Tag Archive | "Jim Johnson"

Anyone have a place in Aruba and a hammock for Dan Duquette?

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Anyone have a place in Aruba and a hammock for Dan Duquette?

Posted on 18 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

I’m sure Dan Duquette needs a nap now after that flurry of activity over the last week or so of the hot stove season.

Last Friday, the Birds snatched away some guy named Mike something-or-other from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft.  He’ll need to hang around all year – like Flaherty (’12) and McFarland (’13) did – on the 25-man roster or else be offered back to Boston.  I’m sure Buck Showalter is just thrilled with only having a 24-man club to work with from April until September 1.

Yesterday, Duquette filled a hole he created two weeks ago when he brought Grant Balfour into the fold for two years to serve as the team’s closer.

Poor Dan.  He probably needs a massage and a follow-up appointment to make sure he’s not overheated.

So, it’s nearly Christmas.  The “new year” is just around the corner.  January quickly turns into February around here, particularly when the days and weeks are filled with furious discussion about the Ravens and their next playoff game.  Before you know it, the players start flowing into Sarasota for spring training.

In other words — the baseball season will be here soon.

Where are all the players who will help the Orioles win in 2014?

Balfour will help, we all assume.  Yes, he’s 36.  Yes, his numbers away from Oakland Coliseum spiked a bit, as expected.  And, yes, he’ll be closing games against the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees instead of the Mariners and Astros.  That said, Balfour is a much better option than Tommy Hunter would have been for the upcoming season.

So, we’ll check off on Balfour.

Next?

Ryan Flaherty and perhaps some guy you’ve never heard of named Jemile Weeks will likely compete for the starting second base job.  If Jonathan Schoop can get healthy and stay that way, he might get his hands dirty at 2B as well.  Make no mistake about it, though, this isn’t necessarily a position of strength for the Birds heading into 2014, despite the fact I personally believe Flaherty has the tools to be a “decent” everyday player.

Duquette publicly stated his off-season efforts would focus on a left-handed bat (a real one, presumably) and a left-fielder (again, I’m figuring he wanted a real one) to help produce more runs with players who understand the value of on-base percentage.

Nothing’s been done there yet.  On either account.

Yes, yes, yes, I know, the off-season haul DID include the signing of Francisco Peguero, a cast-off for the Giants who scorched the National League with a .200 batting average in his 35 career games over there.

Oh, and Nolan Reimold is back.

There’s no left-handed bat yet.

Plenty were available, but all of them make too much money for the Orioles in this “limited market” they supposedly occupy.

Are you ready for the return of Luke Scott?

You better be.

So, the off-season rolls on in Baltimore the way it usually does.  With promises, hopes and expectations — and nothing much to show for it once the presents have been unwrapped and the sunshine of Florida beckons in the not-so-distant-future.

Ticket prices increased, though.  And, the Orioles got about $30 million more in TV money to spend on players this year.  They’re not spending it, mind you, but they have it at their disposal.  So, they have that going for them, which is nice.

Things could change over the next 4-6 weeks.  Duquette could make a trade of some sort that fills one or two of the needs he stressed he was trying to fill earlier this month.  A free-agent still hanging around without a team might wind up saying “yes” to the Orioles in the days before spring training begins.

Yes, things COULD change.

But, they won’t.

Some things never change with the Orioles.

They aren’t willing to do what it takes to be a championship organization.

A fact, they’ve been proving – again – over the last six weeks since free agency began and teams who are trying to win took steps to do just that.

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Orioles Need to Practice What They Preach

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Orioles Need to Practice What They Preach

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Brett Dickinson

We have heard it all offseason; we have heard it for the past decade. After Orioles owner Peter Angelos was quoted saying Baltimore is a “limited market.” GM Dan Duquette has reiterated those sentiments, discussing the minute “resources” and trying to stay “competitive” against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.  

 

We all know the real story there; the owner refuses to open his wallet, knowing he is going to take $3.50 from every household in the Baltimore area for his MASN network. The reports circle every offseason how much Angelos grosses from his TV deal, but we all know that money will never be re-allocated to the roster, while he is in charge.

