20 May 2015

How to Solve the Orioles' Corner Outfield Problem

Matt Kremnitzer wrote an article yesterday for MASN about the Orioles' corner outfield problem. Matt noted that none of the five corner outfield options have been hitting the ball well and that they should really be categorized as "spare parts". Snider has been the best offensively but is inconsistent defensively. Lough has the best defense of the five but has only received 29 PAs and has received a huge offensive boost by being hit by two pitches. Take those out and he has an OBP of .270 with only one extra base hit. De Aza is adequate defensively but has struggled offensively despite minimal at bats against left-handed pitching. Young and Pearce have struggled offensively and aren't known for their defense. So far, the Orioles' plan of signing a whole bunch of outfielders and hoping that a few would have good years hasn't been successful and therefore the Orioles need to come up with a new plan.

The problem is that the Orioles seem to have their payroll maxed out. The Orioles recently traded away two international draft picks in return for a fringe prospect. They've also traded away a competitive balance pick in order to add a few fringe prospects and dump Ryan Webb's salary. It's possible that the Orioles are trying to clear money in order to have resources to make a huge splash at the trade deadline. It's also possible that the Orioles have spent all that they can on payroll and need to cut expenses.

The Orioles also have a mostly barren farm system. Baseball America ranked the O's system #29th this year with only two prospects ranked in the Top 100. The fact that one of them, Hunter Harvey, is currently injured just further limits the Orioles' options. It doesn't appear like the Orioles will be able to spend a lot of money or offer prospects in return for that outfielder that they need.

That is why I think the Orioles' best option may be to trade for Shane Victorino. Shane Victorino is in the last year of a three year contract and is earning $13 million this year. After an excellent 2013, Victorino was hurt for a large chunk of 2014 and has been unimpressive so far in 2015. He only is hitting for a .212/.339/.308 line with a wRC+ of 83. However, he also has three stolen bases and does have good defense in right field. If he can bounce back then he can be the leadoff hitter this club needs that allows Machado to bat second or he can be an excellent threat in the ninth spot in the order. With one year remaining on his contract, the Orioles wouldn't be taking on a huge risk by trading for him.

Even better, the Red Sox have a surplus of outfielders and could afford to let him go. They already have Ramirez in left field, Mookie Betts in center field as well as Holt and Nava as possible replacements in the majors while having Castillo, Bradley and Craig in the minors. Given that they already have Ortiz at DH, Napoli at 1B and Sandoval at 3B, the Red Sox simply have too many position players for too few spots and would probably be open to trading a player or two.

If the Red Sox have position players then what they lack is pitching. Their rotation has been terrible so far this year. Their best starter has an ERA of 4.26. Clay Buchholz has an FIP of 2.91 but an ERA of 4.93 and has always struggled to stay healthy. Their bullpen has arguably been even worse. Their closer, Uehara, has been solid. Tazawa has had good results so far with a 1.56 ERA but only a 4.48 FIP. They only have four relievers with positive fWAR and as a whole their bullpen has been worth negative WAR.

They do have a considerable amount of pitching depth in the minors but they have a lot of holes to fill and could use some major league talent. Meanwhile, the Orioles' pitching has struggled but has plenty of arms in the majors and minors. Trading a starter would simply open up a spot in the rotation for Gausman. The Orioles have a number of relief prospects in the minors and could therefore afford to consider trading a reliever.

A possible deal could be Shane Victorino for Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris. These players have similar salaries combined and therefore money shouldn't be an issue. All of these players have struggled so far this year but each could potentially bounce back.

Bud Norris has been terrible so far this year and is currently on the DL. But he is coming off of a year where he went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA and a 4.22 FIP. It is possible that once he's healthy he would be able to bounce back. More likely, the Red Sox could immediately slot him in the bullpen and see whether he can be another pitcher that sees success when moved from the rotation to the bullpen.

Tommy Hunter has also struggled so far this year but has been a good reliever the past two years. After having a rough April, he has put together a solid May with a 2.70 ERA over 6.2 innings and could potentially have turned a corner. He is a potential late inning reliever that could help the Red Sox bridge the gap to Uehara. However, the Orioles have a number of good relievers with Britton and O'Day and therefore could afford to trade Hunter.

