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November 2, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Nifty Fifty: A number of eagle-eyed readers noticed an omission in the last Orioles Prospectus Triple Play. In saying that Rafael Palmeiro was the only current Oriole on the fan-selected 50 Favorite Orioles team, we left off B.J. Surhoff. Nothing personal, B.J., and thanks to all those who spotted the error.

    The list was quite comprehensive, but in response to our request, reader Don Brady wrote in with one deserving Oriole he felt had been forgotten: Eddie Watt. Watt was a dominant bullpen arm for the Orioles of the late Sixties and early Seventies, finishing with an ERA above league average every year with the Birds except his first. 1969 may have been Watt's best season: at age 28, he racked up 16 saves and a 1.56 ERA. But Don still can't get Game Five of the '69 Series out of his head, when Watt, pitching in the eighth, gave up the go-ahead (and, as it turned out, Series-clinching) run to the Mets on two base hits by Cleon Jones and Ron Swoboda.

    This started a streak of three years in a row during which Watt lost a World Series game in relief. It didn't matter much in 1970, when the Orioles dispatched the Reds handily in five games, but was crucial in 1971. Game Four was the first night game in World Series history; the Pirates, who had been down 2-0, were looking to even up the Series. Baltimore went up 3-0, but the Pirates tied it up quickly on an RBI double by Willie Stargell and two RBI hits by Al Oliver. Watt entered in the seventh inning of a still-tied game and couldn't get the job done...but to be fair, it wasn't entirely his fault. With one out, he gave up a couple of hits, and then Gold Glover Paul Blair dropped Vic Davalillo's fly ball to center. He recovered and threw one man out at second, but Bob Robertson went to third on the play. The next batter was 21-year-old reserve Milt May, batting for Bruce Kison, who had held the Orioles scoreless in six relief innings. May singled to right and the Pirates went ahead.

    World Series foibles aside, Watt never had a bad season for the Orioles, was well above replacement level every year and above average six out of eight times. He also put up a nifty batting line of .304/.319/.457 in 46 at-bats during his rookie season. And pitching for Elmira in the Eastern League in '65, Watt threw two no-hitters just twelve days apart.

    It's not too surprising that the 50 Favorite Orioles team couldn't find room for Watt: for starters, when the voting took place there were as many slots for left-handers as for right-handers, even though the righties outnumbered the lefties, um, handily (pardon the pun). Jeff Ballard, one of those lefties, is one of the two players Don singled out for removal to make room for Watt. The other was Reggie Jackson, who played one year for the Orioles before jumping to the hated Yankees, forever sealing his demon status in the hearts of some Orioles faithful, much as Mike Mussina did 25 years later. Mussina also made the team, but was booed when introduced.

  • Old and Young: By focusing so much on the past, we're setting a bad example for the O's, who over the past decade have had enough trouble staying away from old players. GMs Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan aren't pleased with the pipeline of young talent coming to replace them, and so fired both scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Doc Rodgers.

    Neither man was an abject failure or a shining success. The injury bug has hit their prospects very hard, and it's anyone's guess how much of the blame for that should fall on the shoulders of those two, or on the medical staff instead. If Beattie and Flanagan didn't feel like those two were going to take them to the promised land, then so be it, because it's darned difficult to stand up to the Red Sox and Yankees without a thriving farm system. We'll be watching to see what reforms the new stewards decide to put in place.

Colorado Rockies

  • One and Done: The Rockies informed Royce Clayton and Jeromy Burnitz that they will look to get younger--and, by implication, cheaper--at their respective positions for 2005, and that the two will not be re-signed.

    Colorado has here leveraged a huge advantage that it has over other clubs: Coors Field is an attractive target for older free agents looking to resurrect their careers in order to make themselves some more money. Just look at those two players (their 2005 ages in parentheses) with and without Colorado in their stat lines:

    
              Clayton (35)          Burnitz (35)           Castilla (37)
            AVG    OBP    SLG     AVG    OBP    SLG      AVG    OBP    SLG
    2000   .242   .301   .384    .252   .356   .456     .221   .254   .308
    2001   .263   .315   .393    .251   .347   .504     .260   .308   .467
    2002   .251   .295   .365    .215   .311   .365     .232   .268   .348
    2003   .228   .301   .333    .239   .299   .487     .277   .310   .461
    2004   .279   .338   .397    .283   .356   .559     .271   .332   .535
    
    
    Wow. Clayton's still no world-beater, but hitting better than he has this century, while Burnitz is back to his twentieth-century self. We include also fan favorite Vinny Castilla, who came back to Colorado for other reasons, too, but also because of its rejuvenating powers.

    Not so fast, though. Check out their 2004 numbers on the road:

    
              Clayton (35)          Burnitz (35)           Castilla (37)
            AVG    OBP    SLG     AVG    OBP    SLG      AVG    OBP    SLG
    road   .259   .315   .334    .244   .327   .448     .218   .291   .493
    
    
    Rockies players often have funny road numbers, but there's no getting around the fact that these three, but for their season spent in Colorado, would be hunter-gathering for roots and berries this off-season, trolling for minor league contracts, instead of having their agents sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

  • My Favorite Vinny: Castilla's an interesting case. He is well-liked in Colorado; one of the original Blake Street Bombers who brought the club its playoff spot in 1995, he's almost never put up bad numbers there. He could have picked up a $2.1 million mutual option but chose not to, apparently thinking he'll find something better on the free-agent market. The Rocks wouldn't mind having him back, but with 35 homers and 131 RBI, Castilla may be able to find a taker, and the Colorado advantage is lost if they don't consider those late-career scrap-heap pickups just as fungible after their comeback years as before them.

