01 August 2011

Cup of jO's (August 1, 2011): Derrek Lee dump

Game Summary
Orioles 2, Yankees 4
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Recap

Baltimore dropped the final game of the series to the Bombers and finish the AL East portion of their road trip with a 2-5 record against Toronto and New York. The Birds round out July without winning a single series and have now gone almost two months since winning a series against an AL opponent. They were outscored 33-10 in the Bronx.

Next up is Kansas City -- Alfredo Simon will toe the rubber opposite former Oriole Bruce Chen on Tuesday night in the opening game of a three-game set.

Of interest...
In addition to trading stopper Koji Uehara this past weekend, Derrek Lee was moved to Pittsburgh in exchange for first baseman Aaron Baker, a 23-year old org bat who has spent 2011 in the A-Advanced Florida State League. Baker has a tick above-average raw pop and a thick frame portending impressive batting practice displays. His bat speed is merely "okay", and it's unlikely he amounts to more than an organizational piece capable of playing a solid first base and providing average production until he runs into advanced arms.

While the return is nominal, no one really expected a haul for the veteran Lee, who has struggled through a disappointing 2011 posting a triple-slash line of .246/.302/.404 over 364 plate appearances. At the same time, Orioles fans have much to celebrate with this transaction. With a tip of the hat to Mr. Lee for serving his sentence in Charm City, and best wishes as he departs for a NL Central pennant race as the second newest member of the Bucs (Pittsburgh subsequently acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres), Baltimoreans can take away two big positives from the former All-Star's departure.

First and foremost, this signals that Andy MacPhail and the brain trust coordinating the personnel decisions appear to truly be dedicated to giving Chris Davis every chance to get comfortable and show what he has as a starting first baseman. This was a large concern following the Uehara deal, as noted in Part 1 of our Koji trade analysis, and it is terrific news that the organization is going to make at least a two month commitment to figuring out whether or not Davis looks like a future contributor.

Secondly, Baltimore should be saving a little over one million dollars once cash considerations on the Lee deal are taken into account. Hopefully we will see that saved money funneled into draft signings. It would be a nice chunk of change to tack on to the offer to Georgia commit Nicky Delmonico (3b, Farragut HS, Knoxville, Tenn.) or enough to sign TCU outfielder Jason Coats outright (with some jingle left over). Of course, it's possible that the freed-up cash is required to meet 1st Rounder Dylan Bundy's immense asking price, but with plenty of other troubles in Birdland we prefer to remain positive. Here's to looking back on August 16th and fondly remembering when Mr. MacPhail was able to move Derrek Lee for an org bat and an overslot signing or two.

Note: We will not be running a "possibilities" piece on the Lee deal. Baltimore achieved a solid salary dump -- little more needs to fleshed out here. We will discuss Koji a bit more today (promise) and will also share some thoughts on what, if any, other moves would have been nice to see prior to yesterday's 4pm Eastern trade deadline.

31 July 2011

2011 Trade Deadline: Koji Uehara, reality vs. possibility (Part 1)

In our last discussion of Koji Uehara we laid out some potential suitors and target packages we would expect attainable in exchange for one of the top relievers this summer. Between then and now, Koji was shipped off to the Texas Rangers for two reasonably young players ready to step in at the Major League level -- Chris Davis (cof/cif) and Tommy Hunter (rhp). Below we'll examine this return. This afternoon we will finish with our analysis as to what we would have liked to have seen done, as relates to Uehara.

Reality: Koji for Davis and Hunter
The trade package that Andy MacPhail landed ends up a very solid return from a value standpoint. Baltimore sold high on a mid-30s relief arm with one more year of control ready to vest ($4 million) and obtained two mid-20s talents with no need for any more time in the Minors. My assumption is that the deal was structured around Uehara for Hunter, with Baltimore pushing for Davis's inclusion and Texas agreeing in exchange for the O's picking-up $2 million of Koji's 2012 salary. The $2 million is not insignificant in this context, but even as a fringe-average ML bat Davis will be worth more than that over his next four seasons under control.

Chris Davis (corner infield/corner outfield)
Most prospect enthusiasts are well aware that Davis's calling card is his elite raw power, which grades as a 75/80 on the scouting scale. The issue comes in trying to get that raw power to manifest in Major League game action, as he's long to contact with a max effort swing. This forces Davis to commit early to pitches and has lead to far too many empty swings chasing off-speed pitches at the Big League level. If Davis can make some adjustments and shorten his swing, he should see a decrease in strikeouts, which in turn should give him extra contact opportunities to get his power involved. There is Mark Reynolds upside, but it is going to take just short of an overhaul in approach and swing. As a secondary piece to the deal, this is a fine risk, but the odds are against Davis until he proves he has the ability to start making adjustments.

Defensively, Davis has soft hands at first base, and enough athleticism to fill in at a corner outfield spot or even at third. While his athleticism gives him enough flexibility to move around some, his best fit is at the three spot, and it seems unlikely he tops out at more than a fringe average defender in the other three corners.

Tommy Hunter (rhp)
Hunter is an established back-end starter with five more years of control before he can leave via free agency. Not a bad start, eh? In fact, that alone is certain "enough" return on Koji to make this a smart deal. Hunter is a big, durable body with an easy arm and uncomplicated motion. His fastball lives in the 89-92 range, but can bump as high as 96 mph when he's reaching back for it. He'll drop an upper-70s breaker for a different look, he commands the solid average pitch well enough. His change-up is also a legit average Major League offering, and when he turns it over he gets some fade.

While Hunter boasts a true average arsenal and commands each of his three offerings, his ceiling is limited due to his lack of a true out pitch and a corresponding inability to miss bats. Baltimore is hoping for a durable innings-eater that consistently will get them 6 or 7 innings a start. With continued growth we could see Hunter put together a season or two of legit #3 production, placing him on par with the likes of Jake Arrieta from a "value" standpoint. All-in-all a nice arm to have under control for the next four seasons, and someone that will hopefully provide some stability at the #4 spot while Baltimore waits for Matusz, Britton and perhaps Tillman and Arrieta to take a step forward.

Final thoughts
It is impossible to look at the deal and consider it a loss for the O's. In return for a relief arm with no real role in the club's future, Baltimore landed two 25 year olds -- one with a bit of upside and not a lot of probability, and the other likely to be a solid contributor but not much more than that. Further, adding $2 million to the deal is a no brainer if it gets you back Davis. It is another strong value package landed by MacPhail and another feather in his "good trade" hat.

The biggest challenge for Baltimore is going to be not falling into bad habits moving forward. While the return for the deal is solid, much of it is negated if Baltimore turns around and commits another $5-7 million per year on a two or three year deal for more relief pitching this off-season. Further, the Orioles can't approach developing Davis the same way that they have Nolan Reimold. Davis needs to play and the Orioles need to see what they have in the once promising slugger. Considering the monster year Davis has had at Triple-A Round Rock, it would behoove Buck Showalter to slide Davis right into the recently vacated hole at first base (discussion of the Derreck Lee trade to follow) and see where things stand come October.

Our preferred return for Koji would have been a more forward thinking package, sacrificing some proximity to the Majors for additional upside. One of Davis or Hunter and one higher upside talent, further away, would have been a boon. The same, this is hardly a package to be disappointed in. Hopefully the pro scouts pushing for Davis have identified what they would like fixed, and the Orioles end-up with two two 30-35 homerun run bats at the infield corners in 2012.

In a bit we'll post our suggested trade packages for Koji and provide some more info on the players we were hoping to see come back to the Birds.

Cup of jO's: Felix Pie's Celebration Technique

We do have some trade deadline perspective to share, but first . . . I noticed from an Orioles' message board that Felix Pie celebrates home runs in a strange way.

Click on the image and watch the helmet.
 My guess is that is Pie lost a bet at some point this season and has to chase down helmets.

Anyone have a better guess?

27 July 2011

Colby Rasmus and the Orioles

In a series of trades between three teams, Colby Rasmus wound up with the Blue Jays.  Unlike last year, the Jays used pieces that the Orioles have as well.  This differs from last year when the Jays acquired the allegedly troublesome Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez.  The Orioles did not have a cheap "proven" veteran at shortstop to offer, so I had little to write about that.  However, the Jays used the following players to get Colby Rasmus and some most likely forgettable bullpen arms:

RHSP Edwin Jackson (acquired from ChiSox)
RHRP Octavio Dotel (can be bought out at end of season)
LHRP Mark Rzepczynski
OF Corey Patterson
3 players to be named or cash

It boils down to a good, but not great starting pitcher; a right handed relief pitcher having a great season; a good young relief pitcher, a lower rung outfielder who can play every position, and a bunch of organizational guys or money.  I'd say that here are the corresponding players from the Orioles organization:

RHSP Jeremy Guthrie (extra year of control)
RHRP Koji Uehara (extra year of control)
RHRP Jim Johnson
OF Felix Pie
3 relatively unimportant players or cash

I would put Guthrie ahead of Edwin Jackson here by a nudge.  Guthrie playing for a solid team should see his wins bump up, which means he should be a relative good deal this fall during arbitration and potentially a solid type B level free agent the following season.  Koji Uehara costs about the same as Octavio Dotel and is likely to be a type A free agent in a little over a year (though the compensation might not be as good as it will be at the end of this season, so that might be a push).  Jim Johnson is not a lefty, but is probably a better pitcher than Rzep.  The rest is about the same.  I think these are pretty similar packages.

