Taking Joe Blanton’s contract off Philadelphia’s hands would have been fine. Having the Phillies pick up most of it and throwing a mediocre prospect their way wouldn’t have been the worst either. That they reportedly requested Jon Schoop is, I’m assuming, a joke.
The trade deadline has come and gone, with the Orioles (probably correctly) deciding to stand pat. Some thoughts on the non-trades and other things:
Blanton is a decent enough pitcher; he does have excellent control. Since moving to the NL his strike-out rate has gone up (to above average), though he can be prone to the long-ball (some of that is surely his home ballpark). His 3.60 xFIP over the last three years is actually 25th in the Majors (min. 350 IP). Part of that is his 13.6% home run per flyball rate getting regressed though, and his 4.12 FIP is a far less impressive 69th (and his 4.75 ERA is 95th out of 103). Checking in on Blanton is smart, but with him still being owed $3 M for the rest of this season, I wouldn’t expect much (if any) excess value there. And he’s a free agent after the season (when he could potentially be signed on the cheap as a back-end starter with some mild upside).
Somewhat doubtful, but maybe Blanton even passes through waivers and the O’s can take a crack at him this month.
Chase Headley is a good third-baseman – one I would have been happy to see the Orioles pick up a couple years ago – but with San Diego’s high asking price, I’m OK not making that move either.
A lot of Headley’s offensive value comes from his walks (10% walk rate career, 13.5% this year) and moving out of Petco doesn’t do anything for that. You’d think he’d get more hits, but his career BABIP is .339 as it is so there’s probably not much (if any) room for growth there (it is .369 career on the road, but that’s not likely to be sustainable). So Headley would hit some more home runs, but I’m not sure how much his production would really improve (relatively speaking). And above-average hitting third-baseman who’s also a plus on defense (+9 UZR/150 career, +8 DRS/150) is a quality player – perhaps one bringing $30 M in value above his salary to his team through 2014 (he has two more arbitration years left).
Is that worth Jake Arrieta AND 2-3 good prospects? Arrieta’s 6.13 ERA this year is ugly, and he’s not exactly tearing it up in Triple-A (7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 3.78 ERA), but his 4.03 ERA and 3.83 xFIP point to a potentially above average starter. Four years of control of an average-ish starting pitcher is pretty valuable – perhaps worth as much as Headley straight up. I’d have probably gone through with that, and maybe included one prospect (but not multiples, or one of the O’s best). It might even make more sense to pick Headley up after the season instead of now, as his 2012 production doesn’t likely mean a great deal to the Orioles (I’m still not confident they end up higher than 5th place in the East) and he might come cheaper no in the middle of a pennant race.
The O’s were linked to a number of relievers, but managed to avoid the stupidity that is a middle-of-the-road team trading prospects for guys who will maybe throw 20 innings the rest of the year. The current bullpen was well assembled (Jim Johnson: converted mediocre starting pitching prospect, Pedro Strop: trading away an expensive and not very good Mike Gonzalez, Darren O’Day/Luis Ayala: cheap free agent pick-ups, Troy Patton: extra piece in a trade for a quickly becoming over-priced Miguel Tejada (Luke Scott was good return by himself) – the worst relievers in the pen this year came from moves that looked bad at the time, in Kevin Gregg and Dana Eveland*). It would be a shame to mess up one of the things the team has done well.
* Tyler Hanson is batting .271/.378/.486 in Triple-A for LA this year, while Jarrett Martin is striking out a batter per inning in A-Ball (though with a 5.6 BB/9). Not mind-blowing numbers, but Eveland did just clear waivers with no team wanting him for free.
The team finally realized that despite being a right-fielder with a big contract, Nick Markakis was probably the team’s “best” lead-off hitter. Since coming off the DL and being slotted into that first spot, he’s hit .378/.416/.524. The power is a bit lacking and he’s only walking 6.7% of the time, but a .363 BABIP combined with exactly 1* strike-out in 89 PA makes up for a lot of things. Markakis is actually having his best offensive season since 2008, and had a chance at 20 home runs if he hadn’t gotten hurt. The -9 UZR and -6 DRS (in limited time) are brutal though, sharply cutting into his value. He just doesn’t have much range in right, and his arm isn’t what it used to be. Maybe it’s worth seeing if he can be an asset at first-base next year (not that that will happen, what with his recent Gold Glove and all)?
* It came against Anthony Swarzak of the Twins on July 19th, who actually K’ed the side that inning.
Jim Johnson is fine. He’s a groundball pitcher with some occasionally poor infield defense behind him, and he doesn’t strike out many batters. Sometimes that leads to giving up a few hits (and, subsequently, runs) in an inning – potentially even in a (gasp!) save situation. He’s a good but not amazing closer who benefited from some good luck early in the year and had the pendulum swing the other way recently. The lack of K’s is why, even though giving it a try would be fine, converting Johnson into a starter probably wouldn’t be as amazing as some people think – I’m not sure how much better he’d be than a Brad Bergesen.
