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Orioles’ trade deadline work sends mixed signals

Posted on 31 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles are a better club after Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went.

At least I think they are.

The acquisition of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra in exchange for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies provides an upgrade at the corner outfield positions that have been a wasteland for most of the 2015 season. Even if it’s a stretch to expect the 28-year-old left-handed hitter to sustain his career-high .328 average and gaudy .886 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015, the organization doesn’t seem overly concerned with giving up Davies, a 22-year-old right-hander who has pitched well over the last couple years but doesn’t project to be more than an eventual No. 4 or No. 5 starter at best in the majors.

Despite lacking the commodities to trade for high-profile names, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette succeeded in adding one of the better outfield bats in the National League this year to replace the struggling Chris Parmelee on the active roster. Time will tell how the two-time Gold Glove outfielder performs over the next two months and whether the Orioles will sign the pending free agent this offseason, but he’s a distinct improvement over the likes of Travis Snider, Nolan Reimold, and David Lough.

However, the second trade of the day that sent veteran relief pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for 25-year-old outfielder Junior Lake sent a different message as it relates to the Orioles’ chances in 2015.

Hunter may not have been the Orioles’ best late-inning pitcher and had some rough stretches over the years, but the 29-year-old logged plenty of meaningful innings over the last four seasons and was better than many wanted to admit. In contrast, Lake was no longer regarded as a valuable piece in the Cubs system with a career .663 on-base plus slugging percentage in 642 career plate appearances in the majors and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk upon being acquired.

The Orioles will point out that they now have two optionable pieces in their bullpen with talented rookie right-handers Mychal Givens and Mike Wright replacing Hunter and the disappointing Bud Norris, moves that create the roster flexibility the organization desires. It’s even possible that Givens or Wright — or both — will net better results than Hunter as both are held in high regard for the future, but neither are proven in the majors, especially in the midst of an anticipated pennant race.

But those reasons distract from the real motivation behind dealing Hunter minutes before the deadline.

It was a salary dump.

Asked whether there were financial reasons for the Hunter trade that followed the addition of Parra, Duquette pointed out that the Orioles added payroll on Friday, which is true. The Orioles will pay the remainder of Parra’s $6.24 million salary — a sum in the neighborhood of $2.25 million — but a sizable portion of that will be offset by the rest of Hunter’s $4.65 million for the 2015 season coming off the books.

Hunter was unlikely to be re-signed after the season and was unlikely to be a major variable in determining whether the Orioles make the playoffs or not, but it’s difficult to accept that the trade improved their chances to make the playoffs in 2015, which was supposed to be the whole point on Friday. Considering Hunter’s popularity in the Baltimore clubhouse, his former teammates are likely thinking the same thing.

It doesn’t help that the move came on the same day that the Orioles designated Norris for assignment, bringing the total amount of money they originally committed to jettisoned players from the first 25-man roster of 2015 to $22.9 million. Ultimately, Hunter became the victim of too many other sunk costs, and you hope the Orioles bullpen doesn’t suffer down the stretch because of it.

While seeing other contending clubs add significant money to their payrolls to improve their chances to contend, it’s disheartening to see the Orioles subtract from its bullpen — the strongest part of the club — in the name of saving a relatively insignificant amount of money to pay Parra. And it leaves another question until someone else proves he’s ready to pick up the slack in Hunter’s spot in the bullpen.

Yes, it appears the Orioles improved themselves on Friday.

I’m just not sure by how much after they completed two very different trades.

 

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Orioles trade Hunter to Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake

Posted on 31 July 2015 by WNST Staff

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Orioles acquire outfielder Parra from Milwaukee

Posted on 31 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Trying to improve a woeful corner outfield situation that’s plagued them all season, the Orioles have found their man hours before Friday’s trade deadline.

The Orioles acquired Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Zach Davies. Baltimore designated right-handed pitcher Bud Norris for assignment to temporarily make room for Parra on the 25-man roster.

The 28-year-old Venezuelan is in the midst of a career season at the plate, hitting .328 with nine home runs, 31 RBIs, 24 doubles, and an .886 on-base plus slugging percentage in 351 plate appearances. Parra hits and throws from the left side and was also a two-time Gold Glove outfielder with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has repeatedly stated a desire to acquire a corner outfielder in recent weeks after failing to adequately replace veterans Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis last offseason. The Orioles have also engaged in trade discussions for Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ben Revere.

While Parra represents an upgrade over the likes of Travis Snider, Nolan Reimold, and David Lough in the outfield, the acquisition does not come without some risk as the outfielder will be a free agent this offseason and is only a .279 career hitter with a career .738 OPS, leading one to wonder if some regression to the mean could occur over the next two months. One of the biggest differences in Parra’s 2015 campaign compared to the rest of his career has been an improved ability to hit left-handed pitching (an .819 OPS in 53 plate appearances against southpaws compared to a .604 career mark).

