Orioles-Nation http://orioles-nation.com Mon, 15 Dec 2014 15:31:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Orioles Nation delivers Orioles minor league information you can't get anywhere else. From going to games to discussions with scouts, the ON Staff brings you news, scouting reports, and more from around the Orioles minor leagues, and frequently discusses the current happenings with the big league club. Orioles-Nation no Orioles-Nation LRinker@gmail.com LRinker@gmail.com (Orioles-Nation) Orioles Nation orioles, baltimore, baseball, scouting, minor, leagues Orioles-Nation http://orioles-nation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ON-Logo.png http://orioles-nation.com Baltimore, Maryland Weekly ON Mailbag 12/8 to 12/14 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/15/mailbag-128-1214/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/15/mailbag-128-1214/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:00:17 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15209 This week's ON Mailbag includes Orioles questions on the outfield for 2015. Please read and ask questions for next week's ON Mailbag

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

De Aza, Lough, and Pearce all play great defense and are all at least capable with the bat, as long as they are limited against same-handed pitchers. The O’s need a bat at DH; there’s no need to look for an defensively gifted outfielder. Why are they looking at outfeld options such as Travis Snider, Colby Rasmus, and Nori Aoki?

In Alejandro De Aza , David Lough, and Steve Pearce the Orioles have three solid role players. All three are useful players with their own inherit limitations. Going into the season using a platoon in left field and right field can hamstring a roster and provides little flexibility in terms of in game adjustment. Pearce played wonderfully last season and I believe he has the ability to be a full time player, but depending on that would be foolhardy. Lough and De Aza both bring speed and defense, but I think either would be exposed in 600 at bats. Therefore, singing a right fielder and a DH bat makes the most sense. If Pearce, De Aza, or Lough shows that they deserve to a be starter during the season then so be it, the roster log jam can be solved later. Signing an outfielder who can play everyday allows greater roster flexibility and eases the pressure off of Pearce and De Aza from having to perform at the level they did last year. If whomever the Orioles brought in struggled, they can simply move in one of the depth guys. I would agree that a big power bat is a priority, but so is a capable full time outfielder.

 – Alex Conway

With the White Sox signing of Melky Cabrera eliminating a potential free agent target, what do you think of Colby Rasmus as a potential option for the Orioles?

Yeah, the I thought Melky would have been a good fit as well. The price was probably a little more than the Orioles wanted, but he’s a good player and would have fit a need both in the field and at the plate. Now the Orioles are staring down some middle level guys. I actually like Rasmus, it seems a lot of fans don’t, but he is a talented player. There has been some reported interest on the Orioles part and he could slot into right field and he is left handed. He fits a lot of needs. He has had years in which he struggled, but he also has had some fantastic ones, including 2013. He can hit for power and is an above average defender. He will most likely come cheap, maybe even on a one year deal. This allows for greater flexibility, because if he struggles he can easily be placed in a bench role and the Orioles can cycle through their other depth options. He is still relatively young and has had some makeup issues in the past. I think Camden Yards short porch and the strong Orioles locker room could turn Rasmus into a nice, buy-low option.

- Alex Conway

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ON Mailbag 12/1 to 12/7 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/07/mailbag-121-127/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/07/mailbag-121-127/#comments Sun, 07 Dec 2014 17:00:37 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15205 Welcome to this week's Orioles Nation Mailbag. Topics include Matt Kemp, Mike Morse, and other outfield options for the Baltimore Orioles.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

What are your thoughts on the possibility of the O’s bringing back Mike Morse even just for a season? I’d like him to come back to provide a mid-lineup power bat we need. He can also be trade bait mid-season for someone better or something.

I like the move. Morse can probably be had on the cheap and brings a lot of pop in his bat. He is like the other Orioles hitters in that he does not walk a ton and he strikes out a good bit, but you have to like the power. MLB Trade Rumors predicted a contract of two years and $22 million. That seems about right for someone like Morse. With Billy Butler, Victor Martinez, and Nelson Cruz all getting pretty big deals the market for Morse should be healthy. My guess is that the Orioles are probably much more interested in him on a one year deal with an option, but may go to two. He had a great 2014 season after struggling with the Mariners and Orioles in 2013 before finally undergoing wrist surgery. I am a little leery of last year because of a high .348 BABPIP with a only slightly above average line drive rate, although that is not much higher than his .333 career BABPIP. He should never be allowed to play the field, he has been an atrocious defender. However, with modest career splits he could settle in as a full time designated hitter, maybe play left field from time to time. If the Orioles don’t have to go over two years or go over $10 million a year, I would like the move for another right handed power bat.

- Alex Conway

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to getting Matt “Beast Mode” Kemp to Baltimore? Are the Dodgers asking for too much in return? Is it the 5 years and 107 million dollars left on his contract? (Is L.A. willing to pay some of that?) Or could it be his recent injury history, since we all know Duquette and Co. are sticklers for health?

One obstacle is if people keep calling him “Beast Mode.” Otherwise, It is some combination of all three of those things you listed. Matt Kemp is a great hitter with a large contract. The Dodgers need to move an outfielder, but most likely would rather move Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford who both also have large contracts, but are worse hitters than Kemp. So, the Dodgers have a little pressure to make a move, but not necessarily to move Kemp. Yet, Kemp is drawing the most interst because he is the best trade option. Therefore, if the Dodgers are going to trade Kemp they are going to make sure they get a good deal. My guess is the Dodgers are asking for Bundy and/or Gausman and the Orioles are balking at trading away a top prospect and absorbing Kemp’s entire contract. The Orioles are probably offering someone like Norris or Gonzalez plus a lower tier prospect and asking for a bunch of money in return to take Kemp. Also, any team trading for Kemp has to be worried about the injuries. He has had ankle and shoulder surgery and it has clearly hampered his ability to play effectively in the past. Those issues are not likely to get better as he ages. If Kemp is traded to anyone, the Dodgers will have to give up some money, especially if they want a quality player in return. I have set my eyes on Kemp (If the team was comfortable offering Cruz around $15 million and Markakis around $10 million then there has to be some sort of room in the budget), but a I realize that it is probably a long shot. It does not seem like the kind of move the Orioles have made in recent years and especially under Dan Duquette. I would love the Matt Kemp move, but have tempered any expectation that the Orioles will actually get it done.

 – Alex Conway

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Nick Markakis exits stage left; mistake by the Baltimore Orioles? http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/05/nick-markakis-exits-stage-left-mistake-baltimore-orioles/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/05/nick-markakis-exits-stage-left-mistake-baltimore-orioles/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 14:29:25 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15202 The Orioles failed to sign Nick Markakis. The Atlanta Braves signed Markakis to a four year deal. Was it a mistake for the Orioles to let Markakis walk?

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Another day gone, another outfielder gone. It was reported and officially announced on Tuesday that Nick Markakis, the longest tenured Oriole, had signed a four year contract worth $44 million with the Atlanta Braves. What was long thought to be a mere formality, quickly turned into stalled negotiations and potential hard feelings. The Orioles were supposed to sign Nick Markakis, it was supposed to be quick, and it was supposed to be easy. It turned out to be none of those things.

I said at the beginning of free agency that the longer the negotiations went, the less and less likely it became he would come back to the Orioles. I never thought it would happen though. However, word leaked earlier in the week about the chances becoming slimmer, then more suitors entered the mix, then it was over.

Drafted in 2003, debuting in 2006, the 7th overall franchise leader in hits (with a decent shot at moving all the way up to third if he finished with the Orioles) is now gone. It was so obvious he would return. A leader on the team, the people in charge loved him, the meddlesome owner loved him, a seemingly good guy, and a presence in the Baltimore community, all the cards seemed to lineup. This is why everyone is shocked, that includes both people that did and did not want him back. Now with Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts in back to back off seasons shunned by management, no one can claim Dan Duquette is sentimental. Although,one does have to wonder if he’s making the right decision.

In terms of purely being a baseball player, Nick Markakis has come under scrutiny recently. Using the more advanced statistics reveals Markakis as merely an average to below average player on the wrong side of 30. Yet, pundits predicted a lucrative contract and teams seemed to be lining up to give Markakis a four year deal between $40 and $50 million. Numerous articles have been written on the subject both before and after he signed. Essentially, the numbers point to a slightly below average right fielder who suffers because of poor range, a bat that no longer has power, he does not strike out a lot, but he also does not walk enough for the overcome his lack of power. However, Markakis was able to play right field adequately, hold his own against both righties and lefities, and play nearly everyday (save for 2012). While those attributes are of value, they aren’t seemingly worth $44 million when in house options, minimum salary players,and shorter term commitments could provide similar benefits.

I wrote back during the regular season about the disappointment of Nick Markakis.

He peaked early and could never regain his 2008 promise. In fact, he never recreated the production of his 2007 season either. Players shouldn’t age the way Markakis did, but alas he did. The lack of power in his repertoire hamstrung the rest of his game. Always a gamer in the batters box, but never enough thunder for a corner outfielder. Markakis posted an OPS+ above 110 twice since 2009 and one of those was 2012 in which he only played in 104 games. He lost speed as well. Markakis stole 18 bases in 2007, he stole 6 over the last three seasons. The speed left and then the range left. A lack of range meant his defense suffered as well. Little speed and little power, not exactly the prototypical corner player.

His fWAR totals for the last six years are 2.0, 2.4, 1.7, 1.6, 0.0, and 2.5.With the exception of his injury shortened 2012, Markakis has been a passably above average hitter and a passably below average defender who’s greatest attribute was simply the ability to play.  Stability has value, and the market bore that out for Markakis, but the price was high.

On the other hand, for the Orioles there is something to say for Markakis’ “soft power” if you will. The hard numbers are relatively conclusive, Markakis has not been that good and in all likelihood will not get much better as he enters the twilight of his career. Yet, Markakis held value to the Orioles.

A clubhouse leader, beloved by teammates and his manager. These accolades may not be sabermertically popular ones, but I believe they hold water. I have no idea how much and I would not know where to even start assessing their benefit, but they matter. The current Orioles and their manager will have to work to replace Markakis in their clubhouse. I believe they are up to the task, yet questioning has already begun. Adam Jones has spoken out against the move. This changing of the clubhouse will have to be dealt with. Markakis seemed to be a pillar and pillars cannot go missing.

So, circling back to the point.

The Orioles let Nick Markakis go and this was not a mistake. Four years and $44 million is simply too much and too long of a commitment to make to a player with a chronic neck/back issue on the wrong side of 30 who has a replaceable skillset. I would not have disagreed with the return on its own merits because of Markakis’ ability to play everyday and lead off, but with the terms he agreed to it would simply hinder the team too much in the short and long term.

