• Jul

    Choose Your Own Adventure: O’s Edition

    If you were a child in the 80’s, you were probably familiar with the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure,’ books. Basically as a reader, you would read a chapter and then be asked to select a path from two or three options, each of which leading to numerous different possible conclusions.

    With the Baltimore Orioles now 14 games under .500 (36-50), it is time for the organization to choose which path they are going to take. In reality, the world is full of grey, and numerous variations of the paths I mention below are possible. That said, ultimately I think there are essentially three different options the O’s can take.

    Path 1) Go all in

    If the Orioles choose to go ‘all in’ with what is here, the initial decision has to be Majority Owner Peter Angelos announcing a contract extension for President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail. The thought being if you are not going to diverge from the existing plan, you might as well commit to the existing leadership.

    Angelos stated in March that even though MacPhail’s contract expires at the end of 2011, that MacPhail was not going anywhere. (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/blog/2011/03/angelos_macphail_isnt_going_an.html)

    The only way I have seen possible for MacPhail not to return, is if the 2nd half of 2011 is as bad as the 1st half of 2010. With that now seeming like a possibility, the Orioles need to again state publicly where they stand with MacPhail.

    Going ‘all in’ with what is here, is saying that a legitimate playoff contender can be built in the near/immediate future around the Markakis, Jones, Wieters / Matusz, Britton, Arrieta core. It also acknowledging the limitations and questions that plague that group, and realizing that you have to augment around them.

    The immediate thing that needs to happen is an extension to JJ Hardy. You have a quality SS currently wearing an Orioles uniform, that is on the good side of 30. By most accounts, it seems that a 3 year $27M deal could be sufficient from both sides. If you are going to try and win starting in 2012, get it done. I just don’t see how trading Hardy now, and trying to go after him in the off-season, or Furcal on a one year deal, or giving Jose Reyes Carl Crawford money makes more sense.

    With the back and concussion injuries Roberts has dealt with these past two years, nobody within (or outside of) the O’s organization is going to believe they can count on Roberts going into next year. With 2 years, and $20M owed to Roberts; the O’s are not going to obtain an expensive option for 2nd. The best case scenario would be obtaining a player that could be under team control cheaply, and provide some upside greater than Andino. The best option I have seen mentioned is Cincinnati’s Zach Cozart. If the Orioles are going to attempt to win next year, you could argue that trading Jeremy Guthrie does not make a lot of sense. Even if he is really a 3rd starter on a winning team, he is a guy capable of giving you 200 quality innings.

    I don’t think Guthrie holds enough value to get Cincinnati’s blocked 1st baseman Yonder Alonso. If Guthrie can bring you back Cozart though, I think that trade needs to be made. If you obtain Cozart, the O’s can feel confident that they have a quality reserve capable of replacing Hardy, and/or Roberts in the everyday lineup if necessary.

    Where are the O’s at with Hardy extended, Guthrie traded, and Cozart obtained? To me, you could argue that the Orioles would have quality everyday players at RF, CF, C, SS, and 3rd. With Reimold, Scott, Roberts, and Cozart - the O's could additionally argue they have solid options for LF, DH, and 2nd (at-least for '12).

    With Guthrie gone, the best existing options for the rotation would currently be Matusz, Britton, Arrieta, Tillman, and Bergesen. With Britton being sent back to the Minors today (mostly a service time issue), 4 of the 5 best options are currently not even in the rotation. I’d feel ok about Matusz, Britton, Arrieta as a 2/3/4 (assuming there is no structural damage to Matusz, I do expect him to return as a front end starter), and Tillman or Bergesen being serviceable as a 5th.

    There are pieces there you can win with, but clearly there would be major holes at 1st and the lack of a true ACE. If you are going ‘all in’, go ‘all in.’ Prince Fielder is 27 years old. As the 1st half ends, he is probably the leading candidate for the National League MVP. His current OPS is over 1.000. His career OPS is .928 (wOBA .391). Most of the traditional major Free Agent spending teams have existing options at 1st. A number of National Analysts have already linked Fielder to Baltimore. Boston’s General Manager Theo Epstein has a great quote saying, “If you convince yourself you need a certain player to win, then you've already lost. It just doesn't work that way. One player doesn't have that much impact. It's about building organizations, not adding players. There's no player you can add to make up for an inherent weakness in your organization, a foundational weakness. You need to build the foundation up to get to the point where you don't need to add that one player. I mean, you can pursue that one player -- and yeah, he'd be a great fit. But if it doesn't work out or if the money gets ridiculous, you can turn to a different player and be in just as good a shape, almost."

