Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Much Have The Orioles And Nationals Improved?

  • Mid-Atlantic Maneuverings:

The Orioles and Nationals have both been strangely aggressive this off-season and neither appear done in their shopping. Let's take a look at how much better they've made their respective clubs and whether their fans should be enthusiastic, confused, concerned or all of the above.

Baltimore Orioles:

Under team president Andy MacPhail, the Orioles ceased the "strategy" of owner Peter Angelos that included undermining and interfering with everything his baseball people tried to do, nixing deals that would've made the club better and signing players past their primes in a desperate and futile effort to keep up with the Yankees and Red Sox.

MacPhail has never been one to spend money even when there's been money available. It was his modus operandi when leading the Twins to two World Series wins in five years in 1987 and 1991; and it was the way he ran the Cubs as they came within one game of the World Series in 2003. The Orioles were a laughingstock at the major league level; they were a laughingstock at the minor league level. Angelos hired and fired GMs, managers; jettisoned players and alienated a loyal fan base.

Now, they're made a series of savvy trades of clubhouse poison Erik Bedard; the fading Miguel Tejada; and veterans Chad Bradford and Aubrey Huff to clear salary and replenish the farm system. MacPhail's work is paying dividends with the emergence of a load of young pitching and catcher Matt Wieters. Combining that with the outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and there's a nucleus for a contender sooner rather than later.

Even with that, it was unexpected that the Orioles would be so aggressive in acquiring veterans this winter. In trading for veteran pitcher Kevin Millwood from the Rangers, signing closer Mike Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins, it can be asked whether the Orioles are making a similar mistake now as those that got them into the mess that required someone like MacPhail to even have to convince Angelos that his way wasn't working.

There's a major difference between the two situations of then and now.

The Orioles that were haphazard and clueless in the early part of the decade and collapsed were constantly throwing money at their problems. That money was wasted on players who were looking for the one last payday of their careers no matter the circumstances of the club or had nowhere else to go.

Rafael Palmeiro; Pat Hentgen; Tejada; Kris Benson; LaTroy Hawkins; Javy Lopez; Kevin Millar----all came and went without adding much to the on-field product. But the contracts doled out to those fading veterans weren't completed with an end in mind. They were mutually advantageous in their panic. The Orioles needed a name to put an artifice on their crumbling foundation; the players needed someplace to get a guaranteed contract for good money. The Orioles weren't much better with these players than they would've been without them; and they definitely weren't better in the future than they would've been had they given a young player a chance to play rather than clinging to the glorified past of the likes of Tejada and Palmeiro to draw a couple thousand extra fans in a year.

The acquisitions of this winter have not been on the level of those deals. In fact, they fit very neatly into what MacPhail has built.

Millwood is still an innings-eater; he's gutty; he's got experience in winning clubhouses; he can still pitch; and he's willing to mentor the younger pitchers Brad Bergeson, Chris Tillman Brian Matusz and David Hernandez. In a business sense, they got him for Chris Ray who----while having shown ability earlier in his career----was returning from Tommy John surgery and struggled this season. Nor does it hurt that Millwood is singing for his free agent supper. It's a total win for the Orioles in every aspect.

Atkins's star had fallen with the Rockies as he lost his starting third base job to Ian Stewart and was dumped, but the Orioles needed a third baseman or first baseman who could hit. While Atkins's numbers away from Coors Field are pedestrian, two things might help him with the Orioles: A) a change of scenery; and B) Camden Yards.

On a one-year deal with an option, Atkins is a great, low-cost roll of the dice for the Orioles.

There were questions regarding the decision to sign Mike Gonzalez to a 2-year, $12 million contract to take over as closer.

Did they need Gonzalez?


They could've taken a veteran off the scrapheap or one of their younger relievers and used them to close, but the money spent on Gonzalez is negligible; they're not losing their high draft pick as compensation; and in the worst case scenario, there's always a market for a hard-throwing lefty reliever who racks up strikeouts. It's not a lot of money for what Gonzalez will provide.

The American League East is hellish, but with if the Orioles young pitching matures quickly, there's no reason they can't make a run at third place and .500 in 2010. That would make the venue even more attractive to free agents and make a leap into contention a realistic possibility in 2011.

These were more excellent decisions by MacPhail and the Orioles, whose fortunes are finally looking up. It's about time for a storied franchise that was once the crème de la crème of the baseball world.

