Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Redskins defense shines in first half

The Redskins offense ranks seventh in the NFL in yards per game at 364.3 but is scoring just 20.6 points per game, 23rd in the league. In 2007, the Redskins scored a few more points, 20.9 per game (t-18th), but gained around 31 fewer yards per game (333.4, 15th). Keep in mind, this is the team's first year in Jim Zorn's new offense, and the team is scoring just about the same amount of points and is gaining more yards. With Jason Campbell continuing to take care of the ball, Clinton Portis putting up MVP numbers, and Santana Moss having a solid season, the Redskins offense should keep improving each week.

However, though the offense appears to be in good shape, the defense has actually been the key to an impressive 6-2 start. The defense is 8th in scoring (18.1), 6th in total yards (278.1), 5th in rushing yards allowed per game (82.8), and 11th in passing yards allowed per game (195.4) -- all solid numbers, but let's examine those numbers further.

Here are the points and yards allowed by the defense in the first eight games of the season, followed by that team's current NFL ranks in both categories:

Game 1 vs. Giants: 16 points, 354 yards -- 6th in scoring (27.3), 3rd in yards (378.9)
Game 2 vs. Saints: 24 points, 250 yards -- 7th in scoring (27.0), 1st in yards (403.1)
Game 3 vs. Cardinals: 17 points, 313 yards -- 1st in scoring (28.6), 5th in yards (369.3)
Game 4 vs. Cowboys: 24 points, 344 yards -- 10th in scoring (25.3), 6th in yards (365.5)
Game 5 vs. Eagles: 17 points, 254 yards -- t-4th in scoring (27.7), 8th in yards (361.1)
Game 6 vs. Rams: 19 points, 200 yards -- 29th in scoring (16.0), 28th in yards (267.1)
Game 7 vs. Browns: 11 points, 236 yards -- 27th in scoring (16.4), 30th in yards (265.7)
Game 8 vs. Lions: 17 points, 274 yards -- 28th in scoring (16.3), 29th in yards (266.3)

To summarize, the defense held five of the NFL's top 10 scoring offenses below their season averages in points and yards per game despite ranking 28th in sacks (10) and forcing only 8 turnovers (only Detroit and Seattle have fewer in the NFC). Also, the defense performed even better than the numbers indicate; the Saints' Reggie Bush returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 2, the Eagles' DeSean Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 5, and the Rams defense recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in Week 6. Those three plays account for 21 points that the defense did not allow.

Intriguingly, the defense has faced a Cardinals offense with a healthy Anquan Boldin, a Cowboys offense with a healthy Tony Romo, and an Eagles offense with a partially healthy Brian Westbrook; all three players have missed several games for their respective teams.

If Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor are able to get healthy after the team's bye week (Week 10), it's scary to think exactly how strong the defense could finish the season.

Most of the credit, so far, goes to: Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache, DE Andre Carter, DT Cornelius Griffin, MLB London Fletcher, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Fred Smoot, S Chris Horton (fourth-to-last pick in the 2008 Draft), S Laron Landry, and LB Rocky McIntosh. Horton may be the early favorite for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and a much-improved Rogers could be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after recovering from a torn ACL and MCL.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redskins links

  • Jason La Confora of the Washington Post thinks that Jason Campbell is the team's first-half offensive MVP. He's not; it's Clinton Portis. Mr. Irrelevant has it right. So does Seth Wickersham of ESPN.

  • Adam Schein of Fox Sports doesn't think that Portis is "having a classic MVP year," whatever that means. It would be nice to know, but he doesn't explain himself.

  • Dan Steinberg explains the Zorn vs. Portis incident in the first half of the Lions game.

  • Zorn didn't appreciate it when a Washington Times reporter rolled his eyes at the coach.

  • Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson is impressed by the Redskins offense so far this season: "Santana Moss (658 receiving yards, five touchdowns) is probably one of the most underrated wide receivers of this season. Clinton Portis (126 rushing yards in the win over the Detroit Lions) is opening up his lead for the rushing crown. And quarterback Jason Campbell still hasn’t thrown an interception in 230 attempts this season. What’s not to like?" Probably the fact that the Redskins are just 23rd in scoring (20.6) despite ranking 7th in the NFL in total yards per game (364.3). There is some room for improvement, but at 6-2, it's hard to complain.

  • Peter King of Sports Illustrated ranks the Redskins seventh in his latest article. King believes the Redskins don't deserve any "style points (SP) for a close-call win in Detroit. Luckily, in the NFL, there's a column for W's, a column for L's and no SP column." Thanks for pointing that out. It's worth noting that King picked the Lions to upset the Redskins last week.

