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Mike Flanagan, the Orioles pitcher, coach, instructor, broadcaster, and now Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, has said that this off-season the O’s need “starting pitching, some bats with punch that can go in the middle of the lineup, and some more defense”. Would you like to dipa-size that meal for 25 cents? With so many needs, the O’s are unlikely to seriously compete in 2006.

Looking at BP’s Current Adjusted Standings, we can see that the O’s were the only completely balanced team in baseball in 2005; they finished with exactly 766 AEqR and 766 AEqRA. However, the 766 AEqR ranked eighth in baseball, while the 766 AEqRA ranked a mere 22nd. One area of concern is that the O’s were top-heavy on offense–Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts accounted for 52% of the team’s VORP. Given that Roberts shattered his PECOTA projection and then suffered a devastating injury that will force him to miss time next season, regression from him is expected.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. While they will lose offense at second, the O’s would be hard-pressed to do worse at first base. The average MLB 1B registered a VORP of 39, but the B-12 wonder only totaled 18.9. Likewise, Sammy Sosa was basically the worst RF in all of baseball. In addition, new pitching coach Leo Mazzone should help not just the pitchers, but also Javy Lopez.

Assuming the nucleus of the 2005 rotation is still intact–Bruce Chen, Rodrigo Lopez, Erik Bedard, and Daniel Cabrera–there should be some improvement under Mazzone. One key would certainly be whether or not Chen could co-exist under Mazzone. Chen never made much of an impact in Atlanta, as he was demoted from crown jewel of the Braves farm system to reliever after just 10 starts as a Brave. And not an important reliever either, his LEV stats in ’99 and ’00 were .62 and .66 respectively. Then he was traded for rental Andy Ashby, who registered 98 IP for the Braves before punching his card and moving on to free agency. Chen has been many places and come a long way since, but it would still give baseball fans a reason to tune in.

But that right there is the biggest dilemma of the Orioles off-season–will the rotation remain intact? The Orioles may have as many as 13 players eligible for arbitration, including Chen, Lopez, and Bedard. This particular rubiks cube–one that also includes Roberts, Eric Byrnes, Jay Gibbons, and Luis Matos–probably needs to worked over before the O’s dive into the open market. Do they want to cut bait on the mercurial Luis Matos and pursue someone like Johnny Damon? Will they give a rotation spot to John Maine, or are Bedard and Cabrera all the youngsters that Mazzone cares for? Perhaps a pitcher like Kevin Millwood, who as we saw in BP 2005 (it’s not too late to buy one!) improved under Mazzone’s tutelage, could be lured. Oh, and they might lose some guy named B.J. Ryan to a hated division rival.

In a market that appears thin, the O’s may like their options in arbitration better than those in free agency, but Mr. Flanagan is not too far off when he says they need help in all three areas of the game. With so many question marks, the re-organized front office really needs to decide if they believe they are making decisions for 2006 or for 2007 and beyond. Prospects that haven’t graduated like Jeff Fiorentino, Nick Markakis, and Hayden Penn, and those that have like Maine and Chris Ray need more seasoning. Though Bedard and Cabrera should improve, asking them to carry the torch to the Promised Land in ’06 is unrealistic. On the other hand, Lopez and Melvin Mora will be gone after ’06, and Miggy isn’t getting any younger. Ah, decisions, decisions.

Paul Swydan

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  • I Am Godzilla, You Are Japan! — By next Tuesday, the Yankees and Hideki Matsui will have agreed to a new deal, or they will have parted ways. This is because of a contractual provision under which the Yankees are obligated to release Matsui if he’s not re-signed by the November 15 deadline, making Matsui a free agent. If it weren’t for this clause, Matsui would be treated as any other third-year major league player: eligible for arbitration this winter, but not eligible for free agency for another three years.

