Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sorry Wiggy, Hello Miggy

Ty Wigginton's chance to earn a starting job disappeared yesterday, when the Orioles signed Miguel Tejada to a 1 year deal worth $6 million. It's somewhat surprising to see them bring back a player with so many mixed experiences when he played for the team from 2004-2007. He can definitely still hit for average, and can drive in runs, but don't expect a lot of HR's. As he makes the transition to 3B, I'm thinking he'll bat around .300 with 10-15 HRs and 75-80 RBIs. He could bat 2nd, 4th, or 5th - maybe even 6th. Cleanup would be a stretch, but he may be the best option.

It looks like this means the end of Michael Aubrey's run at a roster spot as well. In fact he could be the player they choose to designate for assignment to make room for Tejada. They'll have to choose someone, other possibilities being Chorye Spoone, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Craig Tatum, and Lou Montanez.

It will be interesting to see how this affects the progression of prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell, expected to start the year in AAA and finish it as the starting 1B and 3B.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Taking a chill pill

Since it is only January, I thought I'd settle down a little and address some less intense, more optimistic issues.

Who could turn out to be a pleasant surprise this year?

Jeremy Guthrie - the former 1st round pick and top-notch prospect showed us a few years ago why he was so highly regarded. The past couple of seasons have been rough, to say the least, but moving down in the rotation could help him approach his "golden years."

Koji Uehara - I've already mentioned that Uehara has excellent control (12 walks in 66 IP) and in his first 30 pitches of each game walked only 1 batter last season and held hitters under a .200 average. If he can carry that success to the bullpen, he could be a top-notch setup man

Michael Aubrey - another former top prospect who mainly fell off the radar because he never developed the power expected from a 1st basemen. His defense is apparently excellent, he has proven he can hit for average, and last year he showed that some of that power might arrive. We'll have to see if the Orioles give him a chance.

Felix Pie - the player we all despised last April and May finally showed why he was one of the game's top prospects only a few years ago. His speed and power became evident, and if he can learn to cut his strikeouts, take some walks, and steal some bases, the Orioles might have 4 super solid outfielders.

My bet - Uehara

Who will hit the most home runs this year?

Luke Scott - we know he has power, but it depends on how long his streaks are and how many at bats he gets. It could be anywhere from 15 to 35. Probably somewhere in between.

Nolan Reimold - showed he is a potential slugger, but faced injuries and will have to compete with Pie for time. Still I think 20 is a safe minimum, with the possibility of 25.

Adam Jones - he had a monster first half, but slowed dramatically after the All Star break. I think he's in the same category as Reimold

Nick Markakis - pretty consistent bet to hit 18-23 HRs. I'm thinking he breaks the 25 mark for the first time.

My bet - Reimold, 26

Let's hear your votes

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting Messy in the Bullpen

The Orioles' rotation seems pretty set, and the lineup is really only one big bat away from being solid, but the relief situation is looking a little sketchy...

The O's brought in a lefty, Mike Gonzalez, to close games out. He's got great stuff and numbers, but he has an injury history and has never pitched in the AL. That means you need someone ready to step in if he falters. Jim Johnson is a great setup option, but didn't look good at all as a closer last year after the George Sherrill trade. I like Koji Uehara in the bullpen, and maybe he would be able to fill in. He was dominant in the first 3 innings of his starts last year, which means that hitters were confused the first time they faced him but caught on later in the game.

If Kam Mickolio doesn't get a spot, I will be upset. This is a guy who produced every time he was given a chance last year but kept being demoted to make room for someone else. He may be the closer of the future and has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. That should make 4 guys in the 'pen with guaranteed spots, with 3 jobs remaining. This is where it gets ugly.

Cla Meredith was average last year, which basically means he should be good enough to make the Orioles. Assuming that David Hernandez and Jason Berken don't get spots in the rotation, the will also compete for roles in the bullpen. I see a lot of potential for Hernandez, who has traditionally struck out a lot of batters, but I think Berken needs more time in AAA. Then we get to the Chris Ray types, namely Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate, players who have succeeded in the past, but seemingly can't recover from injuries. Sarfate has great stuff and both have shown the ability to be effective relievers, but the O's may not have room for both of them.

