Q&A: Atkins, Scott, A-Gon, The Plan

Unfortunately, my manner of answering questions requires a bit of work. That means that I can’t really do an effective live chat, where you all post questions/comments and I reply. There was a bit of that going on via Twitter regarding Adrian Gonzalez, but I don’t know how well I was able to get my points across or explain things well. That means the system of questions being posted in the comments with an answer post sometimes going up (or just a reply there) might be the best way to go (for now).

Anyway, here are a few more queries from Sean (who asked about Kouz), ranging from Atkins’ defense to the O’s needing a first-baseman to trading Luke Scott to trading for Adrian Gonzalez. I’ll take go through them one at a time, and I highly recommend checking it out for the section on the team going forward at the very least:

Thanks, Daniel! Glad to have the answer, despite its irrelevance. My next questions for you are:

1) Do you see Atkins sticking at third? And, if that’s the case, does this set the O’s up to sign a firstbaseman, or is it more likely that we’ll see a lot of Aubrey and Wiggington until Snyder gets called up?

Atkins isn’t a great fielder by any stretch, but he’s not a complete butcher at third. He’ll be able to stick there through 2010 at least without killing the team, and is a fair bit better than the immediate alternative (Ty Wigginton).

Atkins can certainly fill in at first some as well, and though he does have a -6.3 career UZR/150 there it’s in a relatively small sample size. Given his play at third, it would be assumed that Atkins would be an average to slightly above average first-baseman.

I do think the O’s will sign a regular first-baseman though, since Wiggy is more of a bench player and Aubrey just isn’t that good.

2) Is it feasible that the O’s will manage to deal Luke Scott during the offseason? Everybody seems to agree that Scott should be moved to make room for Reimold at DH and Pie at LF, but is there any market for him? Or will there be a market for him later on in the season? If Scott can be dealt, what type of prospect can we expect to get in return for him?

Luke really needs to get dealt – he’s getting older and more expensive, and isn’t exactly an elite player to begin with. If I remember correctly, Scott has around $6 in value for the time he’s under team control, so he should be able to bring in a B-ish prospect. A team like Atlanta may be in need of an outfielder, or it might be a team at the deadline looking for some left-handed power like with Aubrey Huff and Detroit last season. DH’ing him another couple season and then eventually letting him walk would be a mistake.

3) Kevin Cowherd, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, seems to believe that the O’s need to go hard after Adrian Gonzalez in order to prove to the fanbase that they really are improving the team. A lot of people over at MLBtraderumor are guessing that the O’s would have to form a package around Adam Jones and/or Chris Tillman to snag Gonzalez. This seems very, very unlikely to happen. Is there any way that the O’s can outbid the BoSox, who are expected to offer Jacoby Ellsbury and/or Clay Bucholz, without dealing away our future stars?

To answer the question directly, the only way the O’s can outbid the Red Sox and acquire Gonzlaez without dealing their future stars is if they have some magical ability to tell the future. Then they can deal only those prospects that won’t amount to as much while keeping the future stars for themselves. (Much) more lengthily though…

I weighed in on A-Gon during the season previously, though I’ll repost the valuation part here:

“First off, Adrian Gonzales is a great player. He’s hitting .276/.406/.567 this year, with 33 home runs and a .405 wOBA – all despite playing half his games in an extreme pitcher’s park. The guy can swing the bat, but this – in his age 27 season – may be a career year for him. His wOBA’s going back the last three years are .368, .360, and .363. His ZiPS rest of season projection calls for a .388 wOBA, so I think it’s fair to say that Gonzalez is a very good hitter but not quite as good as he’s been this year. His defense has been a little up and down (relative to average) according to UZR the last few years, but in general he’s solid with the glove over at first-base. Gonzalez is also signed to a very cheap contract, making $4.75 M next year and $5.5 M in 2011 (as a club option that will almost assuredly be picked up). Gonzalez is a fair bet to end the year as a 6 Wins Above Replacement player (he’s at about 4.8 already), and if you want to call him a 5.5 WAR guy next year and a 5 WAR guy the year after that I won’t argue too much. (I think that’s on the high side, but I won’t argue it. He was between 3.3 and 3.9 WAR the last three years, by the way.) So at those levels of production – assuming $4.5 M per WAR – he would be worth about $47 M. Subtract out his salary, and that’s about $37 M in excess value to his team. He’s certainly worth a lot.”

