Friday, July 31, 2009

Any More From MacPhail on Deadline Day?

Today is the non-waiver trade deadline day in baseball, so by 4:00 PM the deals must be done.

Already the Orioles have been players in the trading. George Sherrill was traded to the Dodgers yesterday for prospects Josh Bell and Steve Johnson, and Oscar Salazar was traded to the Padres for Cla Meredith. Andy MacPhail has said that the Orioles "will not be anyone's farm system," but is willing to trade players that are not part of the Orioles future to fill the farm system, which needs more future prospects.

But Sherrill and Salazar were not the only players talked about, so for MacPhail, will he trade any other player?

Possible players for trade:
Aubrey Huff
Huff has long been speculated for trade, and the Orioles left-handed first baseman has attracted attention by others teams. Huff, who will be 33 at the end of the year, has had a very bad July, putting him at .250 for the season. He has only 11 home runs to this point, where as he had 32 last season. It is hard to gauge what the Orioles will get for him, considering he is in the last year of his contract plus he's struggling, but his potential could earn a prospect or two. But my guess is he'll stay in Baltimore for the rest of the year.

Luke Scott
Scott is also a valuable target, a left-handed outfielder that is hitting .275 with 18 home runs. He was having a lot of success in the first half and has cooled off since then, plus the fact he has been a DH for most of the season with the left field situation may lower his value. Rumor is the Tigers have interest in him, but again, like Huff, I expect Scott to be here on August 1st.

Danys Baez
Baez has had an interesting season in terms of his trade value. Earlier in the year he was considered very valuable, then a big slump destroyed, then he rebounded and again drew interest, but then had some issues to pull it down again. The righty reliever is 4-4 with a 4.41 ERA. The 31-year-old's contract is up after the year, and a trade would likely get nothing more than one prospect, but it would be worth it. But some of the struggles may keep teams away.

Mark Hendrickson
After he was terrible as a starter, Hendrickson's performance in the bullpen with a sub-3 ERA in non-starts has drawn interest from the Rockies, according to the Denver Post. Hendrickson is a useful player to trade, a low-paid lefty reliever than can go for a long amount of innings that is not part of the Orioles future. Even if means just one prospect, the Orioles may pull the trigger on the 35-year-old, and my guess is the deal will be done.

So Andy MacPhail has a lot of work to do before the clock strikes four, but he has some people that could bring in prospects, and the trigger could be pulled on a few of them.

Prediction on the trade deadline:
--To be traded: Hendrickson to the Rockies
--Remaining as Orioles: Huff, Scott, Baez

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

No More Excitement in Baltimore, Sherrill is Traded

The "Brim Reaper" is no more in Baltimore. George Sherrill, Baltimore's reliable closer the past two seasons, has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two minor leaguers, third baseman Josh Bell and pitcher Steve Johnson, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Sherrill was gracious is his leaving Baltimore, saying that "The future is bright in Baltimore" and that it was fun to be here. He will be on a team that will compete for the playoffs this season. He'll likely be a left-handed specialist and not a closer due to Jonathan Broxton being a solid closer already in LA. For the Orioles, probably Jim Johnson will take the closer's role.

The rundown on the new prospects in the Sherrill trade:
Josh Bell, 22 (23 in November)
--4th round pick by the Dodgers in 2005
--Third baseman, switch hitter
--This season hit .296 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 94 games in Double-A Chattanooga
--70-50 BB-K ratio
--Had "preventative knee surgery" in June 2008
Steve Johnson, 21 (22 on August 31st)
--13th round pick by the Dodgers in 2005
--Baltimore native, St. Paul's graduate, son of MASN's Dave Johnson
--Starting Pitcher, right-handed
--Promoted to Double-A Chattanooga, in two starts: 1-1, five runs, two earned (1.69 ERA), 15-2 K-BB ratio

So the Orioles try to improve their minor league pitching as well as a player that looks like a future third base star.

This is a trade that is hard to see if it was good, but this is what Andy MacPhail needs to do. The minor league system still needs work due to its lack of depth, and the best way is to get new prospects. Third base is a clear void in the minors for the Orioles, so Bell gives that position a great prospect, and MacPhail's strategy is always to improve pitching in the minors.

Sherrill is a fan favorite here due to his "exciting" closing ability and his flat cap, but as much as we love him, he was not part of the Orioles future. Obviously MacPhail does not want to trade every good player will value that is over 30, but Sherrill was valuable now and it seems as if they got two decent prospects out of it.

It will take a while before we find out if this trade will work out. Likely both these prospects will head to Bowie for their assignments and we probably won't see either of them until at least 2011. For MacPhail's sake, one of these two better pan out; it is not a good thing for fans to trade one of the fan favorites. But good luck to George Sherrill, and bring some excitement to the Dodgers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Over the Hill, and About to Tumble

I talked to Windsor last night, and we traded ideas as to how Rich Hill would do. I insisted that he would rise to the occasion, giving the Orioles a solid though unremarkable 6 innings with 3 earned runs. Windsor predicted he’d give up three, but wouldn’t make it out of the 4th. That is why he’s the expert, I suppose. In fact, I was so certain of a serviceable performance out of Rich Hill that I planned today to be an open letter in defense of the much-maligned curve baller. However, this pitcher is instead reminding me a bit too much of Daniel Cabrera- great potential to get guys out but when he can’t locate his pitches he is done for. Rich Hill can be incredible; that much I am certain of. His fastball is too flat, but as a primarily curve ball pitcher, he gives hitters a completely different look in the rotation. Hill’s comeback with the Orioles was promising at first, but the wheels have completely come off.

Even more alarming are his statements that his shoulder is bothering him, and has been all season. He gave the same reason for his performance last year, though it was his back that was bothering him then. With the recent report about fastballs doing more damage to young arms than curve balls, Hill may wind up being a useful counterpoint. If he is still experiencing injury problems after all of his time in rehab and adjusting his throwing motion, perhaps this guy simply can’t stay healthy enough to use his pitches. Some pitchers can play through their injuries and still get quality starts- but when you are throwing curve balls as frequently as Hill it can do a number on your arm. I make no excuses for Hill; he should be able to locate his pitches after all this time with a patient coaching staff and a healthy environment for project players like him. Baltimore has given him all the opportunities this team can afford, and at this point it is just taxing the bullpen.

At this point I am not sure it can be fixed at the major league level, but I won’t dismiss Rich Hill entirely. He is the only pitcher on this staff aside from Jeremy Guthrie who has had any record of success at the major league level. Should he clear waivers, he could make wonderful use of some time at Norfolk to get his act together, and perhaps come back with a vengeance next season. Let’s not simply assume that Bergesen-Guthrie-Matusz-Tillman-Hernandez are going to automatically be ready to rock the world next season. Nor should we forget that the cost of sending Hill down (or having him leave the organization if he should be grabbed off of waivers, though that is less likely now than ever) is keeping Jason Berken up.

What, may I ask, is Berken learning at the major league level? The guy has been completely shelled, a young prospect thrown up before he is ready and made to learn on the fly- that is how young pitchers are ruined. Windsor has argued to me that Jason Berken’s development isn’t important because he isn’t projected to be a star anyway. I have trouble with that line of thinking, to be honest. Berken could very well be completely shell-shocked by this season’s end, and never be the same pitcher he could have been. I don’t like looking at my players as collateral damage for the common good. However, I won’t pretend that this isn’t a business and that you have to do what’s best in the long term. Berken has also recovered rather well after rough patches early in games, indicating that he may have a better mental makeup than other previous O’s.