    While I generally agree with Epstein, if the O’s are going to try and win with this group; I don’t think you can find a player that makes more sense to pursue or obtain vs. Fielder. I think you could potentially obtain Fielder for 6 years and $145M. (Which would be the same total dollars, and 1 year less than the O’s offered Teixeira.) A lot of people have said they can not envision the O’s spending the money necessary to obtain Fielder. I would argue that MacPhail has stated numerous times that if they think the team is ready to win, they will spend the money on a player that can elevate the roster. In this scenario, the O’s have committed to this group. The only reason to commit to this group, is if you believe you have a chance to win. As I said above, I think 6 years $145M could obtain Fielder. Let’s say it takes 7 years $165M to definitively sign him. I’d say the O’s should be willing to do that if they are not going to make larger changes. The Orioles might regret the last two years of that contract, but if he gives you 200 homers over the first 5 years, and elevates the rest of the lineup; I think he would be worth it.

    With Hardy extended, Cozart obtained, and Fielder signed; the O’s would have a high quality everyday lineup.

    There would still be major issues with the rotation. It does not make any sense to spend the money necessary to obtain Fielder, and not address the rotation. There are not a lot of quality starters expected to be on the Free Agent market. Two options that I could have interest in would be CJ Wilson, and Jason Marquis. Marquis on a cheap, short contract as an innings eater to replace Guthrie. Wilson as another front-end starter.

    My preference though would be Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Based on his age, and accomplishments; I think there is an argument to be made that he is one of the 10 or so best pitchers in the World. He is expected to request to be posted after this season. At this point, I fully expect to see him in the Yankees’ 2012 rotation. If the O’s are willing to put up the substantial posting fee that will be required, they can obtain him. The current estimates I have seen are a $35M posting fee. Darvish is making $6M in 2011. If he wants to come to MLB, a 5 year deal for $50M would be reasonable contract (and substantial raise) for him.

    In summary, this would leave the 2012 O’s looking like:

    3 yrs $27M for Hardy
    Guthrie traded for Cozart, +
    7 yrs $165M for Fielder
    5 yrs $50M for Darvish (+$35M posting fee)

    Darvish, Matusz, Britton, Arrieta, Tillman / Bergesen

    Bergesen / Tillman
    Viola / Klein / Schrader / Johnson

    Roberts 2nd
    Hardy SS
    Markakis RF
    Fielder 1st
    Jones CF
    Wieters C
    Reynolds 3rd
    Scott DH
    Reimold LF

    Pie, Tatum, Cozart, Andino

    Total Salary Estimate: $115M

    The O’s 2011 salary (plus pro-rated bonuses) is roughly $87M. Do I think the O’s will be willing to go from $87M to $115M? Of course I doubt it. That is what I think would be necessary though to field the above team. There are 12 teams in 2011 that have a salary over $105M. 8 of those 12 teams are over that $115M level.  In that sense, it should not be completely unrealistic to believe the O’s could go to that level of payroll. You could easily argue that the O’s could basically go with the same team, obtain a young/cheap 1st baseman, and attempt to trade for a front end starter – and field a team $25-$30M cheaper. I certainly understand anyone that points out that if you have to sign a potential MVP, and a potential Cy Young to field a competitive team; that might directly illustrate why going this route could be a poor decision. This leads us to…

    Path 2) Fold’em

    The Orioles are 75-87 in their last 162 games. Maybe more importantly, the O’s were 30-31 after beating Tampa Bay June 10th. Since that point, the Orioles have gone 6 and 20. Brian Matusz returned June 1st, but after 6 starts had to return to AAA. There has been some maturation from Arrieta, but he still has issues with fast-ball command, control overall, and being pitch efficient. Britton is going through development typical of a rookie, but you have to wonder if without more K’s he will always be more of a mid-rotation guy, vs. a front-end starter?

    Despite having an OPS over .850 during both May, and June; Jones’ overall numbers are pretty similar to what we have seen the past two years. Markakis has not reached the monster numbers he put up in 2008. Wieters has reached the All-Star game for the first time, but despite his gains against LHP and outstanding numbers with RISP; he is not giving the O’s the middle of the lineup force they expected he would.

    You can easily make the argument for trading Guthrie, Johnson, and Uehara. Some would argue that a 3 year extension for Hardy would be poor. With the O’s playing as poor as they are, would it take a 4th year to get a deal done before the deadline? If so, I think the O’s would probably trade Hardy. If you trade Hardy before the end of the Month, should larger moves be made?  With Wieters’ excellent production behind the plate (and being 4th overall in Wins Above Replacement among Catchers), he is not going anywhere. There is pretty much zero chance of the O’s moving Matusz, Britton, or Arrieta. So when we talk about any larger moves being made, we are talking in particular about Jones, and /or Markakis. Of course if you traded either one of them, you would think that the O’s would also make Reynolds available.