Of course, we have to ask: would the Orioles benefit from having Colby Rasmus?

The Orioles' outfield next year would look like this:
Colby Rasmus LF 260/340/450 20hr
Adam Jones CF 280/330/470 20hr
Nick Markakis RF 300/350/420 15hr

That may not look like much, but those numbers are a vast improvement over this year.  Orioles' left fielders have a collective projected WAR of -2.0 while the above projected line would be about 3.5 WAR.  That would be a swing of about 5 wins for the outfield alone.  Guthrie alone is likely a loss of 3-4 WAR with Koji and Johnson account for about 2-3 WAR.  The Cardinals should make out in the short term.  The Orioles would like break even in 2013 and then take the lead in 2014, Rasmus' last controlled year.  It looks like a fair and useful deal to both sides.  The Cardinals get good performance cheaply over a couple years while the Orioles try to develop an all star potential.

With free agency, the loss of Guthrie and Koji/Johnson may not be as significant.  Similar production might be gained by signing either Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle as a starter and someone like Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, or Octavio Dotel.  That will require an additional expenditure of around 5-8 MM more next year with the difference between the two sets of players. 

Oh well.  Maybe MacPhail has something up his sleeve.

Cup of jO's (July 27, 2011): Delay

Apologies for the delay in content. We will be up and running again by this evening. Emergencies at the "full time" gig are pushing things back some. We appreciate your patience; feel free to hit up me and Jon on Twitter (@CamdenDepot or @NickJFaleris) and we'll make sure to carve out some time to answer trade deadline questions there until we are back up on the blog.

-NJF

26 July 2011

Cup of jO's (July 26, 2011): Trading Koji Uehara

Game wrap
No game.

Travel day last night, so we skip the game comments for today. Here's the link for STATS LLC's preview of the opening game of the Baltimore/Toronto series.

Of interest...

All week we'll be using the morning "Cup of jO's" space to explore the trades we think make sense for the O's as the tradeline approaches. To recap, Jon and I have reached the conclusion that this team needs to refresh it's store of young, price controlled players. It isn't time for a "tear it down and build it up" approach yet, but there needs to be an infusion of cheaper talent or the team is simply going to run out of payroll space before they can push their overall talent level pass the low-80s win mark.

Today we look at Koji Uehara. Last week Jon gave a nice synopsis of the pros and cons of trading Koji, and the type of return he would need in order to pull the trigger. Koji's contract includes a reasonable option that will kick in at some point in August, giving the acquiring team another year of cheap performance. Jon takes a sensible approach to figuring out the variables in play in determining expected return:


He is certainly always a risk to be injured, but if the tradeoff is a marginal B level prospect now vs a marginal B level prospect next year or free agent compensation... it makes some sense to delay a deal until the next trade deadline. Added to this, there sure are a lot of right handed relievers on the market right now. You will need a team that has blinders on and focus solely on Koji or the team is going to take in something of little value.

With the exception of a truly elite talent, I'm strongly in favor of moving relief arms when you think they have hit the apex of their value. We are there with Koji. Accordingly, what we are targeting here is one B/B+ prospect and perhaps a throw-in C/C- prospect. But I'm not walking away if it's simply a 1-for-1 resulting in a solid future regular. Using Jon's suggested target teams, and a couple more I think are in play, these are the potential returns I'd be looking for:

Detroit Tigers
1. Chance Ruffin (rhp, Tigers - ML) Ruffin was just promoted and got roughed up in his debut. He's a possible future set-up man who we'll explore in more detail this evening.

2. Andy Oliver (lhp, Toledo - AAA) Oliver has logged some Major League time but has yet to stick upon promotion. He's a potential mid-rotation starter or lefty set-up man, depending on how his development rounds out.

3. Drew Smyly (lhp, Lakeland - A+) Smyly is a projectable lefty with a chance for three average or better offerings. Another potential mid-rotation arm.

Because the Tigers are also shopping for starters, we will be discussing a couple more players both in the context of a Jeremy Guthrie trade, and our "expanded trade" talk at the end of the week.

Suggested Package: Andy Oliver/Chance Ruffin and Drew Smyly

Texas Rangers
1. Michael Olt (3b, Myrtle Beach - A+) Olt has made strides over the past 12 months to both improve his defense and his contact ability at the plate. His calling card is big power, a big need for the O's, but his stock may be rising too quickly for Baltimore to land him in a Koji deal.

2. Jordan Akins (of, Rangers - Rookie) Akins is enjoying a nice year with the Rangers Arizona League Rookie squad. He's a raw but promising four tool player with an excellent chance to stay in center due to his athleticism, foot speed and arm strength. He'll require development, but would be a nice get as part of a 2-for-1.

3. Justin Grimm (rhp, Myrtle Beach - A+) Grimm was an overslot signing in the fifth round of last year's draft, showing mixed results at Myrtle Beach after cruising through the Sally League to start the year. He's being developed as a starter, and has the repertoire and size for it, but might ultimately fit best in a late inning role.

4. Andrew Clark (1b, Hickory - A) Clark, as noted by Jon, is old for the league but doing what he needs to to continue to move up the system. He's a second piece target, but one that should be attainable considering Texas has not yet invested much in him -- monetarily or developmentally.

5. Robbie Erlin (lhp, Frisco - AA) Erlin hasn't found a consistent grove at Frisco, but the stuff is still there. It could be a long shot, but if Baltimore can pry Erlin away he could give the O's solid mid-rotation production from the left side. Most importantly, he could be a much needed strike thrower for the Birds.

Jon mentioned Tanner Scheppers in his piece, but back issues have limited Schep to just 20 IP this year between AA and AAA, and it isn't a risk I'd be willing to take on at this point. There is a nice mix of talent here from which to piece together a deal. The availability of some higher profile arms (such as Heath Bell and Mike Adams) could leave Texas reticent to move their more valuable pieces.

Suggested Package: Robbie Erlin; Mike Olt; Jordan Akins and Justin Grimm

Philadelphia Phillies
1. Jonathan Singleton (1b/of, Clearwater - A+) This seems like a big stretch, but we'll pay it lip service since he was rumored to be available for relief help. Singleton had a breakout year last year before backsliding some here in 2011. He's a potential corner power bat that Baltimore would likely slide back to first base (he's currently in left due to the Ryan Howard contract).

2. Brody Colvin (rhp, Clearwater - A+) A Camden Depot favorite (and part of our "Shadow System"), Colvin missed time this year due to some back troubles not considered to be serious. He is a power arm that would pair up with Bobby Bundy to form a nice 1-2 at Bowie next year.

There is not much I see Philly parting with for Koji, but we will be revisiting the system later this week when we discuss our "expanded trade" talk.

Suggested Package: Jonathan Singleton or Brody Colvin

Pittsburgh Pirates
1. Starling Marte (of, Altoona - AA) Marte has held his own in Double-A, but continues to swing through too many pitches to make full use of his plus-plus foot speed. With McCutchen handling center field at the Major League level, Pittsburgh might be willing to part with the high upside, high risk Marte. His arm, reads and routes should make him an above-average defender in center, long term, and a useful fourth outfielder at minimum.

2. Zach Von Rosenberg (rhp, West Virginia - A) Von Rosenberg is currently teamed up with top Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon at West Virginia, and he may be off the table if Pittsburgh is committed to bringing these two arms along together. But if the Pirates are looking to try and pry open their window of competitiveness a year early, they may be willing to sacrifice one of their low-Minors arms in order to solidify the back-end of their pen for the next 1.5 years. Von Rosenberg is the obvious choice, with more tied to his projectability than "now" stuff, and more highly touted Stetson Allie and Nick Kingham following close behind at short-season State College.

3. Jeff Locke (rhp, Altoona - AA) Locke is a back-end arm as a starter, but could be useful in the pen in short order, due to a deceptive motion and running two-seamer. He's a toss-in piece, and with his development as a starter stuttering the Pirates shouldn't have an issue providing him with a fresh start somewhere else.

4. Brooks Pounders (rhp, West Virginia - A) Pounders is another promising young arm at West Virginia, pitching primarily out of the pen this year. He has potential as a mid-rotation to back-end arm down the line off the strength of his secondaries and workhorse build.

The Pirates aren't likely to mortgage the future in order to add a relief arm -- even one as impressive as Uehara this year. Still, there is a chance for Baltimore to take a stab at some upside talent here. Von Rosenberg is unlikely to be moved, but considering the depth of arms being grown in the Pirates system, maybe they bite.

Suggested Packages: Zach Von Rosenberg; Starling Marte and Brooks Pounders/Jeff Locke

We will touch on our suggested packages later tonight, with more in-depth scouting reports on our targeted acquisitions. Additionally, we'll discuss Uehara again later this weeke in the context of potential larger deals with St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and Arizona, in our "expanded trade" posts.

