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Davis problem growing even more uncomfortable in Orioles rebuild

Posted on 08 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit one “right on the screws” in the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss, as manager Brandon Hyde described it.

After quickly falling behind 0-2, Davis fouled off two mid-90s fastballs from New York Yankees reliever Chad Green and took two pitches to work the count even. It was a competitive at-bat that ended with him making hard contact, regardless of the unsuccessful outcome.

That we’re breaking down a routine grounder to the first baseman in the eighth game of the season, however, illustrates how extraordinary this problem has become with someone in the midst of a seven-year, $161 million contract running through 2022. Davis concluded Sunday hitless in his first 27 plate appearances of 2019 and is now 0-for-44 since collecting his last hit last Sept. 14. That leaves him two at-bats shy of the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher in major league history, set by Eugenio Velez from 2010-11.

But this story is no longer about futility records or punchlines, though they will certainly persist in the foreseeable future. This isn’t a “slump” or something easily explained by the simplistic theories we’ve all heard or discussed at times, ranging from the effects of infield shifting to the aftermath of Davis’ 2014 suspension for Adderall use. It isn’t a debate about whether fans paying big-league prices should boo their own players, though we do need to remember this is still a human being when the criticisms turn too personal.

This situation grows more uncomfortable by the day with Davis’ historic fall from being a useful major league player contrasting with an Orioles club focused solely on the future. That was never more evident than in the home opener when Davis struck out three times — the boos intensifying with each one — and was replaced by Hanser Alberto in his final scheduled at-bat. The utility infielder sporting a career .489 on-base plus slugging percentage — worse than Davis’ .539 mark last year — received a rousing ovation simply because he was someone else stepping to the plate.

Even the loudest critics of the Davis contract three years ago never predicted it going this poorly this soon, but to continue this partnership much longer in its current state is unfair to virtually everyone involved.

With Davis still owed more than $100 million when accounting for deferred money, the hope was a new analytic-minded front office and coaching staff might be able to help him make the adjustments to become a passable major leaguer again like he was as late as 2017. In 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League against various levels of pitching, however, Davis batted .189 with three home runs and 19 strikeouts. So far, he’s struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances in the regular season.

Manager Brandon Hyde continues preaching patience and is doing his best to note positives, but it’s evident the new regime is already handling Davis differently as he batted seventh, was benched against two lefty starters, and was pinch-hit for two other times over the first nine games. The 33-year-old didn’t start on Saturday despite owning nearly twice as many career homers as the entire Baltimore starting lineup combined.

“Chris is on the team, and we’re going to support Chris like I support everybody else,” Hyde said. “I feel like I have a really good relationship with Chris and I’m behind Chris. I know our coaching staff is as well, and I couldn’t be happier for what he’s put in so far this year and how he’s gone about his business. It just hasn’t happened yet. From spring training, he really has been focused to improve. He’s been a team guy, done unbelievable in defensive drills, has worked really good with the hitting coaches. He’s been present every single day and is a nice voice in our clubhouse. He’s just off to a slow start. And I’m going to support him, and I’m not going to stop supporting him. He’s one of 25 guys that I’m going to be positive with, and I want to believe he’s going to turn it around.”

As much as general manager Mike Elias and Hyde wanted to take a clean-slate approach with incumbents and wouldn’t draw any conclusions based solely on 27 plate appearances so far this season, no one can ignore Davis’ rapid decline since 2016. Even breaking the nightmare body of work into smaller pieces for signs of short-term success, Davis hasn’t produced a single month with an OPS above .800 since May of 2017. The last time he produced an OPS above .750 — a decent mark at best — was August of 2017. Since then, his best month has been a .695 OPS last July that was buoyed by six home runs and still accompanied by a .169 average.

So far in 2019, Davis is striking out more frequently than ever, making less contact than ever, and swinging less frequently than ever. Small sample sizes, yes, but part of a much larger historic decline showing no evidence of changing course for the better.

That brings us to ownership and what the endgame is with Davis remaining on a rebuilding club at this point. Even if he magically rediscovers his stroke, there isn’t a single club who would take as much as a phone call about a trade involving Davis, and his contract will be expiring right around the time the Orioles realistically hope to be competitive again. Hyde’s comments reflect favorably on Davis’ character, but it’s a hard sell to get anyone to buy into what the Orioles are doing for the long haul if Davis continues to play and remains on the roster without substantial improvement sooner than later. You can only imagine how such intense failure impacts any individual and their personality, leaving one to wonder if that would be the healthiest environment for younger players trying to find their way.