 

In the end, he is the owner and that is his prerogative; he can basically run his “business” however he so chooses (even if that means spitting in the face of those who fatten his pockets; but that’s a different story, which is already well reported by the WNST staff). If Angelos is going to stick to that “business plan” (if you want to call it that), then the team must operate as such.

 

Every offseason for the past ten or so years, we hear about those players that the Orioles are “interested” in acquiring.  Whether it is Mark Teixeira or Zack Greinke or Nelson Cruz, everyone knows the real story; the team will not pony up enough to garner their services, but cry that those players would not sign in Baltimore. So as a fan base, this is a plea for the the organization to stop with this nonsense.

 

It is time for the Orioles front office to embrace the “limited market” mantra they have been spewing for years. Stop acting as if the team will be actual players in the offseason; start acting like the team that will build from within.

 

Andy McPhail started that idea years ago; after moving Erik Bedard for Adam Jones (a move that panned out pretty damn well).  But those are the smart (and tough) decisions the organization has evaded, since their resurgence in 2012.  Take emotion out of your moves; basically make decisions with your head and not your heart.

 

The team traded away Closer Jim Johnson, one year too late and could not capitalize on his value at the time.  A contending team like the Dodgers or Tigers or Cardinals (I know I’ve said this before) would have given up an everyday player or at least some top level prospects in return if they would have pulled the trigger last offseason. Instead, the Orioles received a struggling 25 year, who was demoted to Triple A in 2013.

 

The same goes for fan favorite Matt Wieters; he’s been a gold-glover and an All-Star, but is he really worth the $100 that his agent (noted Orioles pain in the ass, Scott Boras) will ask for. The question is now what can you get in return for an overworked catcher, who is slow and cannot hit above .250?  If they would have considered moving Wieters before last season, they would have returned several top prospects and MLB players, while his value was at an all-time high.  Now, no one can even be  sure Wieters can get back even one everyday player or starting pitcher.

 

The point is that if you want to pretend that Baltimore is such a “limited” market than put your business plan in place as such.  Do not keep stringing along the hopes of fans holding out that the team will actually sign a Shin Shoo-Choo; start following the same model of successful “limited” market teams, like the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Before last season, they traded away a pretty good top-of-the-rotation starter in James Shields. In return they only received…the top prospect in baseball in OF Wil Myers and the Royals best pitching prospect, Jake Odorizzi.  

 

David PriceNow the team is in the same bind with former Cy Young Award Winner, David Price.  Since their actual resources are limited, they understand they cannot retain him under their budget.  In turn, the Rays, a perennial winning franchise in baseball, is looking to deal one of the top five best pitchers in the entire MLB.

 

And why? Because they understand value and have a business plan in place for the next several years.  They are stocked with young talent on throughout their farm system and continually replace players, like Price or Shields, with more top prospects.  

 

The Orioles brass seem to have little grasp of this concept, especially after standing still for the past two offseasons.  The tough moves are always the hardest, but will always help in the long scheme of things.  If the front office has no intentions of keeping around some of the team’s “star” players in the not too distant future, (i.e. Chris Davis) then why not make the tough decision now.  

 

Chris Davis ShirtIf the slugger is not in your future plans or budget, then why not recoup as much as possible for players the Orioles will have control over for the next seven-eight years.  Teams would be lining up with their best offers to acquire the services of a power-hitting first baseman with two years left of team control.

 

But then again this is the Orioles we are talking about. They will bank you parking your butt in the seats at Camden Yards for the next two seasons, to watch “Crush” hit bombs towards the warehouse.  All the while, you handing them money for tickets and hot dogs and beers and merchandise.

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Orioles lose out on Colon because they wouldn’t spend $20 million they already have

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Orioles lose out on Colon because they wouldn’t spend $20 million they already have

Posted on 12 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Remember the ten million bucks the Orioles saved on Jim Johnson?

“We’re going to re-allocate those resources” was the quote from head honcho Dan Duquette when asked why the Birds would dump the American League’s most successful closer over the last two seasons for the equivalent of some weekday passes to the Baltimore Aquarium and a $500 gift card to Petit Louis.

