Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

Johnson Trade Too Little, Too Late

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Johnson Trade Too Little, Too Late

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Its official; no one will get that queezy feeling at Camden Yards in the 9th inning, when hearing “The Pretender” anymore.  Jim Johnson was moved to the Oakland Athletics for second baseman,  Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.  What a difference a year makes.

Jim JohnsonIf the Orioles moved Johnson before last season (like I said here and here), they would have had a pick of the litter of players from several different contending teams.  What would have the Tigers or Dodgers or Cardinals have done to sure up their closing roles before 2013? It sure as hell would have been more than a 26 year old second baseman with “potential.”

The lack of proactive nature by the organization has cost the Orioles a great deal, in terms of on-field production.  Johnson has been a good relief pitcher for years, but his value was at his highest at the end of 2012 playoff season.  For a team that wants to build with youth, to sustain success for the future, making tough decisions, with generally likeable guys, is simply a must.

Jemile WeeksAs for the return, Baltimore receives a player, in Weeks, that could be the everyday second baseman (but confidence in that actually panning out has to pretty low at this point).  After being called up in 2011 (which he played 96), he posted a .303 average and .421 OPS, with 22 stolen bases. But following his stellar first MLB season, things went awfully wrong for the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft.  Hitting just .211 in 2012, leading to a demotion by the A’s; playing in only nine games in the majors in 2013.  Though he had decent numbers in the minors last season (.271 avg, .376 OPS, 17 stolen bases), Weeks could not have foreseen his career path heading in this direction.

But what could Orioles really expect to recoup in a trade for a player everyone in the MLB knows they will not pay $10 million?  Johnson was one of the most inconsistent relief pitchers in baseball last year; leading the league in saves and blown saves. He never had dominating “stuff” to finish out games, did not have enough strikeouts as a closer and put too many runners on base.

Could Johnson have contributed for the Orioles in 2014? Absolutely.  If Buck Showalter would move him back into a less-volatile role, in the 7th or 8th inning (like he was pre-2012), there is a good chance he could regain his form.  But with the manager’s loyalty, Buck would probably be too tempted to throw Johnson into a game with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.  The team simply had to move on and got the only thing possible in return; potential.

Jim JohnsonThe same fans that wanted to DFA (designate for assignment), essentially releasing Johnson for nothing, halfway through last year, now are complaining about the balance of this trade.  As for the organization “saving” all that money, this is baseball, there is no salary cap, teams can pay players whatever they like. There is no cash limit in baseball that teams have to adhere to and the Orioles are no where near the luxury tax threshold. And with an organization that has a successful television network, cost-cutting on a contending team is inexcusable.

Did the Orioles clear some dead money off the books? Yes. Will they use that money to acquire much needed depth on the big league club? Only the next couple weeks will tell. Of course, Peter Angelos could just pocket that money and let his “baseball people” make the baseball decisions, with the roster as it stands.

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I’d say “the Orioles are no longer playing with their Johnson”…but we all know the truth.

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I’d say “the Orioles are no longer playing with their Johnson”…but we all know the truth.

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

I literally LOL’d out loud (isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?) when word trickled out late Monday night that the Orioles got bent over by the Oakland A’s in their deal involving Jim Johnson.

How could you not snicker at Dan Duquette getting one-upped by the A’s of all people?

The Orioles got fleeced on Monday night for one reason:  Every single team in the major leagues knew they weren’t going to pay Jim Johnson the $10 million salary his one-year tender would have required.

You knew it.  I knew it.  And if dummies like you and I knew it, smart baseball people in St. Louis, Boston, Tampa Bay and Oakland certainly knew it.

How did we all “know it”?

Because it’s the Orioles.

I can hear the conversation now between DD and any other general manager in the big leagues last Tuesday.

“Hey…it’s Dan Duquette in Baltimore.  We have Jim Johnson available…and we’d like a really good player or decent AAA prospect for him.”

