Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roster Moves on the Horizon?

Thru May 26th, the Orioles have played .500 baseball, which is significantly better than most anyone would have expected preseason. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, right? I believe that a few roster moves could help to improve the team and also take another step forward with the youth movement.

The Orioles' biggest weakness so far this year has been on offense. They rank 27th in team BA (.245) and 25th in team OBP (.315). Of course as I write about how bad the Orioles' hitting is, they are playing home run derby with the Yankees. They've hit 5 HR thru the first 5 innings. Anyway, back to improving this offense.

There are 2 players who stand out in Norfolk - Luis Terrero & Oscar Salazar. Terrero is hitting .322/.393/.517; Salazar is hitting .305/.352/.482.

Looking at the 25 man roster, Terrero looks like he'll have to wait until Jay Payton is no longer an Oriole before he gets a shot at the 4th outfielder spot. We need to make sure Payton gets plenty of playing time, and with a 12 man pitching staff, there is no need for a 5th outfielder.

That leaves Salazar as the more likely man to be called up. He can contribute at both infield corners and DH. In the past, manager Dave Trembley has talked about bringing Salazar up to serve as a versatile right handed bat off the bench when the O's enter interleague play, but I see no reason to wait that long. Luis Hernandez has become the forgotten man on the bench, slotted behind Freddie Bynum and Alex Cintron at shortstop. The Orioles should option him back to Norfolk for a more useful bat, like Salazar. I would expect Hernandez to pass waivers easily.

In contrast to the offense, the pitching has been a pleasant surprise. The staff ERA is 4.05, good for 13th in the MLB. That's middle of the pack, but inside that number is a 3.27 bullpen ERA, which is worlds better than the nightmare that was last year's bullpen. The weakest link in what has been an improved pitching staff has been the aged veteran, Steve Trachsel. In his 8 starts he has failed to complete more than 3 innings 4 times. At this point, he isn't really contributing anything on the field and it would be best to keep him off of it.

If you want to bring a starter up from Triple-A Norfolk, Radhames Liz is the best choice. After a slow start (4.55 ERA in April), he's starting to turn things around (3.73 ERA in May).

The other choice is to bring up a reliever and give long reliever Matt Albers a more permanent spot in the rotation. This route offers several arms to choose from, but none of them will knock you off your feet. Greg Aquino struggled in Baltimore to start the year, but has pitched well in Norfolk. He could find himself getting another chance. Jim Miller is another option. He's pitched at both Bowie and Norfolk this year and is holding opponents to a .175 BA. If you want to stick with the true "prospects", then recalling Bob McCrory might be more to your liking. But he still isn't showing the control that I'd like to see, so it might be better to let him get comfortable in Norfolk before yanking him back up to the Major Leagues.

It looks like the Orioles are waiting as long as they can to make this decision though. It's been announced that Steve Trachsel's next start will be skipped. If he isn't on the mound getting ripped, then there isn't as much pressure to remove him from the rotation permanently.

If it were up to me, I'd be looking closely at Radhames Liz and Jim Miller.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yu Darvish

Earlier this month, Jim Caple wrote a great article for ESPN about Yu Darvish, a 21 year old Japanese pitching phenom. I highly recommend it. It offers plenty of info on Darvish and insight into the culture of baseball in Japan.

There are definitely some things that we can learn from each other. Kids in the USA could learn something from the kids in Japan, where they are ingrained with a high level of respect for the game and their teammates. Their hard work also makes American kids look lazy.

The MLB equivalent in Japan, the Nippon Professional League (NPL), should take a closer look at how MLB team owners run their franchises. If you think the MLB teams are slaves to the almighty dollar, you haven't seen the NPL team owners. Every team is owned by a major corporation and the team's main focus is to promote the corporation. It's no wonder that many NPL teams finish in the red every year.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Continuing the Contract Trend

The rising trend is for organizations to lock up their young stars well before they reach free agency. It continued this week as both Ryan Braun, from Milwaukee, and Scott Kazmir, from Tampa Bay, inked contract extensions.

Ryan Braun’s is a record setting deal – 8 years and $45 million. It’s the largest contract in club history and sets a new high for players with less than a year of Major League service time. I was shocked to see 8 years, but if you’re to buy out any of his free agent years, it’s got to be more than 6. So it buys out 2 years of free agency and keeps Braun’s average salary to $5.625 million. For someone who won the NL Rookie of the year last year with 34 HR in only 113 games and could possibly be considered one of the best hitters in the league following this season, it’s a great deal for Milwaukee. It’s a good deal for Braun, too, as he’ll be making millions of dollars several years before he would have been able to, and he got a no-trade clause in the deal (full no-trade for the first 4 years and limited no-trade after that). Milwaukee gets cost certainty and cost reduction in the long run. Braun gets a big raise now and has control over his future.