OK, well follow along with me for a minute or two and let’s once again get a clear picture of just how the Orioles go about their business when it comes to spending (the fan’s) money and improving their roster.

So, they saved ten million by giving JJ the boot.  That’s math point #1.

Duquette openly admitted the club was heading to the winter meetings in search of more pitching.  Starting pitching.  Better pitching.

Depending on whether or not you believe the talking heads from Baltimore who are employees-in-law of the Orioles through MASN Sports, the Birds were more than just tire kickers on Bartolo Colon.

They evidently wanted him.  But, only for one year.

No pun intended, but the skinny on Colon is simple.  He’ll be 41 next season.  He has a recent history of PED use, a 50-game suspension, and, well…let’s just say, he probably hasn’t done a sit up this century.

He also gets hitters out.  With great regularity.

So, the Orioles – again, you have to decide if you believe the folks down in Florida covering the meetings – showed interest in Colon and essentially said, “If you’re willing to take a one-year deal, we can talk about the money.”

Colon and his agent were able to pry two years out of the Mets.  Two years, $20 million.  Colon will spend ’14 and ’15 in New York.

Now that we know the general parameters of the contract, it’s fair to say Colon was in the neighborhood of a $10 million a year pitcher.  He MIGHT have signed for $14 million for one year (not saying I would have done that, just saying that’s the reality) but the terms of the deal he signed in New York indicate he considers himself a $10 million-ish a year pitcher.

A quality starting pitcher in MLB — I mean, a real quality starter like Colon — is worth WELL above $10 million a year.  But, at 41, and with his testosterone levels always a concern, it appears $10 million is what Colon is worth these days.

The Orioles would have given him $10 million but NOT $20 million?

I’m not sure Colon would have taken a 2-year, $20 million offer from the Orioles, but for all we know, his directive to his agent might have been, “Take the first $20 million, 2-year deal you get. ”

Had that come from the Orioles on Tuesday instead of the Mets on Wednesday, he might very well be in Baltimore.

It appears the Orioles were interested when the asking price was $10 million, but no longer interested at $20 million.

Yet, they saved $10 million by giving Johnson the boot and had $10 million removed from the books when the Brian Roberts contract expired.

I went to Glen Burnie High School, but I think that’s $20 million.

So, if I’m reading it right, the Orioles passed on Bartolo Colon for ten million dollars.

Here’s what the apologists will say:  ”I wouldn’t give him a second year.  He’ll be 42 next season.”

Correct, he will be 42.

So, at age 41 you’ll take a chance on him, but at age 42, you won’t?

Cop. Out.

If you don’t think a 41 year old pitcher shouldn’t get $20 million over two years, fair enough.

But, when you wanted to give a 41 year old pitcher $10 million and you really think he can help you, what’s another $10 million?

After all, that’s your MAXIMUM exposure, right?  He might steal $10 million from you in 2015 if he falls apart, but that’s all you lose.  And, what if you give him $20 million for two years and his stat line looks like this:

2014 — 33 starts, 194.2 IP, 18-10, 3.29 ERA, 1.200 WHIP

2015 — 27 starts, 163.2 IP, 11-9, 4.17 ERA, 1.314 WHP

In today’s market, that’s not worth $20 million?

Of course it is.

The Orioles passed on Bartolo Colon because they MIGHT have been burned for $10 million in 2015.

What about the Markakis contract?  How exposed have the Orioles become on the back end of that thing?

What if — and I don’t think it’s happening — they were to sign Nelson Cruz for $50 million for four years?  Your exposure there would be MUCH greater than the $10 million you MIGHT lose on Colon.

So, for roughly ten million dollars (give or take $2-3 million), the Orioles removed themselves from the Bartolo Colon chase.

Ten million they have, by the way, after removing $20 million from the books.

Oh, and they’re getting $25 million in new TV money to play with in 2014.

They needed a quality starting pitcher.

And they passed on him because of ten million bucks.

That’s called:  cheap.