Other team’s GM — “Why would I give you anything in return for Jim Johnson?  He’s due to make $10 million next season.  We all know you’re not going to tender him a contract next week at the deadline.  Call us back when you’re ready to take a bag of balls for him.”

When it comes to matters involving money, they’re almost always going to throw up on themselves.

Meanwhile, they’ll be getting a new $27 million check this March as part of baseball’s mega-mother TV deal that gives each MLB team a total of $54 million in 2014 (last week I wrote it was $51 million but the number has officially been established by MLB at $54 mil).

I assume Tommy Hunter will be given the ball now and “groomed” to be the team’s new closer.

Good-freakin’-luck with that.

Or, maybe they’ll give 36-year old Grant Balfour – the now-ex Oakland closer – a two-year deal at $7.5 million per-year.  Wouldn’t that be so “O’s like”?  Let the incumbent go because you’re digging in and refusing to pay $10 million for one season, but give a guy six years older an additional five million on the books because he’s “cheaper” for one season.

Back to the deal constructed by Billy Beane and the A’s.

Like the rest of the country paying attention, Beane knew the Orioles weren’t going to pay $10 million for Johnson’s services.  They only have two players on the roster currently who make more than $10 million (Jones and Markakis) and, faced with the prospect of having to give Chris Davis $13 million or more in arbitration, they just couldn’t handle ONE more guy making upwards of ten mil per-season.  Right?  Right.

So, knowing the Orioles weren’t paying Johnson, the A’s bent them over, sending some guy named Jemile Weeks (yeah, I know you’ve never heard of him — neither has anyone else) and the always exciting “player to be named later” for one of the American League’s most productive closers over the last two seasons.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking…”But, Drew, Weeks has upside…”

“Upside”.  It’s a word that Duquette and the O’s cuddle up next to – naked – with the fireplace burning and a bottle of Boone’s Farm within arm’s reach.

“Upside”.  A word the Orioles are so intimately familiar with when it comes to taking a gamble on players, they’re buying stock in home pregnancy kits.

What a joke they’ve become.

Wait…did I write “become”?  This isn’t new.  The Orioles always choose “don’t pay the player” over “pay the player”.

Of course, because you ALWAYS have to mention this, the Orioles COULD be trying to stockpile a bunch of money for the big moment this winter when they fork over a Brinks Trick for one of the game’s talented free agents like Shin-Soo Choo.

Yeah — “and if you like your plan, you can keep your plan…”

I’d love to be wrong, and frankly, the Orioles SHOULD prove all of us wrong by spending some of that $54 million in TV money (plus the $35 mil or so they give themselves from MASN), but I won’t be wrong.

They dumped Jim Johnson on Monday night because they didn’t want to pay him $10 million in 2014.  The guy they got in exchange has four more career home runs as you, me, your neighbor’s boss and the guy who took your money at the Royal Farms register this morning.

And, because the whole world knows how frugal they are, no one was at the poker table to play with Duquette when he showed up at 11pm.

Except for Billy Beane.

Oh, and while the Orioles were busy getting exposed, their business partners in Washington D.C. who actually are trying to win picked up a nice starting pitcher on Monday night, acquiring Doug Fister from the Tigers for bucket of balls and a journeyman named Steve Lombardozzi.

The Nationals picked up Doug Fister on Monday night to bolster their rotation.

The Orioles dumped $10 million in salary.

 

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The Giants got Tim Hudson, the Orioles got a guy you’ve never heard of…ever.

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The Giants got Tim Hudson, the Orioles got a guy you’ve never heard of…ever.

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

I’m the guy who has been telling callers and e-mailers over the last month that the Orioles aren’t going to sign any “real” free agents this off-season.

So, why would I be chirping about the Birds not having any interest in Tim Hudson?

Beats me.

Probably because I still have this wacky, bass-ackwards idea that one of these days, the Orioles just might actually spend some of that money they’ve been stacking up for the last seven years since they birthed MASN and started collecting money from everyone in the market via your monthly cable bill.