The next group consists of the unproven young pitchers who deserve a look, but may not really have a chance. Bob McCrory is likely done after showing little in his two brief stints in the majors (16.46 ERA, .415 AVG against in 15 career games) and picking up injury problems. Alberto Castillo is a left-hander who's done well in parts of 2 seasons with the O's (3.32 ERA in 42 games), but is 35 and seems to be benefiting from good luck as batters have done relatively well against him. Wilfredo Perez was a candidate to get a callup last year after dominating AA as a closer, but there's probably not room for him now and he'll probably start in AAA. Jim Miller seems to be a forgotten mystery and I really don't know much about newcomers Armando Gabino and Luis Lebron, although they will be given opportunities to earn a spot and I have heard that Lebron may be the cinderella to come away with the team after holding a sub 2 ERA and striking out 1.5 batters an inning last year in the minors.

Basically, there is good potential for this group, but I think there is a lot of reason for concern. The back end (Gonzalez, Johnson, Uehara, and Mickolio) should hold its own, but if the middle relievers aren't able to overcome injuries and inexperience, it could be an ugly year. Think of a revolving door reliefs core that combines for an ERA between 6 and 7, maybe higher. There's nothing worse than knowing that when your starting pitcher comes out of the game, so does your chance of winning. Maybe we should trade back for Sherrill or even Danys Baez.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lineup 2010

I thought I would use my new econometric skills to predict the optimal Orioles lineup for the upcoming season. Then I just decided to do what I thought looked best.

2B - Brian Roberts - gets on base and then steals some more
CF - Adam Jones - more ideal at #5, needs to strike out less, but currently the best option
RF - Nick Markakis - would be nice to see a little more power, say 25 HRs
LF - Nolan Reimold - probably not ready to bat cleanup, but has the best power potential
DH - Luke Scott - can't forget his hot streaks
1B - Garrett Atkins - need a right hander to even things out, not the cleanup hitter we need
C - Matt Wieters - keep the pressure off for now
3B - Ty Wigginton - maybe he will rebound if he's further down in the order
SS - Cesar Izturis - not enough pop to bat 2nd

Give me your proposed lineups. Maybe you have Michael Aubrey or Felix Pie in there. I could see some people moving Wieters up or Jones down.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm not following the logic...

The Orioles apparently want to add another 1st or 3rd basemen, someone like Carlos Delgado (right), Hank Blalock, or Joe Crede. I don't get it - it's not like any of these players are Albert Pujols or David Wright. In fact, they're not that much better than Ty Wigginton or Michael Aubrey, who are currently the leading in-house candidates to fill the 2nd corner infield spot.

Here's my opinion: Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell are expected to be ready halfway through the season anyways, so there's no need of signing somebody unless they're going to be the long term solution. It appears that once again the O's will be stuck with a bunch of overpriced, average veterans who will be unhappy because there won't be enough at bats to go around.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sneak Peak 2010

If you were wondering why I quit posting at the end of May, it's because I lost hope. That may happen again this year just to warn you - but there is some hope.

The starting rotation looks pretty much set, apart from the order. Kevin Millwood (13-10, 3.67 ERA) should get the call opening day followed by an undetermined sequence of Jeremy Guthrie (10-17, 5.04), Brad Bergesen (7-5, 3.43), Chris Tillman (2-5, 5.40), and Brian Matusz (5-2, 4.63). Matusz is the least experienced, but he's the only lefty and may end up in the middle. Bergesen probably projects as a #4 or 5 based on his stuff, but he was the most successful last year and may be rewarded with a higher spot. Look for Guthrie to rebound some as he moves back in the rotation. Jake Arrieta and Troy Patton are closing in and may get their chance at some point this season.