This start means a lot for Jason Berken, but not quite as much as it meant yesterday. With Hill’s dismal start on a day when it was obvious to everyone that he was playing for his job, Jason Berken needs only to make it through 4 innings and he will get to stay in the rotation. Let’s hope he does slightly better than that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rich Hill May Be Done

Today's start from Rich Hill was representative of what we have seen from him all season. Going up against the Royals, a team with less wins than the Orioles, Hill allowed three runs in 2.1 innings with four hits and three walks. To the Royals. While he did not earn the loss, his ERA in 14 appearances, 13 of them starts, is now 7.80. With Chris Tillman coming up on Wednesday, this is the end for Hill, or at least it should be.

Hill was traded to the O's from the Cubs, and in his first start looked solid, throwing 5.2 innings with just two runs in a win against the Royals. Even through his first four starts he was 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA. But with a mid-80s fastball and offspeed pitches that are not breaking well, Hill has constantly gotten shelled by opposing teams. He was a good idea to bring in, but the experiment has not ended well, period. He is constantly going less than five innings and is tiring the bullpen even worse than the rest of the rotation.

I also don't feel the bullpen will be helpful to him. To work on pitches he'll need to be in the minors, not pitching out in the pen. A mid-80s fastball and under average breaking balls need to be worked on in Norfolk.

Unless Jason Berken does just awful on Tuesday, Hill should be designated for assignment. Chances are he'll accept going to the minors to try to rebound, and I hope that happens. He is a former 4th round pick that has talent, but he may need more seasoning to get to form. If he gets taken by another team, so be it. But for the Orioles, Hill will be next to go, or at least should be. I hope him the best, but for now, he needs to be off the roster.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Back to the Receiver Drawing Board

Upon news of Drew Bennett retiring plus Joe Flacco saying he's unsure if Derrick Mason will return (credit both to the Baltimore Sun), the Ravens are back to the drawing board with a new wide receiver. So, looking at the possible options, what are the pros and cons of the next possible moves?

Option A: Sign a new wide receiver.
--Possibilities: Marvin Harrison, Plaxico Burress, D.J. Hackett, Joe Horn, Amani Toomer among others
--Pros: It will not cost much and allows the Ravens to sign who they want to the offense without another team's say.
--Cons: None of these players have been signed yet, making you wonder if they still have what it takes to be a big wide receiver. Plus, some of these players are having issues with the law, which could affect their ability as well.

Option B: Trade for a receiver.
--Possibilities: Brandon Marshall of the Broncos, Anquan Boldin of the Cardinals
--Pros: Both are proven receivers that could become #1-WR easily in their spot. Plus, they want out of their current location, and a place with a team that reached the AFC Championship last season as the clear #1 would likely get them to play hard.
--Cons: For both, money is a certain factor. They will cost high draft picks to bring here plus a very high contract to either one after a year. Plus, neither have good reputations; Marshall with the law, Boldin as a teammate. These factors could be problems for the Ravens.

Option C: Go with who you have.
--Pros: No extra money is spent plus you can grow your current WR corps. Expect a lot of two tight end sets with Todd Heap and L.J. Smith with this decision. Plus, you can only gain something if Derrick Mason returns.
--Cons: The current WR corps minus Mark Clayton is unproven, so there is a lot of risk. Plus, injuries would be issues with most of them.

Option D: Try to get Derrick Mason to return.
--Pros: If successful, you get back Mason, who is a solid leader on the field plus a reliable receiver.
--Cons: Even if you get Mason back, the WR corps is still a problem with injuries. Plus, it is very unlikely that Mason will return, and the Ravens would not have a backup plan if that happened.

Obviously this is not a good situation, and with the start of training camp today for the rookies, it might be a lot worse. But Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh will have decisions to make soon.

Personally, I believe going after Marshall or Boldin is not worth the overall price. Although talent wise they are the best, the Ravens will have issues with them short and long term. Although it won't solve a lot, bringing in a D.J. Hackett or someone probably is the best way to go; a low cost wide receiver that could compete with Clayton and Williams. The point is that no decision is a perfect one for the Ravens.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Drew Bennett Signs With Ravens, Problem Solved?

The Ravens once again turn to a former Titan for a need, this one being wide receiver Drew Bennett, who signed a one-year deal with the Ravens on Friday, almost two weeks after Derrick Mason retired.

Bennett was on the Titans for six years, then joined onto the Rams in 2007 and 2008. Before that, he had caught at least 700 yards in his last three years with Tennessee, including over 1200 in 2004. He got hurt with a foot injury in the opening game this past year and had his six-year contract terminated by St. Louis after the season. Now 30, he won the receiver tryouts and will join the Ravens for this season, meaning Baltimore believes his foot is fine and will have him on the field.

Bennett will likely get the #1 or #2 spot with the other going to Mark Clayton. Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith will probably fight for the slot position. The Ravens may employ their tight ends a lot with Todd Heap and L.J. Smith to balance the air attack for Joe Flacco.

I'm not sure if this is who the Ravens need at wide receiver in place of Derrick Mason, but this might have been the best option. It is concerning that no one wanted Bennett beforehand, but that would have been a problem with anyone they picked up in free agency, including Marvin Harrison. It is also concerning the Ravens are depending on another receiver with injury issues. But, it will mean the Ravens will not do a high risk trade for players like Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin, whose respective teams would have likely raised the price for their talented but risky off the field receivers.

But this does bring up the question of Mason's retirement. The buzz had gone around that John Harbaugh was not sure if Mason had retired, that maybe he would want an extension or just didn't want to go to training camp. But signing Bennett may be an important move to this. Obviously the Ravens would love to have Mason back, but Ozzie Newsome can not bank on convincing Mason to change his mind. At the very least the Ravens need another receiver that can play to be ready. The door is not shut on the situation, but the Ravens are ready to move on if nothing changes.

No matter what, the Ravens will be readying their two tight end sets to have their best core of ball-catchers on the field to help Joe Flacco. This is not an easy situation to deal with and the problems are not over, but Bennett was a good pickup considering the situation in Baltimore.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chelsea defeats AC Milan 2-1 in Baltimore

In front of 71,000 strong at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, Chelsea defeated AC Milan 2-1 in the World Football Challenge exhibition match. It was a remarkable showing of soccer, with some dazzling plays and great team play from both sides.

Chelsea scored first with a long range shot from Didier Drogba within seven minutes, but AC Milan equalized with a goal from Clarence Seedorf near the end of the first half. Coming out into the second half, Chelsea would score after two rebounds from Yuri Zhirkov. It would be the eventual game-winner.

But for fans in Baltimore and in America, this was about seeing some of the best in the world play. The World Football Challenge has given people in America a chance to see some great teams in person. Baltimore sent 71,000+ to see players like Ronaldinho, American Oguchi Onyewu (from Olney, Maryland), and others that they normally couldn't see in the MLS. The Champions League is the most popular league in the world, and firsthand Charm City got to see two of its big teams.

It looked like the crowd had more Chelsea fans than AC Milan, as a sea of blue shirts could be seen. But most appreciated the spectacle, and M&T Bank Stadium looked good on ESPN tonight.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Free Kicks

Yea, no particular edition today, but I am on a half-day at work so I need to catch up before the day even starts. With AC Milan and Chelsea FC ready to do battle in Baltimore, let's celebrate by lining up for the kick...

