By Dan Connolly
3:00 AM PST, December 21, 2012
It’s been somewhat amusing to me the vitriol sent my way via Twitter, email and the blog concerning the Orioles’ lack of movement so far this offseason.
I understand that you want the Orioles to improve, especially considering that all the teams in their division are making news. I get that.
But I think there are two things worth noting here:
1. Executive vice president Dan Duquette made a point at the beginning of the offseason that he did not expect the Orioles to pursue expensive free agents. He felt like the club needed some upgrades in certain places (a power bat likely at first or DH, maybe another starter if they don’t re-sign Joe Saunders, maybe an outfielder if they didn’t re-sign Nate McLouth) but was happy with the core. The payroll is going up (roughly $20-plus million) just on built-in raises and arbitration settlements. So if a splash were to be made, Duquette said it likely would come in the form of a trade (and even that was considered an ‘if’). Most of us in the local media stressed that the Orioles wouldn’t be buying big-time free agents. And, yet, now that the Orioles have not bought any big-time free agents, there’s a segment of the fan base that’s disappointed that they didn’t buy big-time free agents. Lose the surprise. This was Duquette’s stated plan, not to build through free agency – and you sure can disagree with it. But there’s been no change since October.
2. There is still plenty of time left for Duquette’s promised improvements. There are still about half of the free agents ranked from 50 to 100 (by Yahoo.com) still on the board. And about a dozen of the Top 50. Again, the big-ticket items won’t happen, but that doesn’t mean the Orioles won’t grab a couple cheaper options that can help. And there’s still the trade possibilities. I’ve said it before: I believe Duquette will make a trade. I believe he’ll get a bat with some pop (but probably not a difference-maker) for one of the team’s young pitchers. It may not satiate the fans, but that’s my guess. And, remember, Duquette’s three best acquisitions of last offseason came in January (Wei-Yin Chen), February (Jason Hammel) and March (Miguel Gonzalez).
**Despite having plenty of options, numbers-wise, the Orioles haven’t given up adding another starter to the rotation. Joe Saunders has always been the primary target. It’s a matter of whether his price tag/years package makes sense. I heard at the winter meetings that he was looking for a four-year deal – and though that might raise eyebrows, consider this:
Saunders, 31, is 78-65 with a 4.15 ERA in eight MLB years, including going 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA in 28 starts with the Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012.
Jeremy Guthrie, 33, is 55-77 with a 4.28 ERA in nine seasons, including going 8-12 with a 4.76 ERA in 33 games (29 starts) with the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies in 2012.
Edwin Jackson, 29, is 70-71 with a 4.96 ERA in 10 seasons, including going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 31 starts with the Washington Nationals.
The numbers are pretty comparable. Saunders had the best 2012 postseason and is the only lefty of the three. The Royals re-signed Guthrie to a three-year, $25 million deal and the Chicago Cubs have reportedly inked Jackson to four years and $52 million.
Given those comparisons, Saunders could be in line for at least three years at $10 million each – and if that’s reality, I don’t see the Orioles going there. Given what Jackson and Guthrie commanded, it wouldn’t make a lot of financial sense for Saunders to give a hometown discount to the Orioles unless he desperately wants to remain near Northern Virginia, where he grew up. He likes it here, but he doesn’t seem married to it. So I don’t expect a reunion, but I guess it depends on how other clubs view him.
**Duquette made his mark last year with under-the-radar moves and I think he might have snagged another yesterday when the club announced the minor league signing of first baseman Travis Ishikawa.
Ishikawa is a legitimate major leaguer who can hit some (mainly versus right-handers) and can really play defense. My guess is he makes the Orioles coming out of spring training – or, at the least, spends a chunk of time in the big leagues in 2013.
The problem is he doesn’t have much power at a position where slugging is the norm. And since the Orioles need power, this move doesn’t appease the impatient throng.
Here’s my take: If this is supposed to fill the power hole left by Mark Reynolds’ departure, then it is not a good move. Ishikawa cannot be viewed as the bat the Orioles need to take an offensive step forward. They have to do better in that area.
But if this is a bench bat and insurance in case Chris Davis can’t play first base effectively, then I wholly endorse it. One of the problems the Orioles have had in the past is when one of the guys they were counting on struggled or got hurt, they had no ready replacements.
Ishikawa is not going to fill up the stat sheet, but he won’t hurt you offensively and he’ll help you defensively. And he can start at Triple-A Norfolk if needed. This is more than a no-risk move (like signing Conor Jackson or trading for Danny Valencia); it’s one that makes good sense.
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