whatever we could get for him, whether it be a fringe prospect or some food products for the stadium. He was a liability last year out there.

  • Utility/Bench Players: Duquette acquired Wilson Betemit, as well as Endy Chavez for the outfield. He also acquired Taylor Teagarden and Matt Antonelli and Ryan Flaherty. Duquette acquired strikeout extraordinaire Jai Davis for cash considerations.

Evaluation: I’m glad Duquette didn’t go out and do something stupid, like sign Prince Fielder to a 9 year deal; we don’t need another one of those types of contracts on the books. I like that he got some insurance at second base in case Roberts isn’t ready to go, though I’m not quite sure what Betemit does for us really. He’s kind of the odd man out in the infield, and I don’t quite know what he has that the other guys can’t already offer. I love the Chavez and Teagarden acquisitions. Duquette did pretty well in satisfying.

What I would have done: I would have pretty much done the same things, other than the Betemit signing. I probably would have signed a good defensive player, like Mark DeRosa, who would have been cheaper and a better fit for our team in terms of defense. I hate to think of how awful the “hot corner” is going to be with Betemit and Reynolds out there on a daily basis.

  • Reforming the Minor League System- Duquette made the move from emphasis on pro scouting to amateur scouting, essentially dissolving the pro scouting system. Duquette also emphasized “use of video and statistical analysis in scouting the majors”.

Evaluation: I like the original thinking, but the jury is still out on whether this move will work or not. I don’t know very much about this side of the sport, so I won’t attempt to be an all-knowing authority on this. I will say though, that I think the whole Moneyball strategy is a load of crap, and I hope Duquette isn’t taking us down that road. I do like the idea of focusing on amateur scouting more, maybe we won’t keep missing on these “can’t miss” guys.

What I would have done: Referred it to someone who knows more than me, as I have little experience in this area.

Conclusion: I think I’ve made myself clear on my opinion of this entire O’s offseason. Last year around this time, I thought MacPhail had done a pretty good job (although he too neglected starting pitching) of assembling what looked to be a competitive team on paper. I respect Andy MacPhail for that. In the words of Flats from Hall Pass, one of the funniest movies in recent memory, “It’s ok to strikeout sometimes guys, but at least take a couple of swings”. Duquette has not taken any swings, and many of the ones he has taken seem to be on pitches way out of the zone. Duquette has made a few solid moves on our less crucial needs and done a decent job fulfilling them, but on our biggest needs, Duquette has really screwed the pooch.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that anyone could make this team into a contender immediately. However, the question at this point is: Are we moving in the right direction? I would say no, we are not progressing, and it will be awhile before we see this team contend. But hey, who am I to say that? As they say, that’s why they play the games. Here’s to what I hope will be good season ladies and gents.

Questions? Comments? Post and I will get back to you when I have time. I appreciate the read, and I hope that you enjoyed it. Trust me, my posts in the future will not be this long…

All information and statistics from: http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=bal

http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/batting/sort/slugAvg/order/true

http://baseball.about.com/od/newsrumors/a/Ranking-The-2011-12-Free-Agent-Third-Basemen.htm

(http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/baltimore-orioles-shake-up-scouting-department-121611).

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