Now that the non waiver trading deadline is behind us there’s a better sense of what the 2012 Baltimore Orioles will look like. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic but I see more of a battered ship that can be fixed than the Titanic heading for the ocean bottom.
I believe my suggestions are realistic so I won’t be working with the Yankee’s payroll, making another Frank Robinson trade, nor will I predict a playoff appearance next year. That does not mean that we can’t develop a winning tradition before Scott Boras starts selling Matt Weiters as the next Johnny Bench in the free agent market.
These suggestions are an integrated package and would be much less effective if only a few were implemented. They are NOT in the order of importance.HIRE A NEW GM
– Andy MacPhail was the right guy at the right time for this team. He was hired to replace a two headed monster that did not work and he convinced Peter Angelos that significant changes needed to be made throughout the organization BUT the team has grown beyond his ability to improve it and it’s time for a change.
MacPhail convinced Angelos to increase the budget for amateur signings to the point where we will probably see as much talent make it to the majors from the 2008 through 2010 drafts as we did for 1999 through 2007 combined.
MacPhail has failed to invest in the International market. This may be due to his unwillingness to cultivate that market or his inability to convince Angelos to spend more money there. I don’t believe in stupid bonuses for talent they haven’t seen in game situations but, build an adequate international scouting staff and you can see these players during games.
MacPhail made a very good trade for Eric Bedard, and a good trade for Miguel Tejada. You could argue that we should have received more for Tejada and would have the previous July (before MacPhail came aboard) if Angelos hadn’t nixed the trade.
That being said, MacPhail could not have pulled off a Colby Rasmus trade like the Blue Jays did last month. His method is just too methodical and I question whether he does well thinking outside of the box. To make the kind of trades I will suggest further on in this piece requires an aggressive GM that MacPhail has never been. I see him to be better suited as a "checks and balances" guy overseeing an aggressive GM like Anthopoulos in Toronto.DON’T SIGN PREMIER (EXPENSIVE) “FREE” AGENTS
– I can understand a frustrated desire to sign a Prince Fielder or C J Wilson BUT:
• Can Fielder be a starting pitcher?
• Can Fielder or Wilson be a reliable reliever?
• Can Fielder or Wilson play 2B?
• Can Fielder or Wilson play LF?
• Can Wilson play 1B?
This team needs to address these openings:
• TWO starting pitchers
• THREE reliable relievers
• Perhaps 1B, 2B, and LF
Signing Fielder and Wilson would cost about 40M a year, would leave a lot of holes in the lineup, and wouldn’t allow for the inevitable arbitration salary increases that we’ll have over the next three years. Do you want to give up Adam Jones
or Matt Weiters to sign Fielder or Wilson?
Besides that, anything beyond four years and 80M for Fielder or three years and 45M for Wilson will be a BAD contract. Does anyone believe that either player will sign for anything even NEAR those amounts?
Let’s use the payroll to trade for quality players on short term contracts, retain our homegrown talent, and draft over slot players with high upsides.USE THE PAYROLL SAVINGS TO OBTAIN MAJOR LEAGUE TALENT
– This winter we will see about 33M in payroll savings from players that are certain to be let go. Although some fans would prefer to see that money be used for “free” agents like Prince Fielder and/or C J Wilson I would rather see the money go for Derek Lowe and David Wright.
Are these players in their prime? No, BUT they are proven major league talent and could not refuse to come here like so many “free” agents have. Both players are at a point where they should be highly motivated to have good years. Lowe because he’s in the last year of his contract, and Wright because he needs to reestablish his value.
Derek Lowe would give the Orioles the kind of pitcher they THOUGHT they were getting in Kevin Millwood last year. He knows how to pitch and has shown he can handle the AL East. IMO the biggest mistake this team made this year was assuming that our young pitchers would continue to improve. It was a fantasy, and reality reared its ugly head before opening day.
We should have at least two solid MLB starting pitchers in the 2012 rotation and THEN look to the kids. Frankly, I’d like to see three but where do you find another reliable starter that doesn’t cost more than we can afford in dollars or prospects?
Lowe will receive 15M in the last year of his contract and the Braves will almost certainly listen to any team that will take all or most of his salary. Players like Mychal Givens
and/or Caleb Joseph
should have enough upside to make that deal if we aren’t asking for much money to be included.
David Wright is a much better 3B defensively that Mark Reynolds. Although his OPS
has declined over the last three years Wright has not adjusted well to Citi Field yet he’s still as productive as Reynolds.
