The Orioles & Andy MacPhail – 5 Mistakes In 3 Years (Part II of V) …..

April 15, 2010 |

Today’s topic will ruffle alot of feathers, but I’ll absorb all the criticism. In fact, it’s a subject that will also cause some readers to raise an eyebrow, especially considering the timing of this blog.

But, do your homework on me – I’ve always felt this way …..

Mistake #2 – Re-signing Brian Roberts

While I don’t think he’ll ever admit it, I’d be willing to bet Andy MacPhail will regret giving Brian Roberts a 4 year/$40 million deal, prior to the 2009 season. That’s right, the Orioles committed $40 million and 4 seasons to a 32 year old infielder, whose game is built on speed.

Now, before anyone gets in an uproar, be assured of one distinct factor …..

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BRIAN ROBERTS CURRENT BACK INJURY OR HIS STATUS ON THE DISABLED LIST.
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I was denouncing such a deal as far back as 2007. In the days leading up to the renewal, many of us were hearing trade rumors regarding the Chicago Cubs. Something made the Cubs back off – but I don’t think it was the durability of Roberts, at all.

I just sense they didn’t want to trade budding talent and re-sign Roberts when comparable second basemen were inking deals for substantially less than the rumored price tag on Brian Roberts. The supposed number being tossed around for Roberts’ services was 3 years/$30 million …..

Hmmm ….. it turns out the rumors were pretty accurate.

Ironically, as the Orioles were entertaining offers for Roberts, another second baseman with similar traits was perishing on the free agent market. Orlando Hudson was initially seeking a deal likened to the Roberts rumors, but his price was dropping by the day. Did teams around the league notice?

I’ll bet Brian Roberts and his agent, Mark Pieper, did.

Suddenly, on February 20, 2009, the Orioles announced the re-signing of Roberts to the 4 year/$40 million deal. It wasn’t a BLOCKBUSTER signing …..
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And, the Roberts deal evidently failed to establish a precedent or send waves through the industry. A day later, Hudson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 1 year/$3.4 million.

Is Hudson identical to Roberts with a stick? Not exactly. But, aside from stolen bases, their respective numbers are pretty comparable. And, Hudson is without question better with the glove.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest Mark Pieper saw the thin market and plummeting price tag on Hudson – and he probably urged Roberts to re-sign with the Orioles and achieve financial wealth for life.

But, did Andy MacPhail do the right thing?

I’ll bet the house on this ….. Brian Roberts was not going to command $10 per season on the open market. No freakin’ chance. Perhaps, if he was 25 or 26 years old – but, not in his early 30′s.

The Orioles absolutely overpaid for him. And, while I understand the heartstrings attachment of many fans, I also believe it’s more prudent to live by an Ozzie Newsome rule …..

DON’T PAY PLAYERS FOR WHAT THEY’VE DONE …. PAY THEM FOR WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO DO.

When the Orioles announced the Roberts signing, I openly said “Brian is not going to earn that money.” I don’t blame him for agreeing to the deal, it’s pretty lucrative. And, I honestly think he would’ve preferred to make the same money in Chicago or St. Louis. But, the offer was in Baltimore and it was likely to be substantially more than he would earn via free agency.

That said, I think Andy MacPhail recognized Roberts’ appeal with fans and he rewarded the model citizenship, as well. Brian Roberts is an outstanding “character” guy. The fans in this town love him and from a public relations standpoint, he’s a great investment.
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Unfortunately, being a popular guy in the public scene doesn’t win ballgames.

Heck, many fans have expressed their confidence in Roberts, by suggesting he’s the “player you build a team around.” That’s just not true. You build teams around high production, power threats. You build teams around youth.

The truth is Orioles fans are so starved for an identity of players to call their own. Brian Roberts has fit that calling over the last decade. He’s been the dependable spoke in the Orioles’ wheel, so to speak.

I won’t sit in front of this computer and pretend that parting with a popular player is an easy task for any team. But, the Orioles were also in a slightly envious position with Brian Roberts – before the 2009 off-season. Of course, hindsight is always vividly 20-20, but I think Andy MacPhail would’ve been best served to trade Roberts around the same time he parted with Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada. Maximum value could’ve been realized, in return.

That’s the pains of being a rebuilding organization. Parting with popular veteran players, in return for the potential of prime prospects is a reality in rebuilding. Perhaps, Andy MacPhail was pressured from other parts of the organization, as well. But, holding onto a veteran middle infielder, who’s surpassed his 30th birthday defies the logic and principles of STARTING OVER.

What do the Orioles have to show for their investment? A 32 year old second baseman with back problems. And, he’s signed thru a few more seasons.

No, I’m not saying anyone could’ve predicted Roberts would develop back issues. But, it’s safe to suggest teams should be objective about the wear and tear on “speed” guys as they reach their 30′s. When he’s 33 and 34 years old, Brian Roberts will not be the player he was at 27 or 28. He’s not that player NOW.

The speed simply erodes …..
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And, the lack of power makes players like Brian Roberts pretty restrictive in overall capability.

The Orioles are gonna look back on the $40 million investment with knowing it was a bad idea. A couple years ago, Roberts probably would’ve netted the Orioles two decent prospective talents. Today, they’re stuck. If he recovers within the next couple weeks and returns to his normal form, Brian Roberts is virtually untradable.

Well, let me rephrase the above statement. They can deal him, perhaps, for a decent upside kid in return. But, they’ll definitely be paying a good portion of that remaining salary. A far cry from the enviable position of a couple seasons ago, huh?

Ultimately, Andy MacPhail did right by the fans when he re-signed Roberts. But, pleasing the fans is not how the future is built.

If he had his way, I’d bet MacPhail would’ve traded his second baseman in the same window as the Bedard/Tejada deals.

And, this is likely to be a mistake that follows him around for a while.

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