Friday, February 8, 2008

Ace Up the O's Sleeve? Not Anymore.

Today, the epic tale of a young man's trek across the country comes to an end. Baltimore Orioles' ace pitcher, Erik Bedard, is officially a Seattle Mariner. Bedard was Baltimore's biggest trading chip and it shows in the return. Orioles President of Baseball Operations, Andy MacPhail, deliberated over this deal with Seattle GM, Bill Bavasi, for what seemed like an eternity. News leaked about a deal being made over a week ago, and every day since then the media has tried to report on the pending trade. Most days it seemed like they were making things up just so they didn't have to say what they said the day before. From the perspective of a fan, the experience was painful. However, if the end result of all of MacPhail's drawn out trade talks are like this, then I'm a masochist.

In exchange for Erik Bedard (29), the Orioles are receiving five players: CF Adam Jones (22), LHP George Sherrill (31), RHP Chris Tillman (20), LHP Tony Butler (20) and RHP Kam Mickolio (23).

Adam Jones is the centerpiece. He has won Seattle's Minor League Player of the Year award twice (2005 & 2007), and was their 2003 1st round draft pick. He no longer has rookie status (9 ABs over the limit), so you won't see him on any top prospect lists anywhere, but if he were eligible he'd be Seattle's #1 and in the top 10 for all of baseball. Barring injury, he'll be the Orioles opening day centerfielder, and I for one am excited to watch Jones and Markakis patrol our outfield for years to come. Jones has good speed, which helps him show good range in center, and he's got a cannon for an arm. The scouting scale for rating a player's tools is 20-80 (don't ask me why). Jones has a solid 70 arm, with the potential to be an unheard of 80 if he can become more accurate. He was throwing 90+ mph from a mound in high school, so you know he's got the arm strength. As a hitter, he's got some maturation to do. He hit .314 with 25 home runs in Class AAA last year, but struggled once promoted to the big leagues. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and stop chasing breaking balls out of the strike zone. The good news is he has shown a steep learing curve, showing impressive improvement for 3 years in a row. Here's hoping he continues to learn quickly, so that he can help bring some much needed pop to the O's lineup ASAP.

George Sherrill may seem old for someone a rebuilding team wants, but he was one of the best left handed relievers in the league last year with a 2.36 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and over a strikeout per inning. The consensus seems to be that he will be the closer in the bullpen this year, filling in for the injured Chris Ray. The O's bullpen is starting to take shape, and the open spots are starting to dwindle, but the arms hoping to fill them are not. It will be interesting to watch in spring training, as it should be very competitive.

Chris Tillman is the top prospect in the deal. He was ranked by Baseball America as Seattle's 3rd best prospect. He reminds me of our own young flame thrower, Brandon Erbe. Tillman has a live arm with a great fastball. He sits comfortably at 90-94 with the potential for more. He's 6'5" tall and just a hair under 200 lbs, and given his young age (20), you can expect him to fill out a little more and gain some strength. By the time he reaches the majors, which may not be that long (he could start the year in Class AA), he could be bringing mid-90's heat with regularity. He's got the potential to be a front of the rotation starter, with his plus fastball and plus curveball. What could determine whether he becomes an ace or not is how his changeup develops; a pitch he hasn't thrown much.

Tony Butler is another good young starter, though not as touted as Tillman. He has plenty of upside, but needs to become more consistent, a common problem with young pitchers who look like basketball players. Butler is 6'7" tall. He has a solid fastball, but his best pitch is his curveball. It's got a sharp break, and with his height, I've heard that it looks like it's dropping out of the sky. If he doesn't get better command of it though, more advanced hitters will lay off it until he proves he can throw it for strikes.

If you thought Butler was tall, wait until you see Kam "the Almighty" Mickolio. He's a huge man, 6'9" tall and listed at 255 lbs. He's a relief pitcher who has really come on fast. He grew up in Montana, and I don't know if this is the case for all of Montana, but they didn't have high school baseball where he grew up. So he didn't play competitively until college. There he learned the trade, and showed enough promise to be drafted by Seattle in the 18th round. What a steal! He has sky rocketed through their system. In just his second season, he already reached Class AAA. He's knocking on the doorstep of the big leagues. The Orioles bullpen has been a sore spot for years, but are now collecting quite a group of young budding power arms to fill it with. In a year or two, it could be a strength.

I have to say that I've been impressed with Andy MacPhail and his ability to get good value when making trades. Look at the two main deals from this winter. We gave up 2 players, Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard, and we've gotten 10 players in return, some of which have top notch talent. Tejada got us Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Luke Scott, Dennis Sarfate and Mike Costanzo. Bedard got us Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio. That group includes our starting centerfielder (Jones), starting leftfielder (Scott), our closer (Sherrill), a power arm for our bullpen (Sarfate), two pitchers who will compete for a rotation spot (Patton & Albers), a power reliever who's close to the big leagues (Mickolio), a power hitting third base prospect (Costanzo) and two good pitching prospects (Tillman & Butler). MacPhail has done a great job so far.

I can go back to last year, too. In August he traded starting pitcher Steve Trachsel to the Cubs for reliever Rocky Cherry, third baseman Scott Moore and RHP prospect Jacob Renshaw. Trachsel was old, average at best and in the last year of his contract. MacPhail did well to get a reliever who can throw in the 90's, a third baseman with some promise AND another prospect in Renshaw. Renshaw was added due to a clause in the trade that forced the Cubs to give us another player if they made the playoffs. Smart move! I don't expect anything from Cherry, and neither Moore nor Renshaw will be stars, but to get warm bodies with major league potential for Trachsel is a steal.

In MacPhail do I trust.


jason said...

Well - at least for now my skepticism has been answered by at least a little hope that the O's finally have someone back in the front office who actually knows a little about baseball. Even though we're obviously at the start of a multi-year rebuilding effort - at least we're finally willing to start! Kudos for what looks like a smart deal for both teams.

Ryan H. said...

I'm also glad that Father Time is taking his toll on Peter Angelos. I imagine that his getting older could have something to do with his loosening grip on the baseball operations aspect of owning this team.

We're really starting to stockpile young pitching, and scouting director Joe Jordan has really helped make our drafts more productive. The O's are definitely moving in the right direction now.

Unlike you Jay, the off-season is always hopeful for me. It's when the games are played and I see all the losing that the skeptic in me starts to come out. Hopefully this year, the positive direction of the team will be more visible and I won't be skeptical. Same for you, too! We don't want to lose you to the Tigers, though I couldn't blame you. They'll be fun to watch.