 

 

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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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Jim Johnson Delivers Orioles Their Favorite Kind of Save

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Jim Johnson Delivers Orioles Their Favorite Kind of Save

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

The downside of high expectations is the potential for disappointment. It’s a lesson that Baltimore sports fans know all too well. Maybe as Orioles fans we should learn to appreciate that by obliterating our expectations, the team has spared us the possibility of disappointment. After all 2012 was a magical baseball season in Baltimore, mostly because it came out of nowhere; mostly because it came at a point where our expectations as fans had reached their all-time low. Clearly if we had believed going in that the Orioles were a playoff caliber team, if they had given us any reason at all to expect success, then a disappointing flame out in the ALDS would have been nice…but far from magical.

On Monday, the Orioles traded the arguable MVP of the 2012 season for a nondescript middle infielder and a likely disappointment to be named later. The Orioles traded away 101 saves in the last 2 seasons for 1 big save, somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million in 2014.

 

Now before we get too carried away with the tales of Jim Johnson, departing hero, let’s also remember that Johnson’s 9 blown saves and 8 losses in 2013 on the heels of his playing the goat in the 2012 ALDS had more than worn out his welcome with the fans of the Orioles. The truth of the matter is that the Orioles had to trade Jim Johnson. The unfortunate part of that truth is that they had to trade him 1 year ago, or 7 months from now, not on Monday. The familiar truth of the matter is that other than his $10 million projected salary for 2014, there were no good reasons to trade Jim Johnson when they did, with his value at an all-time low.

 

Perhaps the rumors were true, and the Orioles will have to live with not parlaying Johnson to the Tigers last year for Rick Porcello, or some other real baseball player. Perhaps Johnson’s overuse by the team was the culprit for his failures at the end of 2012 and throughout 2013, and if the Orioles had paced him better in 2014 there would have been a chance to trade him in June or July for something of value. Perhaps the A’s (notorious for trading closers) are looking to do just that. Undoubtedly, there has never been a worse time to trade Johnson than the time at which the Orioles actually decided to do it, and thus the move serves as little more than a salary dump.

 

Last off-season was a tough one for Orioles fans to take, as they sat on their hands after giving fans their first taste of contention in a decade and a half. Still it may have been prudent for the Orioles, having seen so many improbable returns on players we weren’t altogether sure about, to give it another season to see if their talent was real. And while 2013 ended short of the playoffs, we did indeed see that the talent on hand was for real (for the most part). Yet here we sit, with plenty of off-season left no doubt, but seemingly on the way to another winter of disappointment.

 

Jim Johnson, a one time valuable Major League commodity, was traded away for nothing, Matt Wieters another player with substantially diminished value appears to be next, and the likelihood of getting another Adam Jones caliber “home town discount” on an incumbent player in a long-term deal is for now, hopeful at best.

 

In going “all in” by adding talent during the 2013 season, there was reason to hope that the Orioles had learned a lesson. The Orioles made 3 “major” pitching acquisitions to sure up an undermanned staff in their push for last year’s playoffs. Two of those 3 players could have been signed in the off-season just for the cost of their contracts, without forfeiture of a draft pick and without the need to trade away prospects. After sitting on their hands through the winter of 2012-13 the Orioles paid for their inactivity in prospects.

 

Boston meanwhile, after a 2012 fire sale filled out their roster with 8 players that anyone could have had in free agency. None of those players got a commitment beyond 3-years, and none cost a draft pick. The Red Sox added those players to a nucleus not much better (if at all) than the one that the Orioles had and walked away with a World Series title (and an extra draft pick if Stephen Drew signs somewhere else) for their efforts.

 

Maybe the Orioles will put the $10 million they saved in Jim Johnson’s contract to good use and prove my cynicism unfounded. Maybe they’ll hold onto Matt Wieters for long enough to see some of his value return before trading him away. Maybe they’ll lock up a few of their current stars to long-term deals and assure a competitive nucleus while we await the development of  “The Cavalry Part II”. But there’s no reason to expect it. Therein lies the strength of the organization.

 

Those of us who remain loyal to the orange and black do so despite their best efforts to discourage us at every turn. It makes us much happier and more appreciative when they actually do right by us, because we’ve been conditioned not to expect it.

