31 July 2015

Orioles Deal Tommy Hunter For Outfield Depth

In a last minute deal before the 2015 trade deadline, the Orioles sent right-handed relief pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake. Hunter was acquired with Chris Davis in 2011 from the Texas Rangers, and after the “Tommy Hunter: Starting Pitcher” experiment failed to yield productive results, the Orioles sent him to the bullpen for good towards the end of the 2012 season. It was there he found a few extra ticks on his fastball and was generally an effective reliever at a modest price, although his outings could sometimes be stressful. As an Orioles reliever, Hunter had an ERA of 3.11 in 211 innings pitched, while striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 4.9%. Hunter’s time in Baltimore as a reliever could be described as solid, if unspectacular, and he contributed positive value to the organization, contributing a total of 2.9 bWAR during his time in Baltimore (that number includes his time starting as well).

However, over time his relative value to the club diminished due to his rising salary through arbitration (Hunter is making $4.65 million in 2015) and the fact that he no longer had any minor league options remaining. As anyone who follows the Orioles knows, the Dan Duquette led front office values these options greatly, especially in the bullpen where they shuttle relievers back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore depending on matchups, performance, health, etc. Hunter was due to become a free agent after the season, so having several relief pitchers on the 40 man roster with minor league options remaining (who could provide similar production) available made it an easy decision for the Orioles to deal Hunter and get something of value in return.

That something of value returning is Chicago Cubs outfielder Junior Lake (personally I was hoping for Mike Olt). Lake is a former prospect who topped out as the Cubs 8th best prospect prior to the 2012 season according to Baseball America. He’s lost some luster since then and is better suited as outfield depth. In Lake, the Orioles are getting an outfielder with plus power and a very strong arm (Baseball America rated it the best infield arm in the Cubs system from 2008 to 2012). Unfortunately, he he has a lot of trouble with breaking balls and lacks a sound approach at the plate, so he’s not likely to hit enough to get to that power. His arm is less of an asset than it should be as well, as his overall defense in the outfield generally isn’t well regarded. In a limited sample, advanced metrics love him in left field (where is arm is less useful), but find him well below average in center and right.

Overall, Lake has a career batting line of .241/.283/.380 in 642 PA’s. He strikes out more than 30% of the time and walks less than 5% of the time. All of this has added up to roughly 0.2 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs) in approximately a season worth of at-bats, the very definition of a replacement player. This does not mean that he doesn’t have value. Lake could be productive as the light side of a platoon, as he’s a much better hitter against left-handers, putting up a 118 wRC+ in 185 career plate appearances. Additionally, Lake is still just 25 years old, so while it’s very unlikely, there’s an incredibly small chance things click for him at the plate (though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen). He also has minor league options remaining and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017, and as discussed before the organization values that flexibility.

Overall, this trade doesn’t really move the needle on the 2015 season. The Orioles gain additional flexibility in the bullpen and the outfield in one move by dealing a quality (but easily replaceable) reliever who is about to become a free agent for a player the Chicago Cubs didn’t really have much use for anymore. Ultimately, Tommy Hunter was not going to bring back much, and the Orioles did well to get back a player who could at least help in a limited capacity at a position of need.

Oh, and the Orioles also save the remaining salary owed to Hunter as well in this deal, which conveniently works out to be approximately the same amount they will owe to newly acquired Gerardo Parra, which I highly doubt is a coincidence.

Parra is an Improvement, But to What End?

Parra is Back in Orange and Black
As we have mentioned on several occasions, the Orioles are on the edge of playoff contention with a large number of clubs.  Some, like the Blue Jays, have seen their place on the threshold as a time to cash in on their bevy of prospects to improve their chances.  Some, like the Rays, have decided to largely stand pat and see how things roll out.  The Orioles are showing themselves as somewhere in the middle. 

In Gerardo Parra, they have acquired a once shining young player whose defensive acumen and offensive potential made some analysts think he would be the greatest corner outfielder of the 2010s.  His bat stalled out and regressed after a promising 2011 season.  His stellar defense deteriorated in 2014, leading the Diamondbacks to deal him out for two promising, but run-of-the-mill, prospects in Milwaukee's low minors.  A year later, the defense looks worse based on the metrics, but he is having a career offensive year.

