What happened? In 2010, Roberts' first season of his extension and at the age of 32, his value disappeared. It was more of the same in 2011 and 2012. Issues have been related to his back and to concussions. The historical evidence did not suggest that Roberts would go down with any specific injury, but that it was very very likely to occur. From my perspective, second basemen get beaten up worse than almost any other position. Every single game, second basemen (who are typically one of your smaller players on the team) has to take double play balls blindly, pivot, and hit the first baseman. There is a good reason why second basemen are significantly more injured around the bag than shortstops.
Anyway, the point is that the Orioles have thrown away a ton of money on second and will likely continue to do so this year as well. Below is another one of the WAR charts I have put together for first base and left field. It uses Fangraphs numbers to convert positional value over 150 games. I consider 150 games to be what one should consider a full season for a player. Regardless of that assumption, it provides a decent visual to understand the spectrum.
What the above graph shows us is that second base was an incredibly weak position for the Orioles. Robert Andino took the lion's share of the starts (96) and was helped out a little bit by Omar Quintanilla (27), Ryan Flaherty (20), Brian Roberts (17), and Steve Tolleson (2). Whatever the Orioles tried, it did not work and not much was enticing in Norfolk (i.e., Ryan Adams, Blake Davis). Andino rode out the year and the team succeeded despite his performance (-0.6).
Second base is actually a position of great possibility. As we discussed earlier, the level of talent on the Orioles was closer to an 81 win team instead of a 93 win team. Improvements are needed and, with approximately a -1.5 WAR coming from the position, second is a great place to target for improvement.
First, what options are available internally?
At this moment, it is clear the organization is without much value at second base for the 2013 season. Two players with the greatest potential here are LJ Hoes and Jonathan Schoop. Hoes never really took to second base with the glove and now profiles more as a left fielder. The bat might currently play at second as a marginal player, but that glove will be a severe impediment. Schoop's defense is better than Hoes, but not special by any means. His range is limited and might become even more limited as he fills out. Right now though, his bat is still likely a year away for second base.
Internal LHP RHP LHP 40g RHP 110g Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR Robert Andino 29 76 63 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1 Ryan Flaherty 26 64 80 -5 -0.2 0.5 0.3 Brian Roberts 35 49 61 -10 -0.6 -1.0 -1.6 Omar Quintanilla 31 41 74 0 -0.5 0.5 0.0 Steve Tolleson 29 73 71 0 0.2 0.3 0.5 LJ Hoes 23 81 77 -10 0.1 -0.1 0.0 Jonathan Schoop 22 68 54 0 0.1 -0.6 -0.6 Ryan Adams 26 84 75 -5 0.3 0.2 0.4 Blake Davis 30 41 62 5 -0.4 0.2 -0.2
It appears that any decent solution for the Orioles at second will come from outside the organization.
* - Originally, the model I used neglected that Sanchez missed the entirety of 2012 with a back injury. I need to rerun those numbers as it would significantly drop his value. Off the top of my head, I am thinking that he profiles more as a spring training invite sort of player.
Free Agency LHP RHP LHP 40g RHP 110g Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR Ronny Cedeno 30 65 70 5 0.1 0.6 0.8 Mike Fontenot 33 58 95 -5 -0.3 1.3 1.0 Kelly Johnson 31 89 93 -5 0.4 1.2 1.6 Jeff Keppinger 33 116 65 -10 1.0 -0.7 0.3 Freddy Sanchez 34 75 96 0 0.2 1.8 2.0 Marco Scutaro 37 86 95 -5 0.3 1.3 1.6
** - The Keppinger splits were flipped. That has now been corrected. Sorry for all of the post-publishing edits. I noticed that I had flipped some values and thought I had corrected them.
All six of these free agents are projected as providing better performance than any of the Orioles' internal options. Fontenot would need to sit against southpaw starters and Keppinger would sit against right handers. Both provide cringe inducing defense, but the offense is good enough to compensate if deployed properly. Johnson and Scutaro project as more full timers in the field. Some concerns about this group is the age of the players. Free agent second basemen are often a risk because of age. A general manager needs to think long and hard before going ahead and offering a multi-year deal. From my perspective, I think none of them will require a multi-year deal except for Marco Scutaro whose uber-McLouth redemption with the Giants may have raised his profile for a few teams to consider as a free agent. I would imagine something in the neighborhood of 3-8 MM for one year would be sufficient depending on how the money rolls out this off season.
Is there a cheaper model available in the non-tender candidates?
I would say the answer is a comfortable 'no.' Jayson Nix might be the only player worth signing to a MLB deal. I would entertain any of them as Spring Training invites.
Non-tender LHP RHP LHP 40g RHP 110g Age wRC+ wRC+ Defense WAR WAR WAR E. Burriss 28 5 62 0 -1.3 -0.2 -1.4 Alexi Casilla 28 91 58 0 0.5 -0.4 0.1 Brent Lillibridge 29 41 34 -10 -0.8 -2.5 -3.3 Jayson Nix 30 86 72 5 0.6 0.8 1.3 Ian Stewart 28 70 81 -10 -0.2 0.2 0.0 Luis Valbuena 27 68 76 -5 -0.1 0.2 0.2
If I was in control of the team, I would non-tender Robert Andino and focus on the free agent class. I would talk with Kelly Johnson, Jeff Keppinger, Freddy Sanchez, and Marco Scutaro to determine what their asking prices would be. I would hope to secure one of them for a one year deal at less than 5 million. Keppinger should come at an even lower cost. I would entertain the possibility of an option year with buyout. As a backup, rolling the dice on is Valbuena or Alexi Casilla as a spring training invite to compete with Flaherty, Schoop, and Andino (if he accepts to come back at a lower cost). I would also give LJ Hoes one last shot to be guided by Buck's staff in playing second base. Additionally, I suggest the same offer as I mentioned last year, which would be to ask Brian Roberts to transition into a coaching/scouting role with the team or finding a business related position in the front office. He is a Baltimore Oriole and has been a wonderful member of the organization. It is unfortunate what he has had to suffer over the past few years, but he seems to be a solid individual and any organization could use someone like that.