Perfection for Mark Buehrle
Rarely do we get to see the magic of a perfect game. It requires precision not only by the pitcher but by the defense, who have to cleanly field every ball even as the pressure mounts and the possibility of a perfect game becomes more and more definite. Buehrle can thank Dewayne Wise for making that play in the top of the 9th, making a leaping grab at the wall and recovering the ball as it slipped out of his glove to preserve the no-no. Heck, I get nerves when my softball game is close, I can only imagine the poise Wise must have had as he went up to make the catch. This is actually Buehrle’s second no-hitter of his career, the first coming in 2007 when he narrowly missed a perfect game due to a walk drawn by Sammy Sosa in the fifth inning of a 6-0 win by the Sox. I guess I can’t blame the Orioles for losing to Buehrle last week if he was warming up for this outing.

Perhaps the White Sox pitcher will begin to receive credit as one of the better pitchers in the majors. His accelerated pace on the mound, mowing through batters and getting crowds home in time for primetime TV, certainly helps him keep the opposition off balance, but it is a skill that he is able to work his pitches so quickly without minutes of preparation before each one. He has also been the hallmark of consistency, his ERA never exceeding 4.99 en route to a career mark of 3.73. No, it isn’t in Randy Johnson or Tom Glavine territory, but he ranks annually among the tops in the majors in quality starts, showing that he rarely has an outing where he comes completely unraveled. If he made his starts with the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs we would surely hear more about this All-Star pitcher. In the meantime we will have to appreciate this unique athlete on another team that is oft-overshadowed by neighboring markets.

At Least One Place is Still Hiring
The Ravens were greatly in need of receiver help before Derrick Mason retired, but with his return still greatly in doubt the need has become dire. This very well could be the position that prevents Baltimore from returning to the playoffs, and certainly will likely end any hope of a title if 2nd year quarterback lacks a reliable set of receivers. Opposing secondaries will be able to rely on man-to-man coverage or a very broad zone defense if Flacco can’t make them pay deep. The same argument that can be made about the inability to stretch a defense without a quality quarterback can be repeated when the quarterback is lacking targets.

Ozzie Newsome did bring in a group of 4 wideouts to try out for the team, a move the front office claims they decided on before Mason’s sudden retirement (which shows you how dire they see the situation to be). Drew Bennett seems to be leading the group, but it isn’t as though the ravens have a whole lot of options. Bennett served as a solid 2nd receiver earlier in his career, but faded when he was asked to be the leading man. In Baltimore he wouldn’t have that role by a long shot, and his speed (if he can stay healthy) would make him a valuable deep option if Demetrius Williams is hurt or simply doesn’t have the ability we have all been waiting for. I am lukewarm on DJ Hackett, who was made to look halfway decent by a resourceful Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle and struggled in Carolina. The other two receiver’s names aren’t known at this point, but there is a reason these guys are unemployed on the eve of training camp. Either of these players could have a resurgence, but neither of them will make the Ravens much better.

Deadline Dealings for O’s?
I am not sure how I feel about trade deadline deals. They rarely work out for the contending team that picks up the player- his impact that season is generally minimal compared to the high-end prospect(s) they give up in return- and the value the struggling team gets is not usually has high as it could be when the bidders feel like the team has to move the player somehow. Luckily for the Orioles, they have Andy MacPhail, which means that every other General Manager in the majors knows that no decision will be made quickly or without more than adequate compensation.

Which is why, when I look Baltimore’s current trade chips, I doubt any of them will be moved in any sort of blockbuster deal. Sure a Gregg Zaun or a mid-level prospect might be shuttled around at the deadline, but I doubt that the big deal that is built up to every season will actually take place this year. The asking price for Sherrill has always been based on closer-value while bidders are offering set-up man value, and the value of players like Aubrey Huff and Danys Baez have been watered down by recent struggles. At the end of the day I just don’t see MacPhail getting what he wants, and I don’t see any big names on this team getting moved in the next week.

Now watch Sherrill get moved for 2 top level prospects and make me eat crow… I’ll take it if it makes the Orioles that much deeper in the minors.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

O's Rotation Set For Another Shuffle

Well, at least once a month for the past several seasons O's fans have faced this question: what do we do with our struggling starter(s)? The current situation has reached a breaking point with the struggles of young Jason Berken, and the epic decline of Rich Hill. Both Berken and Hill put up poor efforts against the Yankees, with Berken giving up 5 runs in 6 innings, and Rich Hill giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. These are not isolated occurences either, as both have struggled mightily for the past few weeks (save for a couple bright spots here and there), and the O's were hoping one would step up in their recent starts to avoid this tough decision. Does one of them go? Do both of them go? If so, who replaces them?

Well, in my opinion Rich Hill has to be the one to go. While he has more wins than Berken (inexplicably), he won't give you near the innings that Jason Berken will. Rich Hill has such an unorthodox delivery that when he's not spot-on to start the game he has supreme difficulty making adjustments. By contrast, Berken can make some adjustments to move further in a game, as evidenced by him finishing his last start with four shutout innings. Rich Hill doesn't have any options, but I can't think of any team in the majors who would be willing to put him on their major league roster. Rich Hill only has one good pitch, his curveball, and because it's effectively his only pitch he becomes way too predictable. And anyone who's watched him pitch knows that he can't rely on his fastball like many want him to, because it is exceptionally flat with little to no movement. I know I'm being harsh on the guy, but it is what it is.

That being said, I'm convinced that the club will try to put him through waivers (and he will pass through) and keep Berken for the time being. I think that Berken's finish from the last start is enough to think that he at least has the right mental toughness to have a shot at rebounding. To back this up further, the Baltimore Sun has already reported that Trembley and MacPhail will meet on Friday to discuss what to do with Rich Hill.

So who replaces Hill? There are actually a couple of ways to go-- Chris Tillman or David Pauley. Yes, David Pauley is a legitimate option even though O's fans don't pay much attention to the possibility. David Pauley was brought in to provide just this kind of depth at Triple-A, and he has performed admirably at Norfolk to the point that he would be a very sound call-up. Calling up David Pauley would allow Tillman more time at Norfolk and keeps Tillman's service clock from ticking. However, I do believe that Chris Tillman should (and will) be called up to replace Rich Hill in the rotation.

While I said at the start of the year that Chris Tillman should spend all of this season at Norfolk, his play has altered that plan. It's not because Tillman has dominated Triple-A competition in his recent starts, it's because he has dominated Triple-A throughout this entire season. Too often the Orioles bring up players simply because they've shown a hot streak; this is not one of those instances. Tillman has sustained his dominance and has rarely had two bad games in a row. His ability to make adjustments quickly, throw strikes, and the rave reviews from coaches at all levels tells me that he's as major league ready as he'll ever be. And almost as important as that readiness is the fact that he's ideally lined up for a major league debut. Now that he has been pushed back a day at Norfolk (curious, no?), his start lines up exactly with Hill's next Tuesday at home against the Royals. There is no better place to insert a young pitcher than at home versus a mediocre ball club (knock on wood). Assuming that his start tonight goes well, it's hard to think that the club will let this ideal situation slip by.

Certainly I understand patience, but I really think that this is the time and place to bring up Tillman to replace Rich Hill. Plus, I was hoping to go to Tuesday's game anyway, which doesn't hurt.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For the Orioles, the Numbers Tell the Story

Well after last night’s flameout at the hands of Yankees pitching (and perhaps a bit more evidence as to why George Sherrill may be more valuable than we thought with Jim Johnson not quite there yet), I thought back to a familiar adage that has grown this season about the Orioles’ habit of scoring in bunches one game and then going completely cold in the next game. Is this complaint legitimate? Do the Orioles suffer from such massive inconsistencies that one can’t predict whether they will actually score a decent number of runs? Baseball is all about numbers, so I decided to take a look at the numbers. You may be surprised at the results.

