Tuesday, June 19, 2007

OMDB (One More Damn Bat) - The Orioles

A few weeks ago, we started exploring what the Twins options were for adding one more damn bat. In case you missed it, we've already talked about the Rangers (Mark Texeira), Royals (Mike Sweeney, Mark Teahen, Ryan Shealy) and the Reds (Ken Griffey Jr., Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Dunn).

Today I thought we might check out a team that has been in the news recently, the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles fired their manager Sam Perlozzo this week and will reportedly be interviewing Joe Girardi to replace him. More importantly for Twins fans, they added Andy McPhail to their executive team as Chief Operating Officer, who knows the Twins management team fairly well.

The Orioles are an intersting trading partner for the Twins. On the one hand, they were supposed to have lots of young pitching, but that talent hasn't developed as anticipated, with injuries playing a huge role. They also spent monster money this offseason on their bullpen, which has been absolutely terrible. But their biggest problem has been their offense, which is currently 13th in the American League in runs. The Twins won't be able to help them much with that.

It's also questionable just how much the Twins can gain from that kind of offense. There are plenty of 'names' on the Orioles offense, but there isn't a single player with an OPS of 800. McPhail's history doesn't suggest he's someone who tries to go young or dump salaries, and it's not like he's replacing the current general manager(s?), so the Orioles won't make a change for change's sake. Finally, none of the big players are impending free agents, so it's not like we know any of the players don't figure into the Orioles future plans.

But, of course, we won't let some little facts like that stop some fun speculation. Let's run possibilities down, starting with the biggest name...

Miguel Tejada - He's right-handed, he's only 31 years old, and he's average 113 RBI and 27 home runs over the last four years. But this year, the blame for the slumping offense rests squarely on Tejada's shoulders, as his power has dissappeared. Of course, he's still hitting .302, and there aren't any obvious changes in his approach at the plate, so is he just overcoming a slow start?

There's also his contract. In this market, it's reasonable, at $13 million per year through 2009. Monday we found out that it likely wouldn't fit into the Twins payroll if they also try and sign Torii Hunter this offseason, but it's a contract the Twins could handle, and if he hits like he has previous years he would more than replace Hunter's bat.

The cost? He ain't gonna be cheap and you better believe the Twins would be bidding against some other teams. Matt Garza might be a starting point, but a proven young starter like Boof Bonser would be a better one from the Orioles standpoint. It might also require a replacement shortstop, perhaps Jason Bartlett or Nick Punto. There's a lot of risk in moves like that for a team that is supposedly in a pennant race. Remember Rick Reed and Todd Jones?

Melvin Mora - Mora is the name Twins fans are most likely licking their chops over, seeing as he's a third baseman. He's also right-handed, but at 35 years old, he's past his prime, as his declining stats have shown. This year he's only hitting .245 (751 OPS) with 10 home runs. But I'll duly note that is still significantly more than the Twins have received so far from third base.

The problem with Mora is his contract. It's not onerous financially - approximately $17 million over the next two years, which the Twins might be able to handle even if they do re-sign Hunter. But that affordable contract was likely signed by Mora because of the no-trade clause he has built into it. As the father of quintuplets, it's unlikely he's using that as a negotiating ploy. He just wants to stay in Baltimore.

Aubrey Huff - For the last few years, Huff has provided a .260-.270 batting average with 20+ home run power, and is an interesting fit. If you're not too particular about your defense, he's flexible at several positions the Twins have holes, including third base, left field and designated hitter. He's only 30 years old, though his numbers have declined a bit over the last couple of years. And his contract falls just under that which the Twins can likely afford, having $16 million on it over the next two years.

On the other hand, he's left-handed, when the Twins would really like a right-handed bat. And those power numbers above are not what the Orioles have seen so far from him this year, with just four home runs. Both of which mean that Huff looks a lot like a better version of Jason Kubel, except he's in the decline phase of his career, and costs $8 million more. Why would the Twins pay for that, exactly?

Brian Roberts - His chances to be moved probably increased as he was publicly critical of the club's direction the last week. He's hitting .302 this year with a .393 OBP. That looks like the kind of professional hitter the Twins often covet. And like the other Orioles, his contract lasts another two years (think Orioles management has a plan here?) and fits under the Twins payroll at just $6.3 million next year. Finally, he's just 29.