You can read Luke’s piece on alternatives to Markakis. The easiest option to me seems to be in house platoons using some combination of Steve Pearce, David Lough, Alejandro De Aza, Dariel Alvarez, and Alex Hassan. However, if the job alone was replacing Nick Markakis, the job would not require much maneuvering. With Nelson Cruz also out of the mix, the job becomes harder.

Now Dan Duquette has to fill holes in right field, left field, and designated hitter. Using the aforementioned outfielders will not get the job done in my eyes. Steve Pearce showed well last season and it is possible he could show well again in 2015, but banking on that is foolish. The rest of them are best served as platoon bats and cannot be exposed to everyday pitching (the one thing Nick Markakis is good at). Using a platoon of three to four players for left field and DH is a fine tactic. One that could save money and exploit your players strengths. Platooning at three positions hamstrings a roster.

It is my opinion that the Orioles need to find another player to come in and play everyday at one of the two corner spots. Again, Luke’s alternatives piece is a good place to start looking for your favorite replacement. Mine right now is Matt Kemp. If they were willing to commit around $15 million a year to Nelson Cruz and $10 million a year to Markakis they have to be willing to work around Kemp’s monster deal. Clearly, the Dodgers are a key cog in this transaction, but the fit seems good to me. A Matt Kemp, or a Kemp like move to get an everyday player will put the Orioles in a better position to compete in 2015 which they should be doing with lots of key players coming off the books after 2015. The inaction of not overpaying for Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz make some short term and significant long term sense. But, action is now needed to keep the Orioles a contender for the AL East–and more–in 2015.

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Baltimore Orioles let Nelson Cruz walk, signs with Seattle Mariners http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/02/baltimore-orioles-let-nelson-cruz-walk-signs-seattle-mariners/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/02/baltimore-orioles-let-nelson-cruz-walk-signs-seattle-mariners/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 15:46:30 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15200 It has been reported by multiple outlets now that OF/DH Nelson Cruz has signed a four year deal for $57 million, including a $1 million signing bonus, with the Seattle Mariners. Also reported, the Baltimore Orioles were willing to go three years with Cruz and knew about the four year deal on the table, but […]

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It has been reported by multiple outlets now that OF/DH Nelson Cruz has signed a four year deal for $57 million, including a $1 million signing bonus, with the Seattle Mariners. Also reported, the Baltimore Orioles were willing to go three years with Cruz and knew about the four year deal on the table, but let Cruz walk.

Cruz was an essential part of the 2014 Orioles’ success. He hit .271/.333/.525 with a league leading 40 home runs. He led the Orioles in wRC+, wOBA, and .ISO. Using either calculation of WAR you would like, Cruz was the third best player on the Orioles in 2014. No matter how you say it, Nelson Cruz was a key cog in the 2014 AL East Champions. After trying to keep him at the rate and years they wanted, the Orioles allowed Cruz to walk. I believe they were right in doing so.

Cruz is 34-years-old and will be 35 in the middle of 2015. Last season was an anomaly, 2014 (his age 33 season) was the second best season of his career. From 2011 to 2013 he was merely an average overall player and a slightly above average offensive player. To expect Cruz to repeat his 2014 performance even in 2015 alone is to expect an outlier to occur once again. To expect it four years from now would be lunacy. Cruz is simply getting too old to expect him to be a great player still. That does not mean it cannot happen, but it becomes less and less likely as each day passes by.

Cruz has had one above average skill his entire career and that is power. When he hits the ball he hits it very hard. However, it has been shown in multiple studies that power and batted ball distance decline with age. When Cruz loses his above average power, he loses what makes him a valuable baseball player. The day Cruz loses that power is approaching. With literally no other discernible above average skill, Cruz loses the vast majority of his value. He cannot play the field, he cannot run and his approach at the plate is aggressive. He is a designated hitter that can hit for power right now, but won’t be able to at some point in the near future.

The Mariners and Orioles both know this. This is why the Orioles would only go three years on any deal with Cruz. Both teams have to be fully aware that at the very most they are going to get equal value for two years of any contract. That may be stretching it as well. Essentially, the Mariners are paying for two extra years of Cruz in which they most likely believe he will not be worth the money or close to it, he may not even be playing for them by the end of the deal. The Orioles were unwilling to commit to that much dead money.

For the Mariners, this was a win in 2015 type of move. As stated above, four years from now Cruz is unlikely to be valuable. The Mariners had the league’s worst DH position last season hitting .199/.266/.301 with 15 homers. Cruz will help them immensely in 2015 even if he moves back to his career line.For the Orioles, it would have also been considered a win in 2015 move. Cruz could have slotted into left field or DH and been a useful part of the lineup and I would NOT have hated that move.

With Matt Wieters and Chris Davis approaching free agency, an argument for going for broke in 2015 could be made. The deal may have stunk towards the end, but living in the short term is a viable team strategy for the Orioles at this point. However, with the emergence of Steve Pearce in 2014 and other more versatile outfield options available to the Orioles, Cruz makes less sense for the Orioles than he does for the Mariners. So not committing the dead money to Cruz also is a defensible position to take. This move saves short term and long term money. This money could be used to acquire a more expensive player to replace Cruz who has more versatility, such as Melky Cabrera or Matt Kemp, or it could be used to lock up some home grown players long term, such as Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, or even Chris Tillman.

This is why I agree with the move to not give Cruz four years. The roster and payroll flexibility it provides in the short and long term is more valuable than Cruz’ addition to the 2015 lineup would have been. Now, here’s hoping that the team actually uses that flexibility.

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Baltimore Orioles spoke with Los Angeles Dodgers about Matt Kemp http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/01/baltimore-orioles-spoke-los-angeles-dodgers-matt-kemp/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/12/01/baltimore-orioles-spoke-los-angeles-dodgers-matt-kemp/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:42:13 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15198 After losing slugger Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners in free agency, the Baltimore Orioles are turning their attention to the trade market to find another slugger for the middle of their lineup. Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp is at the top of the team's list.

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With the possibility of losing outfielder Nick Markakis, and having already lost Nelson Cruz, to free agency, the Baltimore Orioles have reportedly turned their attention to acquiring outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Orioles recently reached out to the Dodgers to discuss a trade for Kemp.

 

This is nothing new, as Kemp’s name has been at the center of many trade rumors over the previous two seasons because the Dodgers have too many outfielders and nowhere to put all of them. After a down year in 2013, Kemp had a strong second half this past season hitting .309/.365/.606 after the All-Star break. Overall, Kemp put together a .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs.

Looking at advanced metrics put him above average offensively, with a .351 wOBA and 140 wRC+ but his defensive ability has declined substantially over the years and he’s no longer the potential 30/30 player he flashed for a brief three-year period from 2009-2011.

The Dodgers don’t have many holes on their roster but the recent retirement of Josh Beckett has left a void in the starting rotation. There is also uncertainty as to what production will be received from Dan Haren. Therefore, with uncertainty in their starting rotation and the Orioles abundance of starting pitching there at least seems to be a mutual benefit to having a conversation with each other. Other than starting pitching, the Dodgers also have a need at third base and catcher.

Two potential hiccups in any deal involving Kemp is the fact the Dodgers just lost Hanley Ramirez to the Boston Red Sox. Ramirez was one of the only other real power threats from the right side in the lineup and his loss may only enhance the value the Dodgers place on Kemp. The other is Kemp is owed big money, at $21.5 million per season, through the 2019 season.

That’s a hefty chunk of change to pay a player heading into the decline phase of his career, but Kemp could be well worth it if he’s healthy enough for the Orioles lineup to greatly benefit from his superior on-base skills and ability to hit the ball out of the park.

Before agreeing to a four-year/$58 million contract with Nelson Cruz, the Seattle Mariners were in contact with the Dodgers regarding Kemp but talks have stalled because of the asking price. The Dodgers reportedly aren’t budging from their request of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton in any deal.

That is essentially the equivalent of the Dodgers asking for Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, or Hunter Harvey in any deal that would net the Orioles Kemp.

Whether the Orioles would be willing to trade away either of those three players in a deal for Kemp is unknown, but Duquette and Manager Buck Showalter have publicly stated how highly they think of all three of them.

If a deal cannot be reached with the Dodgers to acquire Kemp other options for the outfield would be Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves, Yoenis Cespedes of the Boston Red Sox, Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds and free agent outfielder Torii Hunter.

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ON Mailbag 11/26 to 11/30 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/30/mailbag-1126-1130/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/30/mailbag-1126-1130/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 14:35:26 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15197 This week's ON Mailbag includes topics on Bud Norris, Jonathan Schoop, and Matt Wieters. Please read and ask questions for the next edition of the ON Mailbag

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

With catchers in high demand and getting some nice deals, do you see the Os trying to get Wieters signed to avoid free agency much like JJ? Boras client or not, I think you have to give it a shot.

There were rumors last off season that Wieters and the Orioles were in contract talks. However, those talks derailed after it was reported that Wieters and Boras sought “Joe Mauer Money.” In case anyone forgot, Mauer’s contract is for eight years and $184 million. That is a number I am confident the Orioles will never reach. Duquette and company have tried to lock up Wieters, Davis, and Machado in recent off seasons to long term deals, but all three appear reluctant to leave free agency dollars on the table. For Wieters specifically, Russel Martin just signed a five year $82 million deal and Martin is significantly older. If I am Boras, I start there and work upwards. The Orioles may be reluctant to commit to that much money. Wieters has never lived up to the hype of his prospect status, but he is still a good catcher. He started off at the plate last season spectacularly before falling to Tommy John surgery. If he gets off to a good start in 2015 I could see an Adam Jones situation where the Orioles try sign an extension mid season. However, unless it is too good of a deal to pass up, Wieters and Boras are going to play it out and get the most they can in free agency.

- Alex Conway

Is Bud Norris enough to snatch Scott Van Slyke away from the Dodgers? He could slot into Baltimore’s DH position, allowing Pearce to share outfield time with De Aza, Jones, and Lough.

I usually try to avoid trade proposals. It is difficult to assess the value of assets to certain teams and come up with an equitable deal. Furthermore, fans tend to conflate the value of their own team’s players. However, this deal actually makes a lot of sense. Going into arbitration Norris is only getting more expensive so the Orioles could save some money by moving him. The Dodgers have open rotation spots and a bullpen in need of some better pitchers. Norris could slot into either one nicely. Moving Van Slyke gets them one step closer from solving their outfield logjam as well. For the Orioles, Van Slkye is a good hitter and can play in the field adequately if called upon. He can crush left handed pitching–to the tune of a career .892 OPS against–and hold his own against righties. He would be a nice, cheap piece to slot into a corner outfield/designated hitter spot in the lineup. Also, by moving Norris they clear up their rotation boondoggle. I like this deal for both sides. However, the Dodgers may try to keep Van Slyke for themselves. There have been reports of the Dodgers trying to cut costs and moving a player not yet in arbitration does not necessarily fit that strategy. Based on that, I’d expect the Dodgers to move Kemp, Crawford, or Ethier before Van Slyke. But, again, this is all rumor and innuendo, so the proposed deal is not out of the question.