The Orioles have scored 10 or more runs 10 times so far this season, and in those games they are 10-0, as one might expect. However, in the games immediately following these offensive explosions, the Orioles score an average of 4.5 runs, and are 5-5 in those contests. Being as the average runs scored by the O’s in a game this season is about 5 runs per game, this is a slight dip but not enough for anyone to claim a massive amount of inconsistency. True, the Orioles have been shut out 6 times this season and failed to score more than 2 runs another 18 times. The problem to me is in missed opportunities.

The Orioles have solid offensive numbers in terms of hits and even on base percentage, but fail to put enough runners across when compared to other teams. Baltimore actually has the 6th highest team average in the American League, though it ranks behind all AL East teams except for the Red Sox, who aren’t that far behind. What should probably be of more concern to Baltimore fans is the lack of home runs and the inability to translate that average into runs scored, where the O’s rank near the bottom of the league and in the middle of the league, respectively. The latter can be attributed largely to poor base running and (yes, I am going to go there) bad calls by the umpires, who seem to believe that a tie goes to the team higher in the standings instead of the runner. The bat aren’t going cold necessarily, but they are certainly timid with runners in scoring position or on the base paths.

The pitching is terrible, yesterday’s performance aside. The 4.93 team ERA ranks only above Cleveland in the American League, and the rotation ERA is abysmal itself. However, we have been over this ad nauseam and it would do little good to rehash the pitching woes of this team. The fact of the matter is that while the Baby Birds can hit, they can’t score- and they aren’t exactly stopping people either.

However, the law of averages says this team is doing about as well as it should. My last calculation was of the Pythagorean Win-Loss formula, using the total runs scored and runs allowed to calculate what Baltimore’s winning percentage should be given those values. I won’t bore you with the math, but the result? The O’s should be winning 45.2% of their games, or roughly 42 games at this point in the season. They are currently 41-51. This tells me that for every time the Orioles score big, they give it right back even bigger. In baseball, stats are everything. While there are some indications that this team could (or probably should) be scoring more, this team is about where they should be right now. Losses like the one last night are maddening to put up with, but from a macro level it unfortunately makes all too much sense.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Will George Sherrill be Traded Now?

After the trade that sent Oscar Salazar to the Padres for relief pitcher Cla Meredith, there has been increasing speculation in the media that George Sherrill is being highly sought after and that the Orioles may trade him. The team reportedly to have strong want for him is the Angels, but also according to sources, the Cubs and Dodgers may as well among others.

For Sherrill, 32, this has been a great season for him. He has converted 20 of 23 saves, holds a 2.35 ERA, lefties only bat .125 against him right now, plus he has a strikeout to walk ratio of 35-12. Plus, he would be under control until 2011. All of this wraps up into a very valuable reliever.

The questions for the Orioles for losing Sherrill would include who would take over as closer. Likely Jim Johnson would take over considering his very solid play the last two years with Danys Baez and Cla Meredith having the setup roles. The O's would again not have a lefty specialist, though this is a problem for another day. But really, Sherrill is likely to be traded eventually, and although many fans would be upset to see a solid closer go, it may be time to try another prospect run.

But it is important that Andy MacPhail be careful with this. Sherrill is a player with real value, but he would not be as useful or as valuable as a big position player or a starting pitcher. Sherrill to some teams could be a closer, to others just a useful lefty. The latter idea won't get much value from teams, but a closer could at least land one or two solid prospects. The Angels, Dodgers, and Cubs certainly won't use him as a closer; they already have solid, dependable closers; they will want Sherrill as a lefty specialist.

Obviously the deal would target an infielder or a big starter prospect. Any deal will likely not have the results of the Bedard trade, but it could bring in someone good. But it is important for MacPhail not to waste Sherrill's value. He is a solid lefty closer, and the prospects the Orioles get should be worth their while. But if the Orioles can get a good deal for Sherrill, it should be done, even though it will hurt some Orioles fans to lose him.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

O's Trade Salazar to Padres for Cla Meredith: Good Move By MacPhail

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun has reported that the Orioles have traded reserve corner infielder Oscar Salazar to the San Diego Padres for the righty submarine reliever Cla Meredith.

Salazar, 31, was hitting .419 (13/31) with two home runs off the bench for the Orioles. Meredith, 26, had a great start to the season but has struggled since, sporting a 4.17 ERA in 36.2 innings.

Overall, I am supportive of this deal. I understand that of the face of it, it seems as if Andy MacPhail traded a hot player off the bench for a struggling reliever. But there is more to it. The Orioles are trying to find pieces to the future. This isn't a salary issue; neither would cost much, and neither has to be a long term commitment. Had MacPhail gotten a trade offer with good prospects, then he would have taken it, but he must have felt this was the way to go.

For MacPhail, it probably was not easy trading a player like Oscar Salazar. Salazar is an all-around decent man who has shown good play off the bench and a solid clubhouse demeanour. But, this is a move that is solid. It was not needed, but it helps the team. Salazar was 31 and likely would not have continued his success long term. The fact that other teams were interested in his services was important, as he gives value to the team now. He is not a part of the Orioles future, and MacPhail had a chance to make a good deal. I feel for Salazar, and I hope him the best in San Diego, but the Orioles are trying to build for the future, and Salazar is not part of that.

In getting Cla Meredith, the O's gain a traditionally solid short reliever. He will remind a lot of Orioles fans of Chad Bradford, a righty submariner that will go one inning and rely on ground balls more than strikeouts. After being traded from the Red Sox in 2006, he has been a good reliever for the Padres, throwing a sub 4.20 ERA each of the last four seasons. He has been struggling the last couple of weeks after a big start.

He is contracted until the end of the year. So the O's can find out if the 26-year-old is worth keeping in the bullpen long term or they can just release him at the end of the year. Low risk, decent reward. Meredith will likely not be anything huge in the bullpen this season, but if Meredith does well, the Orioles can keep a solid submariner if the bullpen for a little while. Good deal from Andy MacPhail.

(Photo Credit: AP (Salazar), US Presswire (Meredith))

Friday, July 17, 2009

Prospect Report: Ty Kelly

Welcome back to the Prospect Reports, and I thought I'd mix it up with this one. Last week I went with Falco to an Aberdeen Ironbirds game, partially to prep for a Tyler Townsend report. Well, I found myself thoroughly impressed by another Tyler, Ty Kelly, so now I'd like to give you all a look at this 13th-round pick who might start to turn some heads. In that game Ty went 5-6 with 1 rbi, 3 runs scored, and notched a walk in the process. That hasn't been his only highlight, as he his currently leading the Ironbirds with a .316 average and has recorded multi-hit games in 5 of his past 6 starts. But now I know what you're asking...

So, who is Ty Kelly? Ty Kelly was drafted out of UC Davis in the 13th round of this year's 2009 First Year Player Draft, and quickly signed with the Baltimore Orioles. The versatile infielder, most likely pegged to play at 2nd base as a pro, stands at 6'0" and 185 pounds and is a switch hitter. Ty came out of college as a junior, and as such he will be only reaching his 21st birthday this coming Monday, July 20th (happy early birthday, Ty). At UC Davis, Kelly earned a reputation as a high-average batter and a versatile defender. Despite missing his freshman season with injury, he returned in his sophomore season to lead the Big West Conference in batting, hitting at a clip of .394 with an on-base percentage of .448. He came back to earth in his junior year, batting .307 with four home runs, starting all 55 games for the Aggies. After being drafted by the Orioles, Ty quickly signed on and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Ironbirds, batting .316 with one home run and 4 rbis in 18 games, switching between 3rd and 2nd base defensively.