The good news is that Parra's defensive free fall appears to be the product of being forced into centerfield a few too many times and Milwaukee's outfield being unable to help cover his fading range.  That can be resolved with the Orioles.  The club has experience protecting a player with fading range.  Adam Jones was often used to shade Nick Markakis to help out with balls ranging into right-center.  Additionally, right field for the Orioles plays somewhat tighter than Milwaukee's stadium, so Parra should be fine as long as he can play the carom.  Of course, this all goes out the window if he is placed in Camden Yards' open left field.

The bad news is that Parra's second breakout offensive season of his career looks to be held up by a lot of smoke and a plethora of mirrors.  He is enjoying a BABIP of .372, which is about 50 points more than his established career average.  He is hitting fly balls at an abnormal pace and his home run per fly ball is about 35% greater than what should be expected from him.  As a lefty in Camden Yards, he should not experience a great free fall, but his offensive performance should be expected to drop significantly.  If he plays right and replaces a left fielder in the lineup, a reduction in performance should still be a net positive.  If he plays left, then it might well be a push.

With all that in mind, what we are looking at is an improvement of zero (if his bat returns to normal and he stands out in left field) or, maybe, 2 wins (if his bat remains hot and his fielding becomes stellar again without negatively impacting the rest of the outfield).  More likely, I think we are in the 0.5 range, which is a value of about 7 MM, which is about what a 45 rated pitcher is worth in the middle of summer.

Zach Davies is a lower second tier prospect in AAA.  He should be a permanent fixture in the Majors next year if everyone accepts that he is a middle reliever.  If the Brewers insist on him being a starter, it will likely take a few years for him to cement himself into a rotation.  Davies has good fastball command, but it is a pitch that sits around 90.  His changeup is solid.  His curve is a bit of a mess, but has seen improvement.  If all those come together, you have the makeup for a fringe mid-rotation arm, which is quite valuable.  However, it is easy to dream on flashes of potential.  More likely, he becomes a fastball/changeup pitcher who has a show me curveball to try to disrupt an at bat.  I have difficult accepting that he will be a meaningful arm in the Majors.

In the end, it is a fair deal.  It is a deal that has a great deal of potential for the Orioles, but a low probability of that potential being reached.  For the Brewers, it helps add another chip to the pile and increase the likelihood of stable of arms in hope that one or two breakout or at least enable the club to stitch together a cheap, effective bullpen.  I think it is difficult for either fan base to be upset with the deal.  That said, I think it is a poor deal for the Orioles only in that it removes another mid-level prospect from one of the most talent poor farm systems in baseball for a two month rental and that it uses a mid-level prospect as a center piece for a mid-level trade instead of using a mid-level prospect as a complementary piece to a deal pinned by an elite prospect (i.e., Gausman, Harvey, Bundy).  I think the deal does little to impact the clubs fortunes in making the playoffs and, probably, does little to impact the talent pool in the minors.  All in all, shrug.

So You're Saying There's A Chance?

Yesterday, Jon Shepherd claimed:
we can be really optimistic and dream of a Yankees collapse, but we know those things rarely happen.
That's easy to say, but I was wondering whether this is in fact the case so I decided to look at how division leaders at the end of July perform for the rest of the season.

From 1998-2014, the team leading its division at the end of July won on average 93.7 games, had nearly a 75% of winning at least 90 games, had an 84% of making it to the playoffs (via 2015 rules) and a 71.4% chance of winning its division. On first glance (and second), this does appear to indicate that it’s highly unlikely that the Yankees are going to collapse.

The problem with just using this method is that it doesn’t take into account whether a division leader is only five games over .500 or fewer (less than a 50% chance of winning their division) or if a division leader is sixteen games over .500 or more (96.6% chance of making it to the playoffs via 2015 rules).  The table below shows how division leaders in this situation usually perform.



Good news, according to this table, the Yankees’ chance of winning the division is only 67.7%. Things are looking up because the Yankees aren’t quite as good as the average division leader. This next table shows how teams have historically done when they have between a 4-8 game lead and are 10 to 15 games above .500.



Ten out of fourteen of these clubs ended up winning their division and that includes teams with only a 4 game lead. All in all, it seems reasonable to argue that the Yankees have a 70% chance of winning the division based solely on history. But a 70% chance of success means that the Yankees have a 30% chance of failure.  What are the chances that the Orioles will actually end up making it to the playoffs based solely on historical data?