It’s a little funny – JJ throws 94-95 and Pedro Strop throws 96-97, and yet their combined strike-out rate is only 11.9 K/9. There are 11 relievers who are beating that by themselves this year (led, of course, by Aroldis Champman and his ridiculous 16.9 K/9) – one of whom is David Hernandez (13 K/9 – boy, has the Mark Reynolds trade been disappointing). Both Johnson and Strop do get a ton groundballs though (they’re numbers 2 and 5 in the Majors, min. 40 IP).
One could actually argue that Troy Patton has been the team’s best reliever this year, getting K’s (8.2 per nine), minimizing free passes (2.1 BB/9), and getting groundballs (48%). His 3.46 xFIP matches Jason Hammel for best on the club, and he’s actually been relatively effective against righties (3.84 xFIP) as well as lefties (3.14 xFIP).
Chris Tillman is throwing harder than he has in years – touching 97 and averaging 93 mph with the fastball – and doing it without walking the park (3 BB/9 so far). With his expanded arsenal (fastball, curve, change, cutter, slider), throwing strikes could enable him to turn into an average-ish starter. The extreme flyball tendencies will probably always be a bit of an issue, but if he can get into enough good counts to turn his off-speed stuff into out pitches then he should be able to up the K’s (6.8 per nine currently) enough to make up for it. Especially given batters are swinging through the fastball more than they used to.
Adam Jones has sure slowed down, and doesn’t look like he’ll crack the 5 win barrier this year. He’s hit just .268/.308/.464 in June/July after a torrid start, but that’s not even that much worse his 2011 numbers. The defensive number on him look bad (-5 UZR, -14 DRS), but when I watch games it still seems like he’s getting to more balls than he used to. That’s what the stats are for, I guess. Still, ZiPS sees Jones as a 4-ish win player right now (which still makes his contract more than worthwhile unless he declines precipitously).
Matt Wieters has traded off having good/bad months with the bat – 152 wRC+, 64, 123, 56 – which means we should get to enjoy August. Hitting a ton of pop-ups isn’t helping, as his BABIP has fallen by 11 points for the second year in a row (to .265 now). Still taking walks, showing some pop, and being great behind the plate though. Wieters probably isn’t getting to 5 wins this year either, which I guess means he’s a bust.
Chris Davis isn’t good. He’s been better than I expected (which was below replacement level), but even the extra home runs don’t do enough to make up for the lack of walks and the large number of strike-outs. .262/.308/.467 is fine – it’s about how well Jones has hit the last two months – but the bar for offense is lower for center-fielders. A 1B/LF/DH needs to do more than that, especially when he’s not a good fielder (which Davis isn’t). Maybe he turns himself into an average player at some point, but I still don’t see it. Mighty strong though.
It was good to see Brian Roberts back, sort of, in that I never thought he’d be healthy enough to play in the Majors again. Even if he made it back though, I was doubtful he’d be any better than Robert Andino. And boy howdy was that part accurate; 17 games, -1.1 fWAR. That’s probably the worst production from anyone in baseball this year (min. 70 PA), as everyone who has a worse fWAR had more playing time in which to suck, while Roberts was costing the O’s about two-thirds of a run per game relative to even a replacement level player. With labrum surgery ending his 2012, it sounds like Roberts is actually looking to come back for 2013 – but I’m not sure I see the point in that for the team.
The Orioles’ run differential is still ugly at -51, but that’s pretty much just the Angels and Rangers (-52 in just 13 games). They all count though, and the O’s have a below average offense (which has the potential to be average), a poor defense (not really debatable), an uneven rotation, and a solid bullpen. That’s not a play-off caliber team, nor would it be even if they had added a Josh Johnson or a Shane Victorino (or whoever). But hey, enjoy the ride while it lasts. And they only need to play like a 72-73 win team the rest of the way to get to .500 (which is good, since that’s more or less what their run differential says they are). Given recent history, that would be worth cheering for (even if not worth selling out to go for).
I heard someone on the radio say they’re happy to trade Dylan Bundy, Manny Machado, and every other prospect for the Zack Greinkes of the world. You know, because the Orioles are incapable of developing prospects. The thing is, if you think an O’s will never turn a prospect into a Major Leaguer then you should quite following the team now – the O’s are not the Yankees, and even New York needs some cheap cost controlled players (they can’t afford to pay the market rate for all their wins). And people don’t seem to understand that you’re not just getting a player, but you’re getting a contract too. Zack Greinke is great! All else being equal, I’d be fine dealing prospects (who are very unlikely to turn out even close to as good) for him. But all isn’t equal; when you trade for Greinke, you only get him for two months. Then, if you want to keep him, you have to give him a whole lot of money (which the Orioles could do after the season anyway, if they were so inclined). That’s money that can’t be used for something else. Even if you want Peter Angelos to “open the wallet”, the team just isn’t going to have a $200 M payroll. Just because trying to build through the farm system hasn’t worked doesn’t mean it can’t work – and given the fundamentals of the AL East, they don’t actually have a choice but to go that route. Make the big signing/trade when you really are one piece away – not when one piece is only hopefully going to bring you to being one (more) piece away (as they are now).