Strengths: Ty Kelly's biggest asset offensively is his ability to hit for a high average from both sides of the plate. Kelly has a very compact swing with good balance, which allows him to hit effectively to all fields. Ty has shown the ability to hit the occasional home run, but he could develop into a doubles machine in the Brian Roberts mold (however with slightly less speed). Ty Kelly is also a very versatile defender, having played at shortstop, third, and second base in college and his early pro career (not to mention playing center field in the Cape Cod league this past summer). His excellent defensive instincts should smooth his professional development significantly.

Weaknesses: The major drawback to Tyler's skill set is that he has below average power, and doesn't project to improve on that significantly. This limits his potential to play outfield and third base regularly in the majors, and really relegates him to second base. He's also limited by what most would term only an average arm defensively, which again pegs him at second rather than at third base (which is a huge need for the Orioles organization). Another point that Ty will have to work on is his ability to draw walks and manufacture extra bases; if he's going to be an impact player with his bat, his on base percentage and baserunning will have to improve.

Projection: The key in Ty Kelly's development will be where the organization feels he is at with respect to the development of L.J. Hoes. If Hoes starts at Delmarva I expect Kelly to be at Frederick, or vice-versa. I believe that in the end the Orioles see Kelly as a second baseman (just speculation, I don't have inside information), and I don't think they want one to be playing and the other one warming the bench. I wouldn't be surprised at all, given the relative ages, for Kelly to start next year at Frederick. If he continues to excel and his development stays on track, he should be in the 2nd base discussion at end of Brian Roberts' contract.

[Photo Credit: UC-Davis Athletics]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free Kicks- Thursday Ravens/Towson Catholic Edition

Windsor is working so hard on his Prospect Report (I know, I am excited too) that he just can’t get the post up until tonight. However, I am pushing back Free Kicks a day so that we can try to have daily content on this thing. Thank you for your wonderful comments about my Towson Catholic post, I appreciate all the work y’all are doing to try to save this institution from the people who were supposed to run it. Let’s line up for the kick…

Towson Catholic Update

Well, Monsignor Tinder is arguing that he fought hard to keep the school open, and I am actually sure he did. I am sure he tried to cut costs, find ways to get tuition money from those who hadn’t paid it on time, and even looked at ways to boost enrollment. But again, the issue isn’t what he did internally- it is what he didn’t do externally. He didn’t ask for help, he didn’t raise money, and he didn’t make his fight external. I am sure he loves Towson Catholic and wanted it to remain open with all his heart, but he didn’t realize at any point that there was a great resource available to him in the alumni. He even remarked that alumni “ultimately were one of the pillars on which the future of the school stood” but he never reached out to them for help.

The fact that it took Towson Catholic until just a couple years ago to hire anyone to coordinate alumni and raise money is really telling- every private school needs someone to build that endowment and (sorry parents) seek additional funding so that the school can survive times like this. The issue is not with how much Tinder loved the school or wanted it to stay open, just as it isn’t about whether someone wants to stop the guy who is mugging the pedestrian, or whether someone wishes that a project will get done on time, it is about what you do to make that happen. No matter what he did it was insufficient because he never used the most obvious resource available- asking for help. Whether by ignorance or hubris, Monsignor Tinder is still responsible.

Suggs Signs 6-year Deal, Will Remain a Raven
This is the first great development of the post-draft offseason for the Ravens, with their most dynamic pass-rushing threat locked into a new 6-year, $63 million deal. Baltimore is now likely right up against the cap, but it may have actually helped their cap condition versus taking on the franchise tag for another season. Moreover, it ensures that at least one Raven won’t be up for a new deal anytime soon. Let’s not automatically think, however, that Terrell Suggs is going to remain a Raven until he is 32. The way these deals are made in the NFL, the first 3 or 4 years are set but after that the deal can easily be reworked or even ended without much compensation to the player. Suggs was smart in getting the amount of guaranteed money that he did, but consider this a 3 year deal with a bit of angst after that point if the former Defensive Rookie of the Year is underperforming.

Suggs hasn’t always been explosive, having several less-than-stellar seasons, including the 2007 campaign. In fact, his best season might have been back in 2004, when he registered 60 total tackles to go with 10.5 sacks. He hasn’t had a double-digit sack year since. Hopefully his new contract will give him more motivation than in previous years to live up to his record setting deal. I am not sold that Terrell Suggs is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. But he is a very good one, and that alone makes him worth the money.

Not So Fast- Harbaugh to try to Keep Mason from Retiring
I thought that Ravens’ players and coaches would try to convince Derrick Mason to reconsider his decision to retire after 12 seasons, but I did not expect it to be as public as this. According to the Baltimore Sun, Coach Harbaugh has already exchanged text messages with Mason and is planning to meet with him soon to discuss his retirement. Honestly I don’t know what affect his is going to have on Mason. It is likely that Mason’s decision to leave the game was rooted in family and personal issues, not anything that can be solved by money or more football. If Harbaugh does manage to bring Mason back to the team, it will reveal his ability to relate to his players on a personal level and serve as a friend and mentor as a coach. I am not expecting anything, and I am not leaping to the conclusion that the wide receiver is going to change his mind suddenly. Derrick Mason was never a player who I thought needed the game so much that he couldn’t step away. If he feels he has done what he wants to do with football and is ready to do other things, I don’t know what will convince him to come back. Either way, this saga is just beginning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Orioles Mid-Season Review

Well, we're at that time. The second half of the season is about to begin now that the All-Star game has come and gone (by the way, many congrats to Adam Jones for his go-ahead sac fly in the 8th inning), so before we move onward let's take a look back.

The first half of the season for the Orioles was marked by a confusing blend of stellar comebacks and inexplicable collapses, of youthful surprises and disappointments. Without a doubt the high point of the season thus far has to be the miraculous comeback against the Boston Red Sox, and the low point-- well, there are a few too many options for that one. Regardless, let's take a look at some of my team awards for the first half (and we'll throw in Expatriate and Falco's opinions for the heck of it).

MVP: Brad Bergesen (unanimous) - Without Brad Bergesen, this pitching rotation would have absolutely no stability. Bergesen didn't even start the season in the rotation, and despite the fact that his raw 'stuff' isn't dominant, he has the poise and guile of a veteran when he's on the mound. Unlike other rookies, Brad Bergesen knows how to make adjustments and because of that he's been able to rebound strongly from an early shaky stretch to become more and more dominant as the season's progressed. I thought last year that folks were underestimating Brad Bergesen when I wrote up my Prospect Report on him, but even I didn't see this coming.

LVP: Adam Eaton (Expatriate: Jeremy Guthrie, Falco: Rich Hill) - I don't see how this could be anyone but Adam Eaton. Adam Eaton only had one start that could be qualified as anything better than mediocre. Adam Eaton consistently put the Orioles in early deficits, destroyed the bullpen, and helped cement the Orioles position in last place very early on. Adam Eaton contributed nothing positive to this team, and so he was unequivocally the least valuable.

Rookie of the Year: Brad Bergesen (unanimous) - See above analysis on Brad Bergesen, nothing more needs to be said. Though I do give a quick shout to Nolan Reimold, who in almost any other year would be the deserving ROY for this team.