If the Mets start a complete rebuilding program they will want to move his 14M a year contract and the Cubs and Angels are the only two teams that need a 3B that would be able to afford his contract. The market would come down to which team was willing to ask for the least amount of money in the deal, and that should be us as long as we can avoid giving up a top 15 prospect, or perhaps an L J Hoes if the Mets are looking for talent more than salary relief.
Putting Wright at 3B improves the infield defense and allows Reynolds to move to DH and to occasionally spell Chris Davis at 1B against tough lefties (if Davis turns out to be a nugget).
Both of these players would give us a bridge to the point where the talent in our farm system is ready for the majors and not rushed.
BUILD THE TEAM AROUND PITCHING AND DEFENSE
– This has been the blueprint for almost every winning team the Orioles have ever had. Good defense makes good pitching even better and gives a pitcher the knowledge that, if the batter puts the ball in play, the defense will turn it into an out.
Good pitching is more than just command and control. It’s the ability to do little things like:
• holding runners on base
• keeping the fielders in the game by pitching quickly
• fielding the position
• knowing when to pitch to contact and when to go for the strikeout
Sure, it’s easy to SAY get good players, but where do they come from? Player development, good scouting, and good trades. Teams aren’t going to give us their better young players because we’re so pathetic. We’re going to have to find undeveloped talent and pay what’s necessary to bring them to Baltimore while we wait another two or three years for our farm system to fill the rest of the holes.
In the mean time we should be focusing on players with the best fundamentals in order to build a tradition of playing the game the right way.
SIGN THE BEST PLAYERS FROM THIS YEAR’S DRAFT AND INCREASE THE DRAFT BUDGET IN THE FUTURE
– Dylan Bundy, Jason Esposito, and Nick Delmonico
are the class of this year’s draft picks and MUST be signed. My guess is that it will take about 10M for these players alone and that’s probably about 1M more than Andy MacPhail has budgeted.
The Orioles just saved at least 1M in the deadline trades and should use this to make sure all three players are signed. Winning teams have consistently productive farm systems and ours is anything but that.
The teams we are trying to overcome (Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays) spend between 15 and 20M on amateur talent each year. We don’t and it’s the reason we have been forced to trade for or sign expensive players. Delmonico might cost 1.5M to sign but if he turns out to be the next David Wright then he will be a bargain. Even if it takes four prospects like him, all costing the same amount, to get a player like Wright it’s STILL a bargain.
INVEST IN THE MINOR LEAGUES
– No player should reach the major leagues for the Baltimore Orioles without a solid education in baseball fundamentals. We can assure that will not happen IF we provide consistent and extensive coaching in the minors. In effect, let’s re establish the ORIOLE’S WAY.
That means that every player progressing through the Orioles’ farm system learns how to advance runners without a hit, go from first to third, bunt, hit the cut off man, and communicate with their teammates on the field THE SAME WAY. If a player can do those things he doesn’t have to be a star to be part of a winning team.Improve Conditioning and Nutrition
. I’m tired of watching a team full of players that aren’t physically prepared to perform at their best level for an entire season.
Transitioning from high school to professional baseball is a difficult process. In addition to learning the game you thought you knew at a level and speed beyond your expectations, an eighteen year kid has to learn how to live on his own and be responsible for himself. Half of this young player's day is unstructured. Bad habits can develop in their conditioning and behavior.
Minor league players are normally awake sixteen hours a day. Only six to seven of those hours are at the ball park. Why? The whole purpose of the minors is to learn HOW to play the game and develop your skills. Why not require the players to spend at least two more hours at the park with their coaches to work on the areas that need improvement? Of course, adding a coach or two to each level would allow for more one on one time with a player that needs it.
Assign a year round strength and conditioning coach to monitor the player's off season conditioning. No player should show up at spring training out of shape. If at least one member of the development staff had the responsibility to monitor the players’ off season conditioning routines the chances of that happening are a LOT less.
Another way to improve a prospect’s conditioning is to expand their participation with the club until the end of October. Winning MLB teams don’t stop playing until Halloween but the minor leagues end their season about mid September. Why not pay our top thirty or so prospects to work out at the Sarasota facility until at least mid October? Not only is it extra coaching but there’s plenty of time to shed unwanted weight and improve core body strength.
We also need to add a year round nutritionist and spend the money to provide our prospect more nutritious food. Minor league club houses provide their players with junk food because it’s cheap. It’s also full of calories and fat while offering little in nutrition. Switching from fried chicken to broasted, hamburgers to ham and cheese, regular chips to baked chips, providing fresh fruit, etc would cost about 100K a year. Would anyone pay that to see Matt Hobgood
thirty pounds lighter? TELLING these young and impressionable players to eat better and then providing them CRAP for food is NOT proper guidance.
