Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Orioles are our second-to-last AL team to be questioned. They've made a bunch of fairly big moves this offseason, which you think would make them one of the more fun ones to talk about. You'd be wrong, though. Like, really wrong.
1. Is a good last-place team better than a bad last-place team?
Maybe that's not fair. PECOTA, after all, likes them to finish fourth, six games ahead of the Blue Jays. I just can't see it; the Jays have probably gotten a bit worse and the Orioles have gotten a bit better, but not to the tune of a 25-game swing from 2010.
The point, though, is that even that very rosy projection has the Orioles at 82-80 -- ten games out of first, nine out of a playoff spot, and stuck behind probably the three best teams in the league. So what are they doing acquiring three players -- Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and J.J. Hardy -- who will be free agents after this season? With those three guys, they've spent $21 million for, basically, a chance to move from a distant fifth place to a distant fourth.
And this is fun: a few days ago, GM Andy MacPhail was speaking to some law students when he said that Alex Rodriguez's huge 2001 contract with the Rangers was "the worst signing in the history of baseball in my view." And why? Because "the needle didn't move at all. The team didn't improve. Attendance didn't go up." MacPhail hasn't spent anywhere near A-Rod money this offseason, but it's hard to imagine these moves turning out any differently.
2. How Good Is Matt Wieters?
And speaking of PECOTA: in 2009, before he'd played a game in the big leagues, the system saw Wieters as putting up one of the greatest seasons a catcher has ever had: .311/.395/.544, with 31 home runs. Of course, that didn't happen, though he was about an average hitter in 2009, which in itself is impressive enough for a 23 year old catcher. But then he took a step back in 2010.
Wieters is still the same guy who was taken fifth overall in the draft, was the #1 prospect entering 2009, and hit an incredible .343/.438/.576 in his minor league career. We're still a couple years from being able to say he won't be a star in the major leagues. I get the sense people are writing him off already, but if you're going to bet on somebody to come up with a huge year out of nowhere this year (and its coming "out of nowhere" pretty much means you shouldn't bet on it, or whatever), Wieters would seem to be a pretty good choice.
3. Can Mark Reynolds Hit (in the AL East)?
I've written about Reynolds several times already (here and here and here), because he's fascinating. The point was basically that while strikeouts by hitters are overemphasized, it is really, really hard to remain a productive player while striking out as ridiculously often as Reynolds does. And he went a long way toward proving that last year, going .198/.320/.433. I think he's an amazingly talented hitter and there's a good chance he turns it around, but I also think that in a division with Sabathia and Burnett and Lester and Beckett and Price, he could strike out 250 times. I'm going to forget all that and just hope that proximity to his alma mater (and mine, sort of), the University of Virginia, helps him somehow.