Manager Buck Showalter will likely look to use Parra at the top of the order — especially against right-handed pitching — as he sports a .369 on-base percentage this season.

Davies was 5-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) spanning 101 1/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander was recently ranked as the No. 3 prospect in a thin Baltimore system by MLB.com.

It was widely known that the Orioles had little ammunition to make a major splash at the deadline with top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey both currently injured. The departure of Davies further depletes a farm system in need of major retooling, but Parra does fill a need for a push for a third trip to the postseason in four years.

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Will Orioles pull off trade for corner outfielder?

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline less than 24 hours away, the Orioles were engaged in discussions Thursday night trying to acquire corner outfield help in their push for their third playoff appearance in four years.

A source confirmed that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was attempting to acquire Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra. It is believed that the Orioles are offering right-handed pitching prospect Zach Davies, but it could take additional pitching such as Double-A Bowie right-hander Parker Bridwell to complete a deal.

Multiple outlets reported that the Orioles are also discussing a potential fit for Philadelphia outfielder Ben Revere. Entering Thursday, Revere was hitting .298 with a .335 on-base percentage and 24 stolen bases and would potentially serve as a leadoff hitter.

It’s no secret that the Orioles have lacked sufficient ammunition in their farm system to make a serious run at more notable outfielders such as Justin Upton and Carlos Gomez.

The left-handed Parra is having a career season at the plate with a .326 average, nine home runs, 24 doubles, and an .884 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday’s action. However, he carries just a .737 career OPS, suggesting there could be some distinct regression to the norm over his final two months of play.

Previously with the Arizona Diamondbacks before being traded to Milwaukee last July, the 28-year-old is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Parra is making $6.24 million in 2015, meaning any club acquiring his services would be on the hook for just over $2 million without any cash considerations in a trade.

Revere is under club control through the 2017 season.

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High expectations replace distractions for this year’s Ravens

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A year ago at this time, the Ravens were in the midst of the most trying season in the 20-year history of the franchise with the dark cloud of the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests hanging over their heads.

So you’ll forgive them for relishing the relative peace since three former players — Terrence Cody, Bernard Pierce, and Victor Hampton — were arrested and promptly released early this offseason. The focus was solely on football Thursday as the Ravens officially began training camp with their first full-squad practice.

“We’re happy with it, because last year, it was very uncomfortable,” veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “A lot of us [haven’t] been in that type of situation like that before, but it’s good to come into camp with no major negative storyline concerning us. We’re just ready to get after it. We’re ready to capitalize on things we did great last year and definitively get rid of some of the things we didn’t do so [well].”

This summer, the distractions have been replaced by higher-than-usual expectations for the Ravens despite parting ways with five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, starting receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, starting tight end Owen Daniels, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Those losses would have many teams rebuilding and being forced to look toward the future, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are equipped to deal with change immediately after consecutive draft classes that they feel really good about.

The rest of the football world has taken notice with many praising the Ravens’ deep roster and considering them a top contender to win the Super Bowl despite significant personnel changes.

“They do a great job of bringing good guys in and continuing to build the team every year,” said four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda about the front office. “We try to get better and better. That’s what the Ravens do, and it seems like it this year again. We’re all excited to be out here.”

Of course, many questions must be answered as the Ravens try to replace the aforementioned names with players primarily in their first or second year in the NFL.

How will defensive coordinator Dean Pees mix and match to fill the massive void left behind by Ngata?

Is rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman ready to become Joe Flacco’s new deep threat?

Can new offensive coordinator Marc Tresetman pick up where Kubiak left off a year ago?

Those are just to name a few.

Head coach John Harbaugh’s team will be tested early with five of their first seven regular-season games on the road, the kind of stretch where success could put them in prime position to secure a home playoff game — or better — and failure could create a treacherous climb in the second half of the season to simply make the playoffs.

Why are the Ravens so confident in their rookies and veteran newcomers to pick up the slack left behind by departing players on an annual basis?

Six playoff appearances in the last seven years goes a long way in setting expectations for anyone walking into the building.

“They know what’s expected, because they’ve watched this team in January so much,” Harbaugh said. “I mentioned to [former Ravens linebacker and current scouting intern] Jarret Johnson last night that we’ve had some bad-ass teams around here. That’s what these guys have to understand — what the standard is.”

Even if thankful not to be dealing with the turmoil of last season, returning players — particularly the ones not involved in any off-field transgressions — can take pride in the way they handled the adversity to still go 10-6 and win a playoff game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Perhaps that memory is one veterans will share with newcomers joining an organization with championship aspirations every year.

