Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cedeno Seizing Spotlight

During the saga that was the Orioles-Cubs trade talks, Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno was mentioned in pretty much every leaked, rumored, or daydreamed trade proposal. There was a time when he was considered a top prospect, but he had stagnated somewhat. He was a nice piece to the trade proposals, but far from a centerpiece. It was almost as though his inclusion was merely due to a lack of a better alternative (among middle infielders).

Cedeno made the Cubs' Opening Day roster as a utility player, but recently he has been starting at shortstop, due to an injury to starter Ryan Theriot. Cedeno's play has been well above expectations - hitting .345/.406/.552 with 10 runs scored, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, 3 BB & 5 SO in 13 games (29 AB). He's played the part of hero the last two games, coming up with a clutch 2-out 2 RBI single on Monday, and hitting a Grand Slam today. With this type of play, how much do the Orioles wish it was coming in an O's uniform?

Well, I'm sure the O's would like to see that kind of production from a shortstop in Baltimore, but it's still too early to say whether or not holding off on the Brian Roberts trade was a good idea (sorry for the cop out). However, it is worth keeping an eye on. If trade talks resurface mid-season, they will most likely involve many of the same names, including Ronny Cedeno.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ticket Sales Are Up & So Are the Prices

When the Yankees are in town, ticket sales always go through the roof. That's the way it is every time they or the Red Sox are in town. The problem is, most of the increase in ticket sales is due to the migration of Yankee and Red Sox fans to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. From their point of view, it's a great thing. Getting tickets to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium can be difficult and pricey. Why not just make the drive down to Baltimore and buy a much cheaper seat in a half empty stadium? An added bonus is being able to turn an away game for your team into a home game. That's got to be pretty cool.

As an Oriole fan, it's not very cool. It's downright frustrating. On a sports radio talk show, I heard someone call-out Orioles fans to make a point of going to these games - to reclaim our home park from the Yankee fans. That's an honorable idea. It's a matter of principle, and I'm as likely to get caught up on the principle-of-a-thing as anyone. However, before I endorse this movement to reclaim Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I need to see it start from somewhere higher up - the Orioles' front office.

Right now, owner Peter Angelos and the Orioles' front office don't seem very concerned with who fills their seats. As the owner of a professional sports team with game attendance on the decline, Peter Angelos should be concerned with generating and keeping a faithful fanbase. There are many things that contribute to this mission, but varying ticket prices depending on the visiting team is not one of them, and that is exactly what is happening.

If you look at the Orioles schedule you'll see that every home game against either the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees is designated as a Prime Game. Ticket prices for a Prime Game are higher than other games; up to 50% higher depending on the seat. This is entirely the wrong message for Angelos to be sending Baltimore. It says that he acknowledges the visiting Yankees and Red Sox as a bigger draw than the hometown Orioles and wants to make some extra cash for those games. It says that he's more concerned with making money than developing a fanbase or even winning. As a local, you can go to any game you want, so why would you go to a Prime Game where the prices are higher? Most people would rather save the money, so that opens up more seats for the migratory Yankee/Red Sox fans. When the cheers for the visiting team equal or overpower the home team, it's not much of a home game, is it? Therefore the home team advantage is minimalized.

The Orioles aren't the only ones that do this. Both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays raise ticket prices when New York and Boston are in town. Many fans moan about the media bias towards the Yankees and Red Sox. The hike in ticket prices only affirms that the AL East belongs to New York and Boston. It's their world, we're just living in it.

If Peter Angelos and the other AL East owners want the fans to get excited about their teams, they need to convince them that the home team is worth getting excited about. Acknowledging the visiting team as the bigger draw is like saying that the home team isn't good enough. Whether that's true or not, you don't say that to your fans.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tejada Lied About His Age

It wasn't a fear of turning the big 3-0 that made Tejada lie about his age; this happened much earlier. On Thursday, he admitted that he's actually 2 years older than we've thought all this time, making him 33 years old.

The deception came back when he was just a poor kid in the Dominican Republic trying to catch the eye of pro scouts. He told them he was 17, instead of 19, thinking that was the only way to get himself signed. These kids lying about their age is a common thing, but it is a little strange that Tejada's lie is just being found out now. It's not uncommon for these discrepancies in age to come out after just a few years in pro ball, and Tejada's career has been under intense scrutiny as of late with the George Mitchell report, and the current investigation by the Department of Justice.

Why do I feel the need to bring this up? I don't miss seeing him in Baltimore and with his hot start (.328/.375/.586 with 3 HR & 11 RBI) I like hearing off the field things like this to validate my feelings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Minor League Update

The Orioles are playing well right now, but the future of this rebuilding franchise still lies in its player development. Let’s take a look at how some of the baby birds are doing.

