Friday, 27 January 2012
2012 Previews: Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have, in my opinion, at least two guys who have no right to be on the team right now: Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. That isn't meant to be any disrespect to either, since both are good players -- it's more of a diss to the people who have run this team (directly in to the ground).
I understand that it's tough to attract players to Baltimore (blessing in disguise, really, if we're talking about free agents), mostly because of all the murders and stuff, but also because they've been a complete clustercock of an organization for the last 20 years. It probably hasn't been that bad for the whole 20 years, but the fact that they've been playing in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox (and various good-to-great Rays and Jays teams) clearly magnifies their inadequacy, and has left them with little chance to compete. If, at any point during the last 6 years in which they've had Markakis, they thought they had a chance to compete in this division, they've been fooling themselves. I would have traded Markakis after his 6WAR 2008 season, and probably would have gotten a bounty of prospects for him. I can understand not moving Jones, simply based on the hype behind him as a prospect and the fact that he's still fairly young, so he could still break out and double his trade value. He's had a .338 wOBA as a CF in the last 3 years so there's certainly some value there, and he still has 2 years of team control left, so they can still hang on and hope he breaks out.
Beyond that though, I just really don't understand how they don't blow the whole thing up and rebuild. They've still got some young pieces in Matt Weiters and all those young, should-be-good-but-are-only-meh pitchers, plus Manny Machado waiting in the wings, but there's got to be a real problem in their player development system, and if I were taking over, I'd probably be replacing a significant percentage of the instructional and scouting staff immediately, and then blowing the team up to score some prospects.
Currently, I see Weiters (good), Markakis (OK), Jones (Almost good) and JJ Hardy (sustainable '11?), followed by a bunch of below average filler. Robert Andino, Endy Chavez, Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds... it goes on. The lineup just isn't that good. The rotation should be good, but just can't seem to put it together either. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman... it's a pretty mighty list of guys who just haven't been able to put it together in the bigs.
Instead of dealing Markakis, they chose to extend him after his breakout '08 season (which is fine, really), inking him to a 6 year, $66.1MM contract (with escalators), buying out his three years of arbitration and his first three years of free agency. Markakis has responded by putting up seasons of 2.3, 2.6 and 2.2 WAR since then, largely due to his defensive abilities falling off a cliff, turning that deal in to a market-value-ish deal that wouldn't really fetch a whole lot in a trade. The extension itself is fine in a vacuum, but there just hasn't really been anything else in the system to build around Markakis, and the guys who have come up behind Markakis have fizzled pretty terribly so far. If that sounds kind of familiar to you, it's not terribly different from what happened in Toronto, when JP Ricciardi signed Vernon Wells to an extension, locked up Alex Rios, and signed AJ Burnett to for a 1-2 with Roy Halladay. We all remember how that worked out.
Obviously it's easy to just look back at the last three years and say "Jeez, you shouldn't have done that," but whatever, the point remains that I would have traded him since there was nothing but Matt Weiters and a pitcher or two in the farm system. Now that they can see what Andrew Friedman has done over the last 5 years or so, they should clearly replicate such a system (get used to reading that last line, by the way). It takes more than an extension and 3 prospects to build a winner.
The O's have Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy in their system, thanks to getting very early draft picks in the last couple of years, but beyond that, there's not much, and certainly not enough to combat the great farm systems of the Jays and Rays, or the spending ability of the Yankees and Red Sox. The only way the O's are going to be able to compete at any point this decade is if they go all Marlins on us, signing some huge free agents and building themselves a cute little 3-year window with 7-year contracts, before fading back in to mediocrity. And even then, the Rays and Jays are both going to be really good in the coming years, no matter what the Yankees and Red Sox do. This isn't the NL West, where there is only one good team each season -- it's the AL East, where you can hardly make any mistakes in building your team if you want to have any hopes of success.
Ultimately, the Orioles are a total lock to come last in their division this season, and they don't even have a tunnel to have any light at the end of. The team is bad, the farm system is bad, and if I had to guess, I'd say their scouts and staff are terrible as well. That is a lethal combination if you ever feel like competing in this division.
They should be shedding payroll, instead of paying $90MM to come in last place. There are moveable pieces in Jones, Markakis, JJ Hardy, Matt Weiters, and Jim Johnson that could be turned in to prospects. Most of those guys aren't really elite players, and won't really fetch giant hauls of prospects in trades (save for Weiters), but there is absolutely no reason not to move everyone and focus on building some good internal prospect depth. Either that, or move to a new division.
Projected Finish: 5th in the AL East. 61-101