25 July 2011

Dempsey's Army Presents: Last Week in Chats (June 18 - July 25, 2011)

Monday afternoons Heath from Dempsey's Army will recount all things Baltimore Orioles from the previous week's chats.  It is a convenient way to learn what national writers think about specific issues that relate to the Orioles.


Jonah Keri, FanGraphs.com

4:39 Comment From Oriole Bird
I'm a little surprised that Hardy didn't test the offseason free-agent waters. He took 3 years / $22+ million from the O's. Thoughts?

4:39 Jonah Keri:
Good deal for both sides. Hardy isn't young and has fought injuries in the past, would be pretty cavalier to spit on $22M, considering he and his descendants would then be set for life.


David Schoenfiled, ESPN

Peter (Baltimore)
Curious as to your thoughts regarding the JJ Hardy extension.

David Schoenfield (1:10 PM)
I wrote a quick blog on it yesterday. Thought it was a solid deal for the Orioles, didn't really overpay. Hardy's health history makes it a little risky but there aren't many decent shortstops right now. Hardy will hold down the fort until Manny Machado is ready.

John (NY)
Hey David, I thought the Orioles did kind of overpay for Hardy. Yunel Escobar just got 2 years and 10 million and he's arguably the superior SS. In my mind, Baltimore would have been better served trading Hardy to potentially speed up their rebuilding process.

David Schoenfield (1:27 PM)
Yeah, I didn't think it was a great deal or anything. TBut players aren't directly comparable since Escobar wasn't being paid for his free agent years. If Escobar was a FA, he'd get more than $7 million per year.

Joey (Catonsville)
The O's are sellers, but have nothing to sell. Do Koji and D. Lee get moved?

David Schoenfield (2:19 PM)
I think Koji and Guthrie are the only guys they can sell and get something in return. Maybe Scott if he comes of the DL and shows he's healthy, but he hasn't hit much this year. Lee and Vlad won't much more than a C prospect.


Jack Moore, FanGraphs.com

12:38 Comment From frozendesert
Adam Jones... good? Great? Worth a Teheran or Vizcaino/Salcedo?

12:40 Jack Moore:
I'd stick with good. Love the bat, the glove doesn't appear to be that great in center field right now, and it's the third straight year UZR has graded him poorly. This time DRS is in on it too. Still not the end-all be-all, of course, and if his defense in CF is as-advertised, he is great. I'm just not sure on that front.

12:53 Comment From Dan
From your Hardy article...isn't it a bit naive to say the Orioles have no chance at being competitve within the next 3 years? Couldn't the same have been said about the Pirates before this year and the Padres before last year. 3 years is a long time...

12:55 Jack Moore: Well I used the words "don't appear to have legitimate aspirations..." I don't think too many people thought the Pirates had legitimate aspirations this year, right? Obviously, anything's possible. I was more trying to refute the argument that Hardy doesn't make sense for a non-contender, though.


Jim Callis, Baseball America

Shoshana (Boston):
Any prospects for O's fans to get excited about (already in the system) besides Schoop and Machado?

Jim Callis:
If you can wait until Aug. 15, Dylan Bundy. Machado and Schoop are the clear current standouts.


Keith Law, ESPN

Joshua (Annapolis, MD)
Jon Schoop's been struggling since his promotion, you're the one guy out there I see hyping him. What are you seeing that others must be missing?

Klaw (2:34 PM)
He's 19 in high-A - and the approach is fine. I'm talking about him because the tools point to potential stardom, not because of performance.

Ian (Boston)
What do you think is the most likely cause (realizing it most likely is a combination of factors) for the Orioles problems getting productivity from their prospects? Al East, Org issues, bad luck?

Klaw (3:08 PM)
Put it this way: If I took over as GM tomorrow, the first order of business would be to assume this was the organization's fault and to identify the cause(s). You can't move forward until that happens.


Matt Eddy, Baseball America

Dylan Bundy (OK):
No love for my brother's CG this week?

Matthew Eddy:
Hard to argue against High-A RHP Bobby Bundy's gem: 9 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts. He's part of the Hot Sheet extended family.

Wendy (Miami):
If you had to choose between Machado and Profar as the SS for your fantasy team, who wins and why?

Matthew Eddy:
With all due respect to Profar, I give the nod to Machado at this point because I think the offensive upside is higher. He could hit in the vicinity of .300 with 20 homers, though nobody seems to think he'll be anything more than average on defense.


Mike Ferrin, Baseball Prospectus

Dennis (LA):
How much do you think getting bullpen help would help the Angels make the post-season this year? They've already said they don't want to pay for the top-tier guys like Adams or Bell. What other relievers are out there that might make a difference? Koji Uehara?

Mike Ferrin:
Uehara or maybe Jim Johnson. I mean, there are about 424 available right handed relievers, and most of those are second tier guys. Thing about relievers is, let's say you get a Chad Qualls. Qualls could go out for 20IP and give up 2ER or Give up 14ER. It's too tough to predict with the less than elite players, of which there are very few. So, you bring in someone(s) with good stuff who's pitching well & you cross your fingers and pray.


Jayson Stark, ESPN

Adam (charm city)
can you please just say one thing about baltimore in this chat?

Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Sure. Great town. Great ballpark. And they're going to find a taker for Uehara. That's three things!

Cup of jO's (July 25, 2011): Trade Deadline Agenda

Game Wrap
Angels 9, Orioles 3
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Recap

Baltimore has not won a series since taking two of three from Cincinnati during the final week of June, and have dropped nine of their last eleven series (splitting the most recent four game set with Cleveland, in addition to the series win against the Reds). Baltimore hits the road next, with three games in Toronto, four in New York and three in Kansas City. Today is a travel day for the Birds -- tomorrow Jake Arrieta matches-up against Brandon Marrow and the Jays.

Of Interest...
It's that time of year where fans of first place and last place teams alike can get excited. Contenders are looking to add that last piece or two to help with the final push to the playoffs. Those out of contention have a chance to move short terms assets in exchange for players more likely to be contributors over the long haul. Baltimore, of course, falls into the latter category and should be looking to move pieces of value in order to help build up competitive core over the next season or two. However, we are going to think outside of the box a little and suggest a couple of "buyer" moves that we hope would speed up the re-stock (can't bring myself to type "rebuild" again).

Here is our tentative schedule for the week -- each morning we will introduce a potential trade partner, and later that day we'll dig into the trade possibilities (including scouting reports on trade targets we've had an opportunity to take a more in depth look at).

MON - Framing our moves, what we hope to accomplish
TUE - Potential trades with the Reds
WED - Potential trades with the Cardinals
THU - Potential trades with the Twins and Tigers
FRI - Potential trades with the Padres and Rockies

24 July 2011

The Science of Baseball: July 24, 2011 (just SLAP tears)

Today I am only writing about SLAP tears in honor of Chorye Spoone.


Labrum Tear
Chorye Spoone was designated for assignment this past week.  He was a fringe prospect when he emerged as a potential up and comer with a solid season at Frederick in 2007.  However, after a handful of games in Bowie the following season he was diagnosed with a type II SLAP tear and had surgery to repair.  As most of us baseball folk are aware, there is a great fear of a busted labrum.  After his surgery, Spoone never returned to the promised he once showed.  That is the common result.  The hope is for a Chris Carpenter moment.  He suffered a torn labrum and underwent surgery in 2002.  To say his success is a rarity is a hyperbole full of hope.  The study highlighted today focuses on SLAP tear recovery after surgery.



Results of arthroscopic repair of type II superior labral anterior posterior lesions in overhead athletes.
BJ Neuman et al.
American Journal of Sports Medicine
In Press


In the study above, Neuman and his co-authors focused on how athletes performed in their respective sports several years after undergoing surgery for a type II SLAP tear.  The athletes were all overhand athletes ranging from baseball to javelin.  The mean follow up of these athletes was 3.5 years and athletes were put through basic and surveys to determine their satisfaction with the procedure as well as their ability to once again compete at a high level.  Although the surgery was shown to permit the injured athletes to return to their normal day to day lives, it was difficult for them to return to their elite level of throwing.  The paper reports a return of 79.5% of individuals returning to pre-injury ability for baseball and softball players.  That seems awfully high to me as I understand the data being reported.  I imagine that utilizing something other than a questionnaire would find that far fewer athletes return from this surgery as strong as they were before the injury.  We just have too many examples of ruined careers to point toward.  However, 79.5% is about the same level as has been reported in more short term studies like Ides et al 2005 (75%).