The second part of the nutrition program should be increasing the players’ meal money to about $40 a day with the requirement that they keep a daily log of what they eat and the requirement they provide their nutritionist with their restaurant receipts showing what they have eaten if they start to have a weight problem. This might cost another 150K or so a year but it would turn out better prospects. Considering the cost of just ONE MLB veteran, it’s a bargain.
Build a Nurturing Environment
. Minor league clubs have traditionally had no more than four coaches for 23 or 24 players and these coaches may be new or inexperienced to the teaching process.
I'd like to see the team add to the quantity and quality of our player development staff. Furthermore, I would like to see the team build a permanent minor league coaching staff of instructors that are being paid at two or three times the normal rate for a minor league coach but committed by contract for five to ten years at the same level. This would mean that coaches that do the best job with the youngest players would be at rookie or short season level year after year and coaches that do the best work with players that are almost ready for the majors would be at the upper levels.
Some coaches in baseball start at the bottom in a system and work hard to reach the majors but often this is because of the pay and benefits. Let’s allow the those pros that like to develop players do that by taking away the money issue and give them a good living with a solid pension. All of the Orioles’ farm teams are in areas that provide a good quality of life; and Bowie, Frederick, and Aberdeen are close enough that the coach or manger could live in the Baltimore metro area.
What I'm suggesting would cost the team about a million dollars extra a year which is insignificant compared to the eight or nine million they CURRENTLY spend on amateur talent and even a smaller percentage of the 15M or so they SHOULD be spending. If we were to develop just one more player each year through the system, that rookie's 400K salary would be a lot cheaper than the average 5M it takes to sign a MLB veteran.
Pay the Minor League Free Agents Top Dollar
. Baltimore has a reputation for being cheap when it comes to paying minor league free agents and veterans. Why? These are the players we hope will fill a hole or two in spring training, be ready to come up from AAA if a player is injured, or mentor the prospects in the system. We seem to miss out on the best of these players to the teams that will give them 10K a month instead of 7K. Teams like San Diego and Tampa always seem to come up with a solid reliever or role player every spring because they understand that a little more money to the right guy might be a really good investment. Good scouting would make that extra money a good investment. EXPAND DOMESTIC SCOUTING
– The most efficient and effective way to obtain talent is through good scouting. The Orioles are in the bottom third of teams in the number of scouts and that’s inexcusable for a team that can’t afford to out bid others for MLB players.
A perfect example is Glynn Davis
who was signed as an undrafted free agent. The fact that he played ball in the Baltimore area probably had a lot to do with how the team knew his potential. Just imagine if the team doubled their scouting staff and found a Davis EVERY YEAR in other parts of the country.
Additional scouting would allow us to scout more of the minor leagues and find talent to trade for or select in the Rule 5 draft.
This would cost about 1M a year but, AGAIN, is a bargain if it produces just one more MLB player a year.
EXPAND INTERNATIONAL SCOUTING
– This is an area that the team is horribly understaffed. More and more impact players are coming from this market and the Orioles are in the bottom third of team spending. You aren’t going to beat the Yankees or Red Sox at the MLB level if they’re outspending you for major league players, draft picks, AND international talent.
This would cost about 500K a year but, AGAIN, is a bargain if it produces just one more MLB player every other year.
HIRE A TALENT EVALUATOR
– Over the last fifteen years the team has been inconsistent in developing talent. Is that because they don’t have talented prospects or that we can’t develop the talent we have?
What we need is to hire a talent evaluator to review what’s in the system and which prospects SHOULD become solid MLB players. That gives us a better idea of which positions should be a priority for future drafts and trades.
This person might be a GM that lacked some of the ingredients to be successful at that level but knows talent when they see it. Kevin Towers was just that kind of executive. He built one solid bullpen after another in San Diego from scraps and castoffs. After he was fired by the Padres he was signed by…wait for it…the YANKEES for the 2010 season and then was hired by the Diamondbacks as their GM.
Find the right person and give them a five year contract for 250K a year or so. See how quickly that investment pays off.SUMMARY
– Nothing that I’m suggesting is impossible and it can be done for less money a year than we spent on this year’s MLB and MiL payrolls. It won’t guarantee a winning season in 2012 BUT it should develop contending teams by 2014 and, if we make these changes permanent, will result in a consistently winning team.