|Lough with a Plus Play|
There is a bit of dichotomy in Lough that has confused some. The last two seasons, Lough barely made it into the Royals top 30 prospects according to Baseball America. That would be indicative of a player who has little to no worth. However, his performance last year was not like the player who has been scouted. Lough slashed 286/311/413 over 335 MLB plate appearances. Defensive metrics loved him (remember that 95 games is about 200 games short of a meaningful sample size for defensive metrics). Both rWAR and fWAR value Lough above 2 WAR over that time period, indicating a star level quality player. If the offensive and defensive performance was legit, then that kind of player would be a 3-4 WAR player for less than a million over a full season. That is someone you hold onto or cash in big on.
Test those two ideas against what it cost to get Lough: Danny Valencia. Valencia plays a very poor third base. He has played no other position at the MLB level. He is on the less useful side of the platoon and is nearly helpless on the same side. That makes him particularly vulnerable to late inning relievers. Steamer projects him as below replacement level and Oliver has him, at 600 PA, as a 1 win player. That is a bench player who has very limited value. That perspective would point toward a player value more similar to Baseball America as opposed to his actual performance last year.
This does not mean that Lough is without value. He has value, but it is limited in that he must remain on the 25 man roster and has never given any previous indication that he has the bat to serve well in either a full time or platoon role. The bet is simply that his range was properly measured using fielding metrics as opposed to years of scouting.
This may cause some dismay for some of you out in Birdland, but I would contend that the team produced pretty well with a collection of misfit toys out there in 2013. Here is a rundown of last year's squad in left field:
McLouth took the lion's share of innings out in left. He did so well that he turned it into a potentially prolific bench role with the Washington Nationals. For a 32 year old with a decent left field glove and a league average bat with platoon splits, that is just the kind of position you would expect McLouth to land.
In 2014, the Orioles have gathered together Lough (.305 wOBA, Oliver), Nolan Reimold (.318 wOBA), Steve Pearce (.334 wOBA), Henry Urrutia (.324 wOBA), and Francisco Peguero (.287 wOBA). Of that group, only Urrutia can be shuttled back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk as the rest have no options. This was one of the benefits of having L.J. Hoes and Xavier Avery sitting in Norfolk. The team always knew they had tolerable depth in case they needed it. With them gone in the Bud Norris and the somewhat inexplicable Mike Morse deals, respectively, the Orioles are going a slightly different way this year.
Spring Training will likely be used as a battleground amongst the amassed outfielders with one lefty and, at most, two righties going with the team. The others likely have minimal trade value, so they very well could be exposed to waivers. Exposing the players to waivers risks them no longer being in the system. In that case, Duquette has been gathering outfielders in Norfolk. They include Ronald Bermudez (.267 wOBA) and Julio Borbon (.293), who both can fill in center field, as well as Kyeong Kang (.309 wOBA) and Chih-Hsien Chiang (.277), who have logged significant innings on the corners. You really would not want any of these players starting for you, but that goes the same for Hoes and Avery.
We are humming along on a tangent at this point, but it might be good to impress what the Bud Norris and Mike Morse trades really meant. They meant sacrificing assured flexibility in a roster as well as pieces having option years remaining to rise to higher levels of ability while under team control. In Hoes's case, Norris is an acceptable deal as he provides the team with a below market priced starter or an on market priced reliever. The Morse deal still looks poor in retrospect. He was a redundant piece, appeared injured before the deal, and then proceeded to hide an injury from the team. It cost a team with a strapped payroll money that could have been pushed forward to the following season as well as a player with good upside, but an incredibly low probability of showing that potential in the next year or ever.
So, not having Avery is not a big deal. It simply is a wasted opportunity. Sometimes those guys pan out. They pan out pretty much never, but it usually is a poor idea simply to send someone off who you still have time to let develop. Anyway, Avery is not in Norfolk. If an injury happens, Julio Borbon will likely be called if needed in center field in Baltimore. Based on past history and situations other teams will be facing mid-season, he stands a good chance at being claimed. If so, Bermudez would be next. He is not as capable and likely would freely pass through waivers.
The team has finally resolved the issues they have faced in the Majors and upper minors with respect to the outfield. The new additions have not been remarkable, but left field should perform as well as it did last season. If injuries happen, AAA depth may only have one stint with the team before being claimed by another organization as a result of none of the outfielders having options other than Urrutia.
Free agency is unlikely to be over. Based on my calculations, the team has somewhere between 10-25 MM left to spend on payroll. Whatever remains is likely to be spent on a pitcher.