Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wizards lose to Heat by 16, are far from embarrassing

I'm always going to be a Wizards fan, but there hasn't been much to cheer about lately. Sure, the Wizards beat the Jazz on Monday -- wins are always good -- but that came after a four-game losing streak, and a six-game losing streak before that. You get the idea. Going into last night's game, the Wizards were 18-55, everyone keeps getting hurt (most recently Trevor Booker, who's fun to watch), and at this point the Wizards and other losing teams are basically jockeying for position in the upcoming NBA Draft.

But something about the team's effort last night against the Heat (a 123-107 loss) made me proud. Maybe it's that the Wizards are without the following players: Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard, and Booker. (Andray Blatche returned from an injury last night.) Maybe it's that Othyus Jeffers (who, with 15 points and eight rebounds, had a solid game) played 29 minutes and Cartier Martin played 18. But no, that's only part of it.

Early in the second quarter, John Wall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas got into a little skirmish. Ilgauskas had the ball and Wall was swiping at it, going for a steal. Ilgauskas, trying to fend off Wall (or something), ended up elbowing Wall twice, which obviously didn't make the rookie too happy. Understandably, Wall took exception -- after all, who likes being elbowed in the head? -- and threw a forearm into Ilgauskas's midsection. Watch the play for yourself:

As Wall and Ilgauskas argued and nearly squared off, the coaches ran onto the court to separate the players. Trying to protect Wall, JaVale McGee rushed in and shoved Ilgauskas, and Juwan Howard came to Ilgauskas's defense and went after McGee. Howard also had some words for Flip Saunders as he was on his way to break up the scuffle.

Wall and Ilgauskas received flagrant twos and were ejected for their actions. Howard received only a technical foul, but he was also ejected for basically looking to fight. McGee was given a technical foul but was allowed to stay in the game. (It's also worth noting that Ilgauskas was "offering fans a double-bird salute on his way to the locker room.")

Regardless of how poorly the Wizards have played this season, Wall and McGee refused to back down from Ilgauskas and the all-mighty Heat. Without Wall, the Wizards lost their best player for the rest of the game, yet they all continued to battle. Jordan Crawford took control of the offense, and it almost seemed like he made it his mission to keep the Wizards in the game. He ended up with 39 points on 12-24 shooting, also making all 10 of his free throws. He ended up with only four assists -- he loves to shoot and was hoisting up plenty of shots in the game already -- but in his crafty style, he was still driving to the basket on occasion with relative ease and was setting up his teammates with pretty good shots when he felt the need to do so. But yeah, in terms of a shooting conscience, he's similar to Nick Young (which isn't a revelation).

After a Crawford three-pointer cut the deficit to one (91-90) with 9:27 to go in the fourth quarter, the Heat finally started to pull away. At the end, accounting for both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved to be too difficult.

In most cases, moral victories don't mean a whole lot. They're usually just a way for a losing team to take something positive away from a loss. But in this situation, the severely short-handed Wizards took on one of the most talented teams in the league, played without their best player from the second quarter on, and stayed right with the Heat for a majority of the game. The Wizards need to get more talented; no one would question that. But the way the team played and refused to let the Heat walk all over them after Wall departed, when it could have easily happened -- that's something this franchise can build on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

If Jordan Williams leaves, expect more zone

Jordan Williams filed the necessary paperwork yesterday to enter the NBA Draft, but he has not signed with an agent yet. That means that he has until May 8 to withdraw his name and still remain eligible. On Sunday, I discussed many of the consequences of what losing Williams would mean, but I did leave one out: It would force the Terps into playing more zone.

This past season, Gary Williams occasionally utilized a 3-2 (almost a 1-2-2) zone. It wasn't always effective, but it did work in certain stretches, particularly against inefficient shooting teams. In previous years, I recall Maryland playing some zone before, but usually only in brief intervals to catch opposing teams off guard. If Jordan Williams departs, the Terps won't just be losing their best player, but their biggest one as well.

Only one of the incoming freshmen (at the moment) is a frontcourt player (Martin Breunig). He probably won't be a starter, meaning that unless Nick Faust wows from day one, the Terps will start five guys from last year's team. Since I doubt that Gary would be fine with starting both Berend Weijs and James Padgett together, the most likely starter at the other forward position will be Haukur Palsson. And that's fine since Palsson played well at times as a freshman, but he's only 6'6 and would leave the Terps with a huge size deficiency against tall frontcourts.