Here is my incomplete list of labrum tears and results:
Kurt Ainsworth - 2005, career ender
Alberto Arias - 2009, looks like a career ender
Jose Ascaino - 2009, does not look good
Erik Bedard - 2009, very good but cannot stay healthy
Joaquin Benoit - 2009, successful comeback somewhat
John Van Benschoten - 2005, never returned to his former level
Kris Benson - 2007, career ender
Travis Blackley - 2005, never the same level of performance though disputable
Jung Bong - 2004, career tapered off (short recovery maybe a minor labrum issue)
Boof Bonser - 2009, arguably a career ender
Bryan Bullington - 2005, never the same stuff that he had before
Chris Carpenter - 2002, success
Matt Clement - 2006, career ender
Omat Daal - 2004, arguably a career ender
Scott Elarton - 2008, career ender
Kelvim Escobar - 2008, career ender
Jeff Francis - 2009, lower peripherals but similar results (arguably having his worst season)
Travis Harper - 2007, career ender
Dirk Hayhurst - 2010, looks about the same
Matt Hensley - 2005, career ender
Luke Hudson - 2003, basically returned
Eric Hurley - 2008, arguably career ender but recent skull fracture might be more so
Casey Jannsen - 2008, came back
Steve Karsay - 2004, career ender
Brian Lawrence - 2006, career ender
Curt Leskanic - 2002, returned to normal
Dustin McGowan - 2008, starting to pitch again
Gil Meche - 2001, he came back
Joe Nelson - 2007, kind of came back
Rob Nenn - 2004, career ender
Troy Patton - 2008, not the same pitcher
Mark Prior - 2006, career ender
Luke Prokopec - 2002, career ender
Aaron Rakers - 2006, career ender
Ricardo Rincon - 2006, career ender
Jason Schmidt - 2007, career ender
Mike Sirotka - 2000, career ender
Brandon Webb - 2009, career ender
Paul Wilson - 2005, career ender

I have 39 pitchers there.  I count 10 players who have come back and provided some worth.  The return rate would be 25.6% using that population above.  That is quite different from an 80% return rate somewhat suggested in the article above.  It may be that my group above includes a large number of type III tears (complete tears).

23 July 2011

2011 Trade Deadline: Koji Uehara

In the off season before the 2009 season, two older Japanese pitchers hit the market.  Both Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara were seen as older (for both 2009 would be their age 34 season) pitchers who were elite talents in Japan, but could have issues in MLB.  The Orioles were in on both pitchers as they needed starting pitching.  They balked at Kenshin's asking price which was rumored to be for a 3 year, 30 MM contract (he wound up signing with the Braves for 3 years and 23 MM) and decided to give Koji a shot with a two year deal at five million per season.  Koji had the more impressive career, but of late his value had been depressed by solely relieving and getting hurt.  Starting turned out to be too much for Koji, but he has settled into a relief role nicely and has been much more accomplished than Kenshin who is now in the minors.

Koji, currently in the first year of an almost assured two year deal and being paid 4 MM each season, is the Orioles' best trading chip in the bullpen.  At 4MM, he is not cheap, but the cost is not exorbitant.  Second, Koji has an ERA under two with a 55/8 split over 44 innings.  Third, he does have closer experience and probably should have been closing for the Orioles this season.  Fourth, if free agent compensation exists in 2012, he will likely earn it as he currently projects as the most valuable relief pitcher in the AL according to the Elias rating projection.  

Case to Keep
The Orioles' bullpen is rather thin.  Kevin Gregg is an average pitcher who gets saves.  He just is not someone you should trust in a save situation.  Jim Johnson, supposedly, is being made into a starting pitcher.  After that, you have nothing of note.  Koji is relatively cheap for a "proven" reliever, signed for another year, and will likely be just as valuable next year if not more so.  He is certainly always a risk to be injured, but if the tradeoff is a marginal B level prospect now vs a marginal B level prospect next year or free agent compensation . . . it makes some sense to delay a deal until the next trade deadline.  Added to this, there sure are a lot of right handed relievers on the market right now.  You will need a team that has blinders on and focus solely on Koji or the team is going to take in something of little value.

Case to Trade
What does one of the worst teams in baseball need with an elite setup man?  Koji currently is that and he is not making the Orioles an exceptionally better team.  Added to this, he has faced a significant injury in each of the past two years, but has been healthy this season.  Mind you that during his entire tenure with the Orioles, he has been an excellent pitcher.  He has a track record and other teams have to recognize that.  With the availability of several right handed relievers, the Orioles may not get a great deal for Koji . . . but I do not think we would see something too far off from what the team received for George Sherrill a couple years ago.  My guess is a low B level prospect and a somewhat low ceiling C level prospect.  Sherrill netted the team a high B level prospect and a low ceiling C level prospect.

Possible Trade Partners and Targets
The following teams were chosen because they are within five games of the playoffs and have received bottom third production from their bullpen.

AL

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers' pitching is a bit of a mess.  They are basically Verlander, Valverde, Albequerque, and Furbush.  Nothing else.  They have been rumored to be heavy into any available starting pitcher, but could also use more depth in the bullpen.  My guess is that you could receive Chance Ruffin who would be the low B pitcher.  He is an advanced relief arm that should replace Koji in the pen next year.  He is unlikely to be as good as Koji, but the team would have six cost controlled years.  The Tigers' system is full of C level guys, so you could simply take your pick.  Adam Wilk might be reasonable.

Texas Rangers
The bullpen consists of a strong closer (Neftali Feliz), a strong left handed setup man (Darren Oliver), and average quality depth.  The team lacks that shutdown 7th or 8th inning guy that Koji could be for them.  I think the Rangers are also smart enough to understand that Koji's performance is relatively cheap, you get a second year, and he is likely to give free agent compensation in return.  I think with big eyes you ask for Tanner Scheppers or Mike Olt.  Scheppers will be a strong arm coming out of the pen and Olt is a fine hitter who should be ready when Mark Reynolds departs.  Both of those will be hard gets.  I imagine Scheppers would be easier to pry.  Falling back on those, you could target a softer target such as Chris Davis or Andrew Clark.  Davis is a masher who kills AAA pitching and also kills MLB pitching if he is able to hit it.  Andrew Clark was a late round pick who is old for his leagues, but is showing good power and discipline.  Clark should be someone the Rangers would be fine being without and may have more usefulness to the Orioles than Davis.

NL
Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies need some more depth in that pen from the right side and Koji would be a solid fit for them.  The team is often thought of as being in it to win it at all times, but Koji's 4MM price tag might be too much.  For him to go there, the team would have to pony up the rest of this year's tab.  That would be for a shade over a million.  In return, they could ask for 1B Jonathan Singleton who is suffering some growing pains in HiA ball this year.  They could also ask for Jared Cosart who is a pitcher with high potential, but some questions as to his long term viability as a starter.  As arms go though, someone like Julio Rodriguez might be more realistic.

Conclusion
The only way I deal Koji is if the team pulls back someone like Jonathan Singleton, Jared Cosart, or Mike Olt.  I would need a high ceiling low minors prospect.  Trading Koji away for depth makes no sense to me.  He fulfills a role in the pen and the team could wait until the situation improves to spin him off to someone who values him more.  The worst case scenario is that Koji turns into a prospect or two through whatever the revised free agent compensation system winds up being. 

19 July 2011

The Trades of Buck Showalter (Part I): Arizona

There has been some rumblings that maybe Buck Showalter may be the Orioles General Manager next year.  I thought in light of that, it might be good to look at trades he made during his tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers.  At these two locations it has been said that he personally carried a lot of weight when dealing players and also in free agency.  In Arizona, he was key also in stadium and uniform design.  He supposedly got around.  However, I just want to look at trades.  My first run through of this is quite generic.  I am merely comparing the career rWAR of each player from the moment of the trade until the end of said player's career.

Arizona Diamondbacks
1997
Mark Davis (-0.1 rWAR) to the Milwaukee Brewers for essentially nothing +0.1
Scott Winchester (-1.1) for Felix Rodriguez (6.2) +7.3
Matt Drews (minors), Gabe Alvarez (-0.8), and Joe Randa (16.8) for Travis Fryman (7.8) -8.2
Jesus Martinez (minors) for Devon White (5.3) +5.3
Chuck McElroy (2.0) for Harvey Pulliam (0) -2.0
Travis Fryman (7.8) and Tom Martin (-1.6) for Matt Williams (6.6) +0.4
Total = +2.9 rWAR

1998
Mike Bell (0.2) for Joe Lisio (minors) -0.2
Todd Erdos (-0.5) and Marty Janzen (0) for Andy Fox (-1.1) -0.6
Chris Jones (-0.6) for Ricky Pickett (-0.3) +0.3
Joe Lisio (minors) and Scott Brow (0) for Willie Banks (0.6) +0.6
Russ Springer (2.8) for Alan Embree (1.9) -0.9
Reid Cornelius (0.8) for Walt White (minors)
Willie Blair (-0.9) and Jorge Fabregas (-2.6) for Nelson Figueroa (1.4) and Bernard Gilkey (-1.0) +1.1
Hensley Muelens (0) for nothing 0
Jeff Suppan (15.0) for money -15.0
Alan Embree (1.8) for Dante Powell (-0.4) -2.2
Bob Wolcott (-0.2) for Bart Miadich (-0.1) +0.1
Felix Rodriguez (7.1) for Chris Van Rossum (minors) and Troy Brohan (0.0)
Karim Garcia (-0.8) for Luis Gonzalez (25.3) +26.1
Total = +9.3 WAR