    We know the fans love Castilla, but can't see there being a strong backlash in Denver if the Rockies let him go. How many times do you think either of the following conversations has actually taken place?

    "Hey, I got an extra ticket to the game tonight. Want it?"
    "Are you kidding? I wouldn't pass up a chance to see Vinny Castilla."

    "Honey, it's 8-1. Can we please go home now?"
    "One more half-inning. Vinny's due up in the bottom of the eighth."

    There are fan favorites, and then there are fan favorites who sell tickets. Barry Bonds is in one category; the Vinny Castillas of the world are in the other.

  • Turn Around and Do It Again: So it's likely that the Rockies will look to bring in some different stopgap veterans this winter. We'll present a quick-and-dirty Rockies Christmas Wish List for your reference, and as November wends to December and beyond, keep up with how they're addressing their needs.

    • Catcher: J.D. Closser will get every chance to succeed. Charles Johnson, the World's Most Expensive Paperweight, is there to back him up if he can't.
    • First Base: Todd Helton, of course.
    • Second Base: Aaron Miles isn't very good, but some people think he is; will the Rockies shop him?
    • Shortstop: When balls are hit to short, cross your fingers and pray that Clint Barmes can handle them.
    • Third Base: If Castilla doesn't come back, Garrett Atkins has a shot to claim this job, but the Rockies will be looking for a veteran pickup here, just in case.
    • Left Field: His 2004 performance earned Matt Holliday the starting job.
    • Center Field: Preston Wilson is the type of struggling veteran the Rockies usually pick up on the cheap. Unfortunately, they owe him many millions in '05. If his knees don't hold up, Choo Freeman will get a shot.
    • Right Field: They will let Brad Hawpe challenge for a job, but watch for a free-agent pickup here.

    Stay tuned. Expect no pennant contender, but the off-season will have its moments.

New York Mets

  • Caliente: Well, whichever of his two finalists Omar Minaya tabs as the next Mets manager, it will be tough to impugn his choice. Rudy Jaramillo and Willie Randolph are two of the most respected names on the coaching scene, and along with Wally Backman and Joe Maddon have emerged as the hottest managerial prospects of this winter.

    Now that Joe Torre has signed his extension with the Yankees (something that, after his passive managing in the last four games of the ALCS, Yankee fans are--dare we say it?--beginning to regret), the Mets job looks like a dream scenario for Randolph, whose reputation in baseball is without blemish. It's shocking that he has had so few interviews, let alone job offers, over the past couple of years. The jury's out on whether standing down the third-base line as World Series are being won will make you a great manager, but the lack of attention paid to Randolph is puzzling. His hiring would be met with near-universal acclaim.

    So would Jaramillo's; in fact, the only complaint might be that Willie Randolph wasn't hired instead. He is known as a hitting guru (although the Rangers struggled offensively this year, but hush, let's not let contrary evidence get in the way of a good reputation) and players absolutely love him. More important to his chances with the Mets, he is close with Minaya, who trusts him.

    Whichever man wins out will have plenty of chances to prove his mettle, but at least from a PR angle, Omar Minaya seems to have trimmed his list well.

  • Cop A Squat: Minaya's also put an end, he says, to last year's yo-yo-ing of Mike Piazza between catcher and first base; Piazza will be catching. We've said here before that while it's easier to find a decent first baseman than a decent catcher, in a vacuum, Piazza should play wherever he will be the healthiest.

    With Piazza at catcher, the Mets now have a vacancy at first base, and may look to free agency or trade for a replacement. They may be best served waiting for the non-tenders, but let's take a look at some other options, along with their 2004 Equivalent Averages, if they don't want to take the chance and wait.

    • Carlos Delgado (.303): The cream of a weak crop of free agent first sackers. The refusal to be traded to a contender at the deadline raised red flags for some, so he could come at a bargain price.
    • Richie Sexson (.287): Barely got to play because of a shoulder injury, but big-time power when healthy. Arizona will try to keep him.
    • Phil Nevin (.297): With two years left on his contract, Nevin can still mash, but the Friars are looking to free up some spending money and make room for Xavier Nady. Nevin can reject a trade to nine clubs this year; are the Mets one?
    • Carlos Pena (.286): Word is that the arbitration-eligible Pena might be too rich for Detroit's blood. He used to be a sizzling prospect, but his star has cooled a bit.
    • Aubrey Huff (.297): He's not going to be a Devil Ray when they start contending, so Tampa might want to get something for him now. We'd suggest Scott Kazmir, but he's already been stolen.

    Then there are those rumors concerning Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Beltran, any of whom would represent, oh, a wee improvement in the batting order. It's going to be an exciting winter in Queens.

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