The bullpen seems solid, but could use one more proven arm. New lefty Mike Gonzalez (5-4, 2.42, 10 SV) should get the closer duty, with Jim Johnson (4-6, 4.11, 10) setting him up. Koji Uehara (2-4, 4.05) could set up or act as a long reliever. Kam Mickolio (0-2, 2.63) should bring some power to the back of the bullpen as well. Cla Meredith (4-2, 3.99) is likely the last reliever with a semi-guaranteed spot. The remaining contestants include Matt Albers (3-6, 5.51)and Dennis Sarfate (0-1, 5.09), who are both on their last life with the organization. Don't forget David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42) and Jason Berken (6-12, 6.54), starters last year that will probably have to settle for relief roles this year. Several lesser known relievers will also fight for one of the final 2-3 spots.

Matt Wieters (.288, 9 HR, 43 RBI) will lead the infield from behind the plate and hopefully build on his rookie season to cement himself as a top-notch catcher. The O's will bring in several catchers to win a spot as his backup. As of right now, Garrett Atkins (.226, 9, 48) will handle first base, although Michael Aubrey (.289, 4, 14) could get the job if the O's decide to move Atkins to third. The ultimate hope is that Brandon Snyder will be ready to take over midseason. Brian Roberts (.283, 16, 79, 30 SB) of course will play second with Cesar Izturis (.256, 2, 30, 12) returning at short. Ty Wigginton (.273, 11, 41) is the only current option to play third, something the O's may change if they determine that Josh Bell will not be ready to step up later in the season. The utility spot will be between Aubrey, Rob Andino (.222, 2, 10), and Justin Turner (.167, 0, 3), although two of those players could potentially make the team.

The Orioles' strong point lies in their outfield. Nolan Reimold (.279, 15, 49), Adam Jones (.277, 19, 70, 10), and Nick Markakis (.293, 18, 101) have all but wrapped up their starting status. Felix Pie (.266, 9, 29) could push Reimold, but will likely serve as a strong 4th outfielder. Luke Scott (.258, 25, 77) will likely be the main DH and play occasionally in the field and it seems that Lou Montanez (.183, 1, 6) is once again out of luck.

Back on Track?

The Orioles supposedly met their needs of an ace, closer, and cleanup hitting corner infielder by trading for Kevin Millwood and signing Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins. That may be three check marks on paper but in reality shows that the O's have few aspirations of competing in 2010. Let's look at those moves quickly:

1. O's trade RP Chris Ray for SP Kevin Millwood and money

In the last year of his contract, the Rangers were willing to pay most of the money he was owed just to get rid of him and get an injury laden reliever. I like Chris Ray and he may end up regaining his form someday, but the Orioles couldn't afford to waste a spot in the bullpen with him before then. You can argue that Millwood had a good year and won't cost the O's much. But he's 35, past his prime, and really a #2 or 3 guy. It's better than throwing Guthrie out there Opening Day, but it's obvious that he's another one year stopgap. Expect him to be mediocre, like 13-15, 4.50 ERA.

2. O's sign RP Mike Gonzalez for 2 years, $11 million

This signing makes the most sense out of the three. You get a George Sherrill type with more heat - 90 Ks in 74 innings and a .204 opponent average in 2009. It lets the O's slide Jim Johnson back into a setup role and puts less pressure on Kam Mickolio, Koji Uehara, and the rest of the bullpen. It's also a multiyear deal. The only concerns are the move to the AL and a history of injuries.

3. O's sign 1B/3B Garrett Atkins for 1 year

Garrett Atkins has slowly gotten worse over the past three seasons. His average went from .301 to .286 to .226. Home runs from 25 to 21 to 9. RBI's from 111 to 99 to 48. Consider this too...he played in Colorado. And even if he did return to his 2007 form, if you look closely those numbers almost match Nick Markakis' numbers that year (.300, 23, 112). Nothing against Nick, but he isn't a cleanup hitter, and neither is Atkins.