Here’s the funny addendum to that.  This March, the Orioles and the rest of the 29 other MLB teams get a NEW $27 million check as part of the league’s national TV package.

I have no idea if Tim Hudson would have come to Baltimore.

He was well situated in Atlanta, having grown up and gone to high school in nearby Alabama, so a move to San Francisco seems somewhat odd for a guy that you assume would be looking to stay closer to home as his career comes to an end.

I’m sure his $23 million/2-year deal in S.F. made him nearly untouchable in Baltimore, where the Orioles have signed only two free agents – EVER – for more than $10 million a year (Albert Belle and Miguel Tejada).

Way back when, as Peter Angelos discussed the unveiling of the MASN TV network, he authored one of the most telling quotes in his now 20 years of Orioles ownership.

Asked about the prospect of signing then-high profile pitcher Roy Oswalt, who was asking for $100 million for 7 years, Angelos quipped:  ”I just don’t see the logic in spending $14 million a year for someone who only works once every five days.”

Not surprisingly, the Orioles have never signed a quality free-agent starting pitcher.

Tim Hudson has enjoyed an outstanding major league career.  He’s not a Hall of Fame candidate, but he’s certainly going to make a speech someday at the Hall of Very Good.  He has 205 wins spread out over 15 seasons and his lifetime ERA of 3.44 is better than a lot of guys who ARE in the Hall of Fame.

Yes, he’s coming off a bad leg injury, but he doesn’t pitch with his leg.  He uses his shoulder, arm and hand to do that.

At age 38, he’s in the November of his career, for sure, but he’s better than Miguel Gonzalez, Scott Feldman and Bud Norris, although all three of those pitchers are admittedly younger and have less tread on their tires.

I’m not surprised the Birds didn’t have an interest in Hudson.  He’s the anti-Oriole signing, frankly.  He’s a player with a track record and a sparkling career resume who won’t come here and work for $37.00 an hour the way a guy like Kelvin Dela Cruz will, who signed in Baltimore earlier this week after eight so-so seasons with — you ready — a bunch of minor league teams scattered all over baseball.

There’s a lot of hot stove action to go and maybe the O’s will stun us all with a signing of Carlos Beltran or A.J. Burnett or perhaps they’ll pull off a trade for a Jose Bautista or Ian Kinsler.

I’d love to see some of that activity.

I want the Orioles to get better.

But, as I’ve been warning a lot of you over the next four weeks, don’t hold your breath for any kind of improvement that includes SPENDING MONEY ON OR PAYING FOR REALLY GOOD PLAYERS.

It’s just not in the cards, no matter how much money you and I continue to contribute to the Orioles organization via our monthly Verizon or Comcast payment.

The Giants got Tim Hudson.

The Orioles got some guy named Kelvin Dela Cruz who has as many career major league strikeouts as you, me and Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden.

To borrow a phrase:  ”It’s the Oriole way”.

 

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Orioles: Now or Never or Not Yet?

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Orioles: Now or Never or Not Yet?

Posted on 30 July 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

Last year was a special one for Orioles fans but it’s over now and (hopefully) never to be duplicated. Devoid of any expectations, when the Orioles poked their heads up and into contention it became a season to remember, and for long suffering fans of the franchise it became impossible to not enjoy; it was impossible to not get swept away in the “just happy to be here” mentality.

When things were going well we pinched ourselves trying to make sure it was real. When things went badly we reminded ourselves that our frustration sure beat the indifference we’d grown accustomed to feeling through 14 futile seasons. When the media failed to buy in and attributed the team’s fortunes to luck we stood in defiance. And on top of all of that, we acknowledged that the Orioles appeared to be ahead of their “window”. In addition to the success we were enjoying in 2012, the future, built around names like Machado and Bundy and Schoop and Gausman gave the hint of being even brighter.

What a difference a year can make. As the trade deadline approaches for a team and a fan base now “accustomed” to winning, excitement has turned to expectation, hope has become hype and the future, it seems, is now.