 – Alex Conway

Jonathan Schoop just had one of the worst offensive seasons by a regular in major league history. As Schoop is only 23, would you be in favor of signing Stephen Drew to a one-year contract to play second base?

You know who had a worse season that Jonathan Schoop last year, Stephen Drew. Drew hit .150/.219/.271. That is beyond words bad. He did start the season late after not getting a long term deal in the off season due to his qualifying offer tag. He is a decent bounce back candidate, but I think the Orioles are going to roll with Schoop into the season and have Flaherty and Navarro be the backup plans. I really like Jonathan Schoop, he is such an anomaly at second base. He is big, rangy, has a cannon arm, great field awareness, lots of power, and a very quick bat. Those are all inherent skills that cannot be taught to someone. Schoop still is very young and could have probably used the time in the minors last season, however I think he looked better in the middle of the season. By September he reverted back and dragged down his overall line. I think that may been caused by fatigue. If he struggles in Spring Training I could see Navarro or Flaherty step into the starting role and letting Schoop figure it out some more in AAA. Schoop has great potential because of his skill set and the Orioles are going to give him a fair chance to actualize with that skill set.

- Alex Conway

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The Baltimore Orioles have the pieces to acquire Jay Bruce http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/29/baltimore-orioles-pieces-acquire-jay-bruce/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/29/baltimore-orioles-pieces-acquire-jay-bruce/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 13:00:20 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15195 If the Baltimore Orioles want to replace the power the lineup will be losing when Nelson Cruz signs elsewhere, the Cincinnati Reds are interested in trading Jay Bruce for a few inexpensive, major league-ready players.

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It’s no secret that the Baltimore Orioles are not going to be one of the teams that give into the contractual demands of Nelson Cruz. As often as Cruz carried the Orioles offense throughout the course of the 2014 season, and through the playoffs, it would be irresponsible to give any 34-year-old designated hitter not named David Ortiz that kind of contract.

This is just one of the reasons why swinging a trade for slugging outfielder Jay Bruce makes sense for the Orioles. Another is the fact that the Reds are looking to shed some payroll and appear willing to sell low on Bruce after an injury-plagued down year this past season.

A rival scout familiar with the Reds’ demands reportedly told Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun the Reds are looking for multiple “inexpensive Major League-ready players” in exchange for Bruce. That’s good news for Orioles GM Dan Duquette, as the Orioles roster is filled with “inexpensive Major League-ready players” that could be dealt.

It is important to note that Bruce does have an eight-team no-trade clause that would come into play if he were shopped around, but the Orioles are not on that list.

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, Bruce can block deals to the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, and New York Yankees.

Bruce is entering his age-28 season, so he is still in his prime years as a player, and is guaranteed just $25.5 million over the next two seasons, which includes a buyout for a $13 million club option in 2017. When you consider the fair market price for home run hitters in this newfound era of pitching dominance, his price point is quite a bargain.

Bruce had a serious down year in 2014, though lingering pain and discomfort from knee surgery had more to do with that then any serious decline in his natural abilities. He averaged 30 or more home runs since 2011, before hitting just 18 this past season due to injury and only appearing in 137 games. He had also played in 148 or more games per season dating back to 2010.

Players such as Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez, Christian Walker, Caleb Joseph, Steve Pearce and Miguel Gonzalez could be of interest to the Reds as they look to retool and shed some dollars. The Orioles also have slot bonus monies that could be traded, along with their competitive balance pick, if that would sweeten the pot enough to get a deal done.

Trading away any of the players mentioned would not derail a playoff run in 2015 and acquiring Jay Bruce in exchange for giving up a few of them would be well worth it, as he provides power and a decent average and on-base skills in the middle of the lineup.

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Ending the Baltimore Orioles major award drought in 2015 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/26/ending-baltimore-orioles-major-award-drought-2015/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/26/ending-baltimore-orioles-major-award-drought-2015/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:50:31 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15176 The Baltimore Orioles have been shut out of the awards race since 1991, which was when Cal Ripken won American League MVP. Grant Brisbee, from SB Nation, wrote an article highlighting when each team last won a major award. The Orioles have been shut out 66 straight times now. Who can end that streak in 2015?

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Now that award season is over and the baseball world can rest easy now that Mike Trout has won his first, of what is likely many, MVP award we can turn our attention to more pressing matters.

The Baltimore Orioles have been shut out of the awards race since 1991, which was when Cal Ripken won American League MVP. Grant Brisbee, from SB Nation, wrote an article highlighting when each team last won a major award.

He pointed out the team that has the longest drought across all three major awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year) than any other team:

Baltimore Orioles. Since Cal Ripken won the award in 1991, the Orioles have been shut out of the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the year. That’s 66 chances to win an award, 66 awards that went to another team. It’s the Orioles, everyone. Get your crap together, Ori … for the last time, don’t show me that stupid Manager of the Year award. Nobody cares.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that nobody cares about the Manager of the Year award, but point made Brisbee…point made.

Nelson Cruz finished seventh in MVP voting and Adam Jones finished 14th, though no one had any shot to take the trophy away from Trout – at least not anyone whose primary position wasn’t DH. No Oriole even got a vote in the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year races.

Cruz is likely wearing a different uniform for the 2015 season and we shouldn’t expect him to put up MVP caliber numbers again anyway. There are, however, at least three players that could make a push at the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards next season though.

M.V.P.

Adam Jones – Jones has received votes for M.V.P. every season since 2012. He has placed sixth, 13th and 14th respectively. In that time, Jones has established himself as a legitimate four-win player and eclipsed five-WAR for the first time in his career this past season.

In order for Jones to catapult himself into top-three M.V.P. consideration he will need to continue what he’s doing offensively, in terms of power and hitting for a high average, but improvements to his walk rate and stolen base totals are a must.

Chris Davis – If Davis is not traded in favor of using a combination of Steve Pearce and Christian Walker at first base, expect a bounce-back campaign from him in 2015. After hitting a career-high, and franchise record, 53 home runs in 2013 his 2014 season was beyond disappointing.

What Davis has going for him is superior strength, a solid eye for the strike zone and time. Davis was swallowed completely by the shift this past season and the extra time off he received from his suspension for using ADHD medication may not be a bad thing. Going into 2015 with a clear head, an understanding of how to combat the shift and plenty to prove to get that big contract should be plenty motivation to put up 2013-esque numbers once again.

Matt Wieters – If not for an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery, Orioles fans very well could have seen Wieters become just the ninth catcher since 1931 to win the M.V.P. award. He was on pace to have the finest offensive season of his career, with a shot to eclipse 30 home runs, 30 doubles and  a .300/.340/.500 batting line.

Instead, Wieters was done after just 26 games and now we will have to wait to see if that performance was for real or if he was just on an extended hot streak to begin the 2014 season. Still in the prime of his career and coming up on a contract year, smart money says he has a big season.

Cy Young

The fact that Bartolo Colon was able to steal the Cy Young from Johan Santana in 2005 with a four-win season, compared to Santana’s 7.2-win season, but sabermetrics didn’t really take hold of enough voters then to ensure that wouldn’t happen. It’s also a season many new voters look back on and shake their head at. Don’t count on it happening again.

That’s partly why guys like Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen aren’t going to sneak in there with simply above average seasons, regardless of how many wins they may earn in 2015.

There is just one starter on this staff with the raw ability to force himself into the Cy Young award discussion and that is Kevin Gausman.

With an elite fastball that typically sits in the 93-95 mph range, though he can crank it up to 97 mph when he needs to, hitters don’t stand much of a chance against it with its movement and low-in-the-strike zone location. If he can develop his secondary pitches (split-change and slider) to be average or better he could dominate more often than not.

Rookie of the Year

Dylan Bundy is the only notable rookie that will likely garner enough playing time to be in consideration for the American League Rookie of the Year award. After rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, and being cleared to play in mid-June, he looked solid in his half-season of minor league ball.

Despite a rough three-start stretch from July 4 – 16, where he gave up 12 runs over 11-2/3 innings, he gave up just three runs over the course of six starts and 29-2/3 innings while striking out 31.

If Bundy is to win the AL R.o.Y. award, he will have to compete with the likes of Carlos Rodon, D.J. Peterson, Francisco Lindor, Aaron Sanchez and, of course, Rusney Castillo.

 

Active on social media, you can follow Lance on Twitter @LanceMRinker.

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Miami Marlins discussing Chris Davis trade with Baltimore Orioles http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/26/miami-marlins-discussing-chris-davis-trade-baltimore-orioles/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/26/miami-marlins-discussing-chris-davis-trade-baltimore-orioles/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:36:58 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15193 The Miami Marlins have called Dan Duquette about possibly acquiring first baseman Chris Davis. The Marlins have a major need for a left-handed hitting first baseman with power, as their lineup is very heavy with right-handed batters. What could the Orioles get in return?

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Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis could be on the move, even after a disastrous 2014 season in the batter’s box and a suspension for taking ADHD medication under his belt.

According to a report from Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, the Miami Marlins are determined to upgrade their first base situation and have reached out to Dan Duquette to discuss a potential trade of Davis. The Marlins currently have Garrett Jones slated as the starting first baseman, but they’re looking for more power and OBP from whoever mans first base without being forced into a season-long platoon situation.

The 28-year-old Davis swatted 26 home runs and drove in 72 runs, before the 25-game suspension ended his season. Any team with serious interest in Davis will be counting on him regaining the hitting prowess and ability to adjust pitch-to-pitch he had in 2013. That season he forced himself into serious MVP consideration by leading the American League in home runs with 53 and RBI with 138.

Since Davis is represented by Scott Boras, and is a free agent in 2016, he very likely would be a one-year rental for the Marlins, but that hasn’t deterred them.

The Marlins have signaled they are open to trading some of their young pitching for a left-handed slugger they can bat behind Giancarlo Stanton.

Though the Orioles have plenty of their own young pitching already, after Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey there aren’t any true impact arms in the farm system.