But there aren't a whole lot of choices. Without Williams, Maryland will be forced to bring in at least another big man, but there's no way that the Terps would expect much from him right away. And if Palsson does indeed play significant minutes at the four, the Terps could be looking at this starting lineup:

Terrell Stoglin (6'1)
Pe'Shon Howard (6'3)
Sean Mosley (6'4)
Haukur Palsson (6'6)
James Padgett (6'8)

Or maybe Weijs (6'10) starts. Or maybe Gary Williams is firmly against a lineup that's too small and doesn't want Palsson to play so many minutes at the four. Regardless, losing Williams reduces Maryland's options. And if Maryland is forced into using the above starting lineup, they will be overmatched inside in most games -- particularly in ACC play -- and forced into playing more zone to clog the lane.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jake Fox breaks 'unwritten rule,' angers both managers

In yesterday's 14-9 win over the Tigers, Jake Fox hit his 10th home run -- the most in the Grapefruit League. Unfortunately, he got a little greedy late in the game and angered both managers -- the Tigers' Jim Leyland and the O's own Buck Showalter -- with a single swing.

Here's what happened, via Jeff Zrebiec:
The Orioles had runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning today when Fox came to the plate against Tigers minor leaguer Chance Ruffin. The most important aspect of this story is the score was 13-3 at the time, and both teams had subbed out most of their regulars. Ruffin started the at-bat with three straight balls, but Fox decided to take a rip at a 3-0 pitch in a clear take situation.

It certainly qualified as a breach of baseball etiquette. Swinging 3-0 in a 10-run game with no outs in the eighth inning with a minor league pitcher on the mound is a decent way to make sure you get a fastball in the ribs in your next at-bat. The average fan may not think it was a big deal but Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Tigers manager Jim Leyland certainly did.

Showalter angrily yanked off his hat, and was seen yelling in the home dugout to anyone in particular. His hat off the whole time, he kept shaking his head and muttering throughout the rest of Fox's at-bat, which resulted in a walk Leyland, meanwhile, yelled at Fox from the top step of the dugout.

When Fox was removed for a pinch runner, Showalter made sure that he was one of the first people to meet him in the dugout and he gave him an earful. The Orioles manager was still fuming about it after the game as it apparently wasn't the first time this spring where Fox ignored a clear take situation.
Fox is presumably going to make the opening day roster because of his fantastic hitting in spring training, so it's a little early to overreact about a few instances in which Fox should have kept the bat on his shoulder. However, Fox is mainly going to be a reserve (barring injury), and if he's irritating his manager with similar antics during the season, he may not be around for very long.

Then again, if he hits like he currently is in spring training when he fills in for Matt Wieters or whomever, I have a feeling that Showalter will overlook an inopportune, mammoth swing here or there.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What happens if Jordan Williams turns pro?

I don't think most Maryland basketball fans actually believe that Jordan Williams is going to leave college for the NBA. Either that, or maybe they don't want to think about how devastating it would be for the current team. But Williams, who recently finished his sophomore season, is apparently seriously considering whether or not to leave College Park for the chance to earn some money in the NBA.

There are many different factors -- how well Williams stacks up against the competition, which other players end up turning pro, the NBA's current (and impending) financial dilemma, whether Williams is ready to simply move on to the next level, etc. -- that are influencing Williams's decision, and I fully believe that his final choice will not come without lots of deliberation and planning. Still, it's possible that he leaves, and that would leave the Terps with a huge hole in their frontcourt.

According to, Maryland has essentially finalized three recruits so far for next season: Nick Faust, Sterling Gibbs, and Martin Breunig. Out of their 13 scholarships for the upcoming season, they have 12 locked up. If Williams departs, they'll have an extra one to work with, meaning they would likely target a frontcourt guy or two.

On their current roster, the Terps don't have a single player who can duplicate what the 6'10, 260 pound Williams recently accomplished. After playing reasonably well (9.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 51.2 percent shooting) and exceeding expectations in his freshman season, Williams took a tremendous step forward (which is saying something) as a sophomore. He scored more points (16.9), grabbed more rebounds (11.8), shot better from the field (53.8 percent), and played almost eight more minutes per game, all the while playing on a less-talented team that lost seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne the season before. Remember, Dino Gregory is graduating, meaning that without Williams too, Maryland would have to go with two new starters in the frontcourt.