Based on how the data looked, I split teams into five groups. These groups are teams that ended July below .500, those between 0 to 5 games above .500, 6 to 9 games above .500, 10 to 15 games above .500 and 16 or more games above .500. This table shows how they’ve performed.



Teams that are below .500 at the end of July have pretty much no chance at being a playoff team even under the current rules. Only 5 teams out of 236 would have made it to the playoffs under the current rules and only 1 of these teams won 90 games. Teams that are under .500 at the end of July should be selling and should realize their situation is hopeless.

Teams in the next category have a 19.2% chance to make it to the playoffs (9% division winners and 10.3% as a wild card) and are underdogs but definitely still in the hunt. These teams include the 2014 Kansas City Royals that went on a huge run and made it all the way to the World Series. More to the point, given that so far there are only four teams that are six games above .500 or more in the AL, it seems that at least one team in this grouping will make it to the playoffs from the AL this year.

Teams in the third category have a 61% chance of making it to the playoffs, primarily as a wild card team. Teams in the fourth category have a slightly higher chance of making it to the playoffs at 70% but are far more likely to end up winning their division. Teams in both of these categories have an excellent chance of making it to the playoffs and should be buyers.

Teams in the fifth category are the elite. Nearly all of them make it to the playoffs and win over 90 games. A whopping 71% of these teams end up winning their division while another 26% make it to the wildcard game. The two teams that wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs under the current set of rules were the 2001 Chicago Cubs and the 2006 Boston Red Sox.

All of this means that on the one hand it’s unlikely that the Yankees will collapse or that the Orioles will make it to the playoffs. A 30% chance is still reasonable but on the whole one would rather be in the Yankees situation.

On the other hand, it does mean that the Yankees have a better chance of collapsing than of the Orioles making it to the playoffs. If it isn't rational to hope that the Yankees will collapse then it doesn't make sense to think the Orioles have a chance. The problem with that reasoning is that someone is going to make it that doesn't have a good shot at the moment and we just don't know who. It's too late in the game to give up now.

All in all, the Orioles’ situation isn’t looking so good. But so far, I’d rather have the Orioles’ record than the Red Sox’ record. Someone in the AL is going to make it to the playoffs despite their bad odds and it may just be the Orioles. The only thing we can do is just wait and hope even if it is a bit irrational.

30 July 2015

How Much Is That Oriole In The Window?

As the deadline comes upon us, I figured it might be useful to run through some general value approximations of players.  I took long term performance projections and adjusted them to their known or estimated salaries over the remaining years of team control.  The idea is to approximate their supposed value as a sum of their performance value (given what it is likely to cost on the open market) minus their actual cost.

You may notice that no player has a negative value.  Really, the only three players in danger of that are Ubaldo Jimenez, J.J. Hardy, and Bud Norris.  In Ubaldo's case, his track history suggests a backend rotation arm level of play which balances things out.  For Hardy, the baseline on a shortstop is so low that things even out there, too.  For Bud, well, he has done well in the recent past, so the current is outweighted by his deeper past.  For the players on the 40 man roster who are further down the totem pole, it makes sense for so many to break even.

It is actually impressive that the players below are projected to be at worst even money.  It is something that was not true during the Andy MacPhail era with salary bombs like Brian Roberts and, even, Nick Markakis weighing things down.  Plus, that era also enjoyed seasonal players deficits in guys like Vladimir Guerrero.

Anyway, on to the list:

Name
AgeYrsValueKnown or Est Money Left
29
10
29 MM
54 MM through 2018
31
10
3 MM
30 MM through 2017
32
11
1 MM
32 MM through 2017
29
4
12 MM
1.5 MM through 2015
29
8
11 MM
4 MM through 2015
32
8
5.5 MM
1.2 MM through 20015
30
7
0 MM
3 MM through 2015
29
7
8 MM
2.7 MM through 2015
22
1
33 MM
29 MM through 2021
28
8
4 MM
1.5 MM through 2015
27
7
21 MM
16 MM through 2017
32
9
3 MM
1.6 MM through 2015
31
4
23 MM
14 MM through 2017
28
7
2 MM
5.3 MM through 2016
27
5
11 MM
26 MM through 2018
27
8
3 MM
3.5 MM through 2016
28
4
6 MM
5 MM through 2017
22
4
58 MM
32 MM through 2018
29
4
1 MM
5 MM through 2018
29
5
1 MM
6 MM through 2018
24
3
31 MM
21 MM through 2019
26
3
0 MM
7 MM through 2019
26
5
3 MM
8 MM through 2019
23
3
28 MM
20 MM through 2019
29
2
30 MM
21 MM through 2020
29
5
11 MM
7 MM through 2018
31
7
2 MM
2 MM through 2016
27
5
0 MM
8 MM through 2019
26
3
0 MM
8 MM through 2020
28
3
0 MM
10 MM through 2021
28
1
0 MM
8 MM through 2021
24
2
4 MM
12 MM through 2021
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/24/2015.


When we get to some of the guys off the 40 man roster, there have been a number of studies that have addressed the value of those players.  He is a general rule of thumb:

Pitchers
Ranked 1-25 - 35 MM
Ranked 26-50 - 20 MM
Ranked 51- 100 - 10 MM
Second tier prospects not in the top 100 - 5 MM

Hitters
Ranked 1-25 - 40 MM
Ranked 26-50 - 20 MM
Ranked 51-75 - 15 MM
Ranked 76-100 - 10 MM
Second tier prospects not in the top 100 - 7 MM

For the Orioles, you can probably place Bundy and Harvey in the 26-50 range due to their respective medical concerns.  Wright, Wilson, and maybe Givens would fall into the 5 MM grouping.  It would be difficult for me to consider anyone else in that range.  Other pitchers, like Bridwell, would be more of a team-specific throw-in that would be worth something by essentially just smoothing out risk a little bit.  When we think of hitters, Jomar Reyes has worked himself into the 76-100 ranking.  Chance Sisco and, maybe, Dariel Alvarez and Trey Mancini, would find themselves in the 7 MM grouping.  Beyond that, there really is not much to mention on the farm.

Anyway, now you all are armed enough to be dangerous when discussing trades.

29 July 2015

Ben Revere Could Help The Orioles

As of this writing, the Orioles find themselves 6.5 games out of first place in the AL East and 2.5 games out of the second wild card spot, with no other team currently in front of them. However, nearly the rest of the American League is in a similar situation, with only a total of four teams being more than 5 games behind the Twins. Even though the standings could look very different by the time the trade deadline arrives, the Orioles have recently stated (again) that they will be buying at the deadline.

As the title suggests, this article will focus on the idea that acquiring Ben Revere from the Phillies would help the Orioles. Admittedly, the post would have probably been more appropriate last week, prior to Baltimore getting swept by the Yankees. To have a more realistic chance at making a run at the playoffs, the Orioles may be better suited to make a run at more of a difference maker such as Justin Upton (and/or Wil Myers) as Jon suggested Monday (especially in the aftermath of Toronto's acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki). So while Revere may not be one of the sexiest options for a corner outfield acquisition (Matt went over all the sexy and not so sexy options last week), I still think he could help improve the team both this year and beyond, which is important if Baltimore has any plans to be competitive in the near future (considering their shallow farm system and impending free agent exodus).
Ben Revere may be playing for someone else next week

When one thinks of Ben Revere, productive corner outfielder most likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. After all, corner outfield positions are associated with power hitting…power hitters who don’t have to play defense all that well to justify a spot in the lineup. By contrast, Revere is a 27-year-old outfielder listed at 5’9” and 170 lbs on the Phillies website (so consider him slightly less in both regards) who has a reputation of being a slap-hitting speedster with a weak outfield arm. That reputation is justifiable, as Revere has a career ISO of .053 and 3 home runs in over 2,400 plate appearances. However, if one only looks at the paltry power numbers, the bigger picture is being missed. That bigger picture is that Ben Revere is a league average hitter in 2015 who has contributed 1.9 wins above replacement in approximately half a year’s worth of plate appearances.

Revere is currently sporting a triple slash line of .302/.340/.381, which is good for a 101 wRC+, which would put him behind only Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold among Orioles outfielders, although Reimold has only accumulated 67 PAs (I’m considering Chris Davis a first baseman here). Yes, his offensive production is largely dependent on batting average, which makes his acquisition a little riskier, but he’s been very consistent over the last 3 years, as the table shows.