Young pitchers such as Nathan Eovaldi, Brad Hand and Andrew Heaney, the Marlins’ number one prospect, could all be available in exchange for their desired slugging first baseman. Eovaldi and Heaney are both major league ready, and Eovaldi already has 79 career starts on his resume with a 4.07 career ERA. Heaney made his major league debut this past season and while a 5.89 ERA over 29 1/3 innings of work doesn’t scream future star, the potential is surely there.

Hand has started 31 games in his career, dating back to 2011, and has appeared in 52 overall but it appears his ceiling may be as a number five starter or long-man out of the bullpen.

If the Marlins are willing to trade prized outfielder, and probably the best pure hitter on their team, Christian Yelich then I’m sure Duquette and the Orioles would be all over it – but don’t count on the Marlins even considering it. Other potential position players that could be moved are outfielders Enrique Hernandez and Austin Dean.

Hernandez made his big league debut last season, playing in 42 games for the Marlins, batting just .248/.321/.421. He’s not someone who is going to hit for double-digit home runs in the majors, but the triple slash line he put together between Double-A and Triple-A in the minors in 2014 could be a sign of things to come. He hit .319/.372/.484 over 98 games, though the bulk of that playing time came in the Pacific Coast League where even some of the worst minor league hitters can excel.

Dean was drafted in the fourth round, 137th overall, by the Marlins in 2012 and they sure are happy he decided to sign. According to scouting reports, Dean was one of the top high school hitters in Texas and makes consistent hard contact from the right side of the plate.

Here is what Baseball America had to say about Dean leading up to the 2012 draft:

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has the swing and bat speed to hit for both average and power. He has some athleticism and close to average speed, but a lack of arm strength and footwork limits him defensively and knocks him down draft boards a bit. Dean could get a chance at second base, though left field could be his ultimate destination.

The Orioles do have a need in left field and Dean is expected to be major league ready sometime during the 2016 season, or leading into 2017. He is someone I view as being a right-handed version of Nick Markakis, with a bit more consistent pop in the bat.

Regardless of how trade discussions progress between the Marlins and Orioles, it is apparent that teams are willing to exchange legitimate prospects or major league ready players for Davis.

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ON Mailbag 11/21 to 11/25 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/25/mailbag-1121-1125/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/25/mailbag-1121-1125/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:35:23 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15189 This edition of the ON Mailbag includes Orioles topics on Ubaldo Jimenez, Melky Cabrera, and off season targets. Also, please ask questions for next week.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

Will the Orioles find a team that wants Ubaldo Jimenez in a trade?

Jimenez will be a hard contract to sell. He has three years left on his deal and around $12 million a year. He was so bad last year that dumping that contract on another team will be a difficult task. Jimenez is a decent bounce back candidate, he had a high strike out rate and a low hit rate, but combined with his high walk rate and poor batted ball numbers he still had a horrendous season. Also, with the inconsistencies throughout his career and hid declining stuff he still represents an expensive gamble for teams to make. The Orioles reworked his delivery which may help him or their negations in trading him. The only way the Orioles dump Jimenez is if it is for another bad contract. A bad contract swap would at least open up a rotation spot and could fill another hole with a bounce back candidate. Essentially helping both teams by making a spot open where they have more depth and bringing in a potential solid player in an area of weakness. Rumors about Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton made some sense, but both have been quashed. There are other options out there, maybe a Dodgers outfielder, but I still think Jimenez is on the roster opening day. I believe a starting pitcher will be traded, but I doubt it is Jimenez because of his baggage.

- Alex Conway

The Orioles go on periods where they don’t hit as a team, with that being the case will they try to acquire players that have high on base statistics this off season?

It appears that the Orioles are going to go after more high on base percentage guys, because that is what Duquette at least says he tries to do every off season. Cruz and Markakis both put up a decent OBP last seasons so there potential returns add some OBP to the lineup. The acquisition of Rey Navarro is also intriguing. It is no secret that second base was a massive offensive hole last season and Navarro has put up a .359 OBP at AAA in his minor league career. On top of that, Navarro is seen as an above average defender. While I still love the upside of Jonathan Schoop, and I believe the Orioles do as well, it would not surprise me to see Navarro in the lineup at some point in 2015 if Schoop struggles or the Orioles send him to AAA to begin the season if he struggles in Spring Training. Also, do not forget the returns of Wieters and Machado. Catcher and third base were offensive holes for much of 2014 and their returns may add some more OBP to the lineup all on their own. I doubt it will be splashy moves that will bring in high on base players, but Duquette will continue to try to achieve his goal through more depth signings or possibly even a trade.

 – Alex Conway

Rumors are swirling regarding Melky Cabrera as a backup plan if Markakis leaves. Since Luke didn’t cover this in the “Alternatives” piece, can you shed some light onto your thoughts about Cabrera?

Melky Cabrera is a good player. He can put up hits and still give decent at bats. He is not outstanding at the plate, but a good piece in a lineup. He has been inconsistent in his career and has been suspended for PED use. The advanced numbers do not paint a pretty picture for his defensive value and from watching him over the years I would have to agree. In fact, on a the spreadsheet he looks a lot like Nick Markakis. However, he does not make a lot of sense for the Orioles. His market appears to be pretty good. His projected contract by many baseball prognosticators is for more money and/or years than Nick Markakis. Which leads me to this point. In the off season, it is important to realize who the reporters are sourcing from and any motives those sources may have. For instance, Roch Kubatko of MASN sports reported the Orioles interest in Cabrera. Reporters, basically have two pools of sources to pull from–the agents and the teams. In this case, the reporter has been covering the team for years and works for the partially team owned network/blog. I’m not accusing Roch of being a bad or unethical reporter, what I am saying is that it is likely he has a great number of reliable solid sources inside the Orioles’ baseball operations. He asks around for rumors and the team gives him rumors. It seems to me that reporting the Orioles have a fallback option to Nick Markakis would provide a useful tool in leveraging Markakis’ agent. Now, the interest in Melky Cabrera may be legitimate, but color me skeptical. This smells like a leveraging ploy carried out through the media. Which is a fine tactic from the standpoint of the team, but always be wary of the sources.

- Alex Conway

Will Chris Davis ever recover from last year’s debacle?

I wrote extensively about what I think Chris Davis will be next season and beyond here.

- Alex Conway

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ON Mailbag 11/9 – 11/20 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/20/mailbag-119-1119/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/20/mailbag-119-1119/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:00:06 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15182 This week's Mailbag includes topics on Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis. Please submit questions for the next installment of the ON Mailbag

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

Do you think Nick Markakis re-signs with the Orioles?

This seems to be the biggest question of the off season right now. There have been reports floated of a four year deal between the two sides, however it seems to me that most of that information is coming from Markakis’ agent. It would definitely be in the agent’s interest to let everyone think his client already has a four year deal on the table. Yet, I think Markakis likely has a market of around a four year deal, probably not much more, but it would not shock me if he got four years from someone. I still think the Orioles resign Markakis, but it may be for a lower value than being reported or for a smaller number of years. However, the longer this process goes, the less sure I am of his return to the Orange and Black. It would be horrible execution of his job if Markakis’ agent was not talking to every team right now. The more chances he gets to talk with all other interested parties the higher the probability Markakis ends up elsewhere. If he does not return, read Luke Jackson’s piece on the alternatives available to the Orioles.

- Alex Conway

What is the likelihood that the Orioles bring back Nelson Cruz?

Going into the off season I thought there would be nearly no chance that Cruz would return to the Orioles. However, little has come out about interest in Cruz other than from the Orioles. For my tastes a two year deal would be preferable, but I am betting someone will give him three at the least. If Cruz cannot find a fourth year from anyone else, I think the Orioles would go that third year. Whether or not that deal ends up hurting the Orioles is another question altogether. Cruz is old and getting older. He cannot play the field and is a terrible runner. But, he showed last year he can hit and hit for power. With only one skill he may not be worth the back end of the deal, but for next year he would certainly look good in an Orioles uniform. However, Billy Butler just received a 3 year $30 million contract. Butler had an off year and has had declining power numbers for the last three seasons. Butler, like Cruz, cannot run and cannot play any defense. Although, Butler is 28 years old and Cruz is going to be 35 by the start of next season. The age factor is very important in projecting three years down the line. My gut right now says the Orioles bring him back on a three year deal similar to J.J. Hardy’s, but probably for more money. Everyone seems to think the market that did not exist for him last off season suddenly exists now, I don’t see it. However, I hate predicting the free agent market and I am not very good at it, so if someone gave Cruz four or five years it would in no way shock me, it would shock me if the Orioles were the team to give him those years though.

 – Alex Conway

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The Case for Chris Davis in 2015 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/19/case-chris-davis-better-2015/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/19/case-chris-davis-better-2015/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15174 Staff Writer Alex Conway reviews Chris Davis' 2014 and makes the case for him being better in 2015

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Chris Davis has always been seen as a player with immense talent. A hulking, athletic, quick footed baseball player with true elite raw power. Not a typical plodding first baseman, but an athlete that could also be a slugger. He yo-yoed back and forth between the majors and minors in his Texas Rangers days. The Rangers were trying to win and they couldn’t bear the inconsistencies of Davis trying to find his stroke at the major league level. His trade to Baltimore was a chance for him to play full time and develop his game.

In 2012 he proved to be a useful player on a winning team. However, in 2013, the raw athleticism and power talent evaluators saw in Davis blossomed in the form of 53 home runs and a third place MVP finish. Davis managed to utilize his raw power with astonishing effectiveness. Then, 2014 came and Davis struggled to find his form. His production lagged, with 2013 looking more and more like a fluke. Eventually, 2014 ended in disgrace as Davis got hit with a suspension for use of amphetamines and had to sit out the entirety of the Orioles playoff run and post season.

The question then becomes, why was Davis so unsuccessful in 2014 and moreover why was he so successful in 2013? Furthermore, what can the Orioles expect from Chris Davis in 2015? He will likely make somewhere in the range of $12 million coming off of a horrendous season. If they are going to keep Davis at that price they must have some belief he can be much better than his 2014 iteration.

In 2014 Chris, he saw a lower percentage of fast balls and sliders and higher percentage of curve balls and change ups. All of these percentages range from to the two to three points range. Nothing wildly significant, but not nothing. Pitchers clearly adjusted to Davis. From watching the games, the plan was definitely to bust him up and in with fast balls where his loopy swing could not catch up to the pitch and then drop a curveball either on his hands or away and especially the change up away.  They worked Davis like this, but this is how many hitters are pitched to. I would not say these slight changes in strategy are what led to his performance cratering in 2014. This is borne out in the heat maps as well (below) the maps are remarkably similar between 2013 and 2014. Pitchers were definitely more careful with Davis in 2014 focusing their offering low and away, but the differences are not staggering.