1999
Paul Weichard (minors) and Jason Boyd (-1.8) for Tony Womack (2.1) +3.9
Ben Ford (-0.6) and Izzy Molina (0.0) for Darren Holmes (0.8) +1.4
Clint Sandowsky (-0.6) for John Frascatore (1.0) +1.6
Neil Weber (0) for Blake Mayo (minors) 0
Ron Calloway (-1.9) for John Pachot (minors) +1.9
Tony Batista (9.5) and John Frascatore (0.8) for Dan Plesac (2.2) -8.1
Abraham Nunez (-0.4), Vladimir Nunez (-1.1), and Brad Penny (21.4) for Matt Mantei (2.4) -17.5
Belvani Martinez (minors) for Lenny Harris (-0.8) -0.8
Dante Powell (0.1) for Luis Ordaz (-2.1) -2.2
Total = -19.8 WAR

2000
Josh McAfee (minors) for Brian Dallimore (0.4) +0.4
Lenny Harris (0) for Bill Pullsipher (-1.0) -1.0
Andy Fox (-0.4) for Danny Bautista (0.2) +0.6
Omar Daal (1.5), Nelson Figueroa (1.5), Travis Lee (4.4), and Vincente Padilla (9.4) for Curt Schilling (35.4) +18.6
Total = +18.6

In Summary
1997 - 2000
2.9 + 9.3 - 19.8 + 18.6 = 11.0 rWAR

In 2011 dollars, that rWAR is worth about 48 MM.  It probably translates to an extra win per year, which is not bad.  It certainly would fall within the realm of average to me, but we really do not have a population to compare this number with.  My next effort will be to evaluate his Rangers years.  Finally, I will use a different way to measure these trades by weighting the performance by year.

17 July 2011

The Science of Baseball: July 17, 2011

After weeks of various activities (e.g. moving, wandering in Texas) we are back in order with another edition of the Science of Baseball.  This week we will consider the effect of beetroot juice on performance, the effect of nicotine on performance, and then finally whether or not a modified game of baseball can help blind people with their balance.  So...quite a mix today.

Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance.
K Lansley et al
Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 2011 43:1125-1131

A recent study by Andrew Jones' Exeter group found when cycling subjects are given beetroot juice with or without nitrates that it significantly affected finishing times.  On 2.5 and 10 mile distances, total time decreased by three percent when half a liter of beetroot juice still containing nitrates was consumed just prior to the beginning of the time trial.  Nitrates are known to affect blood flow in two ways: (1) nitrate can widen blood vessels which allows for a greater volume of blood to flow and (2) it is known to permit muscles to work more efficiently with respect to oxygen consumption.  Baseball to many extents is nothing like cycling, but I think we may be able to draw two different applications to baseball.  Beetroot juice may be useful to deal with season-long stamina issues and it might also be useful to starting pitchers.  That said, this information still requires quite a bit of testing, so do not expect beetroot juice to rapidly alter overall performance ability.

Keep this in mind though...there is now more evidence pointing to beetroot juice not only being an effective performance enhancing supplement than hGH, but also the end effect is greater than anything produced for hGH.  Think about that really hard.  Beetroot Juice.

Prompt but inefficient: nicotine differentially modulates discrete components of attention.
S. Vangkilde et al.
Psychopharmacology In Press

This study decided to put more focus on how nicotine affects information processing.  There have been several conflicting studies over to what extent nicotine improves or inhibits recognition and motor skills.  This study utilized 24 non-smokers who were dosed with nicotine by chewing nicotine gum.  They were then put through a regime of recognition and selection cognitive tests.  What they found was that reaction time did decrease when individuals were dosed with nicotine.  However, their ability to properly focus and select what was most important was inhibited.

What does this all mean?  Nicotine is probably not very helpful.

Can baseball improve balance in blind subjects?
Marini et al.
Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 51:227-232

Blind baseball is an interesting sport.  Both sighted and non-sighted people play this game with sighted players donning blind folds.  There are only two bases (first and third) and reaching base before a player gets to the ball (which beeps) then you score a run.  You can learn more here about the sport.  In this study, researchers looked at the ability of blind baseball to be a therapy tool for blind individuals.  They took a group of non-baseball players and split them into two groups: one that would play baseball and one that would continue doing what they normally did.  The study found that participants in blind baseball actually improved their balancing ability.  What I wonder is whether blind baseball would help sighted baseball players.  Sight is probably more useful in baseball than the sound as you can see things before you hear them, but there is likely to be a benefit to perceiving sound.  It might not be a balance issue for sighted individuals.  I don't know.  Things to think about.

Life After Andy MacPhail: Options Within the Organization

Andy MacPhail is in the last year of his contract.  Peter Angelos has mentioned that there will be no negotiations until the season is over.  This has led many to believe that one or the other is looking for more flexibility when it comes time to determine how Andy relates to this team in the future.  The two scenarios I have heard mentioned most often would have Andy MacPhail graduating to more of a directional presence at the top of the organization.  This would be similar to his capacity with the Cubs and somewhat similar to Nolan Ryan's role with the Rangers.  MacPhail would be involved in major issues and with the direction of the club, but would leave day to day operations to someone else.  Eventually, MacPhail would move over to a role with Major League Baseball and have Cal Ripken Jr. take over.  The second scenario is for MacPhail to immediately take a role with Major League Baseball and a new presence takes over in the same capacity MacPhail currently serves.

There are several candidates to take the reins of the day to day operations.  There are internal options, experienced external options, and inexperienced external options.  In a series of three posts, I will review some of those potential options.  This first post will consider internal options.

Matt Klentak
30 years old
Director of Baseball Operations

Matt graduated from Dartmouth in 2002.  While in school he managed an internship with Major League Baseball.  That spun into another internship with the Rockies focused on organizing scouting materials and financial issues.  That became a full time position with Major League Baseball.  In his four years with Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department he advised on all teams on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Klentak was also part of the Salary Arbitration Support Program and the Rule 4 Draft Support Program, providing economic and baseball analyses.  In his current capacity, Klentak is the director of baseball operations for the Orioles and is heavily involved in contract negotiations and how to work the 40 man and active rosters.  He certainly is a rising star in baseball and appears well regarded within the Organization.

I'm not sure if he will be a good or bad selection as a GM.  He seems to be a favorite of Andy MacPhail and that might mean something to Angelos.  The only time I have heard him speak extensively about baseball was on the organization pulling in a consultant to evaluate the cost of International talent.  The study is proprietary information, so I cannot say anything about it as he did not discuss it other than the outcome.  As such, I doubt the methodology.  That said, he might be good.

Joe Jordan
48 years old
Director of Amateur Scouting

Jordan started out with the Giants in the minors as a catcher in 1985.  When an injury ended his career, he returned to college to finish his degree and to serve as an assistant coach, a position he held for three years.  He then entered into the financial world before returning back to baseball in 1997 as a scout for the Montreal Expos.  He climbed up to the role of National Crosschecker with the Florida Marlins before he joined the Orioles in 2004 as their Scouting Director in the Flanagan GM era.  His time with the Orioles has been bittersweet.  He has managed to receive decent value for his draft picks and is highly regarded in the industry.  There may be some rivalry between his group and the developmental staff, so he may not be an easy choice.  Additionally, his selections have largely not been slam dunk talent grabs.  The 2009 draft might be a black eye from which Jordan will be remembered within the organization.  I doubt he will be considered for a promotion and think he will remain with the club only if a MacPhail disciple, like Klentak, takes over.

John Stockstill
Upper 40s (cannot find his birth date)
Director of Player Development

I have had difficulty researching Stockstill's early baseball background.  His main responsibilities began with MacPhail's Cubs orginally as a scouting coordinator for Minor League Operations within their organization.  After two years, he became the Cubs' scouting director.  He served in this capacity from 1999 to 2005.  These drafts were not particularly good ones for Stockstill.
1999 - Nothing
2000 - Dontrelle Willis
2001 - Mark Prior, Ryan Theriot, Ricky Nolasco, and Geovany Soto
2002 - Rich Hill, Taylor Teagarden, and Randy Wells
2003 - Sean Marshall and Casey McGehee
2004 - Sam Fuld
2005 - Nothing
He then joined the Orioles as an Assistant GM with a focus on evaluation.  This grew into an International Scouting Director position.  Before 2010, he switched places with his brother David Stockstill and is not the Director of Player Development.  Stockstill certainly is experienced, but I am not exactly sold on his performance.  As a scouting director, he often would target safe college players early and then go for hard to sign players in later rounds.  He did not target the right safe college players and was to able to sign the right overslots.  As the international scouting director for the Orioles, it is difficult to judge him as few resources were used.  Now as the director of player development, he has not had enough time to show any proficiency.

Cal Ripken Jr.
50 years old
President and CEO of Ripken Baseball

Cal is the obvious fan favorite and he has certainly shown an interest in being involved to a great degree at the top of the organization.  There has been some discussion over what responsibilities he would ultimately have and apparently him and Peter Angelos discuss baseball and business often.  He is likely the easiest and riskiest signing of everyone the Orioles could consider.  Cal has never been involved in player development and acquisition.  He was a great player, but playing the game requires a different skill set than evaluating and acting on evaluations as well as working within current and future monetary limits.  There is certainly a possibility that Cal could become the Joe Morgan of General Managers.  Making matters worse, Cal carries such weight around Baltimore he just might be almost unfireable.  The short of it for me is that there are far too many risks for me to hire him on the slim chance he actually can do this job.

