Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wizards continue to reshape roster, trade for Yi

Yesterday, the Wizards acquired forward Yi Jianlian from the Nets in exchange for guard Quinton Ross. Because of the difference in salaries between the two -- Yi makes nearly $3 million more than Ross -- the Wizards had to use a trade exception to complete the deal. The Nets also sent $3 million to the Wizards as part of the trade.

The rationale behind the move for the Nets was simple: freeing up more cap space to go after LeBron James and other free agents. The Wizards, however, have refused to simply clear salary and have been active in trying to acquire potential assets that can possibly help the team right now while also not significantly burdening the team financially.

Here's what Ernie Grunfeld had to say about the Wizards' philosophy (as quoted in the ESPN article above):

"We made a decision that we're going to save some of our powder for the future and try to right now put a core of young players together that can grow and we can build with, and that is the reason that we do have those opportunities right now," Grunfeld said. "Otherwise, they probably wouldn't be there for us."

Seems to make sense, right? Washington isn't a destination for big-time free agents like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Dirk Nowitzki, etc., so what's wrong with gambling a little bit and taking some teams' unwanted parts and seeing if their stocks rise a little bit? If the Wizards are going to take on some salary right now, the ideal situation would also be to acquire some draft picks along with those players, which only happened in the Kirk Hinrich trade.

Back to Yi for a second. He's still young at 22 (even though it's possible that he's actually closer to 25) and certainly has room to improve. In three seasons, he's averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, but he has shot just 40.2 percent from the field. Last year he averaged 12 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.8 minutes per game, but again, he shot only slightly over 40 percent (40.3). Yi isn't a great rebounder or defender and needs to improve in both areas. He also needs to improve his offensive efficiency if he's going to stick around in Washington beyond the upcoming season. (Yi has a $5.4 million qualifying offer in 2011-2012 that the Wizards more than likely will decline.)

So after the draft and the Hinrich and Yi trades, let's look at the current Wizards roster. Gone are the following: Earl Boykins, Randy Foye, Mike Miller (presumably), Josh Howard, Fabricio Oberto, Javaris Crittenton, Cedric Jackson, Cartier Martin, Quinton Ross, James Singleton, and Shaun Livingston. Livingston, Singleton, Jackson, or Martin, I guess, could always re-sign with the Wizards, but it seems less likely that will occur with each trade the Wizards make.

So, keeping in mind that the Wizards probably still aren't done wheeling and dealing, here's the group of new Wizards: John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin (unless he stays in France for another season), and Hamady N'diaye. They (or most of them) will join Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Al Thornton, and Nick Young.

After the moves, the Wizards' projected cap space is a little over $7 million. That's enough to sign another decent player or two if Grunfeld deems it necessary.

Are the Wizards significantly better right now because of the recent moves? Not necessarily. But they are trying something a little different, and they seem to have a plan. It's hard to get excited over Hinrich and Yi, but there seems to be a method behind the Wizards' front office madness. And there's also some guy named John Wall who should provide plenty of entertainment regardless of how the above trades turn out.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Atkins finally designated for assignment

Garrett Atkins has struggled mightily this season and hasn't given the Orioles much of anything. Because of his awful performance, most O's fans believed that his days in Baltimore were numbered and that he'd soon be removed. And earlier today it finally happened.

The O's designated Atkins for assignment and recalled Koji Uehara, who has been effective when healthy, though that hasn't been very often. Atkins's main problem was that he just didn't hit. (His first base defense was also pretty terrible, but that's not why he eventually started losing playing time as the season progressed.) In 152 plate appearances, Atkins hit .214/.276/.286 with one home run. He scored just five runs and knocked in only nine. Also, Atkins walked only 12 times (7.9 BB%) while striking out 30 times (21.4 K%).

In the offseason, the O's signed Atkins to a one-year, $4.5 million dollar deal with a 2011 club option for $8.5 million. Obviously since they just DFA'd him that option won't be picked up (even though there wasn't much of a chance of that happening anyway). Despite playing in only 44 games, Atkins had a WAR of -1.1. So not only did Atkins cost the team a few million that could have been spent on another useful player, but he played worse than simply a replacement-level player who could have been signed for cheap.

Then again, signing free agents is far from an exact science. O's fans should just be glad that they don't have to watch Atkins in an Orioles uniform anymore.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Skins and Wiz vs. the O's: teams headed in different directions?

First, let me preface this post by saying that I'm still on board with what the Orioles and Andy MacPhail are doing. Yes, they're 16-41 and have undoubtedly played some terrible baseball this year, but they're continuing to stockpile as much young talent as possible, including the recently drafted Manny Machado. Some of their offseason signings simply haven't worked out, and most of their young players, both pitchers and position players, just haven't performed well enough yet at the major league level.

Let's start with the Redskins, a team that's had a fantastic offseason after such a dreadful 2010 season. By finally hiring both a competent general manager (Bruce Allen) and coach (Mike Shanahan), Daniel Snyder, for the time being, has silenced many of his critics and has actually given fans a lot to look forward to. The somewhat-risky Donovan McNabb trade (i.e., trading draft picks) certainly helped, but the Redskins have also made a lot of low-risk, high-reward moves as well (Phillip Buchanon, Adam Carriker, Vonnie Holliday, Larry Johnson, Maake Kemoeatu, etc.). They also finally drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (Trent Williams), which filled an obvious hole on the line. If not for Albert Haynesworth's and Santana Moss's names surfacing a few times over the last few weeks/months, the Redskins offseason would have been nearly flawless.