But for now, the Ravens are just glad to be back to the business of football with little else entering the conversation.

“When you’re in training camp, it’s tough to think about too many other things,” Flacco said. “I know we had a little bit of a distraction last year, but I thought we did a good job of putting that behind us and taking it for what it was. I guess it’s nice, but I think that [football] was our main concern last year, too.”

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First-round pick Perriman tweaks knee in first full-squad practice

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman suffered a minor knee injury in the first full-squad training camp practice on Thursday.

The 6-foot-2 rookie tweaked his knee making a diving catch in the final 20 minutes of the morning workout. Perriman was able to walk off the field with only a slight limp as he was accompanied to the training room by head athletic trainer Mark Smith.

“Perriman fell on his knee. It’s not serious; it’s all sound,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Thursday’s practice. “He’ll be back as soon as the knee feels a little bit better. It could be as early as tomorrow or a couple days at the most.”

The 26th overall pick of this year’s draft recovered from a difficult start to practice that included a dropped pass and a false start by making several impressive receptions. Perriman is considered well ahead of where former Raven Torrey Smith was in his development as a rookie and is expected to be an important contributor in his first NFL season while battling for the starting job opposite veteran Steve Smith.

The biggest question marks surrounding Perriman are his ability to consistently catch the football as well as to run the entire route tree, but the organization believes the son of former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman has been even better than advertised since arriving in Owings Mills this spring.

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Webb fails conditioning test at start of Ravens training camp

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Convening for their first practice of the summer, the Ravens were only missing one projected starter as cornerback Lardarius Webb was not working on Thursday after failing his conditioning test.

The seventh-year defensive back was a full participant during last month’s mandatory minicamp, but he was not allowed to take part in the first full-squad workout of training camp. The 29-year-old missed all of last year’s training camp and the beginning of the 2014 regular season due to a lingering back injury.

“It’s always a big deal. You want to see guys pass it,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who cited several former players who had failed to pass the conditioning test in previous summers. “The conditioning test measures anaerobic conditioning. It measures the ability to recover, to get your heart rate way up and recover.

“Webby is in really good shape in a lot of different ways. I can see it in the way he moves in the weight room, but he’s not in the kind of anaerobic shape he needs to be in to come out here and practice. The idea being that if I go play after play after play and I begin to get fatigued and I can’t move the way I need to move, I’m going to have a fatigue type of an injury. That’s why it’s part of the physical.”

The conditioning test consists of six timed 25-yard runs in which players run up and back. Veteran newcomers have often mentioned over the years how difficult the Ravens’ test is compared to those of other teams.

In most cases, a player failing to pass isn’t a problem in the long run, but Webb not being ready to practice isn’t a good look after his disappointing 2014 season. For now, the Ravens won’t put too much stock into the delay to the start of his summer.

“He’s a little behind that way certainly, and he’s going to have to make up the ground,” Harbaugh said. “He took it hard on himself. He’s disappointed in himself just like you’d expect. I know he’s very determined to get through it.”

Webb was placed on the non-football injury list until he passes the test.

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Casey Walker was not practicing because he was placed on the active physically unable to perform list due to knee tendinitis.

Two other starters returned to the practice field after spring absences as center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery) and right tackle Right Wagner (foot) were working during the opening portion of practice. The Ravens are expected to bring the two along slowly to begin the summer.

Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) both returned to practice after suffering injuries during spring workouts.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist) were present and working after being limited in the spring.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) were limited to watching practice as they both began the summer on the active PUP list.

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Suggs down to “fighting” weight as he reports for training camp

Posted on 29 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the topics of discussion in an otherwise quiet mandatory minicamp for the Ravens last month was the weight and conditioning of veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Acknowledging at the time that he hadn’t worked out as rigorously as in past offseasons, Suggs still has work to do to get down to his listed weight of 265 pounds, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t sound concerned about his conditioning upon reporting to Owings Mills on Wednesday. He took part in all three minicamp practices in June, but he says he feels a lot better after working out in Arizona over the last five weeks.

“I totally feel a lot different from the last time I was up here,” Suggs said on the eve of the first full-squad training camp practice. “I can be totally honest with you. I feel great, and we’re ready to get out here and work at camp.”

Entering his 13th season, Suggs already holds the franchise’s all-time sacks record and his 106 1/2 quarterback takedowns rank 24th on the all-time NFL list.

Suggs’ weight has been a topic of discussion in the past, but a player with his impressive list of credentials deserves the benefit of the doubt at this stage of his career. Unlike a month ago when he acknowledged having plenty of work to do for another NFL season, Suggs says his weight is under better control with an eye on shedding more pounds during the sweltering days of camp.