 

Let’s face it, the Orioles were just bailed out of a contract by the notoriously thrifty Oakland A’s. Talk about an all-time low…

 

 

 

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Showalter leaving door open for ninth-inning options besides Johnson

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Showalter leaving door open for ninth-inning options besides Johnson

Posted on 16 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

BALTIMORE — With the Orioles returning home following a deflating three-game sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the question on everyone’s mind was who would take the ball in the ninth inning for manager Buck Showalter.

Having blown his last three save opportunities to run his total to a league-worst nine for the season, closer Jim Johnson told reporters in the Orioles clubhouse that he remains confident and that Showalter continues to express confidence in him. And while it’s true that the Baltimore manager maintained Friday that Johnson was still the best option on the team, he also provided himself wiggle room to make a change if he feels it to be necessary.

“I think we have a lot of options and he’s one of them,” Showalter said. “We’re lucky to have all those options. Different guys have failure. I know the finality of it and I know the questions should and need to be asked and it’s frustrating for Jimmy and me. I’m frustrated for him. There’s some things we haven’t done in other innings, too, but I understand the finality of that inning.”

Johnson still leads the majors with 39 saves, but the embattled right-hander is just 9-for-16 in one-run saves as many have pointed to the Orioles’ horrendous 56-9 mark when leading after eight innings and an underwhelming 14-21 record in one-run games after going a remarkable 29-9 in contests decided by one run last year. Those ugly realities have led most to the conclusion that the Orioles need to make a change at the closer spot — at least temporarily.

Showalter has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Johnson this year — including when the 30-year-old reliever blew four of five save chances in late May — but that loyalty is now appearing to contradict the ultimate goal of winning enough games to qualify for postseason play. If Showalter is planning a change, it comes as no surprise that he isn’t broadcasting that for both competitive reasons and respect for the 2012 All-Star closer.

Some have suggested even just giving Johnson a mental and physical respite for a number of days to see if that straightens him out for the stretch run, but the club has already tried to do that at a couple points this season, according to Showalter. If the next save opportunity comes Friday or later this weekend or even next week, the Orioles aren’t tipping their hand whether it will once again be Johnson or somebody else trotting to the hill in the ninth inning.

“If we decide to do that, there’s not going to be some big announcement,” Showalter said. “It will be something I’ve talked to people about and you’ll probably know about it when the gate opens. There are a lot of things that have to be done for us to get 27 outs before they score more runs than we do.”

Even Showalter’s biggest supporters have questioned the sanity of continuing to use Johnson in the ninth inning, a reality not lost on the manager as the Orioles start an important nine-game homestand to take them to the final days of August.

He’s very aware that the Orioles have lost some games that they shouldn’t have won, but Showalter’s intense loyalty to his players that is typically viewed as his greatest strength looks much more like a weakness at this point.

“I’m a fan, too. I get frustrated. We’re all fans of the Orioles,” Showalter said. “I’m a fan of the Orioles and I want us to win. If there are adjustments that need to be made along the way, I understand the sense of urgency with 42 games [left]. But I also know we’re still in a position to do what we set out to do this season and we won’t give in.”

No timetable for Adair’s return to club

As the organization did in announced Rick Adair’s personal leave of absence on Friday morning, Showalter remained respectful of his privacy and would not divulge any details about the circumstances with which the pitching coach is dealing.

Bullpen coach Bill Castro will assume the duties of pitching coach while former Orioles left-hander and minor-league instructor Scott McGregor will serve as the interim bullpen coach. Castro has major league experience as a pitching coach after previously serving in that capacity with the Milwaukee Brewers as recently as 2009.

Many reacted to the news by immediately speculating that this was a polite way to dismiss Adair, but the Orioles have been emphatic that the reason for the leave of absence isn’t related to his job performance. We could eventually learn there is more to this story, but it’s also important to remember coaches and players are also human beings with everyday trials just like anyone else.

“We all have some things in our lives we need to take care of that are more important than this, believe it or not,” Showalter said. “We’re just fortunate to be in an organization that is willing to do those things, and we’re fortunate to have people like Billy and Scott that can make it seamless. It has nothing to do with the job Rick is doing. Rick’s been doing a good job. Just some challenges we all have that we need to take some time and take care of.”