Of the current recruits, Faust and Gibbs are guards, and although Breunig is 6'9 and 205 pounds, he's more of a shooter and perimeter player -- not someone who's going to bang much inside and score routinely from the post. So, besides targeting another big guy or two -- and even then, he (or they) would still be young and inexperienced -- Maryland has limited (non-freshman) options. They are:

- Berend Weijs (6'10, 200 pounds, Senior)
- James Padgett (6'8, 215, Junior)
- Ashton Pankey (6'9, 220, Sophomore)
- Haukur Palsson (6'6, 190, Sophomore)

Pankey only played in one game, and just three minutes, all of last season, so he's probably not much of a solution. Palsson, while having a pretty strong showing for a freshman, is more of a small forward, though when Maryland got in foul trouble, he did see time at the four. So in terms of size and (some) experience, the options are Padgett and Weijs. Padgett (8.7) played more minutes than Weijs (5.2) this past season, but that's not really saying much. I imagine that Padgett would be the guy to get the first real chance, but it's hard to get excited about either guy, especially since neither has played many minutes or done much besides a few nice plays here and there.

Simply put, Maryland is going to be in big trouble if Williams leaves -- not exactly a stunning statement. Yet, I still think that Gary Williams would be able to make the best out of that potential makeshift frontcourt, mainly because I don't believe there are many things Gary Williams relishes more than winning games while riding into battle with inferior talent. Also, it's not like the Terps would be without weapons of their own; they just wouldn't receive a whole lot of offensive production from their big men. Unless Faust forces his way into the starting lineup early on, Maryland's starting backcourt will likely be Pe'Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin, two guys who got plenty of minutes while Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker were not playing like most fans wished they would. Sean Mosley will probably start at small forward, which would leave Maryland with a solid group of guards and forwards (Palsson, Faust, Mychal Parker, and Gibbs) available off the bench.

There's little question that the strength of the Terps without Jordan Williams would be the backcourt duo of Stoglin and Howard, along with the development of those four youngsters listed above. If Williams does end up being in the mix, then the Terps will unquestionably be more talented and much better off than the ugly alternative.

In the end, the decision to turn pro is up to Jordan Williams. He gets the final word. But I'd be lying if I said I wanted him to test the waters and leave Maryland for good. It's been a lot of fun watching his game steadily improve, and after seeing how much he matured this season, it would be a real shame not to have that opportunity for, at the very least, one more season.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Duke gets knocked out, which is always good

Maryland didn't have a particularly good season and didn't make the NCAA Tournament. I'd say that most Terps fans are over it by now. Still, it's always important to keep rooting against Duke. Fortunately, Arizona dismantled Duke 93-77 last night, including a dominant 55-33 second half scoring advantage.

Derrick Williams, Arizona's sophomore forward, was unstoppable, scoring 32 points (11-17 from the field) and grabbing 13 rebounds. He also made fix of six three-pointers. As a team, Arizona shot 54 percent, made nine of 15 threes, and outrebounded Duke 35-26. Not bad at all.

As for Williams, he unleashed a few spectacular highlights on the Blue Devils, one of them being this sick put-back dunk in the first half:

On behalf of Maryland fans -- and many college basketball fans around the country -- thank you, Derrick.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Showalter calls out Jeter, Red Sox

I don't recall hearing anything controversial from Buck Showalter in his time with the Orioles, but after his interview in the April edition of Men's Journal, that's certainly changed. Showalter had a few choice words for some of the O's AL East competition (via the Bergen (N.J.) Record):
"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout," Showalter said in Men's Journal, according to the Bergen Record. "Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets -- and yes, he [ticks] me off."

Speaking about the Red Sox, Showalter mocked the notion that Epstein's biggest offseason acquisitions -- namely, left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez -- were indicative of the Red Sox GM's savvy.

"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay [Rays] payroll," Showalter told Men's Journal, according to the Record. "You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'"
Well played, Buck. Anytime someone calls out Derek Jeter or the Red Sox, I'm usually on that side. I like Showalter's confidence too, and it's not like the Yankees or Red Sox are going to play much harder against the O's than before. If the O's are ever going to make some progress, they're going to have to beat the Yankees and Red Sox (and Rays, for that matter). No one knows that more than Showalter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How not to write a column

I'm not a well-paid writer. Actually, check that, I'm not even a paid writer. But I can still spot a rude and mean-spirited column, and that's exactly what T.J. Simers's recent column in the Los Angeles Times is.

Writing about new Dodgers left fielder Marcus Thames and why he hasn't played more in his career, Simers approached Thames to ask him some rather blunt and impolite questions. Here was the awkward exchange, if you can call it that:
"Are you that horrible on defense that teams don't think it's worth playing such a home run threat?'' I asked by way of introduction.

Maybe somebody else wastes time schmoozing with Tims/Tems, but he's a one-year rental who has some explaining to do. How bad are you on defense that teams don't dare risk playing you?

Tims/Tems just smiled.

I asked again, because I remember my dealings with Lofton, who would never answer the first question. Eventually he would, while also complaining, "You never write down what I say."