Revere isn’t necessarily another platoon player either, something of which the Orioles have plenty. While he’s had trouble against left-handers in 2015 (58 wRC+ in 92 PAs), he’s actually hit better against them than he has against right-handers over the course of his career (90 wRC+ against LHP in 715 PAs versus 85 wRC+ against RHP in 1,687 PAs). This could be a result of batted ball luck, but it illustrates that he’s not completely helpless against them.

If there is a significant difference in his offensive game this year, it’s his increased line drive rate (5% higher than career levels), which is likely driving his power “spike.” That increase in line drives has come at the expense of ground balls, but as long as those line drives don’t start turning into fly balls (the equivalent of baseball death for a player with Revere’s skill set), he should continue to produce at the plate as long as he retains his plus plus speed, which at 27 years old, should not be an issue over the next few years barring injury.

Speaking of Revere’s speed, he’s got plenty as he’s stolen 169 bases in 209 attempts over his career, good for an 80.8% success rate. He’s been better than that in 2014 and 2015 stealing 73 bases while being successful nearly 85% of the time. He’s consistently been one of the best baserunners in the game (Fangraphs has him worth 26.3 Baserunning Runs above average throughout his career) and would add a different element to an Orioles lineup that relies heavily on the home run. The Orioles are currently ranked 21st in Baserunning Runs, with 4.1 runs below average.

Revere’s speed benefits him on defense as well as it helps cover up some of the adventurous routes he takes at times to run down fly balls. Overall, he grades out as a plus defender in the corners according to UZR/150 (11.3 runs above average in LF and 18.7 in RF) and an average defender in CF in admittedly a much larger sample size 0.7 runs above average). Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is more pessimistic, having him as a slightly below average left fielder (-2 DRS in 524.1 innings), terrible in center field (-24 DRS in 3,308.1 innings), and above average in right field (11 DRS in 854 innings). Luckily with Adam Jones already on the roster, Revere would only need to play center in an emergency. He’s best suited for left field, as his weak arm – which has been worth 8.1 runs below average – is his biggest liability in the field.

The acquisition of Revere should be at least a 0.5 win upgrade over what the Orioles currently have on their roster. Zips projects Revere to be worth 0.7 wins the rest of season, while it projects Travis Snider, Chris Parmelee, and David Lough at 0.2 wins each (Nolan Reimold projects to be worth 0.1 wins for the remainder of 2015). He’s also under team control through 2017, which should be attractive to an Orioles team that does not have any position players in the farm system ready to contribute anytime soon. He’s not necessarily cheap though, as he is making $4.1 million in 2015 during his second round of arbitration (the Orioles would be on the hook for approximately $1.64 million in 2015). As a former super two player, he’ll get more expensive during his 3rd and 4th years of arbitration, but the Orioles will also have the opportunity to non-tender him if they don’t expect his production to match his escalating price.

So what would it take for the Phillies to part with Revere? I'm not exactly sure how each team would value these players, but I would think Parker Bridwell and a low minors lottery ticket would at least get the conversation started. Bridwell was the Orioles’ 17th best prospect heading into the 2015 season according to MLB.com. He’s a 23-year-old right-hander with good stuff and command issues, so there’s a chance he ends up in the bullpen. He’s currently pitching in Double-AA Bowie and has a 3.99 ERA, striking out 93 and walking 38 in 97 IP. Ultimately, acquiring an average, if unspectacular outfielder in Revere could help the team in 2015 and beyond (without necessarily being tied to him long term) at a potentially reasonable price. Don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t be the most exciting trade, but it improves the Orioles now without mortgaging the future.

28 July 2015

What If The O's Went All In?

There have been many rumors about how the Orioles may act at the trade deadline. First, the Orioles were thought to be buyers. After being swept by the Yankees they were considered to be sellers. And as I write this post, the Orioles once again are considered buyers, maybe. If the rumors are true, it sounds like no one knows what the Orioles will do... not even the Orioles themselves.

