Friday, March 30, 2012

O's bullpen shuffle continues as Simon and Eveland depart

The Orioles have placed Alfredo Simon on waivers, according to Eduardo A. Encina and Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun. Simon was seen as a potential long reliever and spot starter out of the bullpen, which are roles he's filled in the past.

If no other team claims Simon, he could be back with the O's. But that doesn't seem likely. This is the second notable bullpen-related move the Orioles have made in about a day as they get closer to finalizing their 25-man roster. The other was designating lefty Dana Eveland for assignment, which is particularly dumbfounding because Dan Duquette traded two prospects to the Dodgers in December to acquire Eveland's services. (Eveland's 40-man roster spot was filled by Zelous Wheeler, a 25-year-old infielder whom the O's claimed off of waivers from the Brewers. He was immediately shipped to Norfolk.)

At the time, giving up anything at all for Eveland's services seemed ridiculous, and that move looks even more foolish now. Here's what Duquette had to say of the acquisition at the time:
"We think the price was reasonable to add a pitcher of his caliber to our team, and he has experience in the big leagues. You can look around in the book for left-handed pitchers that won 15 games [combined in Triple-A and the Majors] last year and it's a short list. So that was appealing to us."


"He's a credible Major League pitcher and he gives us some more depth," Duquette said. "All things considered, we think there's some value there for Dana to help our ballclub."
So, yeah, that winning 15 games thing didn't mean anything, and no one was fooled by Duquette's attempt to spin the situation. The two minor leaguers the O's sent to the Dodgers may never pan out, but it's also possible the O's gave them away without Eveland ever suiting up for the O's in a regular season game. And while I doubt most fans thought Eveland was very good, I believe they thought he'd at least pitch for the team. What a shame.

Even with Eveland and Simon out of consideration, some tough bullpen choices remain. The likely shoo-ins are Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, and Kevin Gregg (ugh). If the O's cared about their fans, they'd get rid of Gregg right now somehow, but because he's due to make $5.8 million this season, that's not going to happen. (But we can hope!) Troy Patton and Zach Phillips are battling for the team's left-handed reliever role, though they both probably deserve to be in the bullpen. And then other options include Tsuyoshi Wada (who could be headed to the disabled list to start the season), Chris Tillman, Darren O'Day, and Pat Neshek. None of Johnson/Lindstrom/Ayala/Strop/Gregg adequately fits the long-man role, so that's something else for Buck Showalter to consider.

That mishmash of bullpen arms does seem like it can be competent, though likely not overly so. And considering the team's likely rotation (in some order) of Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz/Wada, there's going to be a lot of available relief innings to be had.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

After latest cuts, O's roster down to 33 players

With the beginning of the MLB season rapidly approaching, the Orioles made another round of cuts on their way to reaching the 25-player roster limit. Via Brittany Ghiroli of, the latest round included eight demotions:
Infielder Matt Antonelli and pitchers Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, with outfielder Scott Beerer, catcher John Hester, infielder Steve Tolleson and pitchers Armando Galarraga and Dontrelle Willis reassigned to Minor League camp.

The moves -- which bring the spring roster to 33 -- puts two of the team's three players in contention for a utility/bench role in Minors camp, leaving only Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Flaherty. Still, manager Buck Showalter wasn't ready to anoint Flaherty with a spot, even with Tolleson and Antonelli both sent to Minors camp.
Ghiroli also notes that Bergesen and Berken will transition from relievers to starters, though they were both essentially long relievers anyway. They also both came up in the Orioles farm system as starters, and neither ended up being particularly effective in the majors. At 26 and 28 years old, respectively, they'll only be summoned if someone in the rotation struggles mightily or gets hurt -- both real possibilities with this group of starters.

Flaherty, who turns 26 in July, is a former first-round pick by the Chicago Cubs. He posted his best numbers in Double-A last season, hitting .305/.384/.523 with 14 home runs in 83 games. He was then promoted to Triple-A, where he struggled to adjust, posting a .237/.277/.399 line in 49 games. Still, the O's thought enough of him to select him in the Rule 5 Draft, though that also means they must keep him on the major-league roster for the entire season if they want to keep him beyond this year. Because of that, Flaherty may very well make the team; then again, it's not like the O's are loaded with promising, young hitters who are even close to being major-league ready.

When the O's selected Flaherty last December, MASN's Steve Melewski talked to Baseball America writer  Ben Badler, who seemed to be intrigued by the pick. Badler said:
"He's got a solid approach to hitting. You can fool him some, but the power is plus raw power and he has a solid handle on the strike zone. He's played second, third and corner outfield. He may not excel at second or third but he can handle it capably and could move around some.


