01 July 2012

Here comes Thome!

Yesterday I posted an opinion piece where I stated that the Orioles are ripe for a downfall.  That the team has been overachieving with holes at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and SP.  These were too many holes to be aggressive in trading.  I doubt anyone in the front office read anything I wrote yesterday, but they sort of met halfway to nowhere with my perspective yesterday as they acquired DH Jim Thome for a pair of minor leaguers in RHP Kyle Simon and C Gabriel Lino.

Jim Thome
Jim Thome is an excellent hitter.  He has always been an excellent hitter.  Age has ruined many of his skills and his ability to stay healthy, but he still has a great eye and enough bat speed to punish any pitch that enters his zone.  He probably has about 250 plate appearances left in him this summer where he will likely hit in the .820 to .860 OPS range.  That should be worth about 1 WAR coming from him.  The other 100 plate appearances will come from existing players and produce about an additional 0.1 or 0.2 WAR.  That stands as an improvement of about 0.7 WAR over what Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Nick Johnson, and Chris Davis have managed at the position (.781 OPS).  A 0.7 value for about 700k is a $ per win rate of 1MM.  Current market value puts it around 4.5MM per win.  In a vacuum, this is a very efficient trade.  If you think this team is truly a .550 winning percentage team, then it is also likely an effective move.  Every little bit that pushes you in the right direction is worth a great deal or, at least, can be worth a great deal when the playoffs are involved.

However, this deal was not completed in a vacuum nor was it completed in a 5x5 league.  These guys have to put some collection of players on the field.  As it stands the Orioles have 5 DHs on the roster.  Mark Reynolds is a butcher in the field even though the press has heralded his defensive aptitude these past two offseasons.  He dropped some weight in the offseason, but it did nothing to affect his range and his rushed throwing mechanics.  His dives and snags look good, but the misses and throwaways mean more to his defensive value.  First base limits his ability to adversely affect the game, but he still rates poor over there.  His bat barely makes up for this deficiency.  Unfortunately, he has stated time and time again that he does not have the mindset to succeed as a DH.

Chris Davis is another player who makes some nice plays and gets some accolades for defense, but simply does not have the range or throws to make him an average first or third baseman.  His bat, when hot, makes up for these problems.  His bat is not always hot, so, like Reynolds, he often waivers between being above average and being below replacement level.  Like Reynolds, Davis is likely to be worth about as much as a bench player or a fill in when the rest of the team is much stronger in the lineup and on the field.

Wilson Betemit's bat has always shone great promise.  The hope was that his fielding would come around.  It never has and it simply gets worse as he ages and his agility decreases.  He still hammers righties and that is where his value comes from.  Unfortunately...that is what Chris Davis does and Nick Johnson does.  Nick is currently on the DL.  He has a good eye and some remnants of power, but he is not likely to be in the team's plans anymore because Thome is a better version of Nick Johnson.

So, what we have here are 5 DHs with none of them able to play the field and one on the DL, likely to be released.  This deal slightly improves the DH position and forces DHs to remain on the field.  Mind you, this does not make the Orioles' defense worse because these DHs were playing the field to begin with.  It does make it seem less likely that players will be acquired to push Reynolds, Davis, and Betemit to DH where they belong.  I think that would truly be the playoff run move.  It would also likely be a move that would require more than Kyle Simon and Gabriel Lino.

Kyle Simon
Simon was drafted in the 4th round in last year's draft.  At the time of the draft, Nick surmised:
Simon throws from a low, almost side-armed, slot, relying primarily on a fastball/change-up pairing. Like Wright, he is a big-bodied righty with some arm strength and a chance to start if things break right. Inconsistencies in his release and his low-angle make it difficult for him to command his slider right now -- improving that offering will be key in determining whether or not he ultimately ends up in the pen. Like Wright, he's tough to lift because of the sink on his heater and his change, allowing him to go 128.2 IP while allowing just two homeruns. He doesn't miss may bats right now, but the hope is that he will once he finds a more consistent breaker.
That is basically what he still is.  He is a groundball pitcher who does not miss bats.  A sinker that gets contact in A ball is not likely to be a solid pitch unless he is able to improve upon it.  He has been about league average this year and his stuff plays pretty similarly to both righties and lefties.  I have yet to see him throw, but to me he seems to have the makings of a fringe MLB reliever.  It would not surprise me if he peters out in AA with some splashes in AAA.  Considering Thome was last traded for a small transaction fee and before that a no hit minor league utility player, this would have been a perfectly fine price to pay for his services.