The greatest of cynics might even suggest this situation could become a game of “chicken” in which the Orioles hope Davis will grow so despondent and humiliated from failure that he’ll quit, which would allow the organization to recover money. But remember we’re talking about a human being — albeit a highly-paid one — whom the Orioles were never forced to sign to a guaranteed contract three years ago. Davis is far from perfect and deserves great criticism for his play, but you don’t get to the point he did in his career without caring about your craft, even if not always taking the proper steps.

As various theories will continue to be discussed, it becomes more likely that his once-impressive talents simply aren’t there anymore, especially if a front office with new information and technology and a new coaching staff with fresh eyes and ideas can’t help him make any improvement. To deliberately prolong that reality in hopes of “breaking” him would be wrong.

Ultimately, this is a decision falling at the feet of Louis and John Angelos as there isn’t a general manager in professional sports who’d be able to jettison a player still owed nine figures without ownership’s approval. The Angelos sons made excellent hires in luring Elias and analytics guru Sig Mejdal away from Houston, but their next test will be how much longer they allow the Davis saga to play out.

The organization having the conviction to want to give him a little more time in a new season to try to figure it out is fine, but his start makes the need for a long-term plan and exit strategy that much more urgent, especially with legitimate prospect Ryan Mountcastle now playing first base at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles shifting Trey Mancini to a corner outfield spot these last couple of years is one thing, but Davis also hindering Mountcastle’s development would add organizational malpractice to an already-painful sunk cost.

Whether a long-term stint on the injured list for Davis to try to rebuild his swing in Sarasota or an outright release by a certain date is in the cards, the Orioles can no longer just sit back and assume — or even pray — this will get better.

How fans already being asked to endure a lengthy rebuild reacted in the first home game of the season made it evident how uncomfortable this has become for everyone.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on end of Duquette-Showalter era

Posted on 04 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter officially being dismissed on Wednesday, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Their relationship wasn’t always harmonious, but Duquette and Showalter — with a hat tip to Andy MacPhail — guided the Orioles to their most successful five-season run in the last 35 years. They made mistakes and paid the price for a 115-loss season, but that shouldn’t wipe away good feelings.

2. Not using Zach Britton in the 2016 AL wild card game was the beginning of the end, but that shouldn’t define Showalter’s legacy. His 2010 arrival eventually brought legitimacy and a higher standard not seen here in a long time. As he likes to say, I have a long memory.

3. Acknowledging a working environment in which others had influence on decisions, it’s difficult to accurately assess Duquette’s tenure. To say he only reaped the benefits of MacPhail’s work is unfair, but he had his share of bad trades and signings. The Chris Davis contract wasn’t his doing.

4. Wednesday’s press release deliberately stating the plan to hire a head of baseball operations outside the organization who “will have the final determination on all baseball matters” sounds great, but is that a sincere vow rooted in self-awareness or merely lip service? Time will tell.

5. The casual mention of Brady Anderson remaining under contract is the elephant in the room needing to be addressed with any legitimate candidate considering the job. Will Anderson remain? If so, will he answer to the new hire? A clear and authentic chain of command is an absolute must.

6. Who will be involved in the hiring process and ultimately make the final decision? What will be the prioritized hiring criteria? Will any experienced outsiders serve as consultants to help make informed decisions? A press conference would go a long way in providing these answers to a deserving fan base.

7. I’d prefer an up-and-coming lieutenant embracing analytics and innovation to an established “name” who leans solely on more traditional practices. You hope what Duquette preached at the trade deadline about improving scouting, analytics, and the presence in the international market still holds true.

8. Former Boston general manager Ben Cherington has the desire “to build an organization from ground up,” a descriptor certainly fitting of the Orioles. That doesn’t mean he’ll be interested here, but I believe a clean slate is appealing to talented baseball minds — if truly given autonomy.

9. I’m not all that intrigued by how the managerial job will be filled beyond that hire needing to be made by the new head of baseball operations. Give me a younger manager in step with front office philosophies who will relate well to young players. It definitely won’t be easy.

10. I’m lukewarm to the idea of anyone with strong Orioles ties being hired for either position. Speaking as someone who grew up on this team, “The Oriole Way” hasn’t been much more than a marketing slogan for over three decades. There are other ways to involve former Orioles.

11. Talent is paramount, but I’d love to see the organization experiment in the midst of what will be much losing. Baltimore was among the early clubs to embrace infield shifting and prioritize the bullpen, two major factors today. Try new ideas instead of simply losing with “safe” practices. Openers, anyone?