  • The Washington Post's Mike Wise thinks the Redskins are "Passing the Chemistry Test."
  • Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Loewen leaves for Toronto

    Instead of re-signing with the Orioles and trying to make it back to the majors as a corner outfielder or first baseman, Adam Loewen has signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Let's be very clear here: Loewen doesn't owe the Orioles anything. He can do whatever he wants, and he did so by choosing to leave Baltimore to try to revive his career elsewhere. It's unfortunate that his career hasn't gone as planned, and he's apparently trying to make the best of it.

    An obviously agitated and surprised Andy MacPhail had this to say:

    "I don't think it's about money. The way it was explained to me, it's all about playing for his national team in Canada and it's not about terms or anything. The way it was explained to me is he grew up there and it's his lifelong dream to play for Toronto. I have no interest in having Baltimore become part of Canada. We're proud members of the United States, and there isn't much we can do about it."

    Many Orioles fans (like myself) figured Loewen would stay loyal to the team that gave him a major league contract after drafting him fourth overall in 2002. They were wrong.

    Loewen's career numbers: 8-8 record in 29 starts, 5.38 ERA, 134 Ks.

    Good luck. Maybe.

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Friday links

    -- This news is about a month old, but do you know who the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voted for as the MVP of the Tampa Bay Rays this season? Nope, not Evan Longoria (.272/.343/.531, 27 HR), B.J. Upton (.273/.383/.401, 9 HR), or Carlos Pena (.247/.377/.494, 31 HR), or anyone on the pitching staff. Instead, they gave the MVP to shortstop Jason Bartlett. Fire Joe Morgan already covered this topic, but I just wanted to make sure I had this right: Bartlett (.286/.329/.361, 1 HR) apparently deserves the award more than the three Rays listed above because he's a great defensive shortstop? Longoria and Upton are both outstanding defensive players at third base and center field, respectively, and Pena is solid at first base as well. Bartlett has certainly made the Rays better this season, but he's not the most valuable player on the team by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, it probably won't matter if the Rays end up winning the World Series.

    -- This story is also a few weeks old, but it's worth mentioning as well. Here's a video of a hit by Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson on Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards in Week 5. Sure, it's a hard hit, but it looks pretty clean, right? This is the NFL after all. Apparently not, since Wilson was fined $25,000 for "unnecessarily [driving] Edwards to the ground." This article on Pro Football Talk states that Wilson "violat[ed] Rule 12, Section 2, Article 12 (2) of the NFL Official Playing Rules. That rule states: 'a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw [the quarterback] down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player's arms.'" I didn't know that "cradle the passer" and "football" were ever supposed to be seen in the same sentence. Look, it's unfortunate that Edwards suffered a concussion because of the hit, but football is a violent sport played by very strong and very fast individuals. Players are going to get hurt, even on rather ordinary plays. How exactly is Wilson, running at full speed, supposed to be worried about making the play while also remembering he must cradle the quarterback on the way down so he doesn't get fined? The league can keep handing out unnecessary fines all it wants, but plays like this happen every week and the commissioner can't stop them.

    Some quick hitters:

    -- An interesting read on the "Curse of 370" carries by running backs.

    -- There are passionate Redskins fans, and then there are insane ones.

    -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is "tired of talking" about Pacman.

    -- Nick Young understands that he'll need to step up this year.

    -- Gilbert Arenas doesn't mind answering some questions for Young.

    -- This NFL season makes no sense to Jason Whitlock.

    -- Roch Kubatko is willing to "quit [his] job at MASN and work as Pacman Jones' publicist" if Adam Loewen leaves the Orioles.

    -- Antawn Jamison is skeptical of whether or not Andray Blatche will step up this season.

    -- Jim Zorn filled in as play-caller for one game with the Lions in 1999.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Emmitt being Emmitt

    That's right. According to Emmitt Smith, Cassel has not earned his "Rites of Patches" yet. I wonder if Lou Holtz can decipher that message.

    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.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Ten offseason questions for the Orioles: Part One

    The way I see it, the Orioles have at least 10 important decisions to make this offseason. I'll cover five of them in this post and five in the next. So let's get to it.

    In no particular order:

    #1: Will the Orioles give Nick Markakis a new contract?

    Markakis is the best player on the Orioles, and he will turn just 25 in November. But the team couldn't negotiate a contract extension before the start of the season, so he made only $455,000 in 2008. That's not a bad deal for the Orioles considering Markakis has averaged a .299 batting average, .375 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 172 hits, and 67 walks in his first three years in the majors. However, the Orioles again couldn't complete a contract extension with Markakis in late July, and the team must now work on a deal in the offseason -- especially since he is eligible for arbitration and will make lots of money either way.

    The good news for the Orioles is that the team controls Markakis's rights until 2011, but if they cannot complete a deal in the near future, they could risk upsetting him or making him want to play elsewhere -- and that would not be good.