Gold Glover: Nick Markakis (Expatriate: Adam Jones, Falco: Nick Markakis) - While Nick Markakis doesn't always have the highlight reel catches, there is no greater model of consistency in right field that I can think of. Markakis very rarely takes bad routes to the ball as he reads them exceptionally well off the bat. Add onto that his ability to gun down runners (always at or near the top of MLB in assists), and he's the deserving gold glover. Not that he'll ever win one, because after all he's an Oriole. A quick mention though, that Robert Andino's play at short really has been fun to watch. I've been exceptionally impressed with his defense, though the award still easily goes to Markakis over Andino.

Most Surprising Player: Nolan Reimold (Expatriate: Oscar Salazar, Falco: Nolan Reimold) - Last year I did a Prospect Report on Nolan Reimold and I had the opportunity to watch him several times in person. His advancement from last year to this year has been one of the most astonishing transformations I've seen. His plate discipline has been exemplary, and while he's been slumping as of late, his ability to make adjustments is much improved. Nolan Reimold has come out and taken hold of the left field job, something that was doubtful at the start of the year. He's an emerging contender for ROY.

Most Disappointing Player: Jeremy Guthrie (unanimous) - Jeremy Guthrie was supposed to be, and needs to be, the ace on this team. He filled that role exceptionally well last year and his consistency indicated that he would do the same. Well, Guthrie is still scuffling along and it's still up in the air as to whether he'll get it back. He's been burned on some good pitches and he still has good stuff; we'll see how it plays out in the second half, but no doubt this is the one rotation struggle that O's fans didn't see coming.

Big Second Half: Nick Markakis (Falco and Expatriate: Aubrey Huff) - I'm bucking the trend of my colleagues here, but I have a strong feeling that Markakis will take off in the late summer, just as he has the past two years. Huff is a good bet, as he is a strong second half player. But just call it a hunch.

Drop Off in the Second Half: Luke Scott (Expatriate: Brad Bergesen, Falco: Luke Scott) - I love Luke Scott, but he is traditionally very streaky and I doubt that he can keep up this unreal pace. I understand the doubts about Brad Bergesen, but his ability to make adjustments and his positive momentum tells me he won't fall off all that much.

Grade for Dave Trembley: B (Expatriate: B-, Falco: B+) -He's kept this team together and he's managed the lineup as well as can be expected. His handling of young pitchers has also been superb, as shown by their successes this year. The only drawback is the continuing baserunning blunders which really comes back to the manager's responsibility.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Derrick Mason Retires

I was planning to do an O’s midseason review today when the news broke about Derrick Mason’s retirement. After consulting with Falco and Windsor, I decided to cover Mason and let Windsor take over the midseason review tomorrow. Then again, how can I cover Derrick Mason when so many defensive backs couldn't?

I think in order to appreciate what Derrick Mason has meant to this team, we need to ask ourselves just one question. How far would the Ravens have gotten last season without him? I challenge anyone to argue they would have been a .500 team. He was the one offensive weapon that kept the defense occupied, the reliable hands for the 3rd down catch regardless of whether his arm should’ve been in a sling or his legs being worked on by trainers. After coming to the Ravens already considered to be on the downswing of his career, Mason gave this team 1000 yard seasons in 3 of his 4 years here, to go along with 15 touchdown catches on a team that never threw many touchdown passes. Physically he was slowing down but never shied away from the deep route. Without a legitimate deep threat, Mason was continually sent 30-40 yards deep and used his intelligence to make a play on the ball when he couldn’t simply blow by his defender. He had his injury concerns this season but played in every game, regardless of his physical condition.

The timing of all of this is stunning, with the Ravens poised to make a leap (and desperately short on wide receivers as it is) and Mason negotiating for a new contract. But perhaps the latter point is what did it. Many times you see aging players fight for that next contract, seeing that management simply will not pay for a player in his mid-30’s regardless of what he has given the team or how well he has represented the franchise. Perhaps that what, in the end, caused the Ravens to balk at his contract demands. Hopefully the negotiations weren’t so contentious that it caused a reaction like this. However, it doesn’t appear this was about money, with Mason saying succinctly “Financially, I don’t think they can do anything to sway me.” Then again, isn’t everything in the NFL about money? I have heard a lot of players say that it is about “respect” instead of money… but it is odd how much respect looks like a fat contract.

In speaking about his decision to retire, Derrick Mason described a difficulty getting enthused about the team, about the game, and about the grind of the football season. He apparently has not been working out as much, and just doesn’t care that much anymore. “Emotionally I am just not that enthused. I have not been that enthused to get up and work out… It was getting to that point.” I can imagine after 12 seasons that a player could just be tired of it all; and I respect him for stepping away rather than drag through this coming season listlessly. If the fire isn’t there, then I am look forward to seeing him find a new endeavor he is passionate about. After all, people rarely keep the same job for 12 years and don’t want something new. To play football you have to be excited to get out of bed in the morning, to put your body through hell and enjoy it. If you don’t, it is responsible to find a new line of work.

So what do the Ravens do now? They will certainly add another receiver, whether as a free agent or through a trade. While I am sure they won’t rush out and do anything, there is no way they can enter the season with Mark Clayton at the #1 spot, unproven and injury-prone Demetrius Williams at #2 and a series of would-be training camp cuts at #3. If nothing else, this is a young receiving group that needs veteran leadership, the kind that Mason provided in making the other players around him better.

I do not think that this makes the Ravens more apt to trade for Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. Ozzie Newsome is not one to mortgage the future to answer an immediate need, and the current state of the receiving corps isn’t going to make him more likely to try to replace Mason. After all, if he trades picks for a #1 receiver after just losing his #1 receiver to retirement, he has given up significant draft assets just to replace what he already had. Look for the Ravens to bring in someone like Marvin Harrison to serve in that veteran role, and perhaps bring in an adequate receiver to fill a roster spot and serve as a backup, like Koren Robinson, Reggie Williams, Drew Bennett, or *gulp* Ashley Lelie. Either way, the options don’t look good.

[Quotations and photo compiled from Baltimore Sun reports]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Towson Catholic Didn't Have to Close its Doors

No Free Kicks this week, as I came across a story that is far more important. A bulwark of Maryland high school sports has passed with the closing of Towson Catholic. The school that produced Olympians and NBA lottery draft picks, Maryland Terps and award winning singers, is closing, citing massive debt. In the process it leaving its remaining students in a lurch, looking for a school after being left behind by a school with strapped finances. But I feel no pity for the administration of Towson Catholic.

As a development professional (a fancy way of saying I raise money for a living), I can say emphatically that this could have been avoided. The most outlying estimate of $650K in debt is something that could have been taken care of. Perhaps not easily, and perhaps it would have taken time, but it is more than doable. Towson Catholic, even to those who have no personal connection to the school, is part of the community. It is the name you read in the Sun where the sports teams are always at the top of the standings and they have maintained a high quality of education for those who don’t go there to play. A year ago, when they surely knew they were in trouble, a campaign should have been launched. At little cost and using alumni records and just a little bit of research time, they could have raised the money they need- they could call it "Save our School" or “Save the Owls." If Monsignor Tinder had thought ahead, he could have taken several easy steps:

1) Bring in an experienced volunteer or hire a Director of Development at a low salary to run a campaign if Monsignor Tinder didn’t want to distract anyone on his staff (technically they already had a Director of Alumni Relations in Carol Short, although she had no background in development). TC’s strong PTA and alumni base could have provided the necessary volunteers for whatever the Director’s plans were.
2) Monsignor Tinder would make personal calls to higher-capacity potential donors or even make visits those living nearby. Students would call other groups of potential donors- I know you hate the calls, but they work if they are done right.
3) The reunion volunteers use their connections to organize class drives in which each previous class tries to raise money as a group for TC.
4) Reel in one donor who is willing to make a huge gift ($10K-$25K) and use them to get the word out in a public way. Others will use that example to spur on their own giving.