“We’ve shed some [pounds] — a lot,” said Suggs, who added that he passed the team’s conditioning test “convincingly” after reporting. “But I’m not quite at the weight [I want]. We’re at a good fighting weight. That’s what we’re here for and we’ll use this time to shed some more. It’s going to be hot out here, so we’re going to be looking forward to it.”

Unusually reflective last month about his career in Baltimore and uncertain about his future beyond this season, Suggs is more concerned with winning another Super Bowl rather than boosting an individual legacy that could put him in impressive company by the time his career concludes.

Despite a number of free-agent departures this offseason, the Ravens have clear championship aspirations, the kind of territory with which Suggs has been familiar over his long career.

“We all kind of know the expectations,” Suggs said. “We know what we did do great last year, and we know where we finished at. We fell short, and we don’t want to fall short anymore. You want to keep progressing. You want to keep getting better, and it all starts with today and going out there tomorrow.”

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Specialists

Posted on 29 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this week, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on Thursday, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore specialists:

SPECIALISTS (5)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Justin Manton, Patrick Scales

Synopsis: With veteran punter Sam Koch locked up to a contract extension earlier this month, the Ravens couldn’t find any less drama with the specialist positions as all discussion will center around the kickoff and punt return jobs this summer. Those spots are wide open with younger players such as Michael Campanaro and DeAndre Carter and veterans like Steve Smith and Lardarius Webb firmly in the mix, but the trio of true specialists are as safe as ever in beginning their fourth straight year together.

One to watch: Whether it’s with a contract extension or via the franchise tag, Justin Tucker knows he’s extremely unlikely to be going anywhere next year, but the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker will still have his uncertain future on his mind entering his fourth season. His 89.8 percent success rate is tops in NFL history among kickers with a minimum of 100 field goal attempts, but he’ll face the challenge of an internal balance between wanting to become the highest-paid kicker in the league with simply continuing the success he found in his first three seasons. Given his resolve, it would be unwise to bet against him.

One on notice: If Morgan Cox had been more limited this spring in coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury, Patrick Scales would have been a name to watch this summer, but the veteran long snapper appeared close to full strength during workouts. Barring something unforeseen, Cox isn’t in much danger since he has an affordable contract and is as reliable as they come.

Sleeper: None

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Showalter still considering options in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Nick Markakis in the midst of his return to Baltimore, the Orioles trotted out their fourth different leadoff hitter in the last five games for Tuesday’s contest against the Atlanta Braves.

After manager Buck Showalter moved Manny Machado down to third over the weekend, the All-Star third baseman returned to the top spot, the place in the lineup he’s now occupied 73 times during the 2015 season. Of course, the thinking with moving Machado down in the order was to create more run-producing opportunities for the 23-year-old, but the lack of an ideal option to replace him in the top spot is the bigger long-term problem.

Jimmy Paredes, David Lough, and Nolan Reimold received opportunities in the top spot while Machado hit lower in the order. Showalter has used six different players in the leadoff spot this year with two of them — Alejandro De Aza and Everth Cabrera — no longer with the organization.

“If you hit Manny first, who hits third?” Showalter said on Monday. “If you hit him third, who hits first? You take one away and then you’re trying to replace it. We put out there what we think is best. Guys know that we’re having some challenges there.”

Despite Reimold going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk in the No. 1 spot in Monday’s 2-1 win, Machado struggled in the third spot in the order, going 2-for-15 with four strikeouts and a walk. One certainly shouldn’t draw strong or permanent conclusions from that sample size, but it might have been the level of anxiousness Machado displayed in two at-bats on Monday that reinforced the idea that maybe it’s unwise to mess with a good thing.

Machado came to the plate with two runners on base in the eighth and 10th innings of Monday’s game and struck out each time, swinging at several pitches outside the strike zone. One of the biggest factors in the young infielder’s leap at the plate this season has been his improved plate disciplined with a career-high 42 walks in 423 plate appearances entering Tuesday’s game.

Did the move to the No. 3 spot alter Machado’s mindset?

“I actually asked him about that today. ‘Do you feel any different mentality there? Are you getting bigger?'” Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game.  “He said, ‘No, it’s just a [slump].’ Since he’s been here — up until the last two or three games — that’s as long as I’ve seen him engaged with a good approach where he was not letting them get him out other than [on] stuff within the zone. He was walking.

“You always think it’s a day away. It’s like he said today, ‘I’ve got to get back to what I was doing. It’s got nothing to do with where I’m hitting him in the order.’ Of course, what’s he going to say?”

Machado looks the part of a hitter who will eventually settle into the No. 3 spot for a long time, but it would be wise to leave him in the role where he’s thrived in 2015, especially with few other options inspiring confidence in the leadoff spot right now.

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