Davis 2012-2013 Davis 2014

Next, looking at his batted ball profile reveals more about Davis’ struggles in 2014. He had a paltry .242 BABPIP in 2014 down from a career mark of .320. Furthermore, his line drive percentage of 24.6 percent was up, especially from the 21.9 percent in  2013, and slightly above his career average of 23.1 percent, indicating he made solid contact. However, his ground ball rate also moved up two percentage points in 2014 to 34.5 percent. These two increases led to a drop in fly balls of nearly 5 percent, down to 40.9 percent of the time. This drop in fly balls also coincided with a drop in HR/FB ratio, down seven full points from 2013 to 22.6 percent. These rates are not necessarily problematic for a standard hitter, but for Davis they are concerning.

First, his drop in fly balls means a drop in chances for home runs. Home runs are where Davis produces much of his value. The reduction in fly balls combined with the reduction in the rate at which those fly balls turn into home runs leads to far less production, hence 2014 for Davis. Second, the BAPIP is low and while a lower HR/FB rate, it is still very high for a hitter. However, a low BAPIP may be explainable by the extensive shifting on Davis. While this shifting certainly existed in 2013, it seemed even more pronounced in 2014. It is difficult to tease out what role the shift played, but even with the shift I doubt it would reduce Davis’ BAPIP a full 80 points in a year. I think some of the lack of production can simply be blamed on bad luck. For instance, in 2013 Davis hit .419 on balls that he pulled, but only hit .264 on those same balls in 2014 and the rate at which he pulled the ball changed very little. Also, he hit 37 points lower on ground balls, 171 points lower on fly balls, and 158 points lower on line drives. Not all of those lower batted balls numbers can be explained by shifting. So again bad luck plays a role in his poor production in 2014.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of Davis’ 2014 is how he changed his approach at the plate. He walked 11.4 percent of the time in 2014, slightly higher than the 10.7 percent he walked in 2013 which is a good thing. However, Davis struck out 33.0 percent in 2014 compared to 29.6 percent in 2013. So while he walked slightly more, he struck out significantly more. On top of that, Davis swung LESS often in 2014. Davis swung at 46.9 percent of the pitches he saw in 2014 and 50.2 percent in 2013. Furthermore, he made contact less often to the tune of nearly 5 percent. So he struck out more, swung less, and made less contact in 2014.

While swinging less is not necessarily an issue, swinging less while striking out more and making less contact is certainly an issue. This led to an 8 percent spike in his struck out looking rate. Of all of Davis’ strike outs in 2014, he struck out looking 32.4 percent of the time compared to 24.1 percent of the time in 2013. These plate discipline numbers are bad for Davis. If the league slightly adjusted to him through pitch selection, sequencing, location, and infield shifting and he adjusted by being a tentative poor contact hitter that is bad sign for his production moving forward. Whether or not these approach changes came through struggle, a bad streak of seeing the ball, or any other unknown factors is hard to reveal. Regardless, if Davis does not adjust again in 2015 to at the very least making more contact once again, it will likely be another disappointing season.

Like most things in life, the explanation for Davis’ poor 2014 is somewhere in the middle of bad luck and lack of quality adjustment to the league. Davis needs to improve his approach and he needs to hit more fly balls. Davis can hit the ball and hit it hard, but 2014 was a struggle for him as he saw key production and peripheral stats drop. Some of this can be explained through some bad luck and some through a lack of adjustment to the league which adjusted to him. I believe that he will be a more productive player in 2015 simply based on some better luck at the plate. A few more balls will drop in, a few more will clear the fence, and Davis will be more productive. However, baseball is a game of adjustment and consistency. Davis showed little of either in 2014. If he wants to get paid big money entering into free agency, he must learn some of both in 2015.

 

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Alternatives to Nick Markakis http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/18/alternatives-nick-markakis/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/18/alternatives-nick-markakis/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:00:09 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15181 Staff Writer Luke Jackson overviews the Orioles options to replace Nick Markakis in right field

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Nick Markakis and the Orioles are reportedly discussing a four-year deal, and the two parties will almost certainly come to agreement to keep Markakis in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. By the time you read this, the ink might be dry on his contract. But I wanted to write about some alternatives on the free agent and trade markets that potentially provide better value. The free agent targets I wrote about were Alex Rios, Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus; the trade targets were Justin Upton, Matt Joyce and Marlon Byrd.

Alex Rios

Rios, who will play 2015 at age 34, is set to play the twelfth year of a big league career that has led him to Toronto, Chicago and Texas. It seemed like a good bet that the Rangers would pick up his ’15 option after he hit .280/.315/.457 (108 OPS+) in nearly 200 plate appearances in 2013 after his trade to Texas. However, Rios’s power cratered in 2014 (.398 SLG with four homers) and Texas opted not to bring him back.

Rios has mashed lefties throughout his career, and his splits have become more exaggerated in recent years. Rios hit .313/.365/.524 against lefties in 2013 and .325/.353/.545 in 2014, while his numbers against right-handers have tanked. Rios’s agent, Scott Boras, may very well receive calls about his client’s willingness to at least sit against selected right-handers, if not a strict platoon.

The Orioles, meantime, are right-handed heavy as it is. Manny Machado, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop and perhaps Caleb Joseph are all likely to receive plenty of at-bats next year. The Orioles might prefer a left-handed bat for right field, although if that right-hander can hit both pitchers well, it doesn’t necessarily matter what side of the plate he hits from. But Rios has shown in recent years that he struggles with arm-side pitching, and his likely role on a first division team – mash lefties, pick your spots against right-handers – sounds an awful lot like what Pearce’s role in 2015 may be.

Nori Aoki

Aoki has become something of a favorite among baseball fans on the Internet due to his adventurous routes to batted balls in right field. He came to the States in 2012 and hit .288/.355/.433 (109 OPS+) with Milwaukee. While he’s maintained his contact and on-base skills the past two years, the power vanished, totaling a .366 SLG and nine dingers. He only hit one homer with Kansas City in ’14, but that can at least be partially explained away by Kauffman Stadium. Aoki will play 2015 as a 33-year-old.

Aoki actually has reverse splits in his three years in the bigs; .273/.346/.380 against right-handers vs. .319/.371/.405 against lefties. Aoki’s plate coverage really helps him against lefties. He’s known to poke pitches on the outer half to the opposite field against arm-side pitching, but he’s also able to barrel up fastballs on the inner half. He could be the pest atop the order that the Orioles didn’t have last year, beating out infield hits and fouling off everything.

Aoki would be a sensible alternative to Markakis. The O’s would get their left-handed bat that hangs in against arm-side pitching, gets on base and never strikes out. Aoki is searching for a three-year deal; could he be had for two?

Colby Rasmus

Rasmus was once a highly touted prospect in the Cardinals’ system before actualizing those talents in 2010, hitting .276/.361./498 as a 23-year-old in St. Louis. After that, he was dumped by St. Louis, showed flashes of brilliance for the Jays in between strikeouts and injuries, and was unceremoniously benched during his final month in Toronto. In three full years with the Blue Jays, Rasmus hit .240/.304/.444 (103 OPS+).

While Rasmus can play center field, he might find some interest from teams looking for platoon bats in a corner. He can’t hit lefties, but will display quite a bit of pop off right-handers, sporting a .208 ISO off them for his career. He’s always had a ton of raw power, but as he explained in this lengthy Q&A, he’s had trouble finding the right situation to harness his talent.

Rasmus would fit in as a left-handed bat for Buck Showalter’s lineup against right-handed pitchers, with someone like Pearce or some unnamed right-handed hitter filling in against a lefty. However, at 28, Rasmus is probably still looking to find a situation in which he can prove himself to be a viable everyday center fielder; he might not be willing to accept part-time duty.

Justin Upton

With the Braves sending Jason Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller (four years of control left) and a pitching prospect in Tyrell Jenkins, it’s possible that new president John Hart is signaling that the Braves will enter at least a brief rebuild in preparation for their new stadium. Enter Upton, who has one year left before free agency. Upton, the number one overall pick by Arizona in the monster 2005 draft, will play most of next year at 27 years of age.

Upton is a .274/.354/.476 career hitter and hit .270/.342/.491 (132 OPS+) last year while playing half his games in a pitcher’s park. He hits both pitchers, though he murders lefties. He could move back to his natural position of right field. He could provide needed right-handed power should Cruz leave. Showalter could go Jones – Davis – Upton in the middle of his lineup. The one year, $14.5 million commitment wouldn’t be an issue. Upton would fit like a glove.

Ah, but the acquisition cost. The Braves might want to continue to remodel their Julio Teheran-led rotation. Teheran will likely be joined by Miller and Alex Wood. But Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang will depart via free agency and uncertain futures remain for Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen due to a visit from Tommy John. The Orioles, though, probably can’t provide the young pitching the Braves covet. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey aren’t going anywhere. The next tier of pitching talent in the pipeline includes guys like Zach Davies, Tim Berry, Mike Wright and Stephen Tarpley, all of whom have their merits but can’t headline a package for a player like Upton. Dan Duquette cashed in two of his pitching chips in Josh Hader and Eduardo Rodriguez at the trade deadline each of the past two years.

Like the Cardinals trading for Heyward, the chief piece would have to come off the big league team, and it wouldn’t be Kevin Gausman. Among team-controlled pitchers the Braves might be interested in include Miguel Gonzalez (three arb-eligible years remaining) and Zach Britton (four arb-eligible years). Gonzalez would fit into a remade Atlanta rotation, but he’ll be 31 in May. (Miller, at 24, has upside.) Britton, meantime, could perhaps be the multi-inning relief ace he was with the Orioles for the first six weeks of the season. That would keep Britton’s arbitration awards down, as well. But all in all, not a great match here.

Matt Joyce

Joyce, 30, is part of a glut of outfielders in Tampa Bay along with Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus. He has one year of arbitration left, valued at $4.9 million by MLB Trade Rumors. With the Rays looking to trim payroll, Joyce and DeJesus might be on the way out, but Joyce profiles better in right than DeJesus. Joyce is strictly a platoon guy. He’s useless against lefties, but very useful against righties (.261/.356/.463 for his career). Joyce’s skill-set should be able to found on the free agent market without sacrificing talent from the farm.

Marlon Byrd

Everything must go in Philadelphia, and Byrd figures to be a player who’s drawing attention on the trade market, if only because he possesses right handed power. Byrd, who will play most of 2015 at age 37, has one year left on his deal at $8 million with an $8 million club option for 2016. He hit .264/.312/.445 (109 OPS+) with 25 homers last year after a .291/.336/.511 line in 2013. He hits against both pitchers. Marlon Byrd isn’t sexy at all, but he’ll provide some team with nice value next year. Joe Jordan, now with the Phillies as director of player development, knows the O’s system well from his time as scouting director. He’d surely be of assistance in picking out some trade targets from the system.