Even however, while enjoying the fruits of this team’s success, it’s tough not to question exactly how they got here. After 14 years has the worm truly turned? Is this franchise now in capable hands to continue this success? Or have they simply stumbled into a window of likely fleeting success?

After all, to say that some of the Orioles’ on hand talent has exceeded reasonable expectations would be a gigantic understatement. The AL East is as eminently winnable is it’s been in recent memory and it won’t likely stay that way for long. And if the 14 years that led us to this point have taught is anything, it’s that once this window is closed, it may not open again for a very long time.

To their credit, the Orioles appear to be close to all in. For those still looking toward the future it may be as close to all in as we’d like to see them get. While we’ve spent the ten years at least clamoring for the team to spend more money, there’s a legitimate case to be made that outspending everyone else is no longer the path to MLB success. Some of baseball’s lowest salaried teams are not only enjoying success, but appear to be poised to sustain it. Meanwhile most of baseball’s upper class may be looking at years of paying out bad contracts with little or nothing to show in return. And, oh by the way, it’s impossible not to notice the number of bright, young MLB stars in the making that are the byproducts of other teams recent forays at going all in and are now playing elsewhere.

So far it seems that the Orioles have shown a willingness to trade away some prospects, as long as they don’t have to pay real money for the players they’re getting in return. It seems like a sound strategy, especially with a roster loaded with young players whom they’ll have to up the ante for this off-season and beyond.

You’d have to guess that if they’re really considering trading Dylan Bundy as some have suggested, it’ll likely to get a highly paid player, while also getting his team to pay a sizable portion of that high salary. Timing alone suggests that it’s not the optimal time to trade Bundy; that time was last year. In fairness, that time might be never; only time will truly tell.

The only thing that’s certain is that as fans we’ll always be able to rely on hindsight; and that any move that doesn’t end in a World Series win will be seen as the wrong one. It’s a tough standard to live up to. It’s the unfortunate part of success. Are the Orioles best served to open the “window” as wide as possible now, or pace themselves in an effort to keep it open for longer? There’s no wrong answer…yet.

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Orioles eyeing more with trade deadline approaching?

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Orioles eyeing more with trade deadline approaching?

Posted on 28 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Already more active than most contending clubs with the non-waiver trade deadline just a few days away, the Orioles reportedly may not be finished dealing.

The additions of pitchers Scott Feldman and Francisco Rodriguez have helped bolster their starting rotation and bullpen respectively, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette could be eyeing even bigger names, according to several media reports. The Orioles are looking to add a front-end starting pitcher and are among the teams interested in White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The 32-year-old Peavy is 8-4 with a 4.28 earned run average in 13 starts this season and has a $13.5 million salaries in 2013 and 2014 and has a player option of $15 million for the 2015 season.

Other pitchers who are candidates to be traded include Houston’s Bud Norris — a starter the Orioles will see on Tuesday — and Kansas City’s Ervin Santana, but Heyman also discussed the possibility of Phillies starter Cliff Lee being dealt. However, Lee is making $25 million in 2013 and the two seasons that follow and a $27.5 million vesting option for the 2016 season, making it virtually impossible to think a team like the Orioles would have any real interest.

Lee would provide the most dramatic upgrade to any rotation as he is 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 20 starts this year, but it remains unclear whether the Phillies will actually trade him for the right offer.

The Orioles may also be in the market for another bat as Twins designated hitter Justin Morneau has been discussed as a possible acquisition, according to The Sun. The 2006 American League MVP is 32 and will see his contract expire at the end of the season, meaning the Orioles would only be on the hook for roughly $5 million or so of his $14 million salary in 2013.

Morneau is hitting .267 with eight home runs and 53 runs batted in this season.

Other DH options who could be potentially available include Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, and even the currently-injured Michael Morse of Seattle. ESPN’s Buster Olney has also mentioned San Diego outfielder Carlos Quentin as a possibility, but he is owed a combined $17.5 million in 2014 and 2015 and has a long history of difficulty staying on the field due to injuries.