Showalter held a team meeting Friday afternoon to inform them of the shuffling along the coaching ranks and to address any rumors that might hear about Adair’s absence. Castro met with Orioles pitchers individually prior to the series opener against Colorado.

Gausman dealing with arm soreness

After top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery earlier in the season, the last thing Orioles fans wanted to hear Friday was that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman was skipped in the Triple-A Norfolk rotation with some soreness in his right arm.

Showalter made it clear that this isn’t considered to be anything serious, but the club also presented a similar prognosis when Bundy first complained of forearm discomfort. Of course, pitchers frequently deal with sore or tired arms and it doesn’t mean Gausman is facing any type of long-term issue at this time, but it will be something the Orioles will monitor for the time being.

“He feels good. He’s not happy about not pitching, but just had a little soreness,” Showalter said. “[It will] probably be the last time he ever tells us about it. That’s usually how it goes. They don’t seem alarmed about it. There was some give and take about whether they were even going to do it.”

The good news is that Showalter acknowledged the extra rest would benefit Gausman in terms of his workload and referred to the likely scenario of Gausman helping out the major league club in September and beyond.

Gausman last pitched on Aug. 8 when he allowed two earned runs in five innings of work for the Tides.

Changing it up

For the second time over the last week, Showalter flipped first baseman Chris Davis and right fielder Nick Markakis in the batting order as Davis was hitting third and Markakis fifth in Friday’s lineup against the Colorado Rockies.

Showalter admitted there were a variety of reasons for making the change, ranging from a desire to get Davis more at-bats to simply wanting to shake things up in hopes of jump-starting the offense. With both Davis and Markakis swinging from the left side, the change keeps the lineup in order in terms of making it difficult for a bullpen to match up in the late innings as Showalter frequently alternates right-handers and left-handers.

“Nick doesn’t care if he hits ninth, first, second, third, twelfth. He would probably have a problem with hitting twelfth,” Showalter quipped. “It’s just something we feel like is a good approach for today. We’ll see where it takes us.”

While Davis is in the midst of an MVP-caliber year, Markakis’ .282 batting average, .335 on-base percentage, and .372 slugging percentage are all career lows, making an easy argument against the right fielder remaining in the No. 3 slot in the lineup. It will also be interesting to see what it means for Davis with Adam Jones hitting directly behind him in the order compared to either Matt Wieters or J.J. Hardy as we’ve seen for most of the season.

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Time for Buck to Switch Things Up

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Time for Buck to Switch Things Up

Posted on 14 August 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Buck Showalter has been given the ultimate pass for everything he can do as a manager, because he revived the entire baseball community in Baltimore.  Yet he has shown an unyielding stubbornness with his current group of players. Buck has backed the likes of Jim Johnson, Jason Hammel and others, almost to a fault, possibly losing key games throughout the season.

Now this has not always been the case for the O’s skipper, who earned a reputation as a dictator or tyrant in his previous stints.  There is no denying he is one of the most intelligent minds in the sport, but was not always accessible to his players.  He basically wore out his welcome with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, but left all those franchises in good terms for the near future (especially New York and Arizona, who went on to win championships the year after his departure).

He spent some time with ESPN, where his analysis alone, led people to believe he was ready to take over the helm of another franchise.  And that’s where the young core that Andy McPhail built in Baltimore came in.  Buck was the right manager, at the right time, for a team with a lot of young talent, but little experience.

He seemed to turn over a new leaf, when coming to Baltimore; being more approachable by his players and communicating his ideas to the entire organization.  The bond he made with rising stars, like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, is evident on and off the field.  He basically pulled a 180 with his demeanor from his past jobs.  The problem arises now, with a team trying to make a second straight playoff appearance, where he lets his heart and not his mind make some of his decisions.

Buck continually sends Jim Johnson out in the 9th inning, following the save rule to a tee (even if he says he does not believe in it). Johnson now has eight blown saves on the season and is accountable for at least seven losses for the Orioles.  Even in the games which Johnson finishes the job, he has struggled, putting runners on base and giving up runs.  That has all led to his 3.42; which would be great for a starter, but really below average for pitcher who is relied on to finish one inning.  I was a big advocate of Johnson not lasting at the closer spot, for the long-term, and should have moved on in the offseason, while his value was at an all-time high (noted here).