Buck Showalter
55 years old
Manager

Showalter is known primarily for taking uneven, young teams and crafting winners out of them.  He is also known for directly and indirectly forcing player acquisition.  He teamed up with the Arizona Diamondbacks two years before their first game to help shape their roster.  In Texas, Showalter was known for pushing Alex Rodriguez out of Arlington and for trading Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Easton and Akinori Otsuka.  After Texas, Showalter acted to some capacity as a Senior Adviser to the Cleveland Indians before being snatched up by ESPN to be an analyst (a position he had prior to his Texas job).  To be kind, his efforts at moving players has been incredibly uneven if not horrible.  He does seem to have sway in the organization and is said to dine with Peter Angelos every week or two alone.  At the very least, I expect Showalter to be highly involved in the selection of the next General Manager.  It also would not surprise me if he pulls a Dick Cheney and recommends himself.

My Ranking of these Five?
1. Matt Klentak
2. Joe Jordan
3. Cal Ripken Jr.
4. Buck Showalter
5. John Stockstill

Of these five, I think Klentak might be the only one who might be good for the organization.  However, there is just a major lack of information on him.  Jordan has a good eye for talent and is fond of prospects, which might be good.  Cal is a wild card.  Buck has shown he makes poor decisions.  Stockstill has never been involved with any group that wound up being incredibly valuable  With all of his previous chances, I do not see the point of giving him further opportunities.

Next Up?
Five potential general managers outside of the organization who have experience.

16 July 2011

Cup of jO's: 2011 Trade Deadline and J.J. Hardy (PM Post)

Well...a few hours changes the world sometimes.  The Orioles have agreed in principle for a three year extension worth in the neighborhood of 22 MM with a limited no trade clause.  I find it surprising that he signed for that value.  I think he is underpaid given the market and what would have been possible for him.  This is definitely not a Brian Roberts-like deal which was overmarket in per year salary and overmarket in length.  Hardy's deal appears to me to be undermarket in salary and on par with length.

As with Roberts' deal, Hardy's deal increases the need to take advantage of his presence on the team.  Useful complementary pieces will need to be acquired to make any sense of this signing.  Hardy making a 70 win team into a 73 win team means little and likely is counterproductive.  Him being part of a larger effort to improve the team would make sense.  However, I think the only way this team becomes competitive is with about 30-40 MM extra in signings as the team does not have overwhelming sources of young talent.

What I was going to write about was the Reds and Yonder Alonso as well as the Giants and a long odds dream about Brandon Belt.  That conversation is now worth less in having.  As such, I will go on record being for trading J.J. Hardy for someone like Alonso and being quite mildly against an extension for J.J. Hardy.

I just have doubts when it comes to devoting resources in an oft-injured older shortstop who does not display amazing amounts of athleticism and is having a career year at the plate while the team is struggling to be within 10 games of five hundred ball.  I do not believe it is an efficient use of funds.  I hope I am wrong.

Cup of jO's: 2011 Trade Deadline and J.J. Hardy (AM Post)

We will be running through all of the possible ticket items that the Orioles have to give away and receive something useful in return.  The first for us to highlight, before he is signed to an extension, is J.J. Hardy.

J.J. Hardy
.356 wOBA, 275/333/490, 1.8 fWAR

Case to Keep
Ever since Miguel Tejada began rapidly aging, shortstop has been a black hole of offense for the Orioles.  Internal options never emerged, no one ever really trades a useful shortstop prospect, and free agency rarely yields good talent at that position.  Shortstops are hoarded and locked up by their teams.  However, the Twins were in a cash crunch and had doubts about J.J. Hardy.  He provided excellent defense, but is the epitome of "injury-prone" and showed an anemic bat two years running.  The Orioles jumped on Hardy and merely had to pay his salary (5.85 MM) and give up two somewhat inconsequential players (Jim Hoey with his blazing straight fastball and Aubrey Huff acquisition Brett Jacobson).

This year the Orioles are benefiting from Hardy's best offensive season of his career by rate.  The only mark on him so far has been that he has missed roughly 25 games to injury.  That is better attendance than his previous two years.  His defense has also shined and is just as good as our all glove shortstop Cesar Izturis.  The simple truth is that shortstop has been a great year for this team.  Even with Andino filling in for Hardy on several occasions, the Orioles ranked as the 10th most productive team at shortstop.  Last year, the team was 27th.  Of all of the troubles the Orioles have faced this season, shortstop has not been one of them and at 28, Hardy certainly has several years left in him.

Case to Trade
There are three major reasons to trade Hardy: he is injury-prone, he is having a career year, and you probably can trade him for useful prospects.

Injury prone.  In 2009, he barely played 100 games.  The same thing was true in 2010.  He, again, this year missed a quarter of the first half with an injury.  While it is true that none of these injuries were career threatening, the possibility lies that a future injury certainly could be career threatening.  This is probably more of a concern for a shortstop because even little dings here and there can turn into decreased ability to play third base effectively.  Injuries during his 2009 and 2010 campaigns likely had a lot to do with his issues at the plate.  Hardy's power evaporated those two years and injuries probably have some bearing on that.  If the three year extension does go through, I think it will be safe to say that Hardy will likely play 3B in 2014 with Manny Machado at shortstop.  If Machado rushes up for 2013, Hardy might make the switch earlier.  At 28, Hardy is at the point where players tend to slow down.

Career Year.  I am surprised by the 21-25 MM numbers being thrown about because J.J. Hardy is having a career year.  That is most assuredly a discount, if Hardy hits the open market...he will receive three or four years at 10+ MM.  The only way 21-25 MM makes sense to me would be if there are sizable incentives in there and a concrete no trade clause that could later turn into more money for him.  The shortstop market is incredibly thin in the upcoming year and you have several big money teams (e.g. San Francisco Giants) who will be looking to resolve issues they have at this position.  Jose Reyes might be the best option for shortstop this off season, but after Hardy there is nothing left at the position.  My guess for his value if he hit the market would be 3/36 or 4/44.  Teams close to the playoffs and in need of help will and should be willing to put up with the premium that is a career season and be tolerant of his injury issues.  The Orioles with holes a plenty, have little use for a shortstop going into his thirties with a dicey injury history.

Trade return.  Several teams are also struggling in season for an answer at shortstop.  This translates into teams being willing to give up prospects who are blocked within the team's playoff window or players in the low minors.  Trading Hardy and then overpaying him by several million may actually be cheaper than signing Hardy and then signing a free agent at a position.  The easiest scenario here would be the Reds where the Orioles could deal him for Yonder Alonso (1B) and then resign Hardy at 13-15MM a year for three years.  That would be cheaper and likely more useful than resigning Hardy and then signing Prince Fielder to a 150-200MM contract.  The point is that this team, the Orioles, is not a playoff team in the near term.  It is difficult to see how this organization can field a competitive squad in the next three years.  As such, a Hardy extension makes as much sense as Brian Roberts extension did.  Just because you are left with a hole does not mean you should spend whatever it takes to fill it because your yard may be full of holes.

Possible Trade Partners and Targets

The following teams are those who are having troubles with production from their shortstop position.  Most of these teams are producing wOBAs around .305 or less and the team is within striking distance of the divisional pennant.

AL

Tampa Bay Rays
To be kind, shortstop is killing the Rays.  They are getting decent defense there, but Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson are providing next to nothing at the plate.  The Rays could certainly use a short term fix and would make good use of any compensation picks Hardy would provide.  However, the Rays never just look at the current season and would be unlikely to drop a major piece to the Orioles, so nothing like Desmond Jennings.  What the team could expect would be a couple low B prospects or a low B and a soon to be expensive starting pitcher.  In the former scenario, I am thinking a tandem to target would be Nick Barnese (RHP) and Braulio Lara (LHP).  In the Rays' system those guys are probably in the 10-15 tange for their prospects.  In ours, they would be in the 3-7 range.  That said, only Barnese would be consequential for next season.  Something that might be more relevant for the near term would be pairing Barnese up with Jeff Niemann (RHP).  The Rays probably do not want him much long with the arms they have pushing up from AAA and with his arbitration figures coming in.  He is also their back end rotation arm.  He would be something similar for the Orioles.  Either trade scenario probably is not ideal for the Orioles.

