In an effort to bolster a flailing offense, the Orioles have acquired DH Jim Thome from the Phillies in return for prospects Kyle Simon and Gabriel Lino.
I really like Thome, but he’s 41 years old, has no defensive value, and is batting a solid (but not outstanding for a DH) .242/.338/.516 this year. He’s also left-handed, as is Chris Davis and (effectively, with his platoon splits) Wilson Betemit. Maybe Thome provides the O’s with half a win over replacement the rest of the year, and maybe he’s actually taking the playing time from what would have been replacement level production. If the O’s actually make the play-offs based on that half win, I’ll be extremely surprised. More likely, Thome could be the difference between 81 and 81.5 wins, which some fans are more than happy to trade prospects for (which I think is dumb, but others have different priorities).
Simon is a 21 year old right-handed pitcher. He has a 3.96 ERA, 4.4 FIP in High-A ball, after being the team’s 4th round draft pick last year. He’ll get some groundballs and has a good walk rate (2.6 BB/9), but doesn’t seem to miss many bats (6.1 K/9). Doesn’t seem like a huge loss for the team, given that his upside might be back of the rotation innings-eater or middle reliever.
Lino is a 19 year old catcher. He’s had some trouble in A-Ball this year – .218/.283/.342 – after a more impressive season in Rookie Ball (.282/.371/.462). Catchers who can stick behind the dish and potentially show a combination of patience and power at the plate are not that easy to find, and my understanding is that Lino has that potential (even if he’s far from a sure thing).
Here’s the thing; this trade is fine if the Orioles are actually as good as their record this year would indicate (42-35). But they’re not – they’ve been outscored by something like 20 runs, and the bullpen is unlikely to continue to be this good. The pitching will hopefully be fine overall, but that’s about all you can expect from them. And the offense has struggled, and even after adding Thome there are going to be at least a couple of holes in the line-up. And the defense will suffer – Thome at DH means that Wilson Betemit, Chris Davis, and Mark Reynolds all need to wear gloves to get their bats into the line-up, and that’s gonna be ugly. The O’s are in a decent position to finish at or above .500, but that could still leave them in last place in the AL East (and they’re likely the least talented team in the division). They’re not making the play-offs this year unless they get unbelievably lucky – and that’s OK, because just not sucking wouldn’t have been great before the season started.
The unexpected success early in 2012 is great, but that’s more for what it means for the near future (contention might not be as far away as it looked a little while ago) than what it means for this season. To take the wrong lesson from that and sell out subsequent years in a misguided effort to try to make a run this year seems foolish. Buying at all didn’t sound like the best idea, but going small-bore could have been fine (Thome for just Simon, as was initially reported, wasn’t great but not terrible). Giving up even one of the lower-tier prospects from a shallow farm system for marginal improvement (at best) in an effort to be less bad (going forward) is… very much like the Orioles. In fact, it’s been kind of Dan Duquette’s M.O. so far (Dana Evaland, for example). Not one of my favorite things about him.
Hopefully Manny Machado for Matt Garza isn’t coming down the pipe-line now. Because even though it would make the Thome trade make more sense, selling out to make a run this season would be insanity.