There are many reasons why the Orioles would consider selling. The Orioles have nearly played 100 games and are roughly at .500. Simply put, time is running out for them to make a run and it's questionable whether even a good stretch would be enough to make this club a playoff team. Even if it is, the Orioles will be hard-pressed to catch either the Yankees or Astros and would likely end up playing in the wild-card game on the road. It would be a shame to trade away some of the few prospects that the Orioles have remaining in order to simply play in one playoff game.

On the other hand, there are a number of good pitchers available on the trade market and therefore it seems likely that Darren O'Day and Wei-Yin Chen would bring back an underwhelming return. Buying teams will be able to offer the Orioles 50 cents on the dollar for these pitchers knowing that the Orioles' only choices are to either trade them or watch them leave in free agency.

In addition, there isn't much in the farm system that can help the Orioles compete in the near future. Kevin Gausman will likely be in the majors full-time starting in 2016 and may make up for the loss of Chen. Caleb Joseph can take over the catcher position for Matt Wieters. Christian Walker will be ready for the majors but would be a poor replacement for Chris Davis. Guys like Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia could perhaps be used as corner outfielders. There are a few other arms in the upper majors that may be successful relievers. The only real talents in the minor league system would be asked to replace valued veterans. As Jon wrote earlier, this may be the Orioles last run for awhile. If so, it behooves the Orioles to make it count.

This begs the question of what the Orioles could do if they decided that they wanted to win this year at all costs. It would probably make sense to target an outfielder or two, an elite starter, and another reliever for the pen. Another outfielder would improve the Orioles' offense and ensure that the O's didn't need to rely on players that are question marks. An elite starter would help anchor the Orioles' rotation. Not to mention that Chen and Miguel Gonzalez would make a strong No. 2 and No. 3 and either Chris Tillman or Ubaldo Jimenez could be a good No. 4 if they can be successful consistently. The Orioles do have a strong bullpen already with Zach Britton and O'Day and adding another elite reliever would help the O's lock down leads as well as make things difficult for opposing offenses in a possible playoff series.

These three trades are one way that the Orioles could fill all of these holes.

Trade No. 1: Kevin Gausman and Michael Wright for Josh Reddick and Drew Pomeranz.

Josh Reddick has often struggled to stay healthy. In his one year where he played 150 games, he was a star for the Athletics and put up a .242/.305/.463 line with 32 home runs and a wRC+ of 108. In general, when healthy Reddick is a capable defender in right field with an above-average bat. This year, Reddick is putting up career numbers with a .282/.336/.452 line good for a wRC+ of 122 partly due to recognizing who he is. Reddick is under contract until 2017 and would solidify right field for the next year and a half.

Drew Pomeranz hasn't had much success as a starter but has been excellent as a reliever. Opponents are only batting .159/.280/.175 against him in limited time as a reliever this year. However, he'll be arbitration eligible at the end of this season and the Orioles will only have a limited amount of control over him and it's not like he's a proven reliever. As such, I think he has limited value.

Kevin Gausman has a lot of promise and could become elite. However, the Orioles have gotten some value from him due to his pitching 200 innings over three seasons. He also will become eligible for arbitration starting in 2018 and if effective will quickly become expensive. This lessens his value because the Athletics won't be able to enjoy more than one year where he's making the minimum.

The other problem is that he still throws only two pitches and isn't an established starter. He still is reasonably young but time is running out quickly if he's going to contribute to a club as a bargain as a cost-controlled starter. As a result, his value is lower than one may have thought.

This deal is a risk for the Athletics because they'd be trading a good chunk of quality talent for primarily a single prospect. Ordinarily, the Athletics would be able to trade Reddick for a number of promising prospects. However, it's an opportunity that they can't afford to pass up because they're unable to sign elite talent free agents and having the chance to add an elite talent close to the majors like Gausman is hard to pass up. Having Sonny Gray and Gausman in their rotation could help them win for the next three years before trading both players for more prospects.

Trade No. 2: Caleb Joseph, Christian Walker, and Parker Bridwell for Jeff Samardzija and Geovany Soto.

This deal would give the Orioles the elite starter that they need to lead their rotation for both an attempt to make it to the playoffs as well as a playoff run. It would also prevent the Blue Jays from trading for Samardzija and thus weakening a competitor. Geovany Soto could take over the backup catcher position and would give the Orioles an option that could give Matt Wieters a rest.

