MacPhail says O’s “done” with major off-season moves

January 26, 2010 | Drew Forrester

So it appears as if the O’s off-season efforts to improve have concluded.

With today’s formal announcement that Miguel Tejada has returned to Baltimore for at least one more season, the Birds winter shopping endeavors landed four players:

  • relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez, who figures to inherit the closer role
  • veteran starter pitcher Kevin Millwood
  • 3rd-baseman-turned-1st-baseman Garrett Atkins
  • shortstop-turned-3rd-baseman Miguel Tejada

Of those four players, only Gonzalez would be considered a LOCK to make it through the 2010 season unscathed and part of the O’s profile for 2011.  Millwood is in the final year of his contract and could be moved at the deadline if a contending team in either league needs a starting pitcher.  Odds on Millwood getting dealt in July?  At least 60%, I’d say.  Atkins is coming off of a bad year in Colorado but like I say all time – “players have bad seasons…and bounce back from them all the time.”  I think Atkins was a good signing given the obvious — he was cheap and he was willing to sign for one year.  And finally, there’s Tejada, the soon-to-be-36-year old who would also make for good July trade bait if the O’s struggle in the first 100 games and they can pry something decent away from a contender.  I’d say it’s even-money that Miggy never sees August 1 in Baltimore.

The Orioles – if MacPhail’s telling the truth and the dealings are over – spent roughly $25 million this off-season on player contracts for 2010 and a total of $31 million in projected monies if you count Gonzalez’s 2011 salary of $6 million or so.

Their 2010 payroll should hover upwards of $75 million, a far cry from the $93 million the club spent in 2007 when MacPhail inherited the club in mid-season.

But this is a team – as it’s constituted right now – that could threaten the .500 mark if the powers-that-be keep the roster intact through the trading deadline and into September.

I know it’s strange to think a team that won just 64 games a year ago can tag 17 more wins to the good side of their record just one year later, but remember this:  the O’s would have won at least 70 games a season ago had they not traded off George Sherrill and Aubrey Huff in July.  And if Adam Jones doesn’t miss 5 weeks of action in August-September, they might have won 74 or so.  Yes, it’s true.  Those three players – had they each finished the 162-game schedule with the O’s – could have factored in 10 more wins a season ago.  That’s why I think THIS team could threaten the .500 mark if MacPhail keeps the team together for the entire campaign.

They’ll be able to hit, for sure.  Then again, they hit the ball well last year, finishing 5th in the major leagues in base hits.  But getting on base and crossing home plate are two different things.  Teams need run producers.  Are Atkins and Tejada of high enough quality to add substantial run production in 2010?  If I knew that, I’d bet the games.  The proof will be in the numbers they each produce.

I don’t see much of an upgrade from Sherrill to Gonzalez.  Again, the proof on whether or not Gonzalez was the right signing will be reflected by his success ratio in closing games.

I think Millwood will be what he always is — a good compliment to the staff and a guy that gives you a decent outing 4 out of 5 starts.  He’s light years better than that hogwash MacPhail tried to pass off on the fans last April — namely Adam Eaton and Alfredo Simon.

Personally, I thought the O’s biggest mistake of the off-season was not acquiring Adam LaRoche.  I realize Atkins barely qualifies as “decent” defensively at 3rd base, but that’s where he’s played the bulk of his career and who’s to say he couldn’t bounce back with an acceptable year with the glove and a better-than-expected season at the plate?  Moving him to first base only means one thing.  The O’s are starting the season without a legitimate first baseman penciled in on the lineup card.

The only other blemish on the off-season might wind up being the absence of a second left-handed arm in the bullpen.  There’s probably still a good chance Mark Hendrickson winds up back in orange and black, but for the time being, it’s Gonzalez and only Gonzalez throwing from the left side in relief.  That’s a problem.

Tejada’s signing remains the most puzzling of all the off-season moves.  He was basically swatted out of Baltimore in December of 2007 for a variety of reasons…none of which, honestly, he’s repaired in the 25 months since his departure.  Well, I take that back.  There is one major difference between this year’s version of Miguel Tejada and the 2007 edition that was jettisoned out of town.  He comes back $9 million cheaper.

It struck me on Saturday afternoon when word first started to leak out that Tejada was coming back that this was precisely the kind of signing the O’s fans would belly-laugh at if the Yankees would have been the team to take Miggy for 2010.  I can hear (read) it now:  “Ha ha…there go the Yankees again, signing an over-the-hill check collector who used steroids and then lied about it and got caught fudging his birthdate a couple of years ago.”

You know that’s exactly what fans in Baltimore would have said if the Yankees or Red Sox would have signed Tejada.

As Dave Matthews sings on his latest CD: “Funny the way it is…”

And I guess I just figured that MacPhail’s integrity level for both the game and his decision 25 months ago to kick Tejada to the curb would have won out this time around.  The trade to Houston is (was) essentially nothing more than a wash and a money-saving coupon for the O’s.  They got Luke Scott – nice guy and all, but not even close to the caliber of a Tejada in his hey-day – and that’s really about it.  Albers and Sarfate have been roster fillers more than anything, Troy Patton hasn’t even sniffed the big leagues and Mike Costanzo can barely survive at Bowie, let alone dream about Camden Yards.

So the trade to Houston was nothing more than MacPhail’s (successful) quest to rid the O’s of $30 million in salary over two years and usher out a player who was literally a day away from being outed in The Mitchell Report as a steroid user.

Two years later, is Tejada really worth bringing back?  The cloud about his steroid use and fabricated birthdate still hovers over him no matter what he says about “water under the bridge”.  And his production-capability is two years older too.

Gonzalez?  Excellent signing.

Millwood?  Good signing.

Atkins?  Acceptable signing.

Tejada?  I don’t get it.  I expected more from MacPhail, is the best way to summarize it.

Then again, it’s obviously been Andy’s primary objective to lower the team’s payroll since he arrived on the scene in June of 2007.  And without question, he’s done that.

So on the whole, the Tejada signing fits in with the current profile of Andy’s roster.  He’s cheap and he’ll toil here for a season while the O’s figure out if they have anything better waiting in the wings.

If the off-season chess game is indeed now complete, I’d give MacPhail a C+ for his efforts.  I’m not sure the additions he made will result in 17 more wins and an 81-win season, but the team right now – on January 26, 2010 – is certainly in much better shape than the one MacPhail provided to us on January 26, 2009.

And that’s not a low blow…it’s a fact.