I always told him the same thing. "You're boring, but I come back hoping one day you might say something of interest."

When I came back on Tims/Tems, he sat silent. I can see one problem he might have on defense if everyone is relying on him to yell "I got it."

He said he wasn't going to talk to me because I hadn't introduced myself. That would have allowed him to pull out the little card the Dodgers' PR department provides players advising them how to get a running start on Page 2.

I can't imagine this is the first time in 10 years that Tims/Tems has been asked why he stinks on defense, thereby limiting his time as a regular player.

Unable to answer, he just stood and walked away.
If that wasn't bad enough, Simers had a few other rude lines in his column, including: "So I thought I might talk to Tims/Tems on Monday. Ordinarily I don't like to start off a week talking to stiffs, but that leaves so few Dodgers to interview these days." You get the idea.

Simers has already been ripped for the column in a few places, and apparently that confrontational/rude column technique is sort of his shtick. Nonetheless, it's rather embarrassing that a professional columnist would approach an athlete -- or anyone, for that matter -- and ask him why he's so "horrible on defense."

By the way, kudos to Thames for not taking the bait. Oh, and stay classy, T.J.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

O's opening day roster battles

Yesterday Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun analyzed the chances of various Orioles making the team's opening day roster.

In my opinion, here are the three biggest roster battles/questions:

Backup catcher: Jake Fox vs. Craig Tatum

Connolly: "Tatum is better defensively, but he has a minor league option remaining. The club could take three catchers, but some in the organization think that's a waste of roster space since the backup won't play much in April behind Wieters."

I'm not a fan of carrying three catchers unless it's absolutely necessary, and in this case it's not. Connolly notes that Tatum still has an option left, which gives Fox the advantage. Also, Fox has been on fire at the plate in spring training, so it basically comes down to whether the O's want better offense (Fox) or better defense (Tatum) at the backup catcher position.

Fox's career numbers: .236/.285/.423
Tatum's career numbers: .236/.312/.280

Fox gets the advantage because of his power, but neither is particularly efficient at getting on base. I'd be shocked if Fox didn't make the roster, at least as a reward for his strong spring -- not that that's the best way to make decisions.

Fifth starter: Chris Tillman vs. Zach Britton

Connolly: "Britton has impressed, but barring injury, he'll probably start in the minors and receive a call up after April 20, which would guarantee he doesn't get full service time for 2011, meaning he would be under club control through 2017."

I thought that the O's needed to keep Britton in the minors until after June 1 to avoid Super Two status and keep him under team control for an extra season. If that's the case, the O's definitely need to keep Britton down. Because of scheduling quirks in April, the O's really only need a fifth starter for part of the month. Justin Duchscherer probably won't be healthy enough, and I also don't think Tillman has a whole lot left to prove at the Triple-A level. Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen seem like the four starters who will begin the season in the rotation, and when the O's need him, Tillman should be the fifth.

Fourth outfielder: Felix Pie vs. Nolan Reimold

Connolly: "Pie is in a battl[e] with Reimold to be the fourth outfielder. Reimold has minor league options remaining (Pie doesn't) and has outplayed Pie, but his development might be better served playing every day at Triple-A Norfolk. So Pie is close to a lock."

Like Connolly says, the fact that Reimold has an option left gives Pie the advantage -- the O's wouldn't want to risk losing Pie to another team for nothing. However, Derrek Lee's health situation may also affect this position battle, because if Lee starts the season on the disabled list, the O's may choose to start Luke Scott at first and keep both Pie and Reimold on the roster. At the end of the day, though, unless Pie plays terribly and the O's lose complete confidence in him, he should win the battle over Reimold.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NCAA Tournament: A day of daggers

The Terps aren't in the NCAA Tournament this year -- or any postseason tournament, for that matter -- but, regardless, March Madness is unquestionably one of the best times of the year. Yesterday had a slew of exciting games that featured plenty of exciting finishes. And yes, there were several daggers thrown in. Here they are:

Matt Howard's buzzer-beater for Butler

Demonte Harper's game-winner for Morehead State

Juan Fernandez's game-winning bucket for Temple

Brandon Knight's driving two for Kentucky

No. 12 Richmond also knocked off No. 5 Vanderbilt, and No. 11 Gonzaga upset No. 6 St. John's. All in all, a fantastic day of basketball -- with much more ahead.