Outside of Upton – who may or may not be available – pretty thin market for corner guys, right? Beyond the emotional attachment to Markakis, it makes some sense why the Orioles would want to invest in Markakis. His contact skills and ability to spray the ball from line to line could be placed at a premium in this high strikeout era. Plus, his durability and ability to hit lefties helps in the era of seven and eight-man bullpens. In this free agent market, four years for Markakis isn’t crazy.

With that being said, walking away from an over-30 veteran is typically not a move that teams regret. Markakis is a corner guy with a .396 slugging average over the past three years, covering 1,881 plate appearances. He’s not the right fielder his reputation would suggest – he gets terrific reads and jumps on batted balls, but he lacks range. And as we’ve seen, a player is super durable until he’s not, with Prince Fielder the latest example.

In the end, whether it’s Markakis or any other contract, no expenditure occurs within a vacuum. Sometimes the best thing is to move on and maintain flexibility for a rainy day. The absence of a $50 million deal with Markakis would give the Orioles some breathing room to explore extensions with younger players on the team like Manny Machado and Gausman. It also gives them some more coin on the free agent market the next few years. The Orioles have nine players set to become free agents this time next year, and a better value in right field now may mean more money to spend later. Catcher, first base and the rotation will all likely need to be addressed, among other spots.

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The Baltimore Orioles should trade a starter or two http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/15/baltimore-orioles-trade-starter-two/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/15/baltimore-orioles-trade-starter-two/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 12:00:54 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15175 The Baltimore Orioles have starting pitching in excess these days. Because of that, General Manager Dan Duquette should seriously look into trading one or two of them for useful pieces for the offense.

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The Baltimore Orioles and Manager Buck Showalter used just seven different pitchers throughout the 2014 season to start a game. T.J. McFarland made just one start while the other six (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez) all made at least 20 starts.

A far cry from the 14 they used during the 2013 season, the 12 they used in 2012, or the 12 they used in 2011. Stat nerds (I am, in fact, a stat nerd), hardcore or casual fans and scouts alike can all conclude that Showalter used the fewest number of starters in a single season since he took the team over because the team has a roster full of quality arms for the rotation – call me captain obvious.

The way the rotation performed this season makes the Ubaldo Jimenez signing look pretty pointless now, but hindsight being what it is the organization wasn’t sure just how ready Kevin Gausman would be and what they would truly get out of what they had. There was an idea, which lent itself to optimism, but no one really knew.

With three-fifths of the rotation due for raises through arbitration, it’s time the question is asked who is expendable in a trade to save some money for free agency or extensions, and who should be locked up to a long-term deal.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Bud Norris could see a bump in salary to $8.7 million. Chris Tillman is predicted to earn $5.4 million through arbitration and Miguel Gonzalez is predicted to earn $3.7 million. Zach Britton, who proved to be one of the most effective closers in baseball, is expected to earn $3.2 million.

Would it be prudent to find a suitor for Norris, Gonzalez and possibly Jimenez (if anyone will take him) to welcome Britton back into the rotation, as well as make room for Dylan Bundy?

I am not suggesting the team trade away all three, but trading away two of the three could be a smart move for the organization. There is plenty of depth to fill holes if an injury occurs with the likes of T.J. McFarland, Tim Berry, Mike Wright and even Zach Davies.

Trading Jimenez alone could save the organization upwards of $12.5 million towards the 2015 payroll, which is already projected to come close to $110 million without any free agent acquisitions. Packaging up Norris and Gonzalez could save roughly the same amount.

Over a dozen organizations will be looking to upgrade their starting rotations this offseason. Whichever organizations strikeout in free agency could be ripe for the picking by Dan Duquette.

The Colorado Rockies will be desperate to patch up their starting rotation and have already stated a willingness to trade Carlos Gonzalez in the right deal.

Catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis is reportedly being made available by the Atlanta Braves, as well as possibly Justin Upton, as an apparent rebuilding project gets underway so they can take a leaner, cheaper team into their new stadium when it’s ready.

Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels recently signed a new contract with the club. The Rangers are one of just a few teams that are borderline contender if healthy and have a need to beef up their rotation. Elvis Andrus is on the block and a change of scenery could do him well.

Then, of course, there are countless teams that have bad contracts of their own they may be willing to ship to the Orioles in exchange for Jimenez.

Fact is, Duquette has plenty of options this winter to pick up a useful piece or two for the offense and bullpen without having to break the bank, once again. It all starts with trading a starter or two.

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Nelson Cruz turned down three-year contract from Baltimore Orioles http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/11/nelson-cruz-turned-three-year-contract-baltimore-orioles/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/11/nelson-cruz-turned-three-year-contract-baltimore-orioles/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 01:09:53 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15172 Nelson Cruz, who carried the Baltimore Orioles offense at times this past season, was offered a three-year extension by the Orioles and turned it down. Will the grass be greener for him on the free agent market?

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Nelson Cruz, who was the best bargain of the free agent market last winter, not only turned down the $15.3 million qualifying offer made to him by the Baltimore Orioles, but according to Buster Olney with ESPN, he also turned down a three-year extension before free agency.

While it was expected Cruz would decline the one-year, $15.3 million contract to remain with the team for next season, he has gone on the record multiple times to say that returning to Baltimore next season would be his first choice.

The terms of the three-year offer are unknown at this time, and the Orioles and Cruz’s agent have declined to comment on the financial terms of the proposal, but Cruz led the majors with a career-high 40 home runs last season and believes he can parlay that into a multiyear deal.

If Cruz does sign with another team, the Orioles will receive the highest unprotected draft pick from that team. The Orioles gave up the number 55 overall selection in this year’s draft when they signed him last off-season. It is reasonable to believe any compensation pick would be higher than the one the team forfeited.

There are several major factors as to how interested other teams are in giving him a three or four-year contract. Cruz turns 35-years-old in July, which will surely limit the number of teams willing to give him the contract he is seeking. Cruz is also coming off a career year and aging sluggers have a tendency to have one final peak year before making that long walk back to reality as they begin to see a steep decline in performance.

Cruz is fortunate that his peak year came at a time when he would hit the free agent market again, as well as displayed all season long that he could carry an entire offense on his back at times and shined in the playoffs many times over.

If Dan Duquette is willing to offer Cruz a three-year contract, worth however many dollars it was, then there is no telling what another team would be willing to offer if they needed the power badly enough.

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David Newhan, former Baltimore Orioles utility-player, in majors again http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/11/david-newhan-former-baltimore-orioles-utility-player-majors/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/11/david-newhan-former-baltimore-orioles-utility-player-majors/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:11:21 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15170 Former utility man for the Baltimore Orioles, David Newhan, has been hired by the Detroit Tigers as their new assistant hitting coach. He found his way back to the big leagues after nearly dying in 2009.

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The Detroit Tigers made a staffing change that involved a former Baltimore Orioles utility man, as they announced on Monday that David Newhan had been hired as the team’s new assistant hitting coach.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus looked to Newhan as a legitimate candidate to replace former assistant hitting coach Darnell Coles, who left to accept the full-time hitting coach job with the Milwaukee Brewers, because he saw many positive qualities in Newhan that he wanted Cole’s replacement to have.

“We were together with the Padres and actually played together a year in Houston,” Ausmus said Monday. “He’s very positive, which is extremely important, and he will work tirelessly at a job that is very demanding.”

Newhan joins Detroit’s coaching staff to work alongside primary hitting coach Wally Joyner.

Newhan, the son of legendary baseball columnist and Spink Award winner Ross Newhan, was a 17th-round Draft pick of the A’s in 1995 and made it to the big leagues in San Diego in 1999.

Newhan spent his first three seasons in the big leagues between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies. He played in just 63 games, batting .163/.255/.302 with three home runs and was used mostly as a defensive replacement during that time.

His 2002 season was lost due to injury and he spent 2003 stuck in the minors. It wasn’t until the Orioles gave him an opportunity in 2004 that he had the finest season of his career. Newhan hit .311/.361/.453 with eight home runs over the course of 95 games and 412 plate appearances that season. Though his BABIP in 2004 was a fortunate .361, he played hard for the team every day and by all reports that season was well liked by teammates.

As fortunate as he was in 2004, the 2005 season wouldn’t be nearly as kind to him as his offensive numbers plummeted to .202/.279/.312 over 96 games and 249 plate appearances. Though career years are called that for a reason, a .229 BABIP played a large role in his dismal offensive performance, and limited playing time, during his 2005 campaign.

Newhan played for several more seasons in the major and minor leagues with the New York Mets, Houston Astros and Phillies before his professional career as a player came to an end at the conclusion of the 2008 season.

A surfing accident in 2009 nearly cost Newhan his life, unaware of that fact at the time of his injury.

He was surfing off the Southern California coast that September, just two blocks from his home in Oceanside, and an unfortunate decision snapped the C2 vertebrae in his neck. Think back to when criminals were sentenced to death by way of hanging – same type of injury, but Newhan was incredibly lucky.

In an interview with Steve Henson from The Post Game, Newhan described what had happened.

“It wasn’t like I wiped out,” he said. “I made a bad decision by jumping off my board. I was far enough offshore and didn’t think it was shallow. I thought I’d skim the top of the water.”

In reality, Newhan’s head struck full force into a sandbar and immediately went completely numb.

“I had a stinger throughout my whole body,” he said. “I was trying to move knowing I couldn’t. I was floating up. I thought, ‘If I can get my head above water, I’ll try to call for help.’”

Newhan recalls thinking, or even praying to be able to move and get his head above water. He was able to begin moving his arms and legs, grabbed his surfboard and slid onto it belly first. He then began to paddle to shore, walk home and then called his wife.

“I think I should get an X-Ray,” he told her. “Something happened, and something is wrong. My neck is locking up.”

Once at the hospital, a CT scan revealed a compound fracture in three places and he was immediately fitted for a brace, which he had to wear for several months. Had the shards from his vertebrae shifted even a millimeter, he would have died.

Christopher Reeve, the famous actor who played the iconic role of Superman in the 70s and 80s, suffered a similar injury after being thrown from his horse in 1995 and was left a quadriplegic. Most who suffer this kind of injury die nearly instantly.

If it wasn’t for Newhan being in such great physical shape, the ligaments and muscle surrounding the fractured vertebrae likely wouldn’t have been able to hold the shards in place and save his life.