It didn’t have to go down this way, giving parents 6 weeks to find a new school before the 86 year old institution is gone for good. I won’t comment on the thrift (or lack thereof) of the Archdiocese in saving enough money in other areas to keep their schools open, but when parents and community members know that a school could be gone completely they tend to forget their complaints for a moment and jump in to save it.

Maybe it wouldn’t have worked. Maybe alums don’t care and don’t want to step in. Even without rich and famous alumni the school could have made up at least the $160,000 tuition shortfall they had accumulated and likely the whole $650,000. But even if it didn’t, even if the school completely failed and had to close anyway, at least then they could have said they tried. I am sure they did things behind closed doors, cutting costs and cutting deals with the bank. But they never reached out to the public, never asked their loyal parents and alumni for help. In my line of work they say that the number one reason people don’t give is because they aren’t asked. Maybe TC doesn’t agree with that adage, but it would have been nice at least to see them try.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Worried About the O's Rotation? Think again.

When it comes to the current pitching rotation, it seems that there is no shortage of things to complain about. The depth that the season started with has dwindled sorely, Jeremy Guthrie looks like the funk he started the season in might not be going away, and Koji Uehara has been sidelined for the forseeable future. The current starting staff only contains one of the five that broke camp with the team in April, and only two of the current staff have earned run averages under 5.35. So, should Orioles fans be worried? The easy answer is yes, but the correct answer is an emphatic no.

Let's take a closer look at how this breaks down. Of the three with the high ERAs we have Rich Hill (7.43), Jason Berken (6.25), and Jeremy Guthrie (5.35). None of these three, save for maybe Guthrie, were expected to have that significant an impact for this team nor are they a part of the broader plan. It's true that Jeremy Guthrie was expected to be the ace and he should step up, but do O's fans expect him to be in the ace role one or two years down the line? Absolutely not, because there are phenoms such as Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz who project to be far better than Guthrie is now. Rich Hill and Jason Berken are stopgaps; even if Berken were to excel, it still is doubtful as to whether he would have a place on next year's rotation. Rich Hill was a wise gamble by Andy MacPhail, because he was a low-risk and potentially high-reward pickup. It's true that Hill has struggled, but those struggles have little effect on the broader plan.

Now let's take a look at the two pitchers who have excelled this season, particularly as of late; David Hernandez (3.94), and Brad Bergesen (3.59). Both of these pitchers are rookies, and both represent the beginning of the youth movement on the O's starting staff. It's important to not only take note of the results they have been getting but how they have gotten them. Both Bergesen and Hernandez have faced very formidable lineups, and when faced with adversity they respond well. Unlike previous prospects the Orioles have rushed, it's the mentality with which they approach the game which impresses me so much. Neither Bergesen nor Hernandez seem to become unravelled after misfortune. I'll take an example from yesterday's game: David Hernandez allows a 2-run home run in the first inning, throws 30+ pitches and has no command of his breaking ball, while the offense continually runs itself out of scoring opportunities. So what does he do? He guts it out, pitching five more shutout innings and setting a personal high for pitches in a major league start. It's that sort of poise that wins alot of ballgames. Bergesen and Hernandez have vastly different styles, but their similarities in mental makeup have been the key to their success.

Oh, and did I mention that Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz have all dominated at their minor league levels? So let's see... all of the star prospects have excelled against higher levels of competition, and there hasn't been a single setback among them. Yeah, we should all be terribly worried.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The "Cost" of Being a Fan

Okay, so as I have repeated innumerable times, I don’t actually live in Maryland anymore. Nor do I live anywhere close enough to catch the regional broadcasts or hear my local television personalities throw out some veteran player who is not-so-good in front of the camera to give me an analysis of the game. I am sure I’m not the only reader of this blog who has to deal with this; a big reason sports blogs have been so successful is their ability to convey information (and the fan’s voice) to other fans far away from their team’s home base. Newspapers simply do not give enough depth to their reporting to give the reader an accurate, holistic view of the team and the team websites have details but are far too rosy to be taken seriously. So what is a fan to do when they need to catch a flight to get in the same time zone as their team?

Well, there are cable/satellite packages, but these force you to buy an entire channel (or channels) devoted to that entire sport (for baseball this would be MLB Extra Innings). Sorry, I don’t want to pay for Pirates-Brewers, but thanks anyway. These can cost $200 a season at minimum and when you tally in all of the extra fees and programs to ensure you get something worthwhile it can reach almost $300. Now that may not be much for some, but when you are already paying a hefty price tag for cable or satellite service that can be just a bit more piling on. Additionally, these have so many blackout restrictions that you may not see your team if they play on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, in North Carolina MASN sports doesn’t have an agreement with Time Warner, meaning that if you are an O’s (or “Expos”) fan, you won’t see your team even if you have MLB Extra Innings. This service might be great for a fan of the sport or a true student of the game who doesn’t care what team he or she watches, but for a partisan like most of us, it matters.

Then there’s MLB TV from For a much reduced price you can watch games on your computer ($70 a season for premium, $50 a season for regular). Personally I don’t like staring at my computer that much, but I did do the regular for one season. It was grainy and I had to settle with the broadcast from whatever team was at home (which was painful to watch Red Sox or Yankees games). I can see myself perhaps doing the premium down the line, but only if I can handle staring at my laptop for three hours at a time. The TV, for whatever reason, is much easier.

Okay, so for the NFL, DirectTV has the exclusive rights to out-of-market games, which is great... for the NFL. The satellite provider allows individuals to buy the “Sunday Ticket” package to watch over the internet, but only if satellite is unavailable where you live. So Comcast users, you better suck it up. Moreover, if the price for Extra Innings didn’t turn you off this might. $300 for standard Sunday Ticket, and if you want that in HD better cough up an extra $100. They know fans love their teams and will do anything to get a better glimpse of them outside of box scores and recaps.

Why am I going through all this? Just to illustrate how hard it can be to follow your team from outside of your region. Most of us rely on ESPN for our sports news, but unless you follow the Yankees, Red Sox, Celtics, Lakers, Patriots, Cowboys, or the Brett Favre soap opera you are pretty much out of luck. I hold onto my blog news, free highlights, the occasional radio broadcast and the ubiquitous bar scene where I can usually get them to change the channel to the Orioles game if they are playing a team in the AL Central. Finally, I fly home and see a game at least 4 or 5 times a season so that I can get a firsthand view of my team- and I'd take being in Baltimore those 5 times over paying for a gigantic sports tier. That way I have to put in a lot of effort but still get a strong idea of how the team is actually doing. We all know that being a Baltimore fan has a price- a dozen losing seasons for the Orioles, a sweep at the hands of the Steelers, but one should still be able to follow the team reliably. I am sure I will have to buy some package eventually, when visiting home isn't possible or I haven't gotten to see someone pitch and want to mention them in a post, but so far I have figured out that you don't necessarily need the sports packages to make that happen. Try to be wise in figuring out how much fandom needs to come out of your pocketbook.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Can Anything Be Done About the Rotation?

What we all believed would be the problem with the Orioles in the beginning of the season has come front and center. The starting rotation has been very bad lately, and there is no solution in sight.