You may remember back to my 2008 Season Preview post where I predicted LHP Garrett Olsen would win the 5th slot in the starting rotation. Well, that one didn’t pan out. Throughout the spring he battled control problems and eventually got sent back to minor league camp. His first start of the regular season (for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides), the control problems were still there. He was constantly pitching out of trouble, but somehow managed to only give up 1 run in 4 IP. He continued to be his own worst enemy, walking 6 batters. In his two starts since then, he’s been making his case for being the first starter called up to Baltimore – 11 1/3 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 1 BB & 13 SO.

The middle infield in Norfolk is getting interesting. Scott Moore, who was just recently sent down, is seeing some time at shortstop. He was drafted as a shortstop back in 2002, but was quickly moved to third base. If he proves capable of at least being a reserve at the position he could offer an intriguing possibility, like only keeping one of the weak-hitting-tandem of Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey on the big league roster.

Eider Torres should be drawing a little more attention as well. He was never really considered as an in-house replacement for Brian Roberts, but the 25 year old second baseman has been the best hitter in Norfolk, hitting .356/.434/.422 in 45 AB’s. He probably won’t be considered a long term replacement for Brian Roberts, if he were to be traded, but if he keeps hitting like this he could be a stop gap or at least a useful bench player providing depth.

Jumping all the way down to Single-A Advanced, there are some top prospects getting attention for the Frederick Keys. The consensus is that 2007 5th round draft pick, RHP Jake Arrieta, was a first round talent (he fell due to sign-ability issues). He signed too late last year to get any professional innings, but the O’s sent him to the Arizona Fall League as a reliever to give him a taste of pro ball. He responded by pitching 16 scoreless innings. In 2008 he has picked up right where he left off. His 1st start was short due to low early season pitch counts, but it was an impressive line – 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB & 9 SO. His 2nd start was humbling – 2 2/3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 4 BB & 2 SO. He responded with another superb outing last night – 5 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB & 7 SO. Arrieta should move quickly and is a nice addition to a farm system full of highly rated pitching prospects.

2007 1st round draft pick, C Matt Wieters, has been the most impressive player in this young season. He was named Carolina League Player of the Week (4/4-4/13) and is one of the hottest hitters in the country. He started his professional career off with a bang, hitting 2 homeruns in his first game, and has continued to rake ever since. He is hitting .478/.618/.913 in 23 AB’s, with 3 HR, 7 RBI and a 10/3 BB/SO ratio. He’s making quick work of the opposition and fans are already calling for him to be promoted to Double-A Bowie. However, he may not get promoted until mid-season so that he can focus on learning to play everyday over a long season, something he’s not accustomed to his first year out of college.

One quick thought on the Major League team:
I was very happy to see manager Dave Trembley stick with Adam Jones after his bad game on Sunday (0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts) and was even happier to see Jones rebound with a good game the next day (3 for 3 with 1 walk). Jones has a good head on his shoulders and admits that this is a learning time for him. As long as he keeps that in mind and doesn’t put too much pressure on himself to be a star right away, it’ll help greatly to shorten the slumps he’ll go into.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How the Tables Have Turned

One week ago Orioles fans were bracing themselves for a long, painful season, void of any sunlight, as we expected to be locked in the basement of the American League East. Now everyone is bubbling with excitement as the Orioles ride a 5 game win streak and are tied for the best record in baseball at 5-1.

I like to think I’m an optimist, but I am not a believer, yet. I’m having a hard time looking past 2 things that make me think this fast start is unsustainable.

  1. Who did we play? We swept the Seattle Mariners. A sweep is an achievement against anyone, but in my opinion, the Orioles are getting more credit than they should because it was the Seattle Mariners, who are being overrated in the general public’s eye. Yes, they went 88-74 last year, but they played over their head. They were actually outscored last year, but they were outstanding in close ballgames because of a great bullpen. Using some fancy Pythagorean formula and their runs scored vs. runs against, the expected W-L record for Seattle in 2007 was 79-83. This formula is usually very accurate. The only other team who was more than a handful of games better or worse than their expected W-L record in 2007 was Arizona, who was basically the NL version of Seattle. They were outscored, but used a great bullpen to win a large amount of close games resulting in a 90-72 record instead of 79-83.

    If Seattle’s bullpen is so strong, you’d think that all of our comeback wins would make the sweep more impressive, but that’s not quite true. Their bullpen is a shadow of last year’s. Their All-Star closer (J.J. Putz) is on the DL and their best setup man is now the Orioles’ closer (George Sherrill). Their second best setup man last year (Brandon Morrow) is in the minor leagues. What is left is a below average bullpen.

    The Orioles didn’t sweep a playoff contender. They swept a team with an average offense, an average starting rotation (it would be much better if we had faced Erik Bedard), and a below average bullpen.

  2. The workload on the bullpen. The Orioles bullpen has thrown 21 1/3 innings so far in 6 games, an average of about 3 ½ innings per game. This doesn’t seem too bad because we’re dealing with a small sample size and the last two games the Orioles starters lasted 7 and 6 innings. In the previous 4 games Orioles starters only managed to finish 5 innings twice. Getting our starters consistently deep into ballgames was expected to be a challenge coming into the season, and nothing has been done to disprove that. If the starters can’t provide consistent innings, the bullpen will be counted on to bail them out time and time again and could very easily get burned out by mid-season. We’ve seen that happen before and it can get ugly. They do have some guys back there who can give multiple innings and that will make burn-out easier to avoid, but they’ve got to be careful.