While the Orioles could stand to upgrade the DH spot that’s been an albatross all season and add a starting pitcher as Jason Hammel once again struggled on Sunday, it’s difficult to envision Duquette gaining the clearance from owner Peter Angelos to add much more payroll to what’s already an estimated $92 million club.

In addition to the money, the Orioles just traded infield prospect Nick Delmonico — not a can’t-miss talent, mind you — for Rodriguez and have given no indication that they’re willing to deal the likes of pitcher Kevin Gausman or infielder Jonathan Schoop in order to acquire premium — and expensive — talent. The commodities to acquire top talent just aren’t there unless the Orioles want to completely strip a farm system they’re trying to build through the draft and international scouting.

The lineup has struggled of late, but the Orioles entered Sunday ranked third in the majors in runs scored, fourth in batting average, and first in home runs. Paying the price in both prospects and money for a decent lineup upgrade in Morneau wouldn’t seem to be the best use of resources if it’s possible to find an improvement for the starting rotation as Hammel has struggled all season after taking the ball for manager Buck Showalter on Opening Day.

Of course, none of these reports mean the Orioles will pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal, but the names being tossed around certainly don’t seem to fit with the Orioles’ philosophy and payroll in recent years.

 

 

 

 

 

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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Right decision or not, Orioles were prepared to promote Gausman

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Right decision or not, Orioles were prepared to promote Gausman

Posted on 23 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Less than 48 hours after news broke that the Orioles were promoting Kevin Gausman to the big leagues, it’s safe to say the hype machine has been in overdrive ever since.

Hours before his Thursday night debut in Toronto, fans and media continued to debate the merits of whether Gausman should be in the majors after making just eight starts for Double-A Bowie and 13 professional starts overall. The decision is viewed by some as an act of desperation as Gausman becomes the 11th starting pitcher the Orioles have sent to the hill before Memorial Day as part of a struggling rotation.

Some have even gone as far as debating how much money Gausman will command as a “Super Two” arbitration-eligible player — before he even threw his first pitch in the major leagues.

I even heard a rumor earlier Thursday that the powdered mini-donuts the 22-year-old right-hander likes to superstitiously eat between innings will be renamed “Gausmans” in tribute to the former LSU standout.

Truthfully, there’s no way of knowing whether executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is making the right call in promoting the 2012 first-round pick less than a year after he was taken with the fourth overall selection of the amateur draft. His performance against the Blue Jays on Thursday night doesn’t change that, either.

The comparisons have already been made with last August’s promotion of 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado, but no two players are the same. What that decision did tell you, however, was the Orioles’ willingness to take calculated risks with players in their farm system in order to win.

Conventional wisdom suggests even a college pitcher isn’t ready for the big leagues after 13 starts in the minors, but nothing about Gausman’s ability appears conventional. A mid-to-upper-90s fastball and superb changeup projected Gausman as a top draft pick last year, but the improvement of his slider as a real factor in his repertoire was exactly what the Orioles needed to see.

“I definitely improved,” said Gausman of his time with Double-A Bowie. “I think the biggest thing has probably been my slider improved more than anything, just being able to throw it in different situations. I’ve talked kind of all year about kind of learning different ways to throw it in different situations, so that’s definitely something I’ve learned how to do more than anything else.”

Even in spring training, the Orioles took an extra-long look at Gausman, which provided all the information you needed to know that he was a real option for the 2013 season and the club wanted to expose him to the major-league clubhouse. Appearing in seven Grapefruit League games and making two starts, Gausman pitched to a 3.94 earned run average in 16 innings of work before he was finally reassigned to minor-league camp on March 28. Some were already convinced he was one of their best five starting pitchers, but there were enough imperfections in addition to his lack of experience that made it clear Gausman would start the season in the minors.

