Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If the Orioles Are Really Going to Do Something

I think the Orioles should trade for San Diego's Carlos Quentin.

Let me rewind a bit. It's been a very quiet offseason for Baltimore. They lost three regulars from their 2014 American League East championship squad to free agency: Right fielder Nick Markakis, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. They replaced them with...well, they haven't done much of anything. Until yesterday, their biggest roster move was to re-sign free agent left fielder/DH Delmon Young, who had 255 plate appearances last year. Like every team, they added some fringe-type players, mostly signed to minor league contracts. But until yesterday, when they traded for Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, who started 47 games in right field for Pittsburgh last year, they've done nothing to replace the three players I listed above. And while Snider had a decent year in Pittsburgh, with a .264/.338/.438 slash line in 359 plate appearances, it was his first above-average season since 2010. 

There've also been questions raised about the reason for their inactivity. The Toronto Blue Jays wanted to hire Baltimore's general manager, Dan Duquette as their CEO. Duquette is under contract with the Orioles through 2017. Orioles owner Peter Angelos reportedly demanded a king's ransom (three top prospects) from the Blue Jays in order to take Duquette. (Not that this is a common occurrence, but the industry standard appears to be to let a front office employee depart for a promotion, and to get perhaps one prospect as compensation for a lateral move. This would be a promotion for Duquette, who is the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, so Angelos insisting on compensation is a bit aggressive, and going for elite compensation is pretty out there.) This leaves the Orioles in the bizarre position of having their top everyday executive apparently desirous of working for one of Baltimore's American League East opponents. In turn, there's a question as to how dedicated Duquette is in improving the team. Yesterday, the Blue Jays announced that their incumbent CEO, Paul Beeston, will stay on through the end of the current season, after which he'll retire. That, of course, leaves open the question of who'll fill the role in 2016.

Lost in this controversy is the fact that the Orioles didn't do a lot last winter, either, until the very end. In December 2013, they traded for outfielder David Lough, who was basically a late-inning defensive substitute in the outfield (112 games played, but just 47 started) and signed right-handed reliever Ryan Webb, who pitched 49.1 innings of middle relief spread over 51 games. They traded their closer, Jim Johnson, to Oakland in what turned out to be a brilliant move, as Johnson turned into a pumpkin, going from 50 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 2013 to two saves and a 7.09 ERA in 2014. They signed the aforementioned Delmon Young in January. That's pretty much it. Their big moves--signing free agents Ubaldo Jiminez and Cruz--didn't occur until late February, and only the Cruz signing worked out. Jiminez, signed for four years and $50 million, was 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA last season. Cruz, signed to a one-year $8 million contract, led the league in home runs with 40 and finished seventh in the MVP voting. The Mariners signed him to a four year, $57 million contract in December.

So maybe the plan is, like last year, to more or less stand pat and then make some moves once spring training starts. Still, the team is down a right fielder (unless Snider takes a big step forward), a DH, and a middle reliever. Middle relievers are pretty fungible in modern baseball--every team has young guys in their system who can throw gas for an inning. They probably can't do it a skillfully as Miller, who compiled a 2.02 ERA over 73 games split between Boston and Baltimore, striking out 103 and allowing just 53 baserunners (hits, hit batters, and unintentional walks) over 62.1 innings last year, but the Orioles at least have options there. As for Markakis, I wrote back in December that Alejandro de Aza, whom the Orioles acquired last August, may provide comparable value. So I don't view those as glaring holes.

Plus, the Orioles will enter the season with a presumably healthy catcher Matt Wieters (who played just 26 games last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June) and third baseman Manny Machado (who missed half the season with various knee ailments). First baseman Chris Davis is done serving a drug suspension for Adderol. So three key players will be back, although Davis was pretty bad last year (.196/.300/.404 slash line and 26 homers after hitting .286/.370/.634 with 53 homers in 2013). If Davis falters, Steve Pearce, who had a .293/.373/.556 slash line last year, easily the best of his career, can play first.