    Prediction: Markakis finally gets a long-term deal.

    #2: What should the Orioles do with Nolan Reimold?

    Playing for the Bowie Baysox, the 25-year-old Reimold had his best season as an Orioles farmhand. Not only did Reimold show that he can stay healthy (139 games played), but he also demonstrated his tremendous hitting ability: .284 BA, .868 OPS, 25 HR. With Markakis in right field and Adam Jones (23 years old) in center, Reimold's presence in left field would give the Orioles a young and extremely talented outfield for many years to come.

    Two things seemingly stand in the way of that happening: 1) Reimold might not be ready, and 2) Luke Scott had a pretty good 2008 season. If the Orioles did decide to go with Reimold in left field, Scott could become the primary designated hitter and still play in left every once in a while. Lou Montanez also had a strong showing in the latter part of the season when he was called up, and he could play a part in the final outcome.

    Prediction: Reimold stays in the minors and, barring injury, is brought up at some point during the season.

    #3: Sign a free agent shortstop or re-sign Juan Castro?

    In 61 games with the Orioles in 2008, Castro solved the defensive dilemma at shortstop for the Orioles. He's a slick fielder and has quick hands, but none of those things seemed to help him at the plate, where he batted .193 with 2 home runs and a minuscule .513 OPS. Brandon Fahey laughs at those numbers. (Well, sort of -- Fahey has a career .586 OPS.) Alex Cintron hit the best of all the shortstop experiments this season -- Luis Hernandez, Freddie Bynum, Fahey, Castro -- with a .286 batting average and a .682 OPS, but he made 7 errors at shortstop in only 28 starts and just doesn't have the range to be anything more than a utility infielder. Cintron is also a free agent, so he may not be back in 2009.

    Two intriguing names are on the 2009 free agent shortstop list: Orlando Cabrera and Rafael Furcal. Some other names on the list are Alex Cora, David Eckstein, Adam Everett, Cesar Izturis, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, and Omar Vizquel. But all of these shortstops are about 30 years old or older, which probably isn't the best plan for the Orioles if they don't want to give someone more than a one or two-year deal. The Orioles have also shown at least some interest in the past in guys like Eckstein and Everett, but they might as well keep Castro rather than spend some millions on average shortstops.

    If the Orioles decide to go after Cabrera or Furcal, Cabrera appears to be the safer option of the two. Furcal, who turns 31 in a few weeks, is three years younger than Cabrera, who turns 34 in November; however, Furcal is more injury-prone. Cabrera has played in 140 games or more in every season since 2001. Until this season, Furcal had played in 138 games or more since 2002, but he also had lower back surgery earlier in the season which caused him to miss five months. Furcal will probably command more money as well; Furcal made $15.7 million in 2008, while Cabrera made $10 million.

    Either signing a shortstop for cheap or just letting Castro get most of the starts isn't a bad plan to go with if the Orioles don't want to pay a lot of money for Cabrera or Furcal, and I won't blame them if that's what they choose. At some point, though, the Orioles will need to trade for a solid shortstop prospect or at least draft a few because the farm system doesn't include many options at the position. Then again, Mike Bordick could always come out of retirement and save the day.

    Prediction: The Orioles don't sign Cabrera or Furcal and either let Castro start or sign another shortstop for cheap.

    #4: Should the Orioles trade Ramon Hernandez and begin the Matt Wieters era now?

    The debate among Orioles fans is probably the same as the debate going on in the Orioles front office, which is: Is Matt Wieters ready, and if so, what should be done with Hernandez?

    Honestly, there may not be a right answer. The Orioles probably wouldn't get much in return if they were to trade Hernandez because he becomes a free agent after the 2009 season and doesn't appear to have a whole lot left in the tank. But if they start him and he performs as poorly as he did in the first part of the 2008 season, many fans will be calling for his release, which could be awkward if the team isn't ready to go with Wieters at that point.

    And that also brings up a critical decision for many organizations: When is the right time to bring up top prospects? Wieters is the best catching prospect in all of baseball, but it could be possible that he's just not ready yet.

    Either way, his numbers in his first full season in the minors were outstanding. In 69 games with the Frederick Keys, Wieters batted .345 with 15 home runs and a 1.024 OPS, and in 61 games with the Bowie Baysox, he batted .365 with 12 home runs and a 1.085 OPS.

    Andy MacPhail has made plenty of solid decisions so far as President of Baseball Operations with the Orioles, and the handling of Matt Wieters will be very important for the Orioles' future.

    Prediction: Hernandez starts the season with the team, but the Orioles eventually bring Wieters up after he continues to dominate minor league pitching.

    #5: Give Brian Roberts a new contract or trade him?