NL

Atlanta Braves
Money will be tight for the Braves, but Alex Gonzalez is providing nothing at the plate for them.  Gonzalez has about 1.2 MM left on his deal this year.  I could see the Braves asking the Orioles to take Gonzalez back in the deal and maybe even through in a million or two with Hardy.  Similar to the Rays, I do not see anything of immediate need available in the Braves' system.  My target here would be Arodys Vizcaino (RHP).  He has a great arm, but his durability has been questioned.  As such, you will see him ranked anywhere from top 15 to top 50 when the off season prospect rankings emerge.  Getting an arm like that means you threw money in there and a second piece is likely to be a bit fringe because no one likes giving up that kind of arm.  A player who fits that bill would be someone like Todd Cunningham (CF).  He covers the plate well with good discipline and plays good defense.  His power though is a bit unimpressive.  He is likely to be a 4th outfielder.  That said, Vizcaino would be a huge piece to have in the Orioles system and I think the Braves would be more willing to give value than the Rays.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers made a big splash acquiring KRod.  However, they still have an issue at shortstop.  Ex-Brewer Hardy may not be an option the team wants as there may be bad blood between the two.  The Brewers notoriously dropped Hardy into the minors to add a year service time onto his contract preventing him from reaching free agency in 2011, which is why Hardy is an Oriole right now.  The Brewers system is also void of much talent after the Grienke trade this past off season.  I would not bother entering talks with them.  If I had to deal with them, I'd settle for nothing less than three of their top four or five arms...something like Heckathorn, Scarpetta, and Thornburg...it might be better just to take the draft picks for Hardy.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates do not have much money to throw around and I could see the Orioles being able to leverage that by offering to pay for Hardy's deal.  The two draft picks for Hardy would also look good to the Pirates who would not have to worry about him taking arbitration.  With that in mind, I would ask for two potentially big pieces: Starling Marte (CF), Rudy Owens (LHP), and Colton Cain (LHP).  Marte could spell Adam Jones in centerfield in a couple years allowing Jones to shift to a more natural left field or for the Orioles to deal him.  Owens looks like a promising lefty who has struggled this past year in AAA.  At the very least, he is more valuable fodder than Troy Patton or Jim Johnson in the rotation.  Colton Cain would be the Chris Tillman circa Erik Bedard deal.  Cain is young with a ton of projection, but I think he could be a top 50 guy in a year.  Again, this is another forward thinking deal.  Not many opportunities available for the here and now.

In the second post today, I will focus on two more likely destinations: the Cincinatti Reds and the San Francisco Giants.  I count these as more likely because (1) their shortstops are awful and (2) they have pieces the Orioles could use right now.

15 July 2011

Cup of jO's: Throwing in the towel for O's 2012 season?

I don't think we need to recount what happened the night before anymore unless something truly interesting happens, so for now on when I write these Cup of jO's...I am just going to jump in to whatever I want to write about.

In Brittany Ghiroli's article yesterday detailing what the Orioles are likely to do as the trade deadline comes up writes this little nugget:
Johnson has established himself as one of the best setup men in the American League, and the organization -- which has told several teams it's unwilling to discuss offers for the reliever -- continues to have internal discussions about moving Johnson into a starting role next season.
Um, what?  We have Mitch Atkins, Chris Jakubauskas, and Alfredo Simon in the starting rotation and we have to wait until next year to see if Jim Johnson can start?  This makes little sense to me.  This season, the team could stretch Johnson out 30-50 innings more than he is in line to get which would be a headstart on next season.  Plus, what is left for the team to play for this year?  If your goal is to see if Johnson can start then there is nothing preventing you from figuring that out in our current situation.

What I find more revelatory is that it seems to be an acknowledgement that the current front brass is planning on 2012 to be another lets wait and see type of season.  If the team planned on being competitive, they would be looking to next season as one where they fill in a spot or two with veteran pitchers and let the rest shake out.  Johnson should be quite far from the conversation in this regard.  He should not be held as an untouchable player due to his value as a setup man and potential (though unlikely) value as a starting pitcher.  How much value can a potential middle to backend rotation arm have?  It appears the modus operandi for the team, particularly with pitchers, is to run them into the ground and make them prove whether or not they can actually pitch.  It makes no sense to me.

It appears just as the team signed Brian Roberts to a long term deal and then squandered the front end of his deal which is where his value was actually . . . valuable (which was incredibly obvious and that extension has long been something we have railed against here in that we highly criticized it before the contract was even writtin).  It now looks like Nick Markakis' contract will also be exhuasted to no real use.  It also looks like Matt Wieters' cost-controlled years may also be squandered.  To be true, this is not an Oriole Little moment in time.  There are good things happening in the organization.  However, I have a hard time believing things are overall going in the right direction and every day it seems more and more evidence mounts illustrating how inadequate the organization might be in facing off against the superior payrolls of Boston and New York as well as against the superior innovation of Toronto, Tampa, and probably Boston, too.

Situations like these when doubt becomes feverish, I remind myself not to get too wrapped up in my own conclusions.  That I need to challenge my ideas instead of easing into a comfortable pre-formed answer.  One always needs to challenge their own beliefs and never grow complacent.  My belief is that this team although in better shape than it was three years ago is in worse shape when it comes to competing.  I'm trying to challenge that statement.  Maybe you all can help.

14 July 2011

Cup of jO's: Keith Law's Interview About the Future of the Orioles

Perhaps more eloquently than I rambled on yesterday, Keith Law was interviewed on The Fan in Baltimore yesterday about how the Orioles situation is indeed somewhat dire.  Long time followers of this blog can probably recall my preaching of patience over the first two years of the MacPhail regime in Baltimore.  I still think what he did during that period was correct.  The team jettisoned their useful pieces and acquired prospects in return.  The team stepped up their resources in international talent acquisition.  The team stepped up money dedicated in the draft.  Then it all sort of stopped and got derailed.  The team somewhat inexplicably locked in a 30s second baseman to an overmarket deal and then failed to aggressively pursue complementary pieces in trade or free agency.  The team signed short-term fill ins for position for relatively big money (4MM or more) on individual players when that money would be far better utilized in amateur markets.  The team's aggressive move into the international market ceased before they could call their effort average.

Whatever you think of MacPhail, it is difficult to explain away the state of this team as they begin the second half of this year and come up against the trade deadline.  For position players in the Majors, the Orioles have a long term solution at catcher (Matt Wieters).  They may have long term solutions in right field (Markakis) and left field (Jones).  They may have long term solutions in the starting rotation (Matusz, Arrieta, and Britton).  That is where the team is on the pro level.  In the minors, they have Manny Machado and likely Dylan Bundy as the only two high potential difference makers.  In comparison to every other team in the AL East, the Orioles trail behind them in organizational talent.  It is certainly a team currently cursed with difficult footing in their attempt to be meaningful.

This past week's interview with Steve Melewski comes back again and again in my memory.  MacPhail's "I'm an old baseball man schtick" is an amazingly antiquated character to be the head of baseball side of a front office.  He may play a bumpkin, good ol' boy in the media or maybe he really is, I do not know.  That kind of mentality though works against teams these days.  The application of economic theory to baseball is not some passing fad.  Teams that employ these methods are wildly successful and every team not named the Orioles do so in the AL East.  Yes, teams like the Twins and Phillies as far as I know put very little stock in Wall Streeting baseball, but I think it is fair to say exceptions do not fit the rule.  The ability to utilize well founded analysis and understanding what data gaps mean is likely an easier and perhaps more cost efficient way to create success as opposed to taking a talent bankrupt organization and trying to make them flow in old school methodology that is highly reliant on anecdotal evidence as well as a overly robust distrust of any new way of evaluation and acquisition.

This past winter we saw how the Rays when unable to earn enough revenue were thinking ahead and found ways to stay relevant.  They were able to identify relief pitching types that had a better liklihood to rebound and return free agency compensation.  They decided not to spend big money on their own free agents who showed high level performance on a few skills.  These measures netted them with a dozen or so picks in the first two rounds of this year's deep draft.  That did not happen by accident.  The Blue Jays literally spent 500k to deal for a player after last season who they immediately declined an extension just to garner themselves a compensation round selection in the draft.  THESE are examples of dynamic front offices operating on the front end of the operation wave.

This is not to say that numbers and slide rulers ensure success.  They do not.  The Mariners faith (and it was faith) in defensive metrics resulted in them fielding a team that relied on statistical variables that were incredibly elastic.  Of course, Milton Bradley's complete meltdown and Chone Figgins remembering he was Chone Figgins did nothing to help.  This shows that not all heavily analytical approaches are successful, but I would reckon that the more a team is able to rely on quantitative measures the more likely they are to find areas where they can leverage their resources to improve their chances of success more so than if they simply relied on well-experienced guts.  Again...qualitative ("gut") scouting is needed and highly valued, but where it can be replaced by numbers (that are well understood in how they can be applied) it needs to be replaced.

This leaves me more firm in my notion I wrote last winter that this team needs to be rebuilt.  At the beginning of MacPhail's tenure I said this and it again is how I feel.  I do not think it needs to be completely dismantled, but I think as fans we need to recognize that signing a Prince Fielder and resigning the career-year J.J. Hardy is not going to change this team's fortune.  Over the next two weeks, we will be going through our trade items and where may be the best destination for them.  I will also pepper in a few Life Without Andy posts.

13 July 2011

Cup of jOs: The Second Part of MacPhail's Words on IFAs

Last night, Matt Wieters grounded out to the second baseman in the eigth inning of the American League's 5-1 loss to the National League.  Peculiar rules really need to shift this back to being a pure exhibition and not something that determines post season play.  What to make the All Star Game more important?  Get rid of interleague play.