"He struggled some at Triple-A, but every level before that he hit pretty well. He's a little older than you might see for a prospect at his level, but that is probably why he was (available) in the Rule 5. He probably has as good a chance as anyone taken in that draft to stick with his team."
Badler had more to say, so check out Melewski's entire post for more thoughts on Flaherty.

Flaherty, or someone else, has a real shot to get some decent playing time this season. Robert Andino should see most of the regular playing time at second base if Brian Roberts is never able to recover from concussion issues, so third base may be Flaherty or another infielder's best shot at playing. Mark Reynolds is currently penciled in that spot, but he may be on the trading block. Reynolds also is one of the worst defensive third basemen in the majors, which is also a problem.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reactions to the McGee/Nene/Young three-team trade

When all hope was lost that Ernie Grunfeld wouldn't be able to pull off any sort of deal at the NBA trade deadline, David Aldridge of TNT casually said the following at 3:31:
That was quickly followed by this tweet from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski two minutes later:
Soon after, we learned the details of the three-team trade involving the Wizards, Nuggets, and Clippers: The Wizards got Nene, Brian Cook, and a 2015 second-round pick; the Nuggets acquired JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf; and the Clippers ended up with Nick Young.

Similarly to how Redskins fans cheered when distractions Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth were traded away, Wizards fans seem to be in agreement that some combination of McGee, Young, and Blatche (or all three) had to be shipped out of town. McGee and Young are now gone, and Blatche likely only has the rest of this season in Washington until the team amnesties him. (There's no way another team takes on his contract; Grunfeld presumably tried his best to sucker another team into doing just that.)

McGee and Young both had their share of positive moments on the court, occasionally showing that they belonged and that they were getting it. Really, though, they weren't, and it was increasingly evident that even if they ever did, it wasn't going to be with the Wizards. Above all else, they'll be remembered for doing goofy and embarrassing things on and off the court. Neither ever got in any trouble off the court like Blatche, but while certainly entertaining they were sporadically effective. And that's not exactly a recipe for winning basketball.

Besides the culture shock of losing two of the oddest characters in the league, the other important factor of this trade is Nene's contract. In December, the Nuggets re-signed Nene for five years and about $67 million. After this season, he will make $13 million in each of the next four seasons. That's a total of $52 million. Nene has also missed 15 games this season and has dealt with various injuries in his career, including suffering a serious knee injury (torn ACL) in 2005. And at 29, he also may be on the downside of his career. Still, as long as he's somewhat healthy and is able to play most of the time, Nene presents a significant upgrade.

I'm mostly on board with the trade, though Nene's injury concerns don't exactly inspire confidence -- especially considering how eager the Nuggets were to part ways with him and his newly signed contract.

So what do some other NBA writers/analysts think of the Wizards' haul?

"It's a safe move, losing two players of unquestionably bad influence to take on one of the game's more well-rounded players; and though we don't envy Nene having to leave the only team he's known in a decade of NBA basketball to take to a lottery-ready Wizards team, he should be able to make the switch with ease. Washington has plenty of options, both in the open market or trade market, moving forward." -- Kelly Dwyer

"As for Nene’s present, the Wizards have acquired the same solid two-way big man in place of two the players most responsible for poisoning the atmosphere around John Wall — the only must-keep player on the team. And Washington’s cap sheet was so clean going forward that adding Nene’s major deal doesn’t do much damage. If the Wizards use the amnesty provision on Andray Blatche, that would leave Wall and Nene as the only two players with guaranteed money on the books for the 2013-14 season, giving Washington huge potential cap room next summer. And if they amnesty Blatche and buy out Rashard Lewis before next season, the Wizards can get all the way down to about $46 million in salary charges this coming summer, leaving them with about $12 million in cap space to sign a solid veteran or two." -- Zach Lowe

"The Wizards were unsure McGee would stop goaltending when the ball was on an obvious downward arc. They were tired of waiting for him to routinely grab a meaningful defensive rebound instead of gloating over a meaningless triple-double. They were tired of his mother, Pamela McGee, berating their coaches from her seat behind the basket near the Wizards bench at Verizon Center. For all McGee’s shot-blocking prowess and catch-and-slam forays above the rim, the Wizards were really worried he might never eliminate the brain freezes that manifested themselves in some of the most no, he didn’t bloopers that played on national cable shows." -- Mike Wise