Here is what the Opening Day rotation was, and where they are now:
--Jeremy Guthrie: still a starter, 6-8 record, 5.02 ERA (6.86 on the road)
--Koji Uehara: has not been bad when healthy, but often could not go longer than 6 innings a game and is always hurt
--Alfredo Simon: needed elbow surgery after two bad starts, out for the year
--Mark Hendrickson: relegated to the bullpen after many bad outings, but has become a decent long reliever
--Adam Eaton: released after posting an 8.56 ERA in eight starts, now playing for Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Rockies Triple-A club

And the rotation now:
--Jeremy Guthrie: 6-8 record, 5.02 ERA
--Brad Bergesen: a solid starter this season, 5-2 record with a 3.53 ERA, 4-0 in last eight starts
--Rich Hill: mostly bad outings with a few exceptions, 3-2 record with a 7.43 ERA, only twice going over 5.2 innings
--Jason Berken: may not be ready, 1-5 record with 6.25 ERA
--David Hernandez: only five starts but ok right now, 2-2 record with 4.15 ERA

It is no doubt that the rotation has been real problematic. Without Bergesen and solid work from the bullpen, the whole pitching staff could be lost. Certainly it was thought the rotation would struggle, but the difficulties with Guthrie and Uehara made things much worse.

But can anything really be done about it right now? As we often tell ourselves, the Orioles are not in contention right now. Not matter what deals can be done, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays will likely be better. Signing a number of free agents likely will not help matters plus will cost millions of dollars. Trading also won't work, as you will not get anyone good and ready to go without giving up one of the big three, which is not an option, and Andy MacPhail will not do that.

The Orioles can keep tapping into Norfolk all they want, and that is what they will do. Already from the Tides came Bergesen, Berken, Hernandez, Radhames Liz, and Alberto Castillo from the pitching end plus Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Lou Montanez, and Oscar Salazar in the lineup. The Tides pitching staff has been real helpful to the Orioles, and they still have some people left, but eventually the Birds will need to stop bringing people up, if only because they will run out of them. Left that could help now are David Pauley and Chris Waters, but after that, the rotation will need to function on their own.

This whole situation is difficult for the Orioles, but it is one they will need to get through. Mainly because nothing really can be done about it unless the current pitchers can do better. Let's hope they do.

(Photo credit: AP)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

R.I.P. Steve McNair (1973-2009)

It was reported today that Steve McNair is dead, shot to death in Nashville at the age of 36. Information about his death is still being investigated.

McNair was a longtime Tennessee Titan, reaching a Super Bowl with them plus winning MVP one year. He would finish his career with the Ravens. He had retired after the 2007 season after playing 13 years.

This is a truly sad loss to all football fans, especially those in Tennessee. Steve McNair was the definition and model of a football player, a well respected person who did everything he could to win. He would often get injured throughout his career, but he kept going. He was a great player and leader on the field and was always considered a strong presence in the locker room. He could throw well, run well, and always was a good player, but his attitude and will to win truly made him who he was. Very few players could bring the attitude he could, and he brought it all 13 years of his playing career.

Derrick Mason said of him that he was one of the rare players that would get the most out of everyone on the field. Many of his teammates had great respect for him as a leader, a player, and a friend. Many football fans, even those against him, had respect for his talent, his courage and will on the field. We will never forget his career, most notably the 1999 season where he led the Titans to the Super Bowl and nearly pulled off the win over the Rams.

Steve McNair will truly be missed by the football world. He was not just a great player, but also a great person. R.I.P. Steve McNair.

Free Kicks: Abbreviated July 4th Edition

Well, Happy July 4th everyone! After (almost) finishing Free Kicks on Thursday, I had to catch a flight to Baltimore and missed posting yesterday. However, this seems even more appropriate. Not only is this the anniversary of our nation’s independence, but it is the 1st anniversary of the Around the Harbor blog. In that time, we have had 391 posts, better than one a day (though I know we miss a day here and there), and have gone through moving out of state, graduations, new jobs, and the struggle to find new ones. Thanks for reading, that is what makes this thing worth it to us. Now, let’s line up for the kick…

Who Says This is a Bad NBA Free Agent Class?
In any given year, there are usually one or two superstars and a host of mid-level players available in NBA free agency. However, with the economy being as poor as it is and most teams holding onto cap space for the all-important “Summer of LeBron” next year, this was thought to be a rather boring year with only a few complimentary pieces moving around the league. It is so funny that teams are planning so many years ahead in a “win now” league, especially when only 2 or 3 stars (LeBron and Chris Bosh particularly, as I expect Dwayne Wade to resign with the Heat) on the market, but that is another story. Additionally, with Carlos Boozer seeing the writing on the wall and staying with Utah and Kobe Bryant expecting to agree to a 3-year extension with the Lakers, those superstars are lacking from this year’s class. But I would argue that this class has a host of great young players who could be acquired at a bargain rate and decide who wins a title not just this year, but even after 2010.

After making foolish decisions for the last year, Detroit acquired Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon in free agency, both young athletes (25 and 26 years old, respectively) who can inject energy into the Pistons’ rebuild-on-the-run strategy of Joe Dumars. Both excelled on teams where they had to be the star; it will be interesting to see where they fit when they don’t have to be the focal point (particularly if Avery Johnson is hired as the coach). Ramon Sessions is a talented guard who is still developing at the position, Paul Millsap is a solid defender and if he is not resigned could demand quite a paycheck, and Marvin Williams’ rebounding and perimeter shooting have shown improvement every season. This is not the best class, but give me a starting five in this free agent class and I could go to the playoffs in the East. Championships will be won with the players in the 2009 class; let’s not think too far ahead to 2010.

So Close and Yet so Favre
Before you gouge your eyes out upon seeing that name, it’s still worth mentioning, if only once. So, reports indicate that Brett Favre is close to buying a condo in Minnesota, and we can now officially start watching Brett Favre in the Twin Cities. It isn’t that I am opposed to players coming out of retirement (even multiple times), because that happens in every other sport without a blink of an eye. Boxers are almost expected to come out of retirement at least once for “one final bout.” Michael Jordan did it without any major repercussions from the fans (they might not have liked it, but they accepted it). The reason this bothers me is Tavaris Jackson. Here is a guy who needed this season to prove himself before the Vikings went a different route to fix their long-term quarterback question. Last year they brought in Gus Frerotte and yanked Jackson early in the season, only to watch him come back late in the season and pull them to the playoffs. They are treating their project quarterback like an O’s pitching prospect in the early 2000’s- sending him out there before he is ready (like they did in Jackson’s rookie year), and then sending him up and down until he fails and his confidence is shaken. Brett Favre is a good addition if you want to win now. But to do so, Minnesota has sold any chance of Tavaris Jackson becoming the quarterback of the future.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Turnabout is Fair Play

As they said in the movie Coach Carter, "Not quite the storybook ending we hoped for."

Obviously this was not a fun loss. This is one of those losses that lingers for a few days. It is especially bad because it is the Red Sox; everyone wants to beat them, especially at home to win a series.

It is hard to place a lot of blame. You can't blame Dave Trembley for the ninth inning, as he was relying on the Orioles two best relievers to hold down a 4-run lead in the 9th. Jim Johnson can't be blamed, he gave up a home run on a good pitch to an All-Star hitter. George Sherrill may have been tired from the day before plus he did nearly get out of it.

It is even hard to blame the umpires. The last two home plate umpires were probably the worst strike zone callers ever for both the Orioles and the Red Sox. Tony "Rain Delay" Randazzo clearly wanted to go home quickly after the rain delay on Tuesday and on Wednesday Chris "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" Guccione wanted to end it quickly with a constantly moving strike zone. Both teams got terrible calls their way.

Basically though, with regard this series the Orioles will just need to move on. There is still plenty of time in the season and they need to move on. They have the