Washington Nationals:

I'm not exactly sure what to make of the Nationals.

Obviously the needed to do something to garner interest in their club and after a 103-loss year, but the decisions they've made are more of the type an expansion team would make to import some recognizable veterans, but wouldn't make the team any better than they'd be if they'd stood pat with youth.

Were the Nationals as terrible as they looked early in the 2009 season (26-61 under Manny Acta)? No. Their pitching was bad, but talented; and they can hit.

Were they as close to .500 as they looked after Jim Riggleman (33-42) took over for Acta? No.

But how much better are the Nationals going to be in 2010 with their imports? Not enough to make it noticeable.

With their current roster, if everything goes right, they're about a 73-win team. That's it. You won't see any Seattle Mariners-style turnaround from 100-losses to over .500 and rising because the Mariners climb was due more to everything that could've gone wrong going wrong in 2008 and a few smart signings and trades, plus health from their players resulted in an 85-win year in 2009.

Is Jason Marquis a difference-maker? Brian Bruney? Matt Capps? Ivan Rodriguez? Eddie Guardado?

Of all the players the Nats have brought in during their aggressive winter, the only one I'd have any legitimate interest in if I was a GM for a contender would be Capps. Aside from that, there's not much of an improvement; in fact, there's a slight downgrade because Rodriguez is going to block Jesus Flores from playing.

In the National League East, which is going to be about as rough for the Nats as the AL East will be for the Orioles, they could be much better in theory with the results not much better on the field. The Braves are better than they were last year; the Phillies are still very good; the Marlins are tough; and the Mets were a punching bag due to injuries more than any continuing downward spiral.

With Bobby Valentine available, interested in the job and an instant credibility-enhancer as well as being one of the best field, if not the best field managers in the world, the Nats decided to keep Riggleman as full time manager. I have no problem with Riggleman; he's not going to embarrass the club on or off the field and he can run things well enough, but is he going to be managing when they turn the corner with Stephen Strasburg fronting the rotation? If not, then it made no sense to keep him on.

If the Nats were signing these players with the idea that they were going to have chips to trade at mid-season, it would be one thing, but I get the impression that they're getting these players with the intent of keeping them, and that's puzzling. It's going to get worse if they continue to aggressively pursue John Smoltz because the last thing the Nats or Smoltz needs is the situation of the Nationals. If it comes to pass, I have to question the sanity and objectives on both ends. It's a bad idea much like many of the decisions made by the Nats so far this winter.

  • Viewer Mail 12.26.2009:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Troy Glaus and the Braves:

Signing Glaus, to me, tells Braves fans that Wren is just sorta half assing it. And Bay? Holliday? What happens when the big teams just move on without them? They get even LESS money. Holding out ain't gonna get em more money this off-season.

A Braves fan on Twitter said that Wren was told he had to slash $10 million from what was the original allotment for 2010, so that makes it a little more understandable that they went cheap and rolled the dice with Glaus. I'd have signed Garrett Atkins in that case; but this only makes the Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones contracts look all the worse.

Joe at Statistician Magician writes two comments, one RE Glaus; the other a question:

The Braves do need another bat, but taking on Glaus for very little money is not a "stupid" deal. I must disagree. Worst case scenario, they have a good option off the bench. But you are right when you say they need someone more reliable, and that they do...

Who is "fuckbrain?"

Strangely, the Braves still have enough pitching to make the playoffs even with the Glaus signing, but there's a difference between a possible playoff run and being a contender to win the World Series.

Jeff and I have been discussing the individual we refer to as "fuckbrain" on Twitter; it's not confidential material as to who "fuckbrain" is, but the context is relegated to Boss/Underboss for legitimate personal reasons.

Regarding "fuckbrain" I say the following: Now Joe, if you hadn't disappeared from under my auspices for several months without a word, there was every possibility of a promotion to Florida Captain despite your tendency toward stat zombieness; with that, there was the chance of inclusion in knowing said privileged information. As of right now, you've got a way to go to get back in my good graces. Only then (if it happens) will you learn the identity of "fuckbrain" who isn't much of anything to worry about anyway.


jeff said...

Not to get all sentimental or anything, but I sorta miss the days where the Orioles were the class of the Major Leagues. Still have a long way to go to match those high standards.

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