But he's also not someone who will hit for power, as his two home runs this year attest. Also, while he's listed as a switch hitter, he's MUCH better from the left side, and the Twins have several light-hitting players that already fill that need. And finally, he really only plays second base, so even if he DHed this year, he and his contract would block Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert next year. That might not be a problem, but it also isn't on the positive side of the balance sheet.

Despite the recent changes, and even if they bring Girardi on, the Orioles don't seem like they're particularly likely to be a solid trading partner. All those two year contracts and the retention of their general management team point to an organiation that is giving itself two more years to compete before blowing things up and starting over. If that changes, you'll certainly hear about it because Tejada instantly becomes the one of the hottest names in the rumor mill. And an interesting replacement if the team secretly believes they won't be able to keep Hunter.


Anonymous said...

With all dues respect can we look at a possible trade with Tampa Bay. They are flooded with young position players and need pitching. A trade can easily fit. The most like target is Cantu who was sent to the minors since they want to give their young players playing time.

Cantu is a right handed bat!

He can play third and second!!

He might be so greatful to be a Twin he will be happy to be here.

And in the right spot of the lineup he has the potential to be a 20 HR and 100 RBI. Who else can we get to hit behing Torri Hunter to protect him or move up to protect Justin if Hunter leaves as a free agent.

What do you think?

Walter Hanson

Minneapolis, MN

John said...

I'll try and do the Devil Rays soon. Cantu is a great name to consider.

Here's the thing - Cantu just hasn't hit this year or last. Maybe he's just unhappy, but he's best served by putting up monster numbers in AAA, and he hasn't done it there, either. In 119 at-bats in Durham and Tampa Bay, he doesn't have a single home run.

I guess it depends on what you need to give up for him. I don't know that I would give up anyone better than Baker. As a gamble, he's fine. But I don't think you can count on him beina a solution. He just might not be the player he was in 2004 and 2005.

Anonymous said...

I know this is off-topic, but with the Strib reporting that Nick Punto has lost the job of everyday third baseman, I feel compelled to say a few words in his support.

I live in Maryland, so I don't see the Twins on a daily basis like some of you folks do. (I follow them here via the box scores and the occasional televised game [on Fox, or against the Orioles or Nationals], and on the internet through the Strib coverage, this blog, and the Top Plays clips on the Twins' web site.) And I certainly bow to John and others for your statistical expertise and knwoledge of other players around the majors.

That said, I think maybe Punto has been getting less appreciation than he deserves here. Okay, the guy is not hitting well this year. (Although I wonder if his average hasn't picked up in the last month or so...seems like he's had a lot of 1-for-3, 1-for-4, 2-for-5 nights lately.) But when I think back to all the terrific defensive plays I've seen from him on those Top Plays clips--and especially when I remember the away series last year (maybe in Chicago or Cleveland?) where he made so many great plays that the other team's broadcaster said, "We gotta stop hitting 'em to that guy!"--I have to think maybe we've been so focused on what he hasn't done that we've failed to give him his due for what he HAS done.

So if not three, then two cheers for Nick Punto. May the Twins find a way to win with him playing an important and appreciated role.

Mr. Smith said...

I'm sticking with Botts from the Rangers farm system on the cheap. We can easily plug him in at DH.

Anonymous said...

With an eye towards Tampa Bay, the man I am interested in is Jonny Gomes. He was injured last year, but has 5 HR in 77 AB, bats right can DH and is one of the dozen or so major league OF's Tampa seemingly has on their roster. I am not sure of his contract status, but when healthy he quietly puts up numbers.

Just wondering what you think?

Shannon Kocon

RegularJoe said...

Pogofan - I agree entirely on Punto's defense, but I just don't think any amount of greatness with the leather (and I think he has as good a glove at third as I've seen since Koski was healthy, and maybe better) makes up for batting that close to the Mendoza line. There's only one place on the field for guys that can't hit over .215, and that's on a little hill about 60 feet away from third base.

One other thing. I think folks around here might cut him just a little more slack if he'd quit diving into first base and just run all the way there like a normal player.

That said, I like Punto. I just wish he could hit well enough to hold down a starting job at third.