Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ten offseason questions for the Orioles: Part Two

Five more questions:

#6: Is it worth it for the Orioles to go after Mark Teixeira?

This is going to be a long answer, but first off, let's start out with some figures. In 2008, Teixeira made $12.5 million. In 2009 and beyond, he's going to want much more -- at least around $20 million per season.

In 2007, the Orioles spent $93 million, 10th in MLB, and finished 69-93. But in 2008, the Orioles spent $67 million, 22nd in MLB, and finished with basically the same record of 68-93 -- one game wasn't made up because of rain.

Not that it's rocket science, but obviously spending more money doesn't equate to more wins. And with MacPhail in charge, the Orioles didn't make any wild free agent signings before the 2008 season. Instead, the team made a couple of solid trades (Bedard and Tejada) and now seem to be in position to improve each season.

As of right now, three players who made $1 million or more will be off of the team next season: Jay Payton ($5M), Steve Trachsel ($1.5M), and Chad Bradford ($3.6M). Daniel Cabrera ($2.8M) and Kevin Millar ($3.8M) could be re-signed, but their returns are both up in the air. If all five players are off the roster next season, around $17 million would be freed up by their collective departures.

Now, Markakis and Roberts could both receive significant raises in the offseason, and some other players' salaries increase a little each season, but $17 million is still decent amount of money coming off of a relatively small payroll. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Baez ($6.6M), Hernandez ($7.5M), Walker ($4.5M), Mora ($7.8M, 2010 option), and Huff ($8M) are all scheduled to become free agents after the 2009 season -- that's about $40 million more.

Anyway, the point is: not much of the Orioles' payroll is tied up long-term, and the team can definitely afford to pay money to a superstar like Teixeira.

Sure, the Orioles need starting pitching help, but the 2006 offseason proved that giving several aging, stop-gap pitchers millions of dollars doesn't help the problem at all. Besides, much of the talent in the Orioles farm system is young arms that need some more time to develop.

As for dealing with the question at hand, if the Orioles want to bring back Millar as a part-time player, I have no problem with that. He's a great clubhouse guy and is a team player; however, he may not be an everyday player at this point in his career. If the Orioles are comfortable with giving Huff the bulk of the starts at first base, that's fine too. He had a great season last year and could be solid again. Unfortunately, he doesn't appear to have much trade value because 1) he only has one year left on his deal, and 2) many teams may not believe his 2008 season was for real.

But signing the 28-year-old Teixeira would be huge on multiple levels:

  • He's a talented power hitter in the prime of his career who apparently wants to come back home to play.

  • His presence alone would spark more fan interest.

  • Opposing teams wouldn't be able to pitch around Markakis with Teixeira batting behind him in the lineup.

  • The lineup could potentially include a combination of Roberts (.771 career OPS), Markakis (.851), Teixeira (.919), Huff (.827), Mora (.799), and Scott (.851). And that's not even including Adam Jones or the eventual arrival of Matt Wieters.
I've gone back and forth over the idea of paying over $20 million per season to Teixeira, and, in the end, the move just makes sense to me. I'm usually not one to want my team to give one talented player a ton of money over several years, but it makes sense if the situation is right. It would be nice if the Orioles had some nice power hitting infield prospects in the minors (besides Wieters), but they don't. Billy Rowell could be good one day, as a few other hitters in the farm system could be, but the Orioles will still have to work on stockpiling more hitting prospects in the next few years. Doing anything other than at least trying to sign Teixeira to fill a huge hole at first, especially if Huff leaves after next season, would just be hoping that another younger player pans out. And as Billy Beane said, "Hope is not a strategy."

The Orioles can afford to sign Teixeira -- and they should sign him.

Prediction: The Orioles offer Teixeira a big contract, but he still chooses either the Angels or the Yankees over Baltimore. (Which would then make Teixeira one of my least favorite players in the league.)

#7: Should the Orioles bring back Daniel Cabrera?

Cabrera is eligible for arbitration, which could push his salary up to around $5 million in 2009 if the Orioles choose to bring him back. Cabrera says that he was pitching hurt towards the end of the season, and whether that is true or not, MacPhail summed up the situation with Cabrera nicely in early September:

"To this point, he's performed well by and large in the first half, and not well in the second half. The first 10 starts, he had eight quality starts. Since that time, he has five quality starts in 18 outings. We're trying to figure out which is the real Daniel Cabrera."

The weird thing is, even after five full seasons with the Orioles, Cabrera occasionally shows flashes of brilliance, but he always comes back down to earth after a few solid starts and appears to forget everything he did during his hot streak.

For the most part, though, Cabrera is consistent because he's always dealing with runners on base. His career WHIP is 1.55, and he's always been among the ML leaders in walks: 9th in 2004, 7th in 2005, 2nd in 2006, 1st in 2007, 7th in 2008.

The question for the Orioles is whether or not a pitcher like Cabrera, who can eat some innings and sometimes give his team a chance to win, is really worth $5 million. Then again, this is a league where Adam Eaton can get a 3-year, $24.5 million deal.

It's very unlikely that Cabrera will ever turn the corner, but the only thing worse than him not ever living up to his potential is the possibility of him doing so in another team's uniform.

