21 June 2011

Cup of jO's (June 21, 2011): Bad luck or poor planning?

Game Wrap
Pirates 3, Baltimore 8
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

The O's jumped on Charlie Morton and the Bucs for five runs in the first inning last night, and never relinquished the lead. Nick Markakis continues to improve on his hard contact rate, goin 3 for 5 with a double and extending his hit streak to eleven games. Jake Arrieta wasn't his best, but he spotted his fastball well enough and continues to show improved consistency -- particularly in snapping off his curve. Click here for Stats LLC's preview of game two of the series, which features Jeremy Guthrie taking the hill for birds opposite James McDonald.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning was an article at Fangraphs.com by Steve Slowinski, touching on some misfortunes that have contributed to a disappointing first half of the season. First, let me say that I've run into Steve's work at DRaysBay.com and have generally found it to be fair and thoughtful. This article in particular is nice because it serves as a snapshot of what an informed outsider thinks of the O's, their 2011 season and their future potential.

What jumps out right away is the inclusion of Brian Robert's injury, the struggles by Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero and the inconsistencies in the bullpen on the list of misfortunes that have beset Baltimore on all sides. Technically, I don't disagree with any of this. The same, none jump out as particularly surprising. And this is, I think, the issue that most critics of the front office will point to when complaining of "lack of progress."

At the start of the season I expressed strong support of the acquisition of Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds. All were low-risk moves that represented potentially large improvements over their 2010 counterparts. Additionally, Reynolds represented a potential multi-year solution. I still believe Lee will prove to be a fine contributor for the 2011 season, though it likely leaves Baltimore looking to fill a first base hole again come November. Hardy is mixed blessing, as a strong 2011 would be a blessing coming from the shortstop position, but probably limits the chances of Baltimore extending him at a reasonable rate (plenty of good organizations will be willing to pony up some cash for a quality shortstop coming off of a successful year). Guerrero has been trending sharply downwards for some time, with a first half uptick in 2010 glaringly out of place. The extra money tacked on to his deal this year means Baltimore likely will not be able to offer arbitration (again) to one of its players, for fear it might be accepted.

The acquisition of Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo and (last year) Mike Gonzalez continue to leave me scratching my head. While the outlay for Accardo was minimal, both Gregg and Gonzalez represented not insignificant cash, with Gonzalez also causing Baltimore to forfeit their second round pick in 2010. Considering the volatility associated with relief pitching in general -- and both Gregg and Gonzalez in particular -- these moves seem to underscore a valuation system that is not well suited to the savvy AL East. Baltimore cannot afford to be the organization that shuns the "risk" associated with low seven-figure deals for elite Latin American prospects, while shoveling multiple years, eight figures, and draft picks at relief arms.

As for Brian Roberts, the situation is just unfortunate. Camden Depot has been on the record for a few years as generally being opposed to an extension for the aging second baseman, and hard set against the length and cash investment Baltimore ultimately doled out to Roberts. As one of our favorite Birds, it's disappointing to see him off the field so much these past two years, and nothing would please Jon or me more than being proven absolutely wrong for doubting his production over the extension would match the money paid. But the reality is that Baltimore owes another $20 million through 2013, and it's unlikely at this point that they will receive even production worth even half of that.

For an organization that continually claims to be limited in available payroll resources, these simply aren't the moves you like to see being made. Long eight figure extensions for aging second basemen, relief arms and aging designated hitters simply cannot be spun as sound investments in the long term, and it's tough to see why a team like the Orioles would push so many resources into simply scraping .500, rather than taking their lumps and building and implementing a long term plan with a chance to produce one of the top five teams in baseball -- and make no mistake that is what you need to be to compete in this division.

Yes, 2011 has included some truly unfortunate occurrences. Looking past the surface to the decisions shaping the general direction of the franchise, one has to wonder if even the best of luck will ultimately make much difference in the standings. This upcoming off-season looms large, as Baltimore has entered their "window" with a young core. They will need to decide between July and November whether there is enough in this core to make a hard off-season push worth while. If the answer is no, fans will have to start looking to the arrival of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy (assuming he signs), and whatever fellow prospects help consitute the next "wave" promising that, yes, one September in the future the O's will be playing meaningful baseball.

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