    Looking back, the three-year deal Matsui signed with the Bronx Bombers prior to the 2003 season was a bargain. Let’s compare his performance to some other prominent left fielders over the last three years:

                      2003   2004   2005    Total  Total Salary
    Barry Bonds       112.0  142.0    7.2   261.2    55.5MM
    Manny Ramirez      77.9   68.6   68.6   215.1    64.5MM
    Hideki Matsui      30.9   57.5   53.0   141.4    21.0MM
    Moises Alou        30.5   51.5   48.8   130.8    26.3MM
    Carlos Lee         38.1   46.8   34.3   119.2    18.7MM
    Luis Gonzalez      53.2   23.7   35.6   112.5    22.3MM
    Garret Anderson    57.7   26.1   19.9   103.7    21.2MM
    Cliff Floyd        33.3   20.0   46.3    99.6    19.6MM
    Ryan Klesko        22.3   31.3   19.7    73.3    20.5MM

    Ryan Klesko and Garret Anderson each had one season in the last three when their primary position wasn’t left field (Klesko spent 2003 at first, Anderson 2004 in center) but this group is pretty representative of the market value for a veteran left fielder. On a bang-for-buck basis, Matsui tops this field (thanks to Barry Bonds‘s knee).

    Adding to the pressure for the Yankees to sign Matsui is the thin free agent crop this off-season. Among outfielders, Brian Giles (65.1 VORP in 2005, 159.1 VORP over the last three years) is the only selection that could be considered an upgrade–and he’s three and a half years older than Matsui. Other outfield options–Jeromy Burnitz (17.5/77.4), Reggie Sanders (27.5/90.4), Rondell White (30.0/67.1)–are clearly inferior. It’s sufficient pressure that the Yankees are taking an eight figure (per year) salary for granted–the most likely sticking point will be the years, of which the Yankees are offering three, and the Japanese slugger is asking at least four.

  • So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye — Looking at the Yankees’ potential free agents, Matsui is one of the very few who aren’t looking to get kicked to the curb:
                        PA    VORP    2005 Salary
    Matt Lawton        585    17.5      7.8MM
    Rey Sanchez         48    -0.5      600K
    Ruben Sierra       181    -2.3      1.5MM
    Bernie Williams    546     7.3     12.4MM
    John Flaherty      138    -9.6      800K
                        IP    VORP    2005 Salary
    Kevin Brown        73.3   -9.5     15.7MM
    Alan Embree        52.0  -13.6      3.0MM
    Tom Gordon         80.7   26.8      3.8MM
    Felix Rodriguez    32.3    2.8      3.2MM
    Ramiro Mendoza      1.0   -1.4      Minors
    Tanyon Sturtze     78.0    7.1      850K

    Matsui doesn’t make this list because, technically, he’s not eligible for 6-year free agency. Of the rest of the hitters John Flaherty probably sticks around, because he’s the Big Unit’s security blanket; the same terms may apply to Ruben Sierra and Joe Torre, respectively. Bernie Williams could be useful in the Ruben Sierra role–more useful than Sierra himself, most likely–but one wonders if he will get such an opportunity in pinstripes, or want it if it’s offered. Tino Martinez leaves with the Yankees’ thanks for his strong May (10 homers and a 1.065 OPS), which kept the Yankees in contention, and his awful July, which opened the door for Jason Giambi‘s comeback.

    Matt Lawton will have to serve a steroid suspension before he takes the field with his next team. If he gets a next team, it won’t be the Yankees. Also likely heading to retirement is Rey Sanchez–if the Yankees really want the set of skills Sanchez represents, they might as well try to get the real article in Pokey Reese.

    Among the pitchers, Tom Gordon still has real value–although given his late-season performance over the last two years, both sides of this relationship will probably be looking for a change of scenery. Tanyon Sturtze has gone from Tampa Bay washout, to reclamation project success, and back to washout. If the Yankees recognize this, they won’t pick up his option for 2006.

    Al Leiter and Ramiro Mendoza both have local nostalgia value, which would be the only reason either of them sticks with this ballclub. Felix Rodriguez and Alan Embree don’t even have that, unless you’re the kind of Yankee fan who gets nostalgic about guys nearly blowing an eight run lead in Toronto. Kevin Brown ought not let the clubhouse wall hit him on the way out the door.

Derek Jacques