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Of interest...

A couple days ago, Steve Melewski posted the second part of his interview with Andy MacPhail and then reported his interview with Baseball America's Ben Badler.  What Melewski does well is interview often the right people.  He typically does a good job of this outside of last Winter's Keith Law interview.  What is painful to me though is that what is good about sharp, incisive interviewing is that you can ask thoughtful questions and mild criticisms while immediately recieving an answer.  In this collection of interviews, Badler provides a rebuttal of several of MacPhail's key statements.  To me, this is poor form in that MacPhail is no longer capable of responding.  If Melewski feels inadequate in questioning MacPhail's approach then he should call Badler, get his viewpoint, hone up his own research, and then ask more insightful questions and allow MacPhail to be more thoughtful in his answers.

I recognize what I am asking from Melewski is to be more of an investigative reporter.  To be more aware of what is actually out there and asking pertinent questions.  That Melewski was unaware of MacPhail's own brass speaking of studies comparing IFAs and rule 4 draft cost efficiency shows poor research.  Information is out there and it should be utilized.  Although, this may not be Melewski's game.  His game may be to be a straight interviewer who provides as little insight as possible.  It is very much a sort of Prime Directive perspective...that you remove any element of yourself in an interview in order to prevent any bias.  It certainly is something found favorable to the interviewee as their words are reported verbatim and are not scrutinized immediately by the interviewer.  Melewski does this seperation of self quite well and it certainly is a defendable manner of writing.  From my own perspective though...I think it wastes opportunity.  I mean, are we interested in MacPhail's speech on international talent or are we interested in his thoughts.  The two appear different to me.

The second part of the interview falls apart for me.  MacPhail answers questions about Miguel Sano, which were reported quite a long while back.  The Orioles were a finalist on him, but thought 3 MM was not workable as a bonus for the now top 100 prospect.  It is fair to say the jury is out on him.  He will likely be a left fielder and he will have home run power as well as a propensity to swing and miss.  MacPhail also talks about American scouts cross checking what the local scouts think, which is something almost every organization I am aware of does.  So, nothing new or different.  MacPhail also mentions the Orioles are in the Dominican, Curacao, and reentering Venezuela...which is something we already know.  There is just no new information here.  It may be that MacPhail stonewalled Melewski here or the intent was just to rehash background information and produce direct quotes from MacPhail.  These really are answers that require a paraphrase and more structure provided when writing.

Melewski then reports Ben Badler's perspective on the MacPhail interview.  His use of Badler to provide commentary results in some interesting statements that largely reflect my own opinions that were shared in the previous post.  Badler's view boils down to this:
  • There is a great deal of uncertainty in the Latin American market and it is understandable for a team to be conservative in that market.  Most teams are.
  • The Orioles appear to be not only conservative in that market, but tend to avoid it.
  • Talent is a rare thing, so avoiding any market is probably not advisable.
  • No one in this year's crop was worth more than 3MM from Badler's perspective, but you have to trust your own scouts.
  • It is not difficult to see these talents play in actual games.  Very few prospects are prevented by their trainers from appearing at academies and playing.
  • The Orioles are not middle of the road spenders on IFAs.
I think those are all viable perspectives.  What I put in italics are what I am reading into his words.  I should also note that Melewski also viewed MacPhail's 17th overall as a statement on IFAs, which does not make sense to Badler as well.

What do I take away from these posts?
  • Someone should be writing a blog where they take Melewski's zen interviewing style and write actual articles.
  • Andy MacPhail is not open-minded about IFAs and this is based on information he pretends he does not have (which may be inaccurate information) or is based on a potentially antiquated management approach.
  • The team is not maximizing its ability to cheaply accumulate talent, preferring to spend money on items like relievers and "proven veterans."
  • The team is probably the least progressive team in the AL East.
I think MacPhail is a competent and well respected GM, but the problem I have here is that in the AL East you need to be a trail blazing, intelligent front office (i.e., Tampa Bay Rays), have oodles of money (i.e., Yankees), have some of each (i.e., Toronto Blue Jays), or lots of each (i.e. Boston Red Sox).  In this divisional environment, how can we look at the makeup of these different teams and think that the Orioles will be a competitive team sometime in the near or slightly near future?  I am at a loss.  The Rays and Jays have top 5 talent in their minor leagues.  The Orioles appear to have Machado and Dylan Bundy, which puts them likely in the 15-20 range.  After that, the team has a lot of C+ talent. 

We are certainly better off as an organization than we were before MacPhail came here, but we are further away from competing.

11 July 2011

Cups of jO's: MacPhail on O's International Spending (Part I of II)

Enjoy it.  Today is the beginning of our three day respite from the tiresome burden this season has become.  There have been some interesting developments this season:
  • Matt Wieters has become a full fledged, accredited All Star (and primarily for his defense)
  • J.J. Hardy has said everything and done everything right in wanting to become a well paid Oriole
  • Adam Jones has established himself as a worthy center fielder (who might be better off playing left field)
  • Mark Reynolds has displayed an amazing amount of plus power over the past six weeks.
  • The bullpen has a tight core of Uehara, Johnson, and Gregg
  • The Orioles arguably drafted the best arm in the 2011 draft and the guy has Oriole roots.
Read those again.  They are six good things that have happened for this team.  You cannot ignore them.  Not only are they six good things.  They are six things that should benefit the team next year as well.  Hardy is the only one who might benefit the team in whatever free agent compensation becomes.  Remember . . . good things have happened.

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Of Interest...

Steve Melewski asks some pertinent questions of Andy MacPhail in a part I  of a two part interview today.  The focus is on the Orioles' approach to international free agency.  Steve does a good job reporting what MacPhail says, but does zero commenting.  I'll provide the commenting.

  • MacPhail states he is unwilling to dedicate 4 or 5MM to prospects who have never play competitive games.  He says that the efforts they have put forth have resulted in solid upswings of velocity for international players they have signed who are playing in the Dominican Summer League and in the Gulf Coast League.
MacPhail is putting forward the message that international talent is pretty much a crapshoot.  That a player who can sign a 4MM bonus is not worth that amount because we have no idea what he will become.  I do not agree with this.  Fellow talent evaluators are determining these amateurs are good enough to compete with each other and drive the price to those levels.  These fellow talent evaluators come from Ivy League front offices ranging to the very rich (e.g. Yankees, Red Sox) to the not so very rich (e.g. Athletics).  That these teams of varying backgrounds and high analytical effort are into a talent source has to tell you that these amateur talents are likely worth that much money.  To me, insisting on this perspective seems incredibly aloof.  It makes me wonder whether he believes this or that he is refraining from a secondary issue that makes them decide against spending money for high profile talent.

Second, you do have to recognize that there is a growing international presence in the Orioles lower minor league system.  However, we have to remember sample size.  Jonathan Schoop is a name most Oriole fans have become familiar with and hopefully many watched him last night in the MLB Futures game.  Another name in GCL that everyone should write a mental note on is Eduardo Rodriguez.  I have received several positive reviews on him.  Solid 18yo lefty with a good breaking ball and a 90mph fastball with movement.  Beyond that it is difficult to know what is there long term.  When money is spent on the Garrett Atkins and Vladimir Guerreros, but not on the Miguel Sanos, you know there is misevaluation in the organization.  Think about it like this.  What is worth more?  A 3 MM investment on a commodity that might return MLB value for six years at a low cost or spending 5-8 MM for a declining player in hopes the team can reach .500 ball?
  • MacPhail says it makes no sense to spend big money on amateurs who only work out and not play games.
What I found interesting here and the way I read it is that the team is recognizing that the best players are not playing in the Dominican Prospect League.  I agree with that.  Furthermore, this shows that MacPhail acknowledges that the best prospects are indeed getting the big money.  It reads somewhat contradictory.  Although he may not have felt like mentioning it, it seems that the DPL is still a low priority for the team.  It is interesting for a team to say they want to see guys play in games and then goes and largely ignores the only organized league in the country.
  • MacPhail mentions the team was about 17th in spending for amateur talent last year.
This was a slightly confusing statement.  This has to mean 17th in spending when adding together the rule 4 draft and international free agency.  They are around 25th in spending for international free agency.
  • MacPhail thinks Melewski should do an analysis on how many big money IFAs wind up becoming solid prospects.  MacPhail must be unaware that Melewski does not do analysis.
A couple things that are kind of amusing here. (1) The Orioles have done a study on this!  Why is MacPhail saying they have not done one?  Matt Klentak specifically stated they did this.  They hired an outside consultant and did the study.  They found the IFA market was not as cost efficient as the rule 4 draft. (2) The rate for high cost prospects is about 30-40%, which is higher than multi-year declining veterans outperforming their preceding three year average.

There is not to like in MacPhail's answer there.  He cannot be truly unaware of the study because that front office is knit tight from every indication.  Why would he explicitly say he did not do a study, but others should do it?  No idea.  That said, teams who like to do studies (e.g. Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Athletics) are spending freely on talent south of the Great 48.