The Orioles acquired Francisco Rodriguez,  who does hold the all-time single season save record (even though that was 2008 with the Angels).  Though he has not pitched up to that prowess since 2009 (his first season with the Mets), he posted stellar numbers in the first half of the season (10 saves 1.09 ERA, 1.054 WHIP) with the Brewers, while switching from set-up man to closer.

Now Rodriguez has not played as well with the Orioles, having issues giving up the long ball, but actually has a lower WHIP (.875) with the Orioles.  He has the “closer mentality” and stuff to strike out players in the pressure situations. It would behoove Buck to at least see what he has in closer spot now, before its too late.

Moving Johnson out of the 9th inning also adds depth to the back end of the bullpen.  Johnson was an excellent set-up man two years ago and could rotate with the likes of Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz late in close games.  This will add rest to some of the most overworked relievers for the Orioles (and all of baseball).  Add in a decision to be made on the 5th starter spot by Sunday (where the team has listed TBA for the starting pitcher spot on Sunday; Scott Feldman’s turn in the rotation), which could add Feldman into the mix in the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

Other options to put into the closer spot include: O’Day, Hunter and a September call-up to Kevin Gausman.  In the end, Buck could go the “Moneyball” route, using a closer by committee, with two or three options to finish games (depending on match-ups and rest).  Either way the time is now to mix up the bullpen; an experiment to put every pitcher on the staff in their best role would suit the Orioles for the stretch run.

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Second half expectations for the Orioles

Posted on 20 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Lately, the Orioles have been playing good baseball. Chen has returned as the team’s most consistent pitcher and the offense keeps on producing. If the Orioles want to make a serious postseason run, the offense must continue to produce but the bullpen must improve.

The one position of need for the Orioles is the designated hitter. On the season, the designated hitter has not produced for the O’s. Hitters in that position have managed to hit a meager .197 average.

Before the All-Star break, the series against the Blue Jays was a microcosm of the first half for designated hitters wearing an Orioles jersey. Ryan Flaherty, Nolan Reimold, and Chris Dickerson managed only one hit and struck out eight times. These three players also left five men on base. Four of these base runners were stranded in the lone loss to Toronto, which was a winnable game, had the DH performed better.

Now, unless you have been living under a rock in Baltimore, you know what the Orioles have recently done to improve that position. Over the All-Star break, Henry Urrutia was called up from Triple A-Norfolk. The 26-year-old Cuban sensation will be expected to come in and produce right away seeing as he is starting tonight against the Texas Rangers.

At Norfolk and Bowie, Urrutia hit a combined .356 average to go along with seven home runs and 43 RBI.

This is yet another great sign for the start of the second half.

The Orioles All-Stars, especially Manny Machado, had great performances in the All-Star game. Secondly, they won last night! Chen went 6 and one-third innings, allowing eight hits and just one earned run.

Whenever Chen is pitching, he always gives the Orioles a chance to win. He doesn’t get anxious on the mound and he eats up innings. Scott Feldman was brought in as another starter for the same purpose. He has made three starts since he was acquired and has a 5.79 ERA. In his last outing against the Blue Jays, Feldman went seven and one third innings. In those innings, he gave up three earned runs off five hits while striking out seven batters.

If Feldman can continue pitching like he has against the Blue Jays and White Sox, the Orioles chances of making a postseason run increases.

While the Orioles can make the playoffs, I won’t have much faith in their chances of making a run. Their closing situation has surprisingly become an issue and their bullpen has struggled the entire season. Their offense is great but elite pitchers can shut them down and I don’t have faith that the bullpen could keep games close.

On the other hand, the Orioles have shown they can be supremely poised and clutch. There is something about this team that also makes me think they can overcome their pitching deficiencies. The only major obstacle for this team is the closing role. Jim Johnson has a lot of saves this season but has really struggled of late. If Johnson performs, the sky is the limit for the Orioles.

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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

Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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