    If the O’s are poor now, they would be ’62 Mets, or ’88 O’s level without Guthrie, Johnson, Uehara, Hardy, Jones, Markakis, Reynolds (and Lee, Guerrero). The argument would be that if you are 16 games out of 1st with them on July 9th, what is the point of keeping them together?  In addition to dropping roughly $50M in payroll for ’12, you would add a lot of high end talent to the system, which would be under team control cheaply for years. You would hope that with a significantly lowered payroll, the O’s would be investing further into the organization. You would like to see a commitment to improving their International Scouting efforts, bringing in more Domestic Scouts, improving Player Development.

    While I think the O’s would bring in a considerable amount of talent, I can not imagine the O’s being any ‘better’ than they are now, and into ’12, and ’13. I could imagine the O’s being ‘as good’, which might also mean ‘as horrible’ depending on your current mood. There would be more money available to pursue an extension with Wieters, and the young pitching if you so decided.

    The biggest benefits would be the additional payroll flexibility, and the in-flux of team-controlled talent. If the Organization was admitting to themselves and the public that they did not believe they could make the moves to contend in ’12, or ’13; they would not pursue any game-changing Free Agent talent. If you think it is unlikely the O’s would pursue Fielder, etc. even if the team believed he could help them contend; you would believe it would be a complete impossibility that the O’s would pursue Fielder if they thought they could not contend prior to 2014.

    Let’s say the O’s traded Hardy and Guthrie for Alonso, Cozart, + from Cincinnati, Jones to San Francisco for Brandon Belt (1st, , COF), and Zack Wheeler (RHP), and additionally traded Uehara, Johnson, Lee, and Guerrero – with Reynolds, and Markakis retained.

    Cozart would be your everyday SS, replacing Hardy. Another option to back-up Roberts would be desired, but if you are not going to contend – maybe the O’s would be content with Andino. Alonso and Belt are both 1st baseman, that could DH, or probably play a mediocre/poor LF. Their additions would force other decisions on Reimold, and Scott. Pie would probably take over CF. You would hope with the trades of Uehara, Johnson, Lee, and Guerrero that another 5th starter option, or at-least cheap bullpen help could be obtained.

    The projected payroll would probably be around $65M. The O’s would certainly have the ability to add salary, but the question would be where? Better question would be if you are going to start-over, should MacPhail be in charge of that? I think the answer to that would be no. The new goal as an Organization would be 2014, and O’s fans are not going to want to see MacPhail get the opportunity to try and rebuild the team again. If the Orioles decide they need to again overhaul the roster, I think that decision needs to be made immediately. Though to be honest, if it was announced tomorrow night that MacPhail would not be back for 2012, it is probably unreasonable to believe the O’s could have a replacement in-place by the 24th. Even if there was a new GM in-place by the 24th, there would be so much evaluation of the Major League roster, and system needed – that the chances of moving a player like Jones (under team control for the next two years) would be extremely unlikely.

    If the Orioles were going to commit to another rebuilding, and decided to replace MacPhail, some of the candidates I would like to see considered are:

    Paul DePodesta, Mets Vice President of Player Development & Scouting
    Josh Byrnes, Padres Vice President of Baseball Operations
    John Coppolella, Braves Director of Baseball Administration
    Bob Miller, Reds Vice President and Assistant General Manager 
    Rich Hahn, White Sox Vice President and Assistant General Manager
    Allard Baird, Red Sox Vice President Player Personnel
    Charley Kerfeld, Phillies Special Assistant to the General Manager

    The fan in me is not excited about really starting over with the rebuilding process. There is a part of me though that understands gaining payroll flexibility, and obtaining young/cheap/talented everyday players prior to their arbitration years makes a lot of sense. It would especially make sense if it were to be paired with strong investment into all areas of Baseball Operations. If it also brought about new leadership to all of the Front Office, one could also argue that by itself is a positive.

    Of course there is always…

    Path 3) Bluff

    In this example, the bluff would be the O’s continuing to operate exactly as is. There is a core of players here to like, but it is not good enough to win with. If you are not going to make the moves to acquire the talent around that group to win; you might as well start over. If you are going to start over, you have to admit that what you are doing is not working.  

    After awhile, all of the arguments become circular. You can have ‘chicken & egg’ arguments all day. The bottom-line is that the O’s are 14 games under .500, and 16 games out of 1st. The goal for any franchise is to maximize revenue. The O’s will sell more tickets, more skyboxes, and higher ad rates on MASN when they field a contender. Anyone that believes the O’s do not want to improve is misguided. The question for the O’s now, is which path are they going to choose? I can get behind either Path 1, or Path 2. The only unacceptable answer to me would be Path 3, and not making any moves to address the obvious deficiencies which currently inhibit the franchise.

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Michael Williams

Lifelong. Down by the river.