The White Sox would gain their catcher of the future. Caleb Joseph has had success in the majors and won't be arbitration eligible until 2017. They would also add a potential first baseman and reliever.

Trade No. 3: Mike Napoli for Bud Norris and Oliver Drake.

This deal gives the Orioles an offensive player in Napoli that has been terrible this year but has been good in the past and could possibly bounce back with a change of scenery.

Bud Norris would be included in the deal because the Orioles would have no room for him after these trades and in order to make the money work out better. Oliver Drake has the potential to be a solid late-inning reliever if he can fix his walk problems and is currently crushing AAA. All in all, the Red Sox would save some money and get a potentially interesting prospect. It's considerably more than what they received for Shane Victorino.

These trades would give the Orioles a bullpen consisting of Britton, O'Day, Pomeranz, Chaz Roe, Brad Brach, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz. Ideally, I'd like an upgrade from Hunter but I don't think that's going to be so easy to find. Samardzija would give the Orioles the elite starter that they'd need to make it to the playoffs and give them someone that could compete against aces in the playoffs. Chen and Gonzo would make acceptable No. 2 and No. 3 starters while Tillman could be a strong No. 4 if he can have one of his usual strong second halves. Adding Reddick would help solidify the Orioles' outfield. Adding Napoli would allow the Orioles to potentially move Davis to left field. If Napoli can bounce back then the Orioles' offense would be looking pretty scary.

It would be a hard task to come back from their current deficit of seven games back in the division or even three and a half back in the wild card. But if they could then the Orioles would have an awfully strong club. They would be one of the best teams in the American League and making it to the World Series wouldn't be surprising.

On the other hand, the Orioles would have given up Gausman, Joseph, and Walker. That means they would need to find a new catcher for 2016. The Orioles would also need a new starter and that starter wouldn't have the potential to be elite. The Orioles' minor league system has minimal talent and a good chunk of it would have been traded away. Even worse, most of the top prospects remaining have been injured for most of the year. If Hunter Harvey wasn't able to prove himself healthy then the O's may have the worst minor league system in the majors.

But if the Orioles wanted to go all in then they don't have much to trade. Something like this would hurt the Orioles' future but would give them a legitimate chance in the present.

That's really the question. Do you decide to take your shot this year and damage your 2016 and 2017 prospects at winning or do you bide your time and hope you get another chance? It's awfully risky either way.

27 July 2015

Arrivals And Departures (7/27/2015): The Sea Was Calm

Coming out of the All Star break, the Orioles found themselves in no man's land. The club's first half performance was at times exceptional and at other times miserable; and it all left them smack dab in the middle of the AL East and Wild Card hunts. However, by being smack dab I mean that the prize was in sight, but they were accompanied by several other clubs with similar aspirations, talent, and expectations. The hope, at the time, was that the club would become famished or thirsty or hungry and start winning the majority of their games as the non-waiver trade deadline approached

What transpired was more shuffling and the club finds themselves just about where they were two weeks prior. They are certainly not out of the race, but the closer you get to that finish line the less optimistic one is about being stuck in the pack. You want to see some acceleration and space. The Orioles have not provided that. In fact, the word is slowing growing that the Orioles will be sellers, but their players have not been widely reported as being a part of active talks. As such, this column will try to tease out that last vestige of hope with thoughts on a potential deal.

The challenge facing the club is how exactly can they improve upon this season and, perhaps, next season with one of the worst farm systems in baseball and next to no excess room to take on any payroll? One target mentioned is Justin Upton (and for the purpose of this exercise let us forget his oblique issue). Upton has almost 5 MM left with his contact and he is probably viewed as a 1 win increase player for competitive clubs (which is worth about 15 MM, twice market rate). A one to one deal would be something akin to Upton for Hunter Harvey, assuming that he is considered a 50th-75th ranked prospect with his injury. A one for two deal could conceivably be Upton for Mike Wright and maybe Chance Sisco. The Orioles should try to slide Bud Norris into this deal simply to get rid of the salary.