Are the Redskins significantly better than last year's 4-12 team? Maybe, maybe not. But they're doing a lot of things the right way and many, if not most, Redskins players have bought into what Shanahan wants to do. And with the Allen-Shanahan combination leading the team instead of Snyder-Vinny Cerrato, it's really hard to nitpick, at least right now, about what the Redskins have accomplished since Jim Zorn was fired.

While the Redskins have basically taken the more traditional route of trying to turn a team/franchise around, the Wizards basically just got lucky. After a very disappointing 26-56 season, the Wizards won the draft lottery despite just a 10.3 percent chance of doing so. And not only that, but they won the chance to select John Wall, the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick.

After the Wizards (hopefully) select Wall on June 24, they'll still have several decisions to make. They have a couple of choices after the No. 1 pick (No. 30 and No. 35) and may be able to trade up or trade into the draft if there is another player they covet. But, besides the draft, the Wizards' two biggest decisions are probably 1) figuring out what (if anything) to do with Gilbert Arenas, and 2) deciding whether or not they want to throw some money at any of the 2010 free agents.

First, no one really knows how Arenas will react to playing with Wall, but the two could potentially make a dynamic backcourt duo if Arenas can shift over to shooting guard. Then again, trying to decide how Arenas will react to anything is just about impossible, so the Wizards will either have to hope that he won't cause any problems or decide to trade him away (if possible). But, still, there's no real right answer to the Arenas question.

As far as choosing whether or not to sign free agents, it may just depend on how committed Ted Leonsis and the Wizards front office are to the rebuilding effort. The odds of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh coming to Washington are slim to none, but after the Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler trades, the Wizards have a lot of cap space to work with. Would it be worth it for the Wizards to go after a few second-tier free agents to potentially play alongside Wall, Arenas, and Andray Blatche? I guess that just depends on your point of view. The important thing, though, is that by earning the chance to draft Wall, the Wizards have options -- always a good thing.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

For one game, coaching change does nothing

The one positive thing (in my opinion) about the firing of Dave Trembley is that the players have one less excuse now. The almost daily distraction of wondering when Trembley would be dismissed is gone. With a current record of 15-40, the O's were obviously never held back simply by the manager; the main problem is the awful play on the field. And now that's what everyone will focus on instead of the interim manager, Juan Samuel.

Last night, in Samuel's first game as head coach, the O's played yet another terrible game and lost 11-0 to the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz threw a complete game shutout, allowing only five hits and walking just one batter. All five of those hits were singles. Buchholz also threw just 101 pitches, which is pretty difficult to do.

The hitting was terrible, and so was the pitching. Chris Tillman, in his second start this season, lasted just 1.1 innings and 57 pitches. He gave up four runs, five hits, and two walks, and never looked comfortable on the mound. The bullpen wasn't a whole lot better, giving up three home runs and allowing the Red Sox to tack on seven more runs as the game went along.

At some point, the O's are going to start playing better. Their play lately has been so ugly that it's extremely difficult just to find a few positives. The offense almost never scores more than four or five runs, and it's a miracle if the O's get some kind of rally going.

The O's are rebuilding; it's important to remember that. But even rebuilding teams are supposed to be fun sometimes. Right now, there's nothing fun about this team.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's time to do something

The Orioles' record is 15-38, the worst in the majors. Their -88 run differential is third-worst behind the Pirates (-128) and the Astros (-96). In their last 10 games, the O's are 1-9; in their last five (all losses), they've only scored five runs and, frankly, the games haven't been very competitive.

Most O's fans figured the team would be bad this year, but not this bad. The worst part, though, has to be the lack of progress by a couple of the team's young players. Take a look:

Adam Jones: (2010) .249/.271/.376, 2.3 BB%, 21.1 K%; (career) .265/.309/.412, 5.0 BB%, 22.2 K%
Matt Wieters: (2010) .240/.314/.337, 9.3 BB%, 23.4 K%; (2009) .288/.340/.412, 7.3 BB%, 24.3 K%

Yes, it's early June, and Jones and Wieters still have plenty of time to turn their seasons around. But the regression particularly by Jones this season has been awful to watch. Opposing pitchers seemingly have figured him out, and Jones has been helping them out by swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone and fewer pitches in the zone. I examined Wieters's struggles last week, and while it's not time to panic yet, his lack of power is at least a slight concern at this point.

Other concerns: Nick Markakis's lack of power; Nolan Reimold's extremely slow start that led to his demotion to Norfolk (and he's still struggling); Brad Bergesen's huge step back and lack of control; and David Hernandez's move to the bullpen after a mediocre performance in the rotation.

Obviously there are more, including a ton of injuries. Even Brian Matusz has taken a step back in his last few starts. But, the important question is: Now what? It's not like there are a ton of answers in the minors to help improve the team's offense. There is some quality pitching, including Jake Arrieta and company, so that's at least a positive.

But what about the coaching staff? Dave Trembley may not necessarily deserve to be fired -- after all, it's not like the O's are a team overflowing with talent right now -- but it's hard to imagine him hanging around much longer. The same goes for Terry Crowley, who hasn't had much success working with young O's hitters except for maybe Felix Pie, who can't stay healthy.

Basically, the O's front office just needs to do something. The team's play up to this point has been unacceptable, and if that leads to a coaching change, then so be it.