Scott Kazmir signed a 3 year extension worth $28.5 million. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year worth another $11 million. In the past, Kazmir has been hesitant to sign long-term with Tampa Bay because he didn’t like the direction of the team. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore as the Rays are currently in first place in the AL East and Kazmir is only the most recent of many young stars being locked up by the Rays.

So how do these deals affect Baltimore?

Well, the Kazmir signing is obvious. Now we know for sure that “Kid K” will be striking out Orioles on a regular basis for the next 3 or 4 years. The Rays are on top of the AL East right now and by locking up all their stars, they’re looking to make this an extended run. That starts with good pitching. They’ve just locked up Scott Kazmir and in January they signed James Shields to a 4 year deal with 3 one year options. That gives them a lefty-righty combination at the top of their rotation that will be tough to beat. If the Rays are added to the Red Sox and Yankees as “Beasts of the East”, it only makes the O’s rebuilding effort more difficult.

The impact of Ryan Braun’s deal on the Orioles is more indirect. Every time there is a record setting deal, it raises the price for other deals that have yet to be struck and the Orioles have their own young star that they would like to sign long-term - right fielder Nick Markakis. The O’s tried to reach an agreement with him over the off-season, but failed to do so. They should be kicking themselves, because now you can bet it will cost more. Markakis won’t challenge Braun’s record deal. He just isn’t on the same level as Braun as a hitter, but Markakis is closer to arbitration and that will close the gap a little.

EDIT: I feel like I need to go back and clarify what I said about Markakis' possible future contract. When I said that Markakis won't challenge Braun's record deal, that's only partly true. Markakis won't set any records, but he'll most certainly get a contract that pays more per year. That's the power of arbitration, and being close to free agency. Markakis will be eligible for arbitration after this season, so he's only 3 years away from free agency. Whether his deal is worth more than Ryan Braun's $45 million deal depends on how many years of free agency the Orioles want to buy out. If the Orioles want to buy out more than 1 season of free agency, Markakis' deal will be worth more. A good benchmark for a Markakis deal would be the one given to Blue Jay's right fielder, Alex Rios, who signed a 6 year-$64 million deal. Rios is a few years older, but as far as experience and talent, they are very similar.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is Patience Finally Paying Off?

Wow, it’s been awhile since I posted here. Sorry about that. Sometimes life gets busy and it’s hard to keep up with everything. When that happens, hobbies are always the first thing to get neglected. Thanks for being patient. Now on to my first post in forever…

I used to be a fan of Daniel Cabrera. His intimidating size and raw power made him a dreamboat of a pitching prospect. The problem is he never gained any type of consistency. He would come close to a no-hitter one game and then walk every hitter in the lineup in his next start. Anyone without the patience of a monk became irritated at the mere mention of his name.

If Cabrera had been on a winning team, he would have run out of chances to stick in the rotation a long time ago. Good thing for him that the O’s are stuck in a 10 season losing streak. I wouldn’t have protested if the O’s had decided to trade Daniel Cabrera, but how much could we really expect to get back for him? The answer is not much. Not once it became apparent that he was an enigma. So the Orioles kept giving him the ball, hoping he would figure it out. We’re a losing franchise anyway, so why not let him take his lumps and see if something special happens. Right now I’m wondering if that patience is starting to payoff.

Last night, against the Kansas City Royals, Daniel Cabrera had his most dominant start of the season and one of the best of his career. He threw a complete game, allowing 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB and 7 SO. To make it more impressive, he kept the ball on the game all night - 18 of his outs came by groundballs and only 2 were flyouts. I’m still not convinced that he’ll be an ace. Yes, he’s got the stuff, but he still isn’t consistent enough for that. Look to his start on April 28th for proof, as he walked 7 batters in 6 1/3 innings. With that being said, he has been much more consistent this year. Don’t look now, but Cabrera has rattled off 6 consecutive Quality Starts. If he keeps this up he could find himself as a long-term option for the Orioles. Of course, his success could also make him a trade candidate in July. He won’t be a free agent until 2011.