For the Orioles, they might want to try to expand this deal to pay itself forward. This might include trying to find a way to improve outfield corner depth. With that in mind, the focus would be on someone like Wil Myers. Injuries and poor performances have sullied the shine he once held. However, not all hope is lost. I would still peg him with a 15 MM value (equivalent to a 50-75 overall ranked hitter). Below is a rough idea for a deal:
Justin Upton, RF +10 MM
Wil Myers, LF +15 MM
for
Kevin Gausman, SP +25 MM
Chance Sisco, C +5 MM
Bud Norris, P -3 MM
David Lough, OF ~
Sisco's inclusion permits the addition of Norris as a cost offset. Plus, it also gives the Padres more catching depth. Lough provides them with another centerfield option as well as being a guy who just might be useful enough to them next year. San Diego would probably prefer a SS or a more solid CF upper minors contributor, but the Orioles do not have that. Other teams might.

Finally, we can do a silly, convoluted deal.
Upton and Myers, +25 MM
James Shields, -25 MM
Clint Barmes, SS ~
15 MM
for
Gausman, Sisco, Norris, and Lough +27 MM
J.J. Hardy, -10 MM
This gives both clubs a couple things they need. It gives the Padres a cheap SP, a full fledged MLB SS, a good catching prospect, a flyer on a centerfielder, and some salary relief with Shields gone. For the Orioles, it improves their play this year with Upton in right field. Myers may be ready to return to action in late August and provide some help in left or as a designated hitter. He would also be cost controlled for the Orioles for the next several years. Clint Barmes provides some shortstop filler to cheaply spell Hardy who has disappointed. The rest of the year will see whether Barmes or Flaherty is worse there and open up discussion this offseason whether to shift Machado over. Finally, Shields provides back to mid rotation pitching for the next three years at the tune of 3/24 if you count the money from the Padres and the Hardy sunk costs as discounting Shields' pay. Needless to say, eight man trades with money are rare deals and are often things of fantasy.

In fact, one might even say consideration of the Orioles as a buyer at this date is also a fantasy.

40 man roster

24 July 2015

O's AAA Veterans Have No Trade Value

In an earlier article about the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' AAA affiliate, I reported that many of my colleagues believed that Paul Janish was the best defensive shortstop they had seen in over 20 years of watching baseball. I didn't fully describe them in my earlier article, but those colleagues were long-time minor league executives (including the legendary Dave Rosenfield) and baseball writers.

Based on that observation, a commenter to another article suggested that another team might want Janish or Steve Clevenger, and so the Orioles might be able to get a useful player back if they trade them. In response, Matt Kremnitzer conservatively replied that he doubted that Janish or Clevenger had any trade value. It's possible that Clevenger might have value, but based on recent history, I will proclaim that Janish has no trade value whatsoever. In 2012, the Orioles had at Norfolk a player similar to Janish with a better track record of success. Indeed, as it turned out, this player proved to have significant value and has proceeded to have a highly successful career. The Orioles did trade this AAA veteran in August.

That player was Pat Neshek. I won't repeat Neshek's entire backstory, but he pitched very well for the Twins in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, he hurt his arm and underwent Tommy John surgery and spent 2010 and 2011 recovering. He signed with the Orioles in 2012 and pitched very well - in 44 innings, he had a 7-49 BB-K ratio, a 2.66 ERA, and 11 saves. He was, in many respects, the pitcher equivalent of Paul Janish - a specialist, who had had some success in the major leagues but had not experienced that major-league success for several seasons. Neshek was 31; Janish is 32.

The Oakland Athletics were engaged in a tight division race with the Rangers and felt that they needed bullpen help. They asked the Orioles about Neshek, and the teams agreed on an exchange. Of course, Neshek has gone on to pitch well since he joined the Athletics, making the 2014 National League All-Star Team and signing an eight-figure contract with Houston this past offseason.

All in all, Neshek has proven to be quite a useful player, especially for a player signed to a minor-league contract as a free agent. When the Orioles dealt Neshek to the Athletics, what did they get for him? Cash. Not a player of any stripe, cash.

The purpose of this history is not to berate the Orioles for not recognizing that Pat Neshek had more value and that they should have kept him; the Orioles had a similar pitcher in Darren O'Day and there wasn't room for Neshek in Baltimore. The purpose is to remind us of how little trade value AAA veterans have. If the Orioles are going to improve themselves for the rest of this season, it won't be by exchanging bargain-basement signings for quality major leaguers.