12. John and Lou Angelos will begin to carve out their legacy from this point on. They need to get this right to prove they’ve learned from the organization’s past mistakes and to restore — and preserve — the well-being of the franchise in Baltimore. The pressure is on.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles hitting the All-Star break an unthinkable 39 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Even with a victory in the final game before the All-Star break that featured contributions from Manny Machado and Adam Jones, the Orioles remain on pace to become the fifth major league team since 1901 to lose 115 games in a season. Infamy continues to chase them.

2. Baltimore hadn’t won on consecutive days at home since its season-best four-game winning streak from May 9-12, and it had also been three weeks since the club won consecutive games. Overshadowed by the frustration and anger of the season is how truly astonishing it’s all been.

3. Chris Tillman being bypassed in favor of a bullpen game Sunday should speak volumes about where he stands with his rehab assignment coming to an end. Not even a Jimmy Yacabonis illness could bring him back to the majors.

4. The question isn’t about whom to fire as much as determining who deserves to stick around for the pending rebuild. How do Buck Showalter and his coaching staff come back from such a historically poor season? What’s the justification for maintaining the status quo? It’s a tough sell.

5. Beyond trades involving pending free agents, a top second-half priority needs to be getting Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini on track. Both are too young and talented to have played like this. The Orioles need these two to be pillars around which to build or at least potential trade chips.

6. After being optioned to the minors for the second time in a month, Chance Sisco needs to be left alone for a while. I have doubts about what we’ve seen from him so far, but making him a regular on the Norfolk shuttle isn’t going to help matters.

7. I certainly wouldn’t give away Mychal Givens and his current 4.28 ERA, but the organization’s reluctance to trade him is too shortsighted. No one should be off the table when you’re facing a multiyear rebuild, especially factoring in the volatility of relievers.

8. In his first 23 games since returning from his benching, Chris Davis has batted .176 with five home runs, a .245 on-base percentage, and a .388 slugging percentage. That actually represents improvement, too. He sits at minus-2.5 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

9. The Orioles entered the break last in the majors at minus-87 defensive runs saved, and the cause isn’t players being out of position as Showalter suggested this past week. Players with more speed and better defensive skills are needed rather than a surplus of designated hitters with gloves.

10. An addition to begin changing that narrative would be Cedric Mullins, who entered Monday sporting an .820 on-base plus slugging percentage for Triple-A Norfolk. It’s time to start seeing what the 23-year-old center fielder can do in the majors.

11. Brooks Robinson being hired as a special assistant is a great move, but I can’t stop thinking about how long overdue it is. This is something that should have happened from the moment “Mr. Oriole” left the broadcast booth 25 years ago. Better late than never though.

12. Now, is there any chance John and Lou Angelos can do something about THIS?

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#DearOrioles

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Letting The Warehouse know via #DearOrioles letters that those empty seats are still out here

Posted on 25 June 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

I’VE THOUGHT LONG AND HARD about how I can best shine a light on the significance of the Baltimore Orioles to our city and community in this summer of baseball darkness.

In my hopes of one day becoming a “man of letters” – and in my old-fashioned newspaper columnist way and sans a legitimate press credential that was taken from me 12 years ago after 21 years of covering the baseball team – I’ve decided that the best thing I can do short of delivering a personal message to any of them face to face is write personal notes to all of them. So between now and whenever this mess is dismantled or disintegrates, they’ll all be getting very public and personal letters from me on the way out the door. And for those who are remaining – and most of those are named “Angelos” – I’ll continue to challenge them to answer to the fans, the stakeholders and the community in this tender time in Orioles history.

I’ll ask them all: “What does your future hold? What will your legacy be?”

It’s what John Steadman would do.

You can read them at the hashtag #DearOrioles. I’m hoping folks in the community will write their own #DearOrioles questions, concerns and memos.

This is the 25th summer Peter G. Angelos has owned the Orioles. It is my 27th year of doing sports radio and media in Baltimore. On August 3rd, WNST will celebrate its 20th year serving local sports fans the truth about the teams and the people who create, host and benefit from the games our community has supported with massive tax breaks, stadium erections and credit card insertions.

I was here doing this Baltimore sports media thing long before anyone outside of Bethlehem Steel ever knew the name of Peter G. Angelos – back in the spring and summer of 1993 when he created chaos and somehow usurped control of the franchise away from Bill DeWitt and Larry Lucchino. I wrote about that last summer in The Peter Principles. You can also find the audio read in the Buy A Toyota Audio Vault.