Does this mean that we should expect the Orioles to start crashing and burning any time now and resume their post as the whipping boy of the American League like so many “experts” were predicting? I give a cautiously optimistic - No. The Orioles are definitely playing better than expected. They’re playing with a ton of confidence and the bullpen is indeed a huge upgrade over last year. The “experts” thought we’d flirt with 100 losses, but if team morale stays out of the gutter and the starters can give consistent innings, the Orioles could have a shot at a .500 season. This is assuming we keep the same players all year, as well. I don’t expect us to be in the running for a playoff spot come July, so pretty much anyone is still trade bait. Brian Roberts will be the hardest to replace if he gets traded. He’s the spark plug who gets the engine running and without him the offense will suffer.

These are all big “IF”s so don’t cross your fingers, but couple this surprise with the team actually having a direction (rebuilding) and the Orioles could be fun to watch this year.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

And Then There Were Two

There was a time when I thought that I would never be a blogger. Why should I take the time to write down and "publish" my thoughts? Why should I expect others to care or feign interest?

Well now I've got two blogs. I've been brought on as a staff member at MLB-Draft.com. I'll be helping the creator, Greg Pappas, by supplying another voice and maintaining a blog there. Check it out if you have any interest in those who play the great sport of baseball for free, or if somehow you've come to like my writing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Luis Hernandez is Winning Me Back

Tonight the Orioles won the first of four games against the Seattle Mariners, 7-4. A quick look at the box score would make you think that the game was decided by an offensive barrage by the Orioles with 3 homeruns - one each by Kevin Millar, Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez. Those were important, but what stood out to me was good defense and Luis Hernandez.

The Orioles were able to make several plays defensively to keep the Mariners from gaining any momentum. There were two double plays, one of the 4-6-3 variety and a strike ‘em out throw ‘em out double play.

Mora showed great reactions at third, making several diving stops, and Luis Hernandez showed why he’s the starting shortstop. It looks like he’s recovered from his case of the yips and ditched the moniker Luis “Throw-Away” Hernandez. How fickle am I? He showed good range and a strong arm tonight, and has been solid defensively so far in this young season.

Defense is the reason Luis has a job. I was more impressed with him at the plate. He went 0 for 1 with 2 sacrifice flies, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The first sacrifice fly was a wonderful at bat, taking it to a full count and fouling off several pitches before getting a pitch that he can elevate. His second sacrifice fly was an “at’em” ball. He squared it up real nice and it looked great off the bat, but was hit right at left fielder Raul Ibanez. He still needs to be more consistent – on one swing in his first at bat against starter Jarrod Washburn he looked overmatched with his 88 mph fastball – but if Luis Hernandez can keep battling pitchers and not throw away at bats, it’ll go a long way towards silencing the questions of why the Orioles put up with his lack of a bat. A slick glove can only do so much.

One unrelated note: you know things have changed when the Orioles’ post-game show also gives updates on the minor league games that day. There was some great news tonight, like 2007 1st round pick C Matt Wieters hitting homeruns in his first two official at bats of the season, and 2007 5th round pick RHP Jake Arrieta striking out 9 through his first 4 innings pitched. Both are playing for the Single-A Advanced Frederick Keys.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cintron In - Angelos Out

Lost in the hubbub of Opening Day was the free agent signing of infielder Alex Cintron. The Orioles had shown interest in the 29 year old during Spring Training, but Cintron decided to sign with the Cubs instead. Only after being cut at the end of March did he come crawling back to sign with the O’s.

Seriously though, Cintron adds some valuable depth to the organization. He can play shortstop, second base and third base. He’ll start the year in Triple-A Norfolk as the starting shortstop, but you can count on seeing him with the Orioles sometime soon, assuming he stays healthy – not a given considering Cintron’s track record.

Cintron’s best season came in 2003 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played in 117 games, had 448 at bats, and hit .317/.359/.489 with 26 doubles and 13 homeruns. He saw more playing time in 2004, getting 564 at bats in 154 games, but regressed - hitting .262/.301/.363. Since then he’s struggled with injuries and his playing time has decreased every year, down to 68 games and 185 at bats last year for the White Sox.

That last part of the title, “Angelos Out”, confusing you? Well, yesterday Inside Charm City posted a blog discussing a rumor that Peter Angelos is thinking about selling the team after this season. It even mentions the possibility of the Orioles becoming a community-based, group-owned organization like the Green Bay Packers. I’m not sure how that would work out, but don’t sweat the details…it was only a cruel April Fools joke! I’m telling you about it, because I fell for it and wanted to share my pain. Dashed to pieces, my hopes are.