Shane Victorino would be the player in this deal most likely to make an impact. However, it's unlikely that he could do so in Boston given that he's not one of their top outfielders. And as he'll be a free agent next year, the Red Sox would be well served to move on as quickly as possible given their other options. The thing is that even if Victorino does bounce back, it is questionable whether he can be better than the other outfielders that Boston has.

The interesting thing about this potential deal is that all three players are expendable and therefore this could happen relatively quickly. These two teams wouldn't need to wait until the trade deadline because these players have more use on the other team than their own.

The Orioles need to find a way to increase the production that they're receiving from corner outfielders without spending a lot of money or trading a lot of young talent. Trading for Shane Victorino is a good way to do just that.


Anonymous said...

Hunter and Norris for Victorino....you must be nuts....trade a 15 game winner and a good relief pitcher that can be really good at times for an always injured old Victorino...

Manimal said...

I do not think you have established why Victorino will bounce back better than what Hunter or Norris could wind up likely doing. This comes off simply as a trade to make a trade.

Unknown said...

The trade may make sense, but I serious doubt the Red Sox would make this swap to help an AL East rival they're competing against.

Matt Perez said...

Victorino had a miserable 2014 due to injuries and has been pretty solid over his career aside from then.

Victorino has a BABIP of .238 this year in part due to a 25% IFFB rate and a 30.2% Soft contact rate. If he can get those up to career standards (BABIP of .300 and a Soft of 20%) then he'll probably be a slightly above average hitter with good speed that can play above average defense in right. If not, then he'll be a decent OBP player with minimal power. If it was clear that Victorino will bounce back then the Red Sox would want more than Hunter and Norris.

The Red Sox really need pitching themselves. You could just as easily ask whether the Orioles would be willing to make this swap to help an AL East rival that they're competing with.

Anonymous said...

For the reasons you gave, Victorino is worth Hunter. He has no trade value at that price. Victorino has much less likelihood of regressing back to the his career line due to his age and injuries than Norris. It would be nice if Barry Bonds could hit his career average. He could be had for nothing.

Anonymous said...

A better challenge trade would be Hunter for Jose Tabata.

BJ Rassam said...

If a guy who is batting .212 is the best solution, then it could be a long year for the Orioles.

Matt Perez said...

If the Os surprise me and are willing to either eat salary or trade talent for a corner outfield option then it's possible they could do better than Victorino. If they're looking for an option without giving up much in return then he's a decent one.

The Os offense has a wRC+ of 106, which is good for fifth in the majors. Their "Off" score is good for tenth in the majors. It's not like they're struggling offensively. They don't need an all-star but rather someone to give them some stability. Some speed would also be nice. UZR seems to like Snider, De Aza and Young but I'm not sure I buy it.

Tabata isn't a competent defensive right fielder. I don't see the Orioles being interested in another player with his portfolio. Hunter probably isn't so interesting to the Pirates either. I imagine they'd want prospects.

Norris is necessary to make the salaries work out as the Red Sox aren't going to trade Victorino for Hunter and eat $8 million. Is Norris worth $8.8 million at this point?

Michael said...

What about Dariel Alvarez?

Jeremy said...

If Victorino was a few years younger I might find this intriguing...he's 34 and his speed and defense appear to have declined enough to make him a question mark. Pearce, Snider, De Aza, and Lough are all adequate defensively and the chances are good that they will all put up comparable or better offensive numbers to Victorino. The main issue right now in the outfield is figuring out who to play in the corners on a daily basis among those four and Young. They are all so...average. Snider has the best arm so I would be inclined to start him in RF against RHP, but otherwise it's a crapshoot.

IMO it's our starting pitching and infield defense that we really need to be worried about right now, in any case.

Anonymous said...

Alvarez is being eaten alive in Norfolk.

Boss61 said...

This is a terrible idea. The duo of Norris and Hunter must be able to land someone more valuable than Victorino, preferably while being sent outside the division.