Gabriel Lino
Lino was also in the deal, which in my opinion technically makes this an overpay.  It is easy to get high on Lino because he is a 19 year old in full season ball with exceptional potential as a defensive catcher and a lot of pop.  It is important to remember that Lino does not have much of a contact tool and is being overwhelmed at the plate this season.  We had him rated as the 16th best prospect in the Orioles' system before the year began:
Backstop Gabriel Lino has some offensive upside and a strong arm behind the dish, but may lack the lateral quickness needed to stick at catcher long term, particularly if he gets any bigger. He has soft hands but lets his glove float a little too often when receiving, which he'll need to tighten. The power is still raw, and does not project particularly well to a corner infield spot. Just 18-years old this year, he has time to work on his problem areas. Should his power tool emerge, he could shift to first base in order to allow more developmental focus on his bat. He is on the large side for a catcher, and it still remains to be seen how he will hold up physically over the stress of a long full season ball season.
The projection was that he would become a fringe back up catcher, but that his ceiling was as a starting catcher on a first division team.  This is the kind of player I would not like to give up.  My perspective with prospects is that if you have any high ceiling catchers, short stops, or centerfielders that you do what you can to keep them.  To simply find an average player out of those positions is worth a great deal in value.  If (and it is a big if) Lino can find his bat, he could easily be a top 50 prospect.  There simply are not many catchers who can put that package together.  That said, he is not a top 50 catcher.  He is not a top 200 catcher.  There is promise there though.  Some, like Kevin Goldstein, agree that there is potential there.  Others, like Keith Law, do not see the ceiling.

The Likely Outcome
In all likelihood, I see this as happening.  Thome hits pretty well and leaves the team at the end of the year.  The Orioles will likely finish in fourth or fifth place, but with a record that is about 15th to 18th best in the league.  Kyle Simon will fade out in AAA at some point.  Gabriel Lino will eventually get a cup of coffee, impressing people on his defense and making them wish he could square up more.

What Can Change All of This
Another deal could be coming and this may change the outlook.  The team has five DHs.  Nick Johnson will likely be DFA'd.  With Thome on board, he serves no role.  It may be the end of the line for him.  I could see Davis being moved for a piece.  He does not have much value, but I could still see someone dream on him.  I do not think this would bring in a top tier talent, but it could bring something decent.  I cannot think of an obvious target though at the moment for him.  Maybe Arizona if they think he can play third (does anyone believe that he can?).  Maybe the Dodgers.  I do not know.


kgwill said...

Isn't saying the O's have 5 DH's a bit of seeing the glass half empty? Say Betemit, Reynolds, and Davis all end the season with OPS in the .760-.780 range, and they play every day at 3rd, 1st, and LF respectively - at the very least you have slightly above average offense at those positions. I can't believe the defense would be bad enough to say you have huge holes at those positions.
For me the value of the Thome trade is you see less of Flaherty, Pierce, and Chavez in the lineup - so when you calculate difference in WAR you're not just replacing Davis, Reynolds et al, you're also replacing Flaherty and his .440 OPS.
So for me the position players are not the problem, the problem is at SP where you have three starters who aren't even close to average. I think you can win with Betemit and Reynolds, I don't think you can win with Hunter and Arrieta - if the O's want to compete SP is the main area that has to be addressed.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, there is certainly an argument whether Flaherty at third with a poor bat and an adequate glove is just the same as Betemit or whoever at third with a poor glove and adequate bat. The defense is awful. We are talking about something in the neighborhood of probably 2-3.5 wins. A replacement level bat with an average glove equals that if not exceeds.

Camden said...

Agree with the analysis. Would rather they trade for a 3B like Chase Headley

Pants said...

Having a player like Thome in Baltimore might make it easier to acquire talent, though, so maybe there's more here than we think.

I still have a hard time believing that we couldn't have found someone who could actually field a need position (1B/3B).

Thome's complete lack of defensive ability, it forces the team to play some combination of Reynolds/Davis/Betemit in the field to play their bats at the plate and while all can hit sometimes, none are good enough to overwhelm their defensive inadequacies.

Jon Shepherd said...

How does Thome's presence make it easier to acquire players?