By my count, there have been five summers of relevance under his quarter of a century of involvement. In baseball parlance, that’s batting .200 ­–­ or 50 points higher than the guy they owe $130 million ill-fated dollars to over the next 20 years. By my count, he’s pocketed in excess of $1 billion in profit over the past 15 years, primarily due to a “get out of debt free” deal with Major League Baseball to bring a team to Washington, D.C. and allowing Angelos a spigot to print cable television money via MASN.

Peter G. Angelos and his heirs have been big winners in the Baltimore baseball game. Big with a capital “B” as in billions.

Meanwhile, fans of the Baltimore Orioles and vested community members have consistently been the losers in the baseball game. And the promises that William Donald Schaefer made with Edward Bennett Williams before his death about Camden Yards and a downtown stadium and the emotional and/or economic benefits it would provide for our city and community have all but evaporated.

I’m the guy who did Free The Birds back in September 2006 in an attempt to hold Angelos accountable and publicly discuss the issues surrounding a deserted downtown on game nights. It appears as though I’ve now lived long enough to arrive at holding the next “person of influence” with the Orioles accountable as well.

I pray that the next “caretaker” actually takes care of it because it’s in desperate need of some TLC. There are whispers that the franchise is in jeopardy of leaving Baltimore.

Can you imagine Peter G. Angelos being around to negotiate a long-term lease for Camden Yards and the threats that would come?

I’ve built my life and company and business and personal brand around local sports and the baseball franchise – for better or worse. My childhood love of the Baltimore Orioles is deep and well told. I’ve always loved the team. I live here. I moved downtown in 2003 to attend Orioles games. I wrote about it over 19 chapters of history in 2006 when I did the #FreeTheBirds walkout to shine a light on the horrific ownership and the lack of accountability. I’m no #Nestordamus, but I can say that I very clearly predicted the demise of the brand given the

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of nine-game homestand

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles limping home with an appalling 8-26 record after a winless trip to the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore needs to play like a 92-win club the rest of the way to finish at .500 and like a 97-win team just to get to 85 wins. Even the obligatory Dumb and Dumber reference rings hollow at this point.

2. If you’re seeking any semblance of a silver lining, there shouldn’t be any danger of the organization having delusions of a chance at the trade deadline as it did in 2015 and 2017. Hovering a few games below .500 in late July and not selling would be worse than this.

3. Firing anyone at this point isn’t saving the season and isn’t going to prompt more fans to come to the ballpark. At the same time, nothing should be off the table when an organization is in this kind of a position and there’s so much blame to pass around.

4. As has been discussed by numerous outlets for months, the Orioles communicating and executing a short-term and long-term direction would mean more than firing or trading any individual. Chris Davis remaining the biggest example of long-term stability speaks volumes.

5. Part of that direction is determining how dramatically to rebuild. Trading pending free agents is easy, but will fetch mostly-underwhelming returns. Dealing Kevin Gausman or even Dylan Bundy would be painful, but they’d fetch more talent. Are the Orioles going to contend again before either hits free agency?

6. The organization should be open to trading Manny Machado at any moment, but I’m not convinced the best offers automatically come now rather than a little later. Teams’ needs and their level of urgency aren’t in a vacuum — even if it would be smart to maximize the rental.

7. Jonathan Schoop returning from the disabled list is a welcome sight. The Orioles would be wise to put on the full press to try to extend him over the next two months. If unsuccessful, trading him at the deadline should be a major priority. They shouldn’t repeat the Machado saga.

8. How to proceed with Adam Jones is complicated on various levels, especially since he has a full no-trade clause. However, he’s not going to have any trade value if he continues to sport a .674 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has two walks in 144 plate appearances.

9. The numbers back up how awful the Orioles defense has been as they entered Tuesday ranked dead last in the majors at minus-28 defensive runs saved. Trey Mancini is at a club-worst minus-10 defensive runs saved while Jones sits at minus-seven.

10. Alex Cobb looking much more like Alex Cobb over his last two starts has been encouraging. As was feared a few weeks ago, however, it already appears too late to make a meaningful difference in 2018.

11. No matter who runs the organization in 2019, persuading the Angelos family to reconsider its long-held position on sitting out the international market is a must if the Orioles ever want to build a strong farm system.

12. Nick Markakis owns a .977 OPS and has struck out 13 times compared to 20 walks in the final season of his deal with Atlanta. The 34-year-old hasn’t been great the entire time, but the Orioles could have used his dependability and .362 on-base percentage over these last few years.

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