Matt Perez said...

I don't think Alvarez is anything more than a platoon outfielder against left handed pitching. He has a good enough arm to play right field but his .261/.333/.348 line against lefties isn't good enough to be an option until he shows a bit more power. His .220/.234/.330 line against righties isn't impressive either.

Snider has been so unimpressive defensively that he's being used solely in left field. And he hasn't played much lately. The Os don't use Lough in right field either. We're really talking about De Aza, Young and Pearce (currently our second baseman) as right field options. Victorino is doing better offensively than all three despite a .238 BABIP.

I don't think any team would take on Hunter and Norris as a package deal if they had to pay their full salaries at this point. Only a team like Boston with minimal pitching would be willing to roll the dice.

Philip said...

Matt, I respect your articles very highly, but I have rarely disagreed with you as strongly as I do right now.
Victorino is BAD. You are hoping he will improve, but I hope is what got Dan Duquette into this mess in the first place.
Bud Norris is scuffling but he had a wonderful season last year.
I personally think Tommy Hunter is lousy, but I know he is worth more than a lousy outfielder.
And outfield to trade is certainly necessary, but why not go for a good one, instead of one that duplicates the same problems we already have.
Danny Valencia is now in LF for the blue Jays, and is hitting very well against left-handers. He would be a good platoonpartner with somebody. There's talk of the Phillies moving Ben Revere. The Rangers have several outfielders Who offer speed and defense, if not power, who would cost $12 million less than your suggestion.
Meanwhile, several teams need pitching and would be willing to pay more than a bad outfielder for Bud and or Tommy.
Come on, Matt.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't agree with Matt P.'s trade proposal, but the number of people who think Bud Norris was really good last season surprises me. He was perfectly fine, but he's probably not going to pitch much better than that. He's not as bad as his disastrous pitching so far, but he's not a great starter either (plus, he's a free agent after this season). It also ignores all the talk before that of him moving to the bullpen.

Matt Perez said...

Victorino isn't bad. He was injured in 2014, excellent in 2013, and has been good to great from 2006 to 2012. He's no longer in his prime at 34 but it's not like he's 38. He's at worse an average player. I don't think he's better than Betts, Ramirez, Holt or Castillo so I'm not sure he fits on the Red Sox but he's still a fine player.

I think the club really needs a RF so guys with weak arms like Valencia or Revere won't cut it. And given that the Os can't eat much money or trade much minor league talent... they're not getting someone good. They'll have to rely on hope because they don't have much to offer in return.

Norris benefited from good defense last year. Except for elite relievers, a reliever is never as valuable as a closer.

It would be interesting to see what Red Sox fans thought of this deal. I bet they would think that two pitchers with enormous ERAs aren't enough for a guy who was so good in 2013.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't think the Orioles have anything to lose by replacing every outfielder not named Adam Jones with a Triple-A call-ups. Why? Because, as a group, this team's outfielders aren't just bad; their performance in May so far is near the bottom of the league: 29th in OPS (0.594) / 27th in FanGraphs WAR (-0.1) / 29th in wOBA (0.263).

(Seriously... -0.1 WAR as a group? That pretty much means almost anyone else they can get would be able to play better!)

Anonymous said...

Probably no one reading this anymore but, the answer to the corner outfield problem is Travis Snider. He has latent big-time power that will emerge if Buck would just stick with him. I'm not an O's fan but when I read they got Snider, I really believed (and still do) that they got their Nellie Cruz replacement for a song.

Lots of players start slow like Snider, but even with power numbers way below his norm he's still hitting .270 and getting on base at a great clip. If the Orioles keep running him out there everyday, he'll be the bat they need.

Andrew Lupica said...

Sorry I'm late to the party, but what was wrong with Nick markakis in RF. the man wanted to be in baltimore and was a main stay in the lineup. Honestly the Braves might even be in the market to trade him back and the Orioles were idiots for letting him go in the first place

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If the Orioles "were idiots for letting him go," then why would the Braves even consider trading him back? That doesn't make any sense.