Saturday, September 24, 2011

Revisiting the O's deadline trades

At the non-waiver trade deadline (July 31), the Orioles made two moves. They were:

1) Koji Uehara and $2 million to the Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter; and

2) Derrek Lee and cash to the Pirates for Aaron Baker.

And in a waiver deadline (August 31) deal, the O's shipped Mike Gonzalez to the Rangers for cash. They then used that cash to claim Pedro Strop off of waivers. Essentially, it was a swap of Gonzalez for Strop.

The O's have made a flurry of other roster moves, bringing several players up and sending others down -- including designating Felix Pie for assignment and then assigning him to Norfolk once he cleared waivers -- but for the most part, that's a pretty common thing for most MLB clubs in September. So let's focus on the four players acquired in the three trades mentioned above.

Chris Davis

Davis has not collected a whole lot of service time in his career, meaning that the O's won't have to worry about paying him a bunch of money anytime soon. And that's positive news, because he probably wouldn't be around otherwise. By acquiring Davis (25) and Hunter (25) in exchange for Uehara, the O's took a chance on bringing in a couple of older players rather than actual prospects. And both players, mainly because of how thin the O's roster is, should receive plenty of playing time next season.

Davis will probably see his name in the lineup in most games next season at a corner infield position or designated hitter. And unless the O's go out and sign someone, there aren't many better options on the roster. Davis has played in 26 games and has only 109 plate appearances, but in that time he hasn't performed well. He has a slash line of .260/.294/.385 with the O's, and he's been striking out more (33.9%) and walking less (4.6%) than usual -- which is pretty tough considering he has a career 31.9 K% and a 6.5 BB%. He also doesn't bring much defensive value to the table; he appears to be a below average third baseman and an average first baseman. But if Mark Reynolds sticks around next season, he'll likely play first, which will push Davis to third or DH.

Davis has also been dealing with a shoulder injury basically since he arrived in Baltimore, so it may be unfair to judge his play. That's fine, and it's very possible that he plays much better next season if he's healthy. But his issues aren't just with this season; he doesn't have great overall numbers. In 1,062 career plate appearances, Davis has hit .249/.299/.447 -- not good. The ability to hit for power is obviously Davis's strongest attribute, but he doesn't get on base nearly enough. Taking more pitches and walking more would aid Davis tremendously, but that's not an easily acquired skill.

Tommy Hunter

Like Davis, Hunter has his flaws. He has a career pitching line of 4.55/4.71/4.51 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) in 330.2 innings, which suggests that he's been a little unlucky in his 64.1 innings with the O's (5.32/4.53/4.22). Hunter is essentially an innings eater right now, and he may end up in that role next year if the O's young pitchers continue to falter.

Hunter has barely been walking any opposing batters (0.98 BB/9), and he hasn't struck out many either (4.62 K/9). By all accounts, he doesn't have fantastic stuff, and he really shouldn't be in the rotation next season if everyone's healthy. But with the O's, that rarely happens, meaning that it's good to have someone like Hunter around, even if he's not spectacular. Hunter may be best utilized out of the bullpen, where he could give the O's three or four innings at a time.

So, basically, the O's traded a fantastic reliever (Uehara) and received two 25-year-old players with limited upside. Don't get me wrong: Both players could end up being useful. But that's not exactly the best way to go about furthering along a rebuilding process.

Aaron Baker

Baker, 23, is not viewed as a top prospect, which is why the Pirates were willing to part with him. In 12 games at Single-A Frederick, Baker hit well, posting a .386/.472/.591 line. But in 15 games at Double-A Bowie, he struggled and hit only .196/.188/.239. The O's were not going to receive much value for Lee, and Baker may never make it to Baltimore, though there's still time for him to do so. Regardless, the deal was reasonable because it got Lee off the roster and allowed Reynolds to move to first.

Pedro Strop

The most effective player the O's received, surprisingly, has been Strop (26). He's only pitched in 8.2 innings, but he's yet to give up a run and has already earned eighth-inning responsibilities. Whether or not that continues next season is another question entirely, but for now Strop is dealing. In those 8.2 innings, Strop has 11 strikeouts and two walks. FanGraphs' PitchFx data has Strop's fastball sitting at 94 mph (about his career average), and it also shows that Strop has been throwing more sliders (40.6% now, 27.2% career). Maybe that's a recipe for continued success, or maybe not.

Strop has only thrown 36 innings in the majors, so it's hard to take much of anything away from such limited experience. But the O's acquired him for someone that they didn't want on the roster and who wouldn't be on the team next year anyway (Gonzalez), meaning that it appears the O's did something right.

Strop won't keep pitching this well, and who knows what his true talent level actually is. But similar moves are the ones the O's should be making. The least-publicized move may end up being the best one. It's funny how things work sometimes.

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