Which leaves designated hitter. That's where Quentin comes in. He was awful for San Diego last year, and only a half-time player the two prior seasons:
2012 29 86 340 284 44 74 21 0 16 46 36 41 .261 .374 .504 .877 146
2013 30 82 320 276 42 76 21 0 13 44 31 55 .275 .363 .493 .855 145
2014 31 50 155 130 9 23 6 0 4 18 17 33 .177 .284 .315 .599 75
SDP (3 yrs) 218 815 690 95 173 48 0 33 108 84 129 .251 .352 .464 .816 132
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/28/2015.

So why should the Orioles trade for him? Here's my logic:
  • The Orioles can buy low on Quentin, given his lousy recent performance.
  • The Padres have a serious logjam in their outfield. They added three full-time players via trade (former Dodger Matt Kemp, former Brave Justin Upton, and former Ray Wil Myers). They still have Will Venable (146 games played last year) and Cameron Maybin (95 games). They need to deal somebody.
  • Quentin is signed for $8 million this year, the same as Cruz earned in 2014. His contract has a $10 million mutual option for 2016, subject to a $3 million buyout if he plays 320 games in 2013-2015, which he won't. In other words, he'll cost $8 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016 if all goes well, nothing if it doesn't. That's pretty reasonable.
  • The reason he's missed so much time is that he's had a series of injuries. Since joining the Padres, he's been out with knee, wrist, shoulder, and groin injuries, including three stints covering 152 games on the disabled list. Quentin is a bad outfielder, enough so that he'll probably be healthier if he doesn't have to spend half the game running around chasing balls while wearing a glove. (He also gets hit by pitches a lot.) Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez are Hall of Fame-caliber players who went from oft-injured to extremely durable once they became full-time DHs. Not that Quentin's another Molitor or Martinez, but a full-time DH role could keep him in the lineup more.
  • Amplifying that point, prior to playing in San Diego, Quentin played for the White Sox, mostly as an outfielder but also as DH, with better durability:
    2008 ★ 25 130 480 96 138 26 1 36 100 66 80 .288 .394 .571 .965 149
    2009 26 99 351 47 83 14 0 21 56 31 52 .236 .323 .456 .779 98
    2010 27 131 453 73 110 25 2 26 87 50 83 .243 .342 .479 .821 119
    2011 ★ 28 118 421 53 107 31 0 24 77 34 84 .254 .340 .499 .838 122
    CHW (4 yrs) 478 1705 269 438 96 3 107 320 181 299 .257 .352 .505 .857 124
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 1/28/2015.
  • The Padres' home field, Petco Park, is the most extreme pitcher's park in baseball. The 2015 Bill James Baseball Handbook estimates that it suppresses home runs by 12%, home runs by right-handed hitters like Quentin by 24%, and runs by 17% compared to the average NL ballpark. In his three seasons there, Quentin slugged just .394 at home but a robust .510 on the road. His overall numbers were clearly dragged down by his home park. Oriole Park, by contrast, is more hitter-friendly, boosting runs by 5% and righties' homers by 7%. Quentin's overall numbers would benefit from a move.
  • Quentin is good at getting on base. Among the 168 players with 2,500 or more plate appearances between 2008 and 2014, he ranks 47th with a .352 on base percentage. The Orioles led the majors in home runs last year, easily, with 211, and were second in the AL in slugging percentage with .422, but only sixth in runs scored, with 705. The reason is that their .311 on base percentage was fifth worst in the league. They didn't get enough guys on base to take advantage of the long balls. The current Orioles roster has only three hitters with 30+ games played last year with a 2014 on base percentage better than the league average of .316: Pearce (.373), Young (.337), and Machado (.324). Quentin would address the team's key offensive weakness. 
Track record as a DH, buy low, reasonable contract (always a plus for Angelos), fills a need...all the Orioles need is for Duquette to continue to show signs of life. Do it, Dan. You're not going to work for the Blue Jays this year anyway.

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