He ended up finishing at 6.3 WAR. That’s a lot of value to acquire, but it’s only coming in two years – 2010 and 2011 – in which the team isn’t really ready to contend (certainly the former, and still possibly the latter). Contend means “have some reasonable expectation of being able to win 90+ games and have a legit chance at the playoffs” and not “win 82 games to break the streak of losing seasons to make everyone slightly – and very briefly – happy,” by the way. The Orioles lost 98 games last year; let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Now you might say “but the team will sign him to an extension keeping him in Baltimore longer than two years.” True enough. Of course, signing him off of his career year for his age 30-34 (let’s say) seasons would likely result in a less than ideal contract. I’d rather wait until Gonzalez is a free agent after the 2011 season and maybe sign him then, rather than trade 4-5 young, cheap players for the privilege of overpaying for him now. Wait a year, and maybe Chris Tillman has stepped up enough to make a one-for-one swap viable (plus, A-Gon will have one fewer year of team control and likely a somewhat worse – though still really good – season, making him cheaper). That gives you a chance to get a better idea of where things stand – for individual players and for the team as a whole. And you can still sign him to an extension that way. Or sign him as a free agent after 2011.

You might also say “but prospects don’t pan out all the time, while Gonzalez is an established star.” True enough. You know who wasn’t an established star? Adrian Gonzalez circa 2005, when he was a good but not great prospect for the Rangers that the O’s might have been able to acquire for their own established “star”… the Punchin’ Aruban, Sidney Ponson. You trade five young, cheap quality players and chances are pretty good that at least one of them will turn out to be a productive and under team control for a number of years at bargain prices. Also, with the five prospects at least you’re diversifying your risk. If A-Gon goes back to being a 3.5 Win player immediately after you give him 6 years and $100+ M then you’re pretty screwed.

You might say that “the O’s need to make a move for a star player to prove something to the fans”, as Cowherd did. Now I don’t really know much about Kevin, but that’s pretty dumb. You know what fans want? Winning. If you win with no-names then they become stars, and if you lose with stars then nobody cares. The Orioles won’t contend by trading Tillman, Jones, etc. for Adrian Gonzalez; they’ll contend if Tillman, Jones, etc. improve and bring the team up. Then they’re the stars, and Adrian Gonzalez is being paid a ton of money for his decline phase by the Mets.

Now if the team had won 84 games last year and just had a big hole at first-base then the calculus might be different. But they didn’t, and it isn’t. Trading for Adrian Gonzalez would be fun and exciting and in all likelihood set the team back instead of moving them forward. It’s the kind of move that losing teams make when they don’t have a plan.

Here’s the plan, as I see it:

Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Jeremy Guthrie stay at or near their current talent levels going forward (with the latter two bouncing back a little from their 2009 performances).

Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, etc. provide at least one star player, one really good player, and one or two average-ish guys. They don’t all need to be All-Stars, and they don’t even all need to work out, but you can’t have a couple OK guys and that’s it.

Tillman, Matusz, Bergesen, Arrieta, Britton, Hernandez, etc. – overall as a group – take several steps forward over the next few years. That doesn’t mean they all make it, but you need at least a #2 starter and a couple #3 guys out of the collection of arms.

Then you see where your holes are – shortstop and a #1 starter maybe – and fill those through trade or free agency when the team is really on the upswing and each additional win is very valuable to them.

That’s the plan. If you give me a plan that involves trading several of the pieces that are integral to the above for Adrian Gonzalez right now, then I would certainly be willing to change my mind. The assumption seems to be something along the lines of “the above plan will still happen – since the guys we don’t trade will still step up – except we’ll also have Adrian Gonzalez.” That is, sadly, not how it works. Risking the long-term in such a major way for some short-term gain is the exact opposite of what the team should be doing right now.

As always, this is just my opinion. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but until I see a legitimately good argument for doing the deal I’m going to continue defending my point of view.

Sorry, I didn’t originally intend to make those questions so long, but I think they’re important. Thanks again!

I didn’t originally intend to make these answers so long.

Thanks for the interest! I’d be very happy to see more participation along these lines.