(Note: Not sure if CBS will take down the videos or not, but it's at least possible.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jordan Crawford vs. Nick Young

In Atlanta, Jordan Crawford wasn't getting consistent minutes (he's a rookie, after all), but that has changed in Washington. Crawford has gone from averaging 10 minutes in 16 games with the Hawks to over 22 minutes in 10 games with the short-handed Wizards. If Nick Young and some others were healthy, Crawford may not be playing quite as much, but that hardly matters since someone on the Wizards always seems to be hurt. Also, it's not the worst thing to see Crawford and some of the other youngsters getting minutes (even if the team is getting routinely destroyed by much better teams).

According to ShamSports, Young has a qualifying offer next season of about $3.7 million. He's likely going to want an extension, though, and if so he'll be looking for a raise. I'm not sure how much money Young would command on the open market, but he'd surely be looking at a bit more than $4 million, at least. The Wizards may want to keep him around, especially since he took a leap this season to scoring 17.7 points a night on 32 minutes per game.

The Wizards drafted Young in the 2007, which is another reason that they'd like to keep him around. They drafted him, he's gotten better, and it would be a shame to let him get away and start playing even better for another team. Still, it would be foolish to overpay for a player like Young, no matter the step forward he's taken this season. Yes, he has been more efficient on offense, but he's certainly not a well-rounded player. His defense has improved in his four years in the league, but he's not a shutdown defender by any means and has his fair share of lapses on the defensive end. He's also not very adept at passing the ball, averaging just 1.2 assists (and 1.4 turnovers). There's no question that Young is a scorer first (and second, and third, etc.).

Crawford, meanwhile, is nearly three years younger than Young and is still under team control for the next few seasons. He's obviously a raw talent, and no one knows exactly what he can do yet, but he has been OK -- at least just as good, or better, than what fans expected when he came from Atlanta. In his 10 games with Washington, Crawford is averaging 11.0 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He's also shooting just 39.3 percent from the field. He definitely has Nick Young-ish qualities on offense, particularly when it comes to dribbling too much, taking bad shots, and not passing the ball a whole lot. Still, he has shown a knack for getting after it on the defensive end (1.4 steals per game), and it would be difficult to debate his hustle on the court.

I like Nick Young. He's not only one of the best players on the Wizards right now, but he's probably the most entertaining personality of the group as well. But when it comes to overpaying for young, team-drafted talent, the Wizards may have learned their lesson with Andray Blatche. Young may return after this season, particularly since the Wizards will have some money to work with. But it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to commit a bunch of money to Young with a player like Crawford now on the roster. I'm not saying that Crawford can be better than Young in a few years, but the chance exists. And the last thing the Wizards should be doing is handing out long-term deals to slightly better-than-average players.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Terps football uniforms may be changing

According to Jeff Barker of The Baltimore Sun, school officials are saying that Maryland's football uniforms "are being redesigned and will more prominently display 'Maryland.'"

Barker added:
One of the aims is to emphasize "Maryland," much as Texas football features "Texas" on its uniform fronts or the Orioles now have "Baltimore" on their road jerseys.

The university believes it will aid recruiting to have an updated, clearly identifiable brand. Maryland is working with Under Armour, the official outfitter for Maryland athletics, on the designs. No announcement has been made yet, and the school said it was too soon to share the specifics of new uniforms or designs.

"Under Armour has helped us come up with new images to highlight the State of Maryland and the university," athletic director Kevin Anderson said Monday. "I truly believe that when we come out with a Maryland brand, it will be second to none. It will directly compete with Nike and what Nike does for Oregon."
Seems like a decent plan. Some fans are going to be upset about the decision -- change can be scary, after all -- but as long as the uniforms/designs don't end up looking goofy, there shouldn't be much of an uproar.

With a new coach (Randy Edsall) and altered uniforms, the football team apparently is being molded into something different -- whether or not that's a positive or negative transformation remains to be seen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wise on Cerrato: 'Utterly unaware till the very end'

Mike Wise has written an interesting column on Vinny Cerrato and what he's doing now that he's no longer employed by the Redskins or any other NFL team. Here's a taste of what Wise had to say:
In a rare moment of clarity, though, a caller asked whether Cerrato believed the Redskins were better off when he took the job or when he was fired. Thinking back to the one home playoff game under former coach Norv Turner - Jan. 8, 2000; the game ball is encased downstairs - he comes to terms with his tenure.

"I'd have to say unsuccessful," Cerrato says, nodding for a long while, almost pondering that he just said that word in relation to himself.

He was working out during the NFL owners meetings in Dallas in Dec. 2009 when Snyder told him to meet him alone in a conference room at the Four Seasons. It was the day the owner played the card no one ever thought he'd play - firing Cerrato, the guy who survived six coaches, millions of wasted dollars on someone else's stars and all the anger of fed-up season-ticket holders.