    Like Hernandez, Roberts is also scheduled to become a free agent in 2009. The Orioles signed Roberts to a two-year, $14.3 million contract extension before the 2007 season, and he made $6.3 million in 2008 and is scheduled to make $8 million in 2009. However, he's due to earn a lucrative new contract very soon, and if the Orioles aren't going to pay him, then moving him to a contending team willing to offer a few talented prospects seems to be the direction to go in.

    Roberts, who recently just turned 31, is the fifth-highest paid second baseman in MLB (in average annual value), and he'll probably be looking for a three or four-year contract worth at least $10 million per season. (As a contrast even though Roberts won't make a deal nearly this big, Chase Utley, arguably the best second baseman in MLB, signed a seven-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies before the 2007 season. That's an average of over $12 million per season.) If the Orioles determine that Roberts will be a key piece to turning around their misfortunes, then paying the money would make sense. But that obviously will depend on how much money they (hopefully) want to give to Markakis this offseason and a few other players they could be thinking about going after.

    Trading Roberts could end up being a good decision, but there are two drawbacks from doing so. First, he's a fan favorite and someone who plays hard every game. And second, trading Roberts would leave the Orioles with an even more questionable middle infield with no real solution in sight.

    Then again, that whole Tejada-Roberts combination didn't exactly win the Orioles a ton of games anyway.

    Prediction: The Orioles try to get a deal done with Roberts but don't. He ends up being traded during the season.

    Next post: 5 more questions.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Do the Cubs want Roberts now?

    At least one Chicago Sun-Times writer certainly does.

    Nothing like second-guessing after the fact.

    No one was complaining during the season when the Cubs rolled up a 97-64 record -- best in the NL. Baseball analysts and writers were praising the Cubs for refusing to offer too much to the Orioles for Roberts, and maybe they were right after all. They had a very successful season, but then something completely shocking happened: the Cubs actually played poorly in the postseason. Imagine that.

    Would Roberts have helped the Cubs? Of course. He's one of the best second basemen in MLB. But it's not like the Cubs' own starting second baseman, Mark DeRosa, performed poorly during the season. Mike Fontenot, who also received plenty of starts at second base (49), also played well.

    But Wittenmyer wants to bring up the absence of Roberts as a big reason for the Cubs' postseason failure this season, even though I'm sure the Cubs would have been better off with any other really good player they somehow could have acquired at some point but didn't.

    "First, they have no left-handed hitters whom opponents respect. If you don't believe that, ask yourself how many pitches a Dodgers left-hander threw against the Cubs in seven regular-season and three postseason games. The answer: none."

    Can you guess which 2008 batting numbers belong to which player (Roberts, DeRosa, and Fontenot)?

    Player A: .285 BA, .376 OBP, .857 OPS, .275 BA/.842 OPS vs. RHP
    Player B: .305 BA, .395 OBP, .909 OPS, .302 BA/.911 OPS vs. RHP
    Player C: .296 BA, .378 OBP, .828 OPS, .289 BA/.818 OPS vs. RHP

    The answers: A is DeRosa, B is Fontenot, and C is Roberts. I'd say the Cubs were fine at second base, and that's not even counting DeRosa's 21 home runs (16 off of RHP). Roberts also wouldn't have added much more in terms of hitting right-handed pitching to the Cubs -- Fontenot and DeRosa did just as good, if not better. Apparently taking one former Orioles second baseman (Fontenot) isn't enough.

    Wittenmyer also says the Cubs needed someone to provide "better balance and top-of-the-order table-setting ability." And that obviously wouldn't have hurt; Roberts is an outstanding leadoff hitter, one of the best in baseball. But the Cubs didn't lose because they didn't have Roberts. They lost because they played really bad baseball for three games against a good team that hit well, pitched well, and didn't make stupid errors. No team, not even one that wins 97 games, can afford to play so poorly in the playoffs.

    And what's with the bashing of Alfonso Soriano?

    "And of all people, Alfonso Soriano alluded to it after Saturday night's elimination when he suggested the Cubs aren't built to hit in the postseason. That starts with Soriano and his all-or-nothing traits as a leadoff hitter."

    I agree, Soriano probably isn't the most ideal leadoff hitter. But he's not the one filling out the lineup cards. Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 29 HR, 76 runs) had a solid season, but the Cubs lineup didn't make much sense anyway. As shown above, Fontenot got on base a lot when he played, as did DeRosa. Why couldn't they have just hit first and second in the lineup?

    Either way, the Cubs had a lot more problems against the Dodgers than just missing a table-setter at the top. When a team only scores six runs in three games after leading the NL in runs scored the entire season, the problems (and answers) were in the Cubs' clubhouse, not another team's.