Unlike fellow top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy last season, the older Gausman showed superb command (49 strikeouts to five walks) at Double-A Bowie and has a solid time to the plate, the latter being a major point of emphasis for the organization that augments All-Star catcher Matt Wieters’ ability to throw out so many runners on the bases. Gausman fields his position well and pitched in more pressure situations in the Southeastern Conference than the typical minor leaguer encounters at any level shy of the majors.

“We’ll see how it plays up here,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys that had low walk totals not have them up here. I’ve seen guys have high walk totals down there, and with more aggressive hitters, they went down up here. It’s a different kind of hitter up here. They’re here because they can hit. So, we’ll see.”

Do any of those strengths mean Gausman is ready for prime time? Of course not, but you never really know if a prospect is ready until he advances to a higher level, regardless of how dramatic the jump. It’s the reason why so many “can’t-miss” prospects have missed over the years. It’s an inexact science and as Showalter likes to often remind us, these are human beings with emotions and games aren’t played on paper.

Would another four weeks or two months really do that much to help Gausman if he’s already the best option the Orioles have among their starters in the minor leagues? His ability to improve his slider in such a short span of time reflects the kind of learning curve that should allow Gausman to make adjustments quickly as major league hitters learn the book on him over his first handful of starts.

It’s impossible not to have at least the slightest concern of rushing Gausman too quickly and hurting his psyche, but Showalter took a pragmatic approach in addressing that very question on Wednesday. And everything about Gausman suggests he’s a confident young man who’s up to the challenge mentally.

“It’s like I’ve said many times, you can’t screw up the good ones,” Showalter said. “They’re going to seek their level. And we think Kevin sooner or later will seek his level. We hope it’s soon.”

Yes, his quick route to the majors raises eyebrows and goes against the norm, but the Orioles think they have someone extraordinary on their hands who breaks the mold of conventional.

Thursday night does nothing in determining whether Gausman is truly ready or not, but the right-hander did everything within his power to make a difficult decision as easy as possible for the organization. And they were willing to pull the trigger when it became apparent that Gausman was their best option from below.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much and just go out there and keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Gausman said prior to his first career start. “Throw strikes and just try to pitch my game.”

Perhaps not thinking about it too much is good advice for us all if his talent is as special as advertised.

 

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

It’s never a good idea to definitively assess any team in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in the same way that you shouldn’t ignore weaknesses while enjoying the prosperous times.

With the Orioles suffering their first four-game losing streak of the season and surrendering a staggering 30 runs and 45 hits over their last three games, it’s easy to panic over such an ugly stretch of baseball. Early questions over starting pitching have transformed into serious concerns as the club has endured the losses of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez to the disabled list and the recent struggles of Opening Day starter Jason Hammel while attempting to piece together the back end of the rotation.

The poor starting pitching has placed even more reliance on the bullpen as the Orioles have seen All-Star closer Jim Johnson blow consecutive saves this week. Showalter insists the bullpen hasn’t been overworked and is very meticulous with everything from innings pitched down to the number of times a reliever even gets up to throw during games, but that won’t remain the case if the poor performance of the starting pitching continues into the summer.

Chen is sidelined indefinitely with the always-unpredictable strained oblique injury, meaning Chris Tillman is the only starter on which manager Buck Showalter can currently rely as Orioles starting pitching has allowed 32 earned runs in 39 1/3 innings — a 7.32 earned run average — over the last eight games. The club hopes the 2012 version of Gonzalez will surface beginning with his scheduled return on Tuesday and that Hammel will find the proper release point to improve his fastball command after a miserable recent stretch.

Beyond those concerns, the picture becomes even more frightening with the final two spots in the rotation. Yes, it’s easy to look back at the offseason and criticize executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette for not acquiring any impact starters — I shared that very sentiment at the start of spring training and again at the beginning of the season — but Duquette and Showalter also expressed great faith in their internal options.

Now, one time through a lineup of “second-tier” starters that includes Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Freddy Garcia, Jair Jurrjens, and Josh Stinson, only Arrieta and Garcia have received more than one start to this point. Arrieta doesn’t really fall into the same category as the others after beginning the season as the fifth starter, and a strong debut in Anaheim bought the 36-year-old Garcia two more starts that have been underwhelming at best.