Prediction: Cabrera is back in an Orioles uniform in 2009.

#8: Does it make sense to sign a veteran starter or two?

Even though this is one of the pressing questions this offseason, I basically already tackled this issue in an earlier post.

"In no particular order, the top names on the list of many teams will probably be: A.J. Burnett (if he opts out), Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, Kyle Lohse, Mike Mussina, Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Ben Sheets. Some other intriguing but aging pitchers are: Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, and John Smoltz."

The Orioles may be looking at Burnett, Mussina, Lohse, Lowe, and Rogers.

Anyway, in short, it would make sense to bring in at least one veteran starter to give the starting rotation some stability. That doesn't mean go crazy like in 2006 (as I mentioned before) when the Orioles tried to improve the bullpen by throwing lots of money at Baez, Bradford, Walker, and Williamson, but if the Orioles are smart, signing a decent starting pitcher or two for one or two years would give some of the younger pitchers in the farm system more time to develop; then, MacPhail won't have to worry about rushing them.

Some veterans would also be a good influence on a relatively young rotation where Guthrie is the oldest at age 29.

Prediction: The Orioles sign at least one veteran starter.

#9: What should be done about Baez and Walker? Keep one, both, or neither?

Battling an elbow injury, Walker, 37, had his worst professional season in 2008 with a 6.87 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, and 12 HR allowed in 38 innings pitched. Fortunately, Walker won't need to have surgery this offseason, so he should be relatively healthy to begin the 2009 season.

Baez, on the other hand, missed the entire 2008 season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Possibly because of the injury, Baez, 31, also had his worst professional season in an Orioles uniform. In 2007, Baez had a 6.44 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and just as many walks (29) as strikeouts.

The good news for Orioles fans is that both Walker and Baez will be free agents after the 2009 season. Many fans just wish the Orioles would cut ties with both relievers right now, but since the team must pay them anyway, it would make sense to give them both a chance to show if they can reverse their pitching misfortunes in Baltimore. Walker is six years older and could be nearing the end of his career, but Baez should remain in the league for several more years if he can recover from the surgery.

Giving both pitchers a chance to stay in the bullpen in 2009 isn't a huge risk; if they both pitch poorly, they'll be released anyway.

Prediction: Both start the season on the roster and are gone by September.

#10: Which pitchers start out the season on the roster?

Even if the Orioles sign a veteran starter or two, the team will have to make some decisions on which young pitchers to put in the rotation and in the bullpen.

If the Orioles bring Cabrera back and all injured players are ready to compete in spring training, several pitching battles could form.

Jeremy Guthrie is the staff ace, but no other starting pitchers are, at the moment, guaranteed a spot in the rotation next season. The following starting pitchers will likely battle for some of those spots:

Garrett Olson
Radhames Liz
Matt Albers
Brian Burres
Chris Waters
Troy Patton
Hayden Penn

Albers was solid as a reliever last season, so, again barring injury, he'll be on the team even if it's not as a starter. The same can't be said for the rest of the names. Olson (6.65 ERA), Liz (6.72 ERA), and Burres (6.04 ERA) were all terrible last season. However, Waters, who I hadn't even heard of until the Orioles brought him up, actually pitched pretty well for a 28-year-old rookie. He had a 5.01 ERA in 11 starts, but he didn't strike out many batters and pitched out of many jams. Nonetheless, he did what the other three couldn't do -- he gave the Orioles a chance to win. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get another chance in the rotation over someone like Olson or Burres.

Patton, 23, will try to come back from a left labrum tear and, just like Penn, he has an outside chance at earning a rotation spot. Patton could also end up in the bullpen.

Guaranteed spots in the bullpen will likely go to Lance Cormier, Dennis Sarfate, George Sherrill, and Jim Johnson. Chris Ray will also be in the bullpen if he can stay healthy. The rest of these pitchers will probably compete for the last few spots in the bullpen:

Brian Bass
Jim Miller
Jim Hoey
Danys Baez
Jamie Walker
Rocky Cherry
Kam Mickolio
Alberto Castillo
Bob McCrory
Randor Bierd
Alfredo Simon

Hoey (25) and Baez are both coming off of major surgeries, and Walker pitched through some pain for most of the 2008 season. The 26-year-old Miller had a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings, and Castillo, 33, had a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings. Castillo, a crafty lefty, also got right-handed batters (.262) out about as often as left-handed batters (.256). If Castillo makes the roster, Walker will likely be gone.

Cherry, Bass, Mickolio, McCrory, and Simon probably won't make the bullpen out of spring training, but each has a chance with a strong spring.

Prediction: If the Orioles carry 13 pitchers and by just counting the names on the roster now (Daniel Cabrera included), I think Guthrie, Cabrera, Waters, Albers, and Liz will be the starters with the bullpen consisting of Sherrill, Johnson, Ray, Cormier, Sarfate, Patton, Walker, and Baez.

Luckily, the Orioles should have plenty of bullpen arms to choose from if injuries were to occur or if Walker and Baez prove to again be ineffective.

That's it on writing about the Orioles for a few months, unless, of course, they sign Mark Teixeira for $800 million. Then I might write something. Maybe.

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