Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pitchers Wanted - Will Pay Reasonable Price

Another poorly played game resulted in an O's loss yesterday, as the team fell to the Cleveland Indians. A solid offensive performance was wasted as the defense committed four errors (and generally wasn't very good) and Garrett Olson and the usually reliable Jim Johnson got touched for seven runs. Earlier in the year, the O's were above .500 because their defense made their pitching look better than it was - they were among the league leaders in glove-work for a good part of the year, and for a while were the number one team at turning balls in play into outs. They are still a bit above average now, but much closer to the middle of the pack. That has caused the team ERA to balloon all the way up to 4.84, which is the second worst in the AL. They're also giving up a second worst 5.09 runs per game, which is actually almost a full run better than Texas (6.04 R/G). Believe it or not, it might really be worse than it looks.

Jeremy Guthrie has a very good 3.26 ERA, but his FIP is about a run higher at 4.23.

Daniel Cabrera has disappointed me with his 4.78 ERA, but he's also pitching worse than that with a 5.14 FIP.

JJ has been very good, but his 2.18 ERA is due to move towards his 3.27 FIP.

Matt Albers (3.49 ERA / 4.57 FIP), Randor Bierd (3.32 ERA / 4.22 FIP), and Fernando Cabrera (3.79 ERA / 5.27 FIP) are probably not the great relievers some may think they are.

On the bright side, Garret Olson has been pretty bad, but his 6.06 ERA should be about a run lower (5.04 FIP). I think he could definitely contribute at the back end of the '09 rotation.

I still maintain that Guthrie is a good but not great pitcher. I'll even call him a #2/3 instead of a #3, but I can't go up to a real #2. Maybe he'll be one of those pitchers (like Carlos Zambrano) that consistently outdoes his FIP, but I need to see it for a little longer before I am willing to accept that. Cabrera's a #4/5; so is Olson; hopefully so are Waters and Liz, but I expect both to end up in the bullpen if they make it at all (and I'm way higher on Liz than Waters); hopefully so is Hayden Penn. The bullpen, I think, can be constructed relatively cheaply while being about league average. There isn't a shutdown "ace" reliever, but I think a closer by committee approach with Sherrill (until he's traded) taking the ninth with lefties coming up and JJ or Chris Ray handling the righties would work well. I think I'd actually prefer Ray in that role, and let Johnson pitch multiple innings in a set-up role. It's not Rivera-to-Wetteland or Lidge-to-Dotel-to-Wagner, but it will shorten games where the O's have the lead more often than not. Albers, Sarfate, Bierd, and Castillo (plus Hoey, Mickolio, McCrory, etc.) form a pretty good middle relief core, I think, and should keep the team in games. All that leaves are openings at the top of the rotation.

Does that mean I think the O's should sign two of CC Sabathia/Ben Sheets/AJ Burnett/Derek Lowe? Not really. The team isn't close enough yet to make that kind of splash, and I generally agree with Andy MacPhail in that pitchers should mostly be grown and not bought on the free agent market. It isn't my money though, and signing two of the above as well as Mark Teixeira and Rafael Furcal really would make the 2009 Orioles a contender. I think it would be a large waste of money - and the team would be worse off in the long run - but flags do fly forever. Signing Adam Dunn too, and putting him at DH with Huff playing third would be even better (in 2009). The payroll would jump up by around $80 MM (just for 2009), but they would certainly have a shot at the play-offs.

What I purpose is trying to find some bargain free agents to fill out the roster (maybe there's another Carlos Pena out there) and run through their minor league pitchers to see who's ready or close to it. Nolan Reimold should take over in left-field a good deal of the time (hopefully he'll get a look in September) with Luke Scott spelling him and DH'ing or playing first. Matt Wieters I'd call up about a month into the season (to hold back his service clock so that the team controls him for an extra year). Huff and/or Mora can hopefully be traded (especially Mora - having a team take him off the team's hands would be fantastic, even with no return). Roberts should probably be on the move also, with some sort of middle-infield prospects coming back. The plan would be to assemble a set of pitchers that can contribute to a contending team in 2010 or 2011, and then make trades and sign players to fill in the pieces later. It's a slow road, but one worth taking.

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