Understanding that even the brightest pitchers in the game will have a handful of less-than-stellar outings over the course of a season, is a one-start audition really the best way to determine if a pitcher can be an asset for the major league rotation?

Make no mistake, gone are the days when a young prospect such as Brian Matusz will be afforded the opportunity to accumulate a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts as he did over two different stints in the 2011 season. Higher expectations are here to stay and competition is paramount with Duquette and Showalter as they look beyond the 25-man roster while viewing Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie as essential partners in fielding a competitive club in the American League East.

However, the problem with higher expectations is the emphasis it places on smaller sample sizes when trying to evaluate. And you wonder if the possibility of such a short audition for the likes of Britton and Johnson creates too much of a mindset of looking over your shoulder and trying to be too perfect. It also devalues their minor-league performances that earn them their chance in the first place.

Showalter acknowledged this weekend most of these immediate demotions couldn’t have been avoided due to the strain placed on the bullpen as a direct result of the short outings. There is plenty of merit to that explanation, but at some point, the Orioles need to find the proper balance between having higher expectations and exercising the faith expressed this offseason in their internal options by showing just a bit more — brace yourself for that all-too-familiar word — patience.

No one is endorsing that Britton or Johnson or whichever pitcher sitting at the top of the totem pole for the next chance automatically receives six weeks’ worth of starts in the big leagues, but a reasonable opportunity of three or four starts might be more conducive to the potentially fragile psyche of a young pitcher. Fringe pitchers such as these certainly need to feel urgency playing for a contending club, but trying to be too perfect in fear of being sent down isn’t setting them up with the mindset for success, either.

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

He took the job that no one else wanted.

For those that are still shedding tears or pointing fingers over the way the Orioles handled this most recent off-season, just try and recall what the one that preceded it was like.

 

There are only 32 Major League GM jobs in the world, and arguably hundreds of pseudo qualified and hungry executives envisioning the opportunity to get one. Still, as the Orioles were searching for someone to take that opportunity with their club prior to the 2012 season they were rebuked, rebuffed, leveraged and otherwise used but never, it seems, seriously considered by a serious candidate. Enter Dan Duquette.

Duquette’s credentials were actually better than his 9-year hiatus/exile from Major League Baseball would have suggested but he had somehow slipped through the cracks for nearly a decade. To the Orioles’ credit, they found him. And to Duquette’s credit he not only accepted the job, but he arguably approached it like none of the other candidates would have, he approached it like none of his immediate predecessors had; Duquette approached the Orioles job like a winner, like a guy who expected to make the Orioles winners; and Duquette has made the Orioles just that.

If nothing else, Duquette should have earned our trust; he deserves our confidence. His reputation still isn’t quite in the stratosphere of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and no one is ready to utter “In Dan We Trust” just yet, but he’s getting close.

It hasn’t all been Dan’s doing. The situation that Duquette inherited was probably better than most were ready to understand, but that shouldn’t diminish the job that he’s done. Through a series of moves and machinations, decisions and deliberations, Duquette teamed with Buck Showalter to create magic in the 2012 Orioles. Not all of his decisions have been good ones, but no one’s are. Duquette has at the very least been more hit than miss; more right than wrong, and more successful than anyone could have reasonably thought possible.

Now that we’re fully immersed in the Duquette era Orioles however, a couple of sad realizations have come to light. Foremost among them is that the Orioles are, and seemingly will be for as long as Peter Angelos is running the show, committed to winning on a budget; and it would seem that the budget part holds unquestionable precedence over the winning part. This doesn’t preclude them from winning, but does make it substantially more difficult.

The decisions where monetary considerations have trumped on-field considerations have already become evident. And last year Duquette not only proved that he could win despite them, but perhaps also began to develop and refine the blueprint by which he intended to get it done.