"I didn't know it was coming," he said. Really? After what happened the last decade? "Nope."
It's not the most in-depth look at Cerrato's tenure with the Redskins and doesn't provide a ton of new information, but for anyone looking for more reasons to blame Cerrato, it's certainly worthy of a read.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Injury talk coming early for O's

Over the course of an 162-game schedule, players are going to get injured; there's no way around that. But in early March, the Orioles are already dealing with nagging injuries to both players on the right side of their infield. According to Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun, Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee, both crucial to the upcoming season, are trying to overcome some spring training pain. He continued:
The timetable for Derrek Lee's exhibition debut has been pushed back a couple of times, and Showalter revealed on Tuesday that the club was sending its new first baseman to a specialist to look at his sore right wrist.

Then came the news that Roberts was held out of Tuesday's workout back in Sarasota because of a back spasm, which is sure to send a chill down the spine of everyone who saw how his absence impacted the Orioles' offense last season.
Roberts has been dealing with a couple different injuries, including pain in his back and neck. Considering he missed a significant amount of time in 2010 from an assortment of injuries -- an abdominal strain, a hip strain, a knee contusion, and a concussion -- it's hard not to be at least a little concerned that Roberts might have a hard time staying healthy not only in 2011, but for the rest of his career.

Lee, meanwhile, played through immense hand/thumb pain last season, and he's currently dealing with a sore right wrist. It's not likely that he'll need surgery, but it's also possible that he may be dealing with some pain or discomfort for a majority of the upcoming season. That doesn't bode well for his chances of having a much-improved season at the plate.

If Lee and Roberts were younger players, the outlook on their recoveries would be a little brighter. But Lee is 35 and Roberts is 33. For argument's sake, Roberts's absence would be the biggest of the two. The O's played without Roberts for much of last season, and the offense struggled mightily without him. If Lee missed time, the O's would probably move Luke Scott to first base and hope that his defense wouldn't be terrible. Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie would then split time in left field. The O's could deal with that situation -- maybe not for the entire season, but for a considerable chunk of time, sure. But if Roberts were to miss time, Cesar Izturis would likely man second base. Defensively, that would be OK (though Izturis hasn't played second for a while), but offensively, the loss of Roberts would again prove to be enormous.

It might be a little early for this kind of worrying, so don't hit the panic button just yet. But don't expect these types of injury concerns to just disappear overnight.

Injury information found using the handy Baseball Injury Tool

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Orioles are not like the Astros

Earlier today on ESPN's SweetSpot blog, Austin Swafford (of Astros 290) wrote that the Orioles are headed down a dangerous road -- similar to one the Astros have taken the last few years. In the piece, Swafford argued that the O's didn't need to make many of their offseason moves because the O's are not "a few overpriced veterans away from going to the World Series."

Here's more of what he had to say:
There's certainly nothing wrong with trying to win right now if you have the right parts. But I have thought about the lesson that could be learned from the Astros as I have watched the Orioles since the end of last season. They closed 2010 on a good note. They hired Buck Showalter and, with him at the helm, went 34-23 to end the year.

So, naturally, they looked around at their very talented division and said, "No rush. We have a good manager, we're making good progress and we have young talent. We can be patient while that young talent develops." Right?

It'd be nice if that were the case, but instead of doing that, the Orioles got very involved in free agency, went out and got J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, Justin Duchscherer and Kevin Gregg. Average age: 31.8.

They're not all old and I don't dislike all of the signings, but why the urgency? Why the apparently desperate need to compete now when they probably won't?
I encourage you to read the whole post. Swafford made some strong points, some of which have been brought up by other baseball analysts, and even O's fans themselves.

But here are a few points before I get to my main problem with the piece:
  • Yes, the O's did sign or trade for all of those players listed above. Hardy, Lee, Guerrero, and Duchscherer are all signed to one-year deals. Gregg signed a two-year deal, and sure, that was far from the best signing. And Reynolds has a guaranteed deal through 2012, with a club option for 2013. I'm not arguing that all of those deals are fantastic and will definitely work out, but they hardly strain the organization's position financially like Carlos Lee's six-year, $100 million deal in 2007 with the Astros.
  • The O's did not trade away a bunch of young talent in an effort to get better overnight. The best player the O's traded, David Hernandez, is a reliever. Kam Mickolio and Jim Hoey are also relievers who either couldn't stay healthy or simply weren't very effective (or both), and Brett Jacobson, another reliever, is 24 and hasn't played above Single A. Those players -- four relievers -- still have some value, but not a ton of upside. So it's not like the O's took an enormous gamble or anything on Reynolds or Hardy.
  • No one thinks the O's are going to the World Series. Even the most optimistic fans would be thrilled with third place -- not that that's the ultimate goal (it's obviously not), but still. It's possible that Andy MacPhail made a few of the team's moves (like the Guerrero signing) to improve the team in the short term, which would be unfortunate. But even someone like Guerrero could possibly be flipped at the trade deadline for a younger player or two, as could several other veterans.
Really, though, my problem is with Swafford's thinking that many of these signed players are blocking MLB-ready talent. To me, there are only two cases where that applies:

1) Guerrero, who's signing may block Felix Pie/Nolan Reimold
2) Duchscherer, who may force Chris Tillman (or another young starter) back to Triple A

That's it. Reynolds, Hardy, and Lee are not blocking anyone in the infield. Josh Bell has recently been working out at first base, but he showed last season that he's not close to being ready to assuming any kind of everyday role. Brandon Snyder probably isn't ready either, if he ever will be. With Guerrero serving as the O's designated hitter, Luke Scott will move to left field, which will likely force Pie and Reimold to either the bench or the minors. It would be nice to see both get regular playing time, so in that sense, Guerrero does seem to be blocking them. But, as I've mentioned before, Pie is 26 and Reimold is 27; we're not talking about young up-and-comers here.

Then there's Duchscherer. Duchscherer is 33, and the O's are banking on him returning to form to give the O's another reliable option in the rotation. If he stays healthy (not a guarantee) and pitches well, he may be another player the O's could trade at the deadline. But he was signed for less than $1 million, so if he can't stay healthy or is ineffective, it's not a huge loss. Considering the O's already have several other young starters to choose from -- Brian Matusz (24), Brad Bergesen (25), Jake Arrieta (24), and Tillman (22), and even Zach Britton (23) down the road -- it's not the worst thing to bring in a low-risk, high-reward starter like Duchscherer. What's the worst that could happen? That Duchscherer keeps getting hurt? Or maybe that he stays healthy enough to pitch but isn't effective? If that's the case, the O's aren't required to keep him in the rotation, and it wouldn't be difficult to let him go. It would be nice to give every young starter plenty of chances, but the season is long and pitchers always get hurt. There will be opportunities during the season to perform.

If someone wants to make the argument (like Keith Law has) that the O's would have been better off using money on signing international prospects or putting that money toward draft picks, that's one thing. But it's hard to get too upset with the majority of moves the O's have made, especially since most of the contracts signed are short-term deals. Besides maybe Gregg, the O's are not stuck with a truly horrible contract, and even Gregg is signed for just two years.

Considering what the O's have gone through for the last 13 seasons, it's hard to say that the O's are headed for trouble. They've been in a ton of trouble for a while, and while playing in the AL East, things will not get any easier. They still have a ton of work to do, but when is that not the case?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

O's links: Wieters, Rosenthal, and Reynolds

So the Orioles have won their first three spring training games, which doesn't really matter a whole lot, but is still better than losing all three, I guess. Still, the team's offseason moves have received more attention this year, and it doesn't seem like the O's are being completely ignored as in years past.

Here are a few links from yesterday examining various O's questions and concerns for the next season and future ones as well.

- Heath of Dempsey's Army took issue with an article on Baseball Prospectus listing the most disappointing prospects of all time. On that list was a certain 24-year-old O's catcher: Matt Wieters. Heath disputed Wieters's placement on the list, saying:
Some of the best hitting catchers in recent memory did not even debut until after their age 24 season. Piazza doesn't really count; he got a cup of coffee when he was 23 but at 24, he put up a monster season and took Rookie of the Year. But Jorge Posada? He only had 15 MLB at bats at 24. Victor Martinez had just 61 games and an 87 OPS+. Chris Hoiles had only 6 games under his belt.

Sure, it would have been great if Wieters had hit the ground running like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk or Joe Mauer. But catchers typically take awhile longer to develop offensively in the majors. They just do. That's why the Nationals moved Bryce Harper to the outfield and the Royals have moved top prospect Wil Myers from behind the plate. They value their bats more than their catching skills and they know the position will slow their development at the plate.
That's just one part of his analysis; you should check out the rest of the piece as well.

- Rob Neyer of SB Nation read Heath's post and tends to agree with him. Here is his succinct offering:
"Disappointing" is highly subjective. The Baseball Prospectus crew is naturally disappointed in Wieters, considering they basically anointed him the new Johnny Bench two years ago. But as Dempsey's Army demonstrates, in terms of 24-year-old catchers he's done just fine and still figures to have a solid career. If not better.
That's essentially what my opinion is. It's hard not to be a little disappointed with Wieters's production -- particularly at the plate -- so far, but he's still pretty young and brings a lot to the table in terms of defense and controlling the running game. He still has time to improve, and I think he'll be fine.

- Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal also wrote about the O's, and he chose to focus on the current state of the organization's farm system. Here's some of what he had to say:
MacPhail has made some excellent trades, getting a bounty for lefty Erik Bedard in February 2008 and obtaining third baseman Josh Bell for lefty George Sherrill in July 2009. But the Orioles rarely draw much from the minor-league free-agent market and lack the creativity of teams such as the Rays and Jays.

No doubt, the franchise is in a much better place than it was a year ago. But rival executives often refer to the Orioles as a sleeping giant, and the description still applies.

For the Orioles to regain their footing, their farm system needs to gush with talent, not offer dribs and drabs. Right now, in the area that matters most, the O’s aren’t good enough.
I don't think anyone would argue that the O's don't need to keep improving the level of talent in the farm system. In that sense, Rosenthal is right. And his criticism of the team's lack of international scouting has been repeatedly questioned by other baseball writers and analysts, including Keith Law. To keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox, and really, the entire AL East, the O's need to keep adding young talent through whatever means necessary.

- Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew interviewed Mark Reynolds, and while there's not much quote-worthy material, it's a good read.

- Kaduk spent some time at the O's new facility in Sarasota, Ed Smith Stadium. After $31 million in renovations, Kaduk has plenty of nice things to say about the place, which, as the title suggests, has been turned "from pit to palace." He also provided several photos of the renovations and upgrades. Really, the place looks fantastic.

- Since yesterday must have been focus on the O's day at Big League Stew, Kaduk also quickly summarized the team's offseason acquisitions and departures and raised five crucial questions. Here's the question that I found must interesting:
3. How much of a difference will a full season of Buck Showalter make? The most repeated stat about the Orioles this offseason has been 34-23, which was Baltimore's record after Showalter took over at Camden Yards in 2010. It was a nice run to be sure, but the implication — however serious — that the O's could have played at that clip with last year's collection of talent is misguided.

That said, it'll be interesting to see what Showalter does with this team, which is a hodgepodge of not-fully-realized talent and veteran guys who have been there before. He'll really earn his stripes if he can coax an above-average performance out of a pitching staff that ranks the weakest in the division.
Showalter's biggest hurdle will be to get more production out of guys like Wieters, Adam Jones, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman (if he's on the roster), and other youngsters making the transition from minor leaguer to full-time MLB regular. If he can do that, the O's should improve mightily.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Skins roster moves: Portis, Dockery, Carter, and others

Clinton Portis (29) was the first to be released, but he's not the only one. The Redskins have made a flurry of roster moves, choosing to get rid of some of the ineffective players who were injured or didn't really fit the team's new offensive or defensive schemes.

Here are the team's other recent roster moves:
Players' ages are in parentheses. Wilson and Blades are the youngest guys in the group, though with all of the uncertainty regarding the current CBA, there's no guarantee at the moment that either player returns. The Redskins are once again reworking their roster, and more players will likely be on the way out soon enough.

Bibby buyout enhances Hinrich trade

The Kirk Hinrich trade -- Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to the Hawks for Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans, and a 2011 first-round draft pick -- seemed like a decent move at the time, because the Wizards essentially acquired two first-round picks (Crawford from 2010 and the actual 2011 draft pick). But Bibby really, really did not want to play for the rebuilding Wizards, and he has apparently agreed to a deal in which he will forfeit his entire $6.2 million salary next season to escape from Washington. Bibby will likely land with the Miami Heat.

Bibby's generous decision transforms the trade from a good one to a great one. Instead of the two assets in Crawford and the draft pick, the Wizards get the expired contract of Bibby as well. According to Michael Lee of The Washington Post, Bibby's deal will eat up $1 million on next year's cap, but that's definitely better than having to pay his full salary.

Lee also ended his latest post on the buyout with this:
One league source described the situation with Bibby as, "Fall out of the sky luck."
Luck got the Wizards John Wall, and they could certainly use as much of it as they can get.


The Wizards have also reached a buyout agreement with Al Thornton. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, as long as Thornton clears waivers, he will play for the Golden State Warriors, who, oddly enough, the Wizards face tonight.

Thornton, 27, has been a decent player this season -- averaging 8.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 47.1 percent shooting -- but he has struggled to stay on the floor and has dealt with a multitude of injuries. The Wizards evidently did not view Thornton as a player worth keeping around beyond this season, especially for his 2011/2012 qualifying offer of nearly $4 million.