After fully recovering from his life-threatening injury, Newhan got into coaching as a hitting coach in the Padres’ system, where current Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus was working as a special assistant. Newhan then made a switch to the Oakland Athletics organization to manage their Class-A affiliate in Vermont.

In his first season leading the Vermont Lake Monsters, Newhan’s team went 33-43 overall. However, they played well during the final month of the season, and several players showed significant growth and progress with their development during the course of the year.

In addition to the many positive qualities Ausmus saw in Newhan, as well as his familiarity with him from the seasons they spent together in multiple organizations, Newhan’s success as a first-time manager with a brand new minor league affiliate was enough to convince Ausmus and the Tigers he is the right man for the job.

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ON Mailbag 9/15 to 11/19 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/09/mailbag-915-1119/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/09/mailbag-915-1119/#comments Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:00:42 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15168 Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here: All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson Your guess as to the outfielders for the O’s in 2015 ? The only certainty in the outfield is going to be Adam […]

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All Major League Questions answered by Alex Conway

All Minor League Questions answered by Luke Jackson

Your guess as to the outfielders for the O’s in 2015 ?

The only certainty in the outfield is going to be Adam Jones in center field. Beyond that, it is hard to say. I thought a Markakis deal would be announced by now, maybe he wants to see what the free market gives him rather than whatever deal the Orioles are putting in front of him. I would experience actual shock if Markakis does not return to the Orioles, but everyday a contract remains unsigned is one day another team could swoop in and swindle him away from the Orioles. However, my guess is that Nick Markakis will be the opening day right fielder. For left field, the question is even more difficult. Many of the national free agent prognosticators have picked the Orioles as Nelson Cruz’s destination. I don’t see it as clearly as they do. The overall team budget, the length of the deal Cruz wants, and his age all make him a not typical free agent for the Orioles to sign. The only way I see Cruz returning is if he and his agent have once again misjudged the market and he comes back to the Orioles on a two or three year deal. However, even if Cruz comes back he may be the designated hitter more than a left fielder. To me left field is best served by giving Steve Pearce a shot. He can hold his own defensively and his bat was so great last year that they have to give him a chance. As some platoon insurance I would keep either De Aza or David Lough around (preferably both). So my guess is that the opening day outfield will be Markakis in right, Jones in center, and Pearce/De Aza in left.

- Alex Conway

You mentioned how one way to improve the pitching staff is for our current rotation to elevate their skills, particularly Kevin GausmanWhat would you project as a reasonable ceiling for Gausman and eventually Bundy? Also, granted they stay healthy, what is their worse case scenario?  Do either have the potential to be the next Justin Verlander or Adam Wainwright or are we looking at a couple guys that could be solid pros that look great at times like Gio Gonzalez or Cole Hamels? Or are my projections too high?

Yes, I did mention the possible internal growth of the rotation in my Season Review/Off Season Preview. A reasonable ceiling for both pitchers would be a number two starter.  Both have the talent to be top flight major league pitchers, but to keep things reasonable I would expect both to a little further down than the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. Gausman must continue to develop his slider and work on finding that low and away corner with his fastball. Bundy needs to come  back all the way from injury/rehab and show he still is the pitcher that the Orioles–and everyone else–thought they were getting. Assuming health, both of them have the talent to grow into solid number two starters and if they hit the top of their ceiling, to be number ones. Worst case scenario is they both flame out with arm injuries, as it is for every pitcher. If I had to guess a most likely scenario would be the second tier that you propose. The talent to reach the top level, but either they lack a third plus offering or they lack consistency. Consistency is often the hallmark of the elite players.

- Alex Conway

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Baltimore Orioles 2014 Season Review and Off Season Preview http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/03/orioles-2014-season-review-season-preview/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/03/orioles-2014-season-review-season-preview/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 15:32:38 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15164 Staff Writer Alex Conway gives his review on the 2014 season and his preview for the Off Season.

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Baseball, reduced to its simplest form, is about adjustment to failure. This is true on the individual and the team level. As the old axiom goes, a hall of fame hitter fails seven out of ten times. At the team level, only one team can truly succeed a year. Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal and the only one that matters. The Orioles failed in achieving that goal. However, their season was still captivating, surprising, and impressive. The Baltimore Orioles won 96 regular season games, winning the AL East crown (first since 1997) by an astronomical 12 games, and made it to the brink of the fall classic. They did so unexpectedly and in unpredictable ways.

Overall, the success for the Orioles in 2014 came from a model of consistency. The team never lost more than four in a row, and after June 1st never lost more than three in row, and that only happened twice. On the flipside, the team never won more than five games in a row. They built their winning record by stacking up wins and limiting losses. This is how successful teams coast to division victories in mid-September.

My 2014 season preview said the keys to a successful Orioles season would include big seasons from Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis. Wieters played 26 games, Machado 82, and Davis 127 dismal ones. None of those players were key cogs in the Orioles run to 96 wins, instead, the team was lead by a pitching staff who had five starters with below league average ERAs. Often overlooked, those five starters did not include the most expensive starter Ubaldo Jimenez who started bad, got worse, and ended up winning the AL East clinching game. Not to mention the bullpen, which started with the ever shaky Tommy Hunter closing out games and ended up revealing Zach Britton as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.

Surprises are what carried the offense as well. Nelson Cruz, nominated Most Valuable Oriole by the local beat reporters, was signed at the last minute for a relative pittance. He carried the offense at times and put up one his best offensive seasons ever. And Steve Pearce, the first or second most valuable Oriole depending on which version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is your particular cup of tea, led the way filling in for Chris Davis at times and finding a way into the lineup all over the place at all other times. Pearce was released by the club during the season, brought back, given a chance, and in that chance more than doubled his career home run total.

The question now is how will the Orioles and their players adjust to their failure to give themselves another shot in 2015 at the ultimate goal. First, the key players that will hit free agency are Nelson Cruz, trade acquisition and slider wizard Andrew Miller, pinch hitting guru Delmon Young, and Nick Markakis–if the reports of the Orioles declining his option are accurate. Cruz and Markakis were everyday starters in 2014 and Miller made a solid bullpen an elite one. All three present holes the Orioles will have to fill in order to be contenders once again in 2015.

The Starting Rotation

By the end of the season, the Orioles rotation consisted of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez. All five are now under contract with the Orioles for next season. The rotation also included Ubaldo Jimenez at points throughout the season, but he was eventually replaced due to his abysmal performance and brought back in September in order to give some starters a bit of extra rest. Those five that ended the season all posted ERA+s of over 100 (100 is league average, over 100 is above, under is below). Also, remarkably, none of those five ever lost anytime to severe injury (even if I accused Chris Tillman of being injured). The only starter to suffer a major injury was Jimenez and that one seemed to aid more than hinder the team. Jimenez will, in all likelihood, be back with the Orioles in 2015 and that leaves at the very least six potential candidates for the starting rotation. Not to mention possible candidates in the minors beating down the doors over the course of the season.

The only way to get better here is for either the arms to continue to develop or to acquire better pitchers. All of the Orioles starters, save for Gausman, are essentially mid to back end of the rotation guys. Gausman has the chance to take the next step to becoming a frontline starter, but he has not done it yet and no other pitcher on the Orioles has the talent to make that leap. On their own, they are all useful pieces for any team, put together they are found wanting. A trade could be in the works, either Gonzalez or Norris makes sense as a trade candidate. Gonzalez was rumored to be on the trade block in July and he is, in my estimation, the worst of the bunch. Norris is going into his third year of arbitration and only getting more expensive. Packaged with something else, it is possible they could net a better starter and further fill out the rotation. Short of adding new starters, which does not seem to be a priority based on the early reporting, if the Orioles are to have a better rotation in 2015 they will have to hope for growth from Gausman, and possibly Bundy later in the year, and hope for the same consistent level of play from the other four or five starters.

The Bullpen

The Bullpen was a strong point for the Orioles in 2014. Britton, O’Day, and Hunter (after he gave up closing) were all key cogs from the beginning. The addition of the magical Andrew Miller and the surprising Brad Brach made a solid bullpen an elite one. Britton, O’Day, and Brach all figure to be back in 2015 for marginal prices. Tommy Hunter is in arbitration and only getting more expensive and could be a place to save some money if the Orioles find his set of skills not worthy of five million dollars. It will be interesting to see which way the Orioles go with Hunter.

Miller is a free agent and will be an expesive one at that. He is going to get three to four years and he will likely reach ten million dollars in average annual value. Paying relievers that kind of money is never something I am for, but watching Miller makes me reconsider that stance. Relievers can be finicky and fluky year to year, but Miller is so dominating that it is hard to see him losing effectiveness. But, then again, it is hard to see it for a lot of guys, and then they lose it, and then the team is on the hook for three more years.

Brian Matusz, a stalwart in the pen, is likely gone in my estimation. He will make upwards of four million dollars in arbiration and can only get lefties out, the Orioles should and probably will pass on that. To get better, the Orioles will have to maintain a solid depth of options. While a few people stayed in the bullpen the whole year, the key to good bullpen is being able to remove the bad quickly and find something to fill in. Duquette has seemed very adept at acquiring depth. The interesting story will be if he tries to go after a more expensive toy for the pen.

The Infield

The infield for the Orioles saw by far the most turmoil of any unit on the team. At catcher, Matt Wieters in all likelihood will be back in 2015. This is his last year under contract with the Orioles and it should make for an interesting year. Matt Wieters was crushing the ball when he went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery and is expected to be back in full health by opening day. In the catching turmoil of 2014, the Orioles found themselves a backup capable in all facets of catching in Caleb Joseph and I would expect him to backup Wieters in 2015.

First Base was a mix of Chris Davis and Steve Pearce in 2014 and in 2015 I would expect Davis back, but the Orioles may decide otherwise again if they want to save money to plug in elsewhere. I think there is a good chance that Davis will be much better in 2015, but in an expensive final year the Orioles may see what they can get for him on the open market. Second base is likely the domain of Jonathan Schoop going into 2015. He hit for some power, showed slight improvement with the bat, and displayed an excellent glove. If Schoop can put up a .250/.300/.450 line (something of which I believe he is definitely capable of), he could be one of the best second baseman in baseball. Hardy, who recently signed a three year extension, will be the shortstop. To be more valuable in 2015, he needs to play more and hit for more power, something that may be hard for an aging shortstop. Lastly, third base will be Manny Machado who, as of now, is predicted to be ready for Opening Day after yet another knee injury.

Any improvement or growth in 2015 will come from health and development from within. All of the starters at these positions are major league players and talented ones at that. All of them need to stay healthy and–save for J.J. Hardy–need to continue their developmental processes and become better major leaguers.