Throughout last season, the flexibility of the roster and the options available on players (particularly pitchers) allowed Duquette to creatively overcome a problem that had been at the heart of the Orioles biggest issues over the 14 futile years that preceded 2012. The inability of Orioles pitchers to work deep into games and the absence of a true innings eater at the back of the rotation has been a running theme for the Orioles for over a decade. More often than not it was just one in a long list ailments that the team had to overcome, but even in the seasons where the Orioles offense was high level and even in the seasons where they began the year competitively, the inability of starters to get deep into games and the resultant taxing of the bullpen has been an ongoing issue. Last year the Orioles used an active revolving door to overcome that.

This year, with fewer options available, and less opportunity to shuffle the deck day-by-day, that issue seems to be back. And while the Orioles are off to another encouraging start, it seems only a matter of time before the bullpen collapses, run differential begins trending the other way and the Orioles begin sliding down the AL East standings. This makes the presence of TJ McFarland difficult to fathom.

 

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Your Monday Reality Check: Arrieta’s struggles make second guessing easy

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Your Monday Reality Check: Arrieta’s struggles make second guessing easy

Posted on 22 April 2013 by Glenn Clark

When you see a meme or GIF image posted @WNST on Twitter, it was regularly posted by me. I often know the source of the meme/gif or sometimes make them on my own, but regularly see one being passed around via Facebook or Twitter (I admittedly haven’t gotten involved in Reddit just yet but know it makes me a dinosaur) where the source cannot be identified.

So when I post them on our account, I’ll often say something like “take credit if yours.” It’s my little way of saying “I don’t know the origin of this, but if I find out soon I’ll be sure to offer credit where the credit is deserved.” Many times that leads to a direct response from the creator of said image which allows me to send out another message offering credit to the person who is deserving. It’s an imperfect science as we all continue to learn about social media etiquette, but it has proved effective thus far.

Sadly, there’s a well known idiom that dates back perhaps as much as a century whose creator seems unknown. I can’t imagine social media will be of any help this time.

The idiom is “hindsight is 20/20.”

It’s a very simply concept. 20/20 is nominal vision, as a person standing 20 feet from someone reads it as if they were standing 20 feet from the object. “Hindsight is 20/20″ reflects the notion that when you look back on something that already occurred, it can always be seen in ideal vision. I’m not certain what level of vision someone would be described as having in foresight, but I would tend to doubt it would even be as good as 20/40.

The idiom was fresh in my mind while watching Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jake Arrieta crumble in the fifth inning of Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Arrieta walked OF Skip Schumaker and OF Carl Crawford on four pitches each, sandwiching a plunking of SS Justin Sellers between. The passes brought Arrieta’s BB total to five for the day (while recording only 12 outs). A Mark Ellis two run single would end Arrieta’s outing, his line would show five earned runs after being handed four runs over the first four innings by his own offense.

For Arrieta, the story has been all too familiar this season. In four starts, he has allowed 16 BB and 14 earned runs. The lack of control and elevated pitch counts have lead to the starter pitching an average of just under five innings per start (19 total innings pitched), however remarkably the Birds have gone 3-1 in the span.

Following Sunday’s start, O’s manager Buck Showalter described the pitcher’s issues as being emotional. “Emotions effect mechanics” the skipper noted, comparing Arrieta’s emotional state to putters in golf who struggle when overwhelmed. Arrieta described his lack of control Sunday as “frustrating”, “unacceptable” and flat out “bad”. He noted “this isn’t me…this really isn’t something I’ve ever done at this rate” in terms of free passes.

To his credit, he’s right. To his discredit, it doesn’t matter.

Showalter and GM Dan Duquette now have a difficult decision to make regarding their struggling starter. Arrieta still has options left, meaning they could make a move in the coming days to bring up a starter from Norfolk (they have a decision to make Wednesday already following their doubleheader Saturday). Such a move would perhaps allow Arrieta to get back to the AAA level and work on his control, but it would seem obvious that the starter would likely dominate a lower level of hitting.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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