January 26, 2006
Orioles, Twins, Padres
Typical of the Orioles in the Camden Yards era, they made one good and one bad decision last week.
To the good, they added right-hander Kris Benson from the Mets in exchange for reliever Jorge Julio and C+ prospect John Maine. Benson, who gets more attention for his narcissistic better half than for his pitching, immediately becomes the most accomplished member of the O's rotation. This is in spite of being used in the same sentence with "underachieving" and "disappointment" more often than the fifth season of "Alias."
Just 16 months ago, Benson kicked off the sellers' market in pitching by signing a three-year, $22-million deal with the Mets. That contract, signed by a career 4.28 ERA pitcher with just two 200-inning seasons, set in motion a whole winter of expensive free-agent busts.
A year later, with the Season of Ortiz followed by the Era of Burnett, getting Benson at a bit more than $7 million a year for two years looks like a bargain. Paul Byrd, your basic league-average starter with some durability issues, signed with the Indians for just that. Benson posted a 4.13 ERA for the Mets in 28 starts last year, missing time to a pectoral strain in April and shoulder soreness in July, neither of which projects as a problem in '06. For a rotation that has upside players in Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard--but the variance that goes with those young arms--a safe bet for 190 league-average innings is more than worth two pitchers who won't likely combine for an ERA below 5.00 next year.
A step backward, however, was the excessive commitment to right fielder Jay Gibbons. The Orioles avoided arbitration with Gibbons not just this year, but for the next four years by signing the 29-year-old left-handed hitter to a $21 million contract that keeps him in black and orange through 2009.
Gibbons is the kind of player who is supposed to be endangered by the new era of performance analysis. While he hits for decent batting averages and has enough power for 25 homer, 100-RBI seasons, he doesn't do enough of anything to be an impact hitter from a corner position. His career line of .261/.315/.466, almost all peak, is an accurate reflection of his abilities. At his best, he's been consistent around a four-win level (WARPs of 3.7, 3.9 and 4.0 in his three full seasons), with some growth in power as he's aged, but little improvement in a wholly inadequate walk rate. He's nothing special defensively, and won't gain points with the glove as he goes into his thirties.
The Orioles have made an eight-figure commitment to a player who they'll be trying to replace halfway through the contract. Going through arbitration this season would have been a much better idea, even though losing would have cost the team a million dollars. This deal costs them $16 million, and commits them to a player who doesn't push them any closer to the true contenders in an increasingly competitive American League.
2005 was a good news, bad news season for the Twins offense. The bad news was that any semblance of offense abandoned them, as they were last in the AL with 4.25 runs per game. There were injuries to some, notably Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, and Michael Cuddyer. There were ineffective performances, notably from Jason Bartlett (August excepted), Shannon Stewart, and Lew Ford. The good news was that Joe Mauer avoided the DL and was the third best catcher in the Majors. Stewart had the largest left fielder decline in VORP from '04 to '05, while Ford's '05 SLG did not measure up to his '04 OBP. Position-wise, they ranked 25th or lower in first base, second base, third base, short stop, left field, and right field VORP. Heading into the off season, it was clear the Twins needed to get better on offense.
Similar to the regular season, this offseason has been kind of good news, bad news. The good news is that the additions of Rondell White, Luis Castillo, and Tony Batista will help. Castillo, in particular, is a major upgrade over what the Twins had at the keystone last season:
2005 Twins Second-Basemen vs. Luis Castillo Player AdjG-2B Rate-2B EqA Nick Punto 62.5 98 .223 Luis Rivas 39.9 95 .226 Luis Rodriguez 23.9 104 .250 Brent Abernathy 13.7 93 .229 Bret Boone 13.4 100 .118 Mike Cuddyer 6.1 100 .255 Juan Castro 2.5 100 .225 Luis Castillo 113.7 108 .280In addition to the offensive and defensive upgrade, Castillo should help from a roster space perspective as well. For the past four seasons, the Twins have used at least three players for more than 10 AdjG at second. Castillo, who had a seven year low AdjG in 2005, should lessen the need to carry extra infielders and snap that streak.
Also, if not a valuable addition, Tony Batista should at least be an entertaining one, as he tries to pile a third consecutive MLB season (and fourth overall) with a sub-.300 on-base percentage. And while Batista showed in Japan last year that he can still swat the ball out of the yard, it is likely his biggest contribution will be on defense. In 2004 (his last year in the majors), Batista was among the best defensive third basemen in the game:
2004 Third Basemen (min. 400 PA) Rnk Player FRAR FRAA 1 Scott Rolen 33 19 2 Adrian Beltre 27 12 3 Tony Batista 26 12 4 Vinny Castilla 24 10 5 Mike Lowell 24 9 … 23 Joe Crede 5 -8 24 Casey Blake 2 -12 25 Morgan Ensberg -2 -12 26 Melvin Mora -1 -14 27 Aramis Ramirez -1 -14The Twins certainly get high marks for looking beyond the regular free agent list to get Batista on the cheap. However, while this could be a nice upgrade over Cuddyer's below average defense, the Twins could have used more of an offensive upgrade at the position.
The good news is that the Twins have a plethora of arms that figure to be among the game's elite, they have improved their infield defense, and have hopefully saved themselves from another 394 at-bats of Punto power. More good news is that they will score more runs than last year. The bad news is that this increased offensive output will likely only place them ahead of the Angels, Royals, and Devil Rays. More bad news is that the moves the Twins have made won't be enough to move them ahead of Chicago and Cleveland in the top-heavy AL Central. Barring some serious breakouts from joltin' Joe and Justin Morneau, the Twins are showing yet again that they will do enough to be competitive and tread that smoky-white water, but it won't be enough to taste real post-season glory.
It has been ages since we last covered the Padres, so excuse us for jumping right into bullet points.