The Outfield

The Outfield for the Orioles was consistent in 2015. Adam Jones in center, Nick Markakis in right, and a slew of designated hitters in left. The addition of Alejandro De Aza in August was a good pick up and solidified a better defender in left. Going into 2015, the outfield could be destined for massive change. Nick Markakis will hit the free agent market and while all signs point to both sides wanting a deal, stranger things have happened than Markakis getting more money for another team in what will likely be his last contract. Markakis is currently an average player. He can hit and he can work a count, but he cannot hit for much power. His glove and arm are both fundamentally solid and he makes the play whenever he gets to the ball, but getting to the ball is the problem.

His relatively high OBP makes him a good fit for the Orioles who lack in that skill severely. However, he will be expensive and the Orioles have some other options. I am unwilling to discount his leadership role on the team. I do think that plays an important role, I simply do not know how much he will be worth keeping. Nelson Cruz manned left field for much of 2014 and he will be seeking a big multi year deal which the Orioles seem unwilling to do. Cruz is getting older and has had leg injury issues in the past. However, after hitting 40 home runs in 2014, someone is going to pay him, it’ll just be a matter of who.

As of now, the Orioles have some options for left as well. De Aza played extremely well in his short time and is relatively cheap. Steve Pearce as well needs a new home if Chris Davis remains an Oriole. A left field platoon may make some sense and be inexpensive. Dariel Alvarez also makes some sense in either left or right field, however he is unproven and had some struggles at AAA to end 2014.

Any improvement in the outfield in 2015 will have to come defensively. No one will replace Cruz’s 2014 production, likely not even Nelson Cruz. A solid platoon with two good defenders (such as De Aza and Pearce) could make up some of the difference. Adam Jones will play center, hit .280, 30 home runs, and play solid defense and Nick Markakis (if resigned) will likely be the same old Nick. Not much improvement could come from the outfield in my mind.

The Overall Offseason

This offseason will be intriguing. The Orioles could essentially stand pat and try it again in 2015. It will be expensive to keep the big three of their free agents and I do not expect them to do so. The key for the 2015 Orioles will be replacing Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce’s production and improving their starting rotation. Even if both of them return, they are unlikely to produce at the same level they did in 2015. One way to make up that production is the fact that Wieters, Davis, and Machado were injured, suspended, or bad for large portions of the season. If they all remain in the lineup and remain productive in 2015, they will likely recoup some of the losses sustained.

The other way to improve is to bolster the starting staff with more talented pitchers. The Orioles need Gausman to take another step forward in 2015. Furthermore, the acquisition of another frontline starter would greatly boost the overall quality of the staff. That, however, seems unlikely. Those pitchers are old, expensive, and the Orioles have avoided acquiring one in the past. A trade could be feasible, but the Orioles system is light and removing from one part of your team to heal another may be self-defeating. The other scenario is that Dylan Bundy can be healthy and productive in 2015, a tall task as of now. Bundy has the talent to be a frontline starter and if him and Gausman can actualize their potential, the starting rotation looks much more formidable. This offseason could be one of great turnover, or not, depending which way Duquette and Showalter want to take the team.

If they want to be good again in 2015 they must adjust to their failures of 2014.

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Orioles MVP http://orioles-nation.com/2014/09/21/orioles-mvp/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/09/21/orioles-mvp/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 16:15:24 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15158 Staff Writer Alex Conway makes his case for Most Valuable Oriole

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The Orioles are the 2014 AL East Champions and will at the very least finish with the second best record in the American League. They have had a spectacularly successful season while losing key players and finding other players to fill in those holes. The writers choice for the Most Value Oriole (MVO) came out today and it was Nelson Cruz. However, I do not believe that Nelson Cruz has been the Orioles MVP.

My choice for MVO is Adam Jones. While the metric of WAR has come under fire lately, it still represents an all encompassing number assessing the quality of a baseball player. According to fWAR (Fangraphs WAR Calculation), Adam Jones has been the MVO with a 5.5 fWAR. That is also good for 8th highest in the American League among position players. If bWAR (Baseball Reference WAR Calculation) more tickles your fancy, Adam Jones has been the second most valuable Oriole with a 5.0 WAR (Steve Pearce has been the most valuable according to bWAR with an incredible 6.0). Jones has not had his best offensive season with a OPS+ of 120 and a wRC+ of 119, yet he still has managed to put up his best WAR seasons to date. This is for two reasons. First, offense is down so the consistent offense that Adam Jones has provided over the years is more valuable now than it has been in the past. Second, according to defensive metrics, he has had his best defensive season ever.

Defensive metrics, the two mainstays being Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), have come under fire recently and I believe that the criticism is fair. It is hard to quantify defense and if the information that is being promised eventually comes to fruition then these questions and criticisms will be answered. If you want to go straight scouting, Adam Jones has been better this year according to the eye as well. He has taken better routes, been better on balls over his head, made more accurate throws, and has had a much quicker first step. It is apparent that he has worked on his defense and has become a better center fielder.

Nelson Cruz may have the numbers, but Adam Jones has been the MVO. He has played a consistent game throughout the season and has been the unquestioned leader of the team. While I tend to discount all of the narrative and “intangible” talk around baseball and baseball players, I do not believe that it is irrelevant. Adam Jones leads the team on and off the field. He plays everyday and plays hard everyday. Not only that, he is productive. Adam Jones certainly has his faults, and fans do love to point out those faults but, he is an all star, an AL MVP top 5 candidate, and a consummate professional. This being his best season ever according to the two biggest value metrics and him being the leader of team, he is my selection for the Most Valuable Oriole.

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The Future of Chris Davis http://orioles-nation.com/2014/09/17/future-chris-davis/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/09/17/future-chris-davis/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:23:54 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15154 Staff Writer Alex Conway analyzes the future of the Orioles and whether or not Chris Davis is going to be a part of it.

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By now, as a discerning Orioles/baseball fan, you have heard that Chris Davis has been suspended 25 games for using amphetamines without an official medical exemption. The details of his past usage of adderall and the possible reasoning behind his using again are widely available online. However, the suspension and his season to date raise serious questions about the immediate future of the Orioles and Davis’ place on the team moving forward after this season.

For the time being, the Orioles will have to make due for the rest of the regular season and most likely the first two rounds of the playoffs, if the team makes it that far, without him. Davis had been playing third base since the injury to Manny Machado. This is why the loss hurts more than anything else. Now the Orioles will have to rely on Kelly Johnson, Ryan Flaherty, and Jimmy Parades to fill in for Davis, all of whom do not provide much offense or defense. Davis played third competently and was at the very least a power threat at the plate. Now the Orioles have to move to their third option for third base and become a worse overall team.

If Manny Machado had been healthy, losing Davis would not have hurt as much. However, now the Orioles are on their second or third left field option, the third third base option, the second catcher option, and the second first base option. All of these losses add up. Dan Duquette has been very adept at acquiring quality depth and using it cunningly. However, an organization can acquire only so much depth and now key players for the playoffs are going to include Jimmy Parades, Kelly Johnson, Alejandro De Aza, and Ryan Flaherty. While most, if not all of them, have proven useful so far in the regular season, they are clearly drop offs from the intended starters.

Moving forward after this season with Chris Davis is another matter altogether. Davis will be in his last year of arbitration and therefore his most expensive year. The intricacies of the arbitration process and the tendering of contracts are convoluted. The most important aspect of the process to note is that Davis will be making at least $10 million next season and probably slightly more even after an injury/suspension shortened season riddled with poor performance. In terms of straight free agent dollars, that is around a two win player at current free agent market prices. It is possible Davis could put a season up like that again, but he showed little to no improvement over the course of 2014 at the plate and being a first baseman, his fielding matters little to his value.

Depending on which version of WAR tickles your fancy he was somewhere between a 0.5 and a 1.5 win player during 2014. Chris Davis is very clearly not the 2013 version of himself, but he is likely not the 2014 version either. I think 2012 represents Chris Davis’ best, a .240 to .260 hitter who can hit 30 to 35 home runs, strike out a lot, and draw a few walks. A good, not great, player and those kinds of guys make $12 million on the free agent market (See; Jimenez, Ubaldo).

Davis’ struggles in 2014 stemmed from his inability to adjust. Pitchers focused on the weaknesses in his swing and exploited his penchant for pulling the ball on the ground. On balls pulled in play Davis has around a .382 career batting average and hit .419 on balls pulled in 2013. In 2014, his batting average on balls pulled was .264. Pitchers focused on getting Davis out in front on pitches away and pulling the ball into the shift. Even line drives into the shift turn into outs, Davis has hit around 170 points worse on line drives this season than he did last. The increase in line drives and ground balls led to less fly balls and therefore less home runs. Even when Davis did get balls in the air they turned into home runs 22% of the time, the lowest rate he has put up as an Oriole. Major league baseball is all about adjustment and when a player cannot adjust to the league figuring out his weaknesses, a season like Davis had is inevitable.

The question then becomes with one semi-expensive year in which the Orioles may not be able to extract any surplus value out of Davis’ contract–because it is unclear what type of player he can be–is do the Orioles look to trade, or even non-tender Davis.

First, there is no chance Davis will get non-tendered, losing him outright for nothing makes little to no baseball or financial sense. Second, I believe the Orioles will definitely consider trading Chris Davis. He will be expensive, coming off a down year with a amphetamine suspension and totally unreliable of what he may be for the team in 2015. Meanwhile, first baseman Christian Walker was just named minor league player of the year and would make 24 times LESS than Davis is likely to make in 2015. Those dollars could go towards resigning Hardy, Markakis, Cruz, or even go towards other free agent pieces.

While reports on Walker vary and scouts question both his power and defense, the potential money saved and plugged in somewhere else could be very enticing for general manager Dan Duquette. In order for the Orioles to trade Davis I believe they would have to get a pretty good offer that would help the major league team next year. I do not believe it would be a straight Jim Johnson style salary dump. Davis is an everyday player at a semi-reasonable price with solid potential. The Orioles will not give him away.

It certainly is possible that Chris Davis is not on the 2015 opening day roster. I, however, do not think the Orioles will send him away. Davis has shown an ability to play baseball at a high level. He had a down year in 2014 with pressure on him to perform after his monstrous 2013 season. Davis will be in a contract year and more motivated than ever to be great again. More than that, Davis is seen as a leader on the team and while he made a huge idiotic mistake getting himself suspended I do not think the players or organization are going to want to shun him for it. My official prediction is that Chris Davis will return for the Orioles in 2015, but do not be shocked if he does not.

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