"I like bringing in Nene for this reason — it’s about changing the culture. Denver fans will tell you that Nene didn’t play through pain and was not tough, but he’s not a headcase like JaVale McGee. They had to make locker room changes and guys like Nick Young are out. They are not a lot better on the court, but they are making changes that can start to take them down that path. [Trade Deadline] Grade: B-." -- Kurt Helin

"The Wizards couldn’t find any takers for Andray Blatche, but will look to move him near the draft, according to a league source. And if the team is unable to deal Blatche this summer, the Wizards also have the amnesty provision at their disposal, which would allow them to waive him and have his salary removed from the cap." -- Michael Lee

"The answer: not all that much. Essentially, the Wizards decided they'd rather pick up the four years and $52 million left on Nene's deal than give a comparable contract to McGee. At the end of the day, if the Wizards use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche and buy out Rashard Lewis for $13 million, the Wizards' total team salary will be just over $41 million. Add in about $4-5 million for the salaries of their first-round pick, and the Wizards will probably have about $12-13 million in cap space. That's not enough to chase a maximum player, but it is enough to get some pieces. And they should get some pieces. You don't trade for someone like Nene, then pass on free agency." -- Mike Prada

"I can be convinced to like this trade, but I was more of a proponent of getting rid of Blatche and Young, but trying to keep McGee. JaVale does things that you just can’t teach (although, McGee has, in other ways, certainly demonstrated that he’s un-teachable). Big picture: this trade is contingent on two things: Nene’s health and the Wizards’ ability to wisely play the free-agent market this summer—can’t say the franchise has instilled the confidence to prevail in either of those areas." -- Kyle Weidie

"McGee gets to go from being the poster boy of futility in Washington, to a role player on a playoff contender. Winning can bring the best out of players. It's tough to go out and do things when you're playing on a team like the Wizards. But get in a place where your bonehead play might end up costing you home court advantage or a playoff game and you'd be amazed at how knuckleheaded players play. McGee gets to play in a situation where he means something, and that could bring out the best in him. Finally." -- Royce Young

Sunday, March 11, 2012

After dealing for No. 2 pick, Redskins covet a top WR

The Redskins must wait until Thursday, April 26 (the first night of the NFL Draft), to officially select their quarterback of the future -- likely to be Robert Griffin III -- with the recently acquired No. 2 overall pick, but they're going to need (at least) another downfield option for Griffin to utilize. Cue the team's interest in Vincent Jackson.

If signed, Jackson, 29, would give the Redskins an unquestioned No. 1 receiver in an offense that sorely lacks one. Santana Moss is no longer that guy and hasn't been for a few seasons. And unlike Moss, Jackson brings another element to the table: Not only is he fast, but at 6'5, he can win jump balls against opposing defensive backs. That's a pretty valuable trait for someone who could be receiving lots of deep targets from the strong-armed Griffin.

Washington will have lots of cap space to work with, so signing Jackson wouldn't be too difficult if they completely set their sights on acquiring him. (Worth noting: The 2012 cap is expected to be $120.6 million.) But the Redskins, by using this year's first-rounder to select a quarterback and forfeiting their second-round pick, will now have to plug another hole or two that they may have been able to cover in the draft. That probably means signing an offensive lineman or two while at least looking at linebackers, defensive backs, and defensive linemen. And that's not including re-signing guys like London Fletcher, Tim Hightower, and Adam Carriker.

But signing Jackson to a huge contract would not be without its risks. Drafted in 2005 in the second round by the Chargers, Jackson has had some off-the-field issues. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge and received probation. Then in January 2009, he was again arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. He pleaded guilty to that DUI charge in February 2010 and received a four-day jail sentence and five years probation. Jackson has also had issues with driving with both a suspended license and expired tags. Because of his two DUIs, in July 2010 Jackson was suspended for three games for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy.

Jackson has been seeking a long-term, lucrative contract for a while, which the Chargers have understandably refused to give him. While serving his three-game suspension for the 2010-2011 season, Jackson also held because of a contract dispute. He ended up playing in only five games that season and catching just 14 passes. The Chargers franchised him the following season, and he played in all 16 games, catching 60 passes for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns.

Still, Jackson's talent is undisputed. In seven seasons, he's caught 272 passes for 4,754 yards and 37 touchdowns. And even though he seems to be either questionable or a game-time decision routinely because of nagging injuries, he's played in 15 or 16 games in five of those seven seasons. So signing Jackson makes sense, but like most potential moves, it's not without its risks.

If Jackson isn't the guy, other free agent receiving options include Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne, and Mario Manningham.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Redskins acquire No. 2 pick, likely to be Robert Griffin III

When the Redskins traded with the Rams in order to get their hands on the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, they announced to the league and their fans that they're tired of looking for stopgap options at quarterback.

That's basically what this blockbuster trade boils down to. And, of course, this current regime believes they'll hit a home run by selecting Griffin, because if they don't, the Shanahans and Bruce Allen won't be around to deal with the aftermath.

The price for acquiring the second overall pick is enormous: it includes swapping first-round picks this season (No. 6 for No. 2), a 2012 second-rounder, and first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. Not only is that a ton, but it may be unprecedented. According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King: "It's believed that no team has ever traded three first-round picks for a draft choice in NFL history." Until now, that is. (Another offseason champions benchmark, fellas.)

Acquisitions and signings like Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck didn't work out and were rather embarrassing for both the team and for fans. So the Redskins decided to go in a different direction and pay that steep price in order to bring aboard the 22-year-old Griffin, who the team hopes to build a dynamic offense around. (Worth mentioning: There's a minute chance that the Colts could select Griffin instead of Andrew Luck. Regardless, the Redskins will be thrilled to have either one.)

This move feels a bit foreign because it involves the Redskins trading draft picks away for a young player instead of aging, past-their-prime veterans. Then again, the Redskins have again traded away valuable draft picks, which is something they can't stop themselves from doing for more than a season or two at a time. Right or wrong -- OK, mostly wrong -- the Redskins don't mind shipping away draft picks.

Luckily, no one knows if this is a smart or terrible choice. The overwhelming consensus seems to be: awesome trade if Griffin pans out; horrible trade if he stinks. I'm not quite sure it's that simple, but if it is, a 50/50 chance doesn't seem so bad after some of the indefensible, free-wheeling moves this team has made in the past. And at least this time they're gambling on a promising, young quarterback, who some scouts even seem to prefer over Luck.

I could probably write thousands of words on Griffin and the new direction of this franchise, but I'd rather just watch this video of Griffin being interviewed by Steve Mariucci (which is hard not to be impressed by) and hope he's the star the Redskins have needed for decades.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hey everyone, your booing is affecting Andray Blatche

In last night's 120-100 loss to the Warriors, the Wizards were unprepared from the very beginning and were outscored in the first quarter by 17, 41-24. They never recovered. As you'd expect, the Wizards' defense was particularly awful, allowing open shot after open shot. As a team, the Warriors shot over 54 percent, and they knocked down 15 of 23 three-pointers. That's undoubtedly some impressive shooting, but again, only a bad defensive squad allows that to happen.

In his second game back after sitting out the entire month of February with a calf injury, Andray Blatche played 13 minutes and finished with four points (2-6 shooting) and four rebounds. He and Shelvin Mack also had a game-low +/- of -20.

During the game, Blatche was basically booed every time he touched the ball, and it's been that way for a large chunk of the season. Like several other Wizards, he's not playing well at all, and as you'd expect, the fans' constant booing is getting to him:
"It's tough when you're at home and people that are supposed to have your back don't have your back," he said. "Instead of encouraging you to get better, they actually push you down and make you worse. In the long run, it's not only hurting me, it's hurting my teammates."

"That's what I feel most upset about because I can't help out and perform for my teammates, because I'm letting the crowd get into my head and making me second-guess, not let me be the player that I am," he added. "It's very frustrating. Hopefully, I'm just trying to fight to overcome it."
Blatche has become the scapegoat for this underachieving, terrible team. JaVale McGee and Nick Young receive their fair share of blame for spotty, underwhelming play, but Blatche is this team's second-highest paid player and still has three years and more than $23 million left on his contract. Blatche's deal isn't horrible, necessarily, but he's supposed to be contributing much more than he is and is supposed to be a team leader. Neither has happened, and fans are tired of Blatche's presence on this team. Remember, this is the same guy who complained after the very first game this season that he wasn't getting the ball in the paint more. And it's not like there's anything about Blatche that makes you think he's some kind of efficient low-post threat.

Right or wrong, Blatche will keep getting booed. He's an honest guy and has some redeeming qualities, but he's just not getting it done on the court. In a perfect world no one would get booed, but admitting that it is affecting his game and leading to him "second-guessing" while on the court is only going to make fans boo louder. The only way to make the boos stop is to start playing well, but there's a bigger chance that Blatche is traded or amnestied in the near future than fans cutting him some slack.

There's a very small chance that Blatche is on the team next year, and the same can be said for Nick Young. McGee may end up on the trading block, but I'd still be mildly surprised if he's not on the team next year. But if McGee is still around and Blatche is gone, he better prepare for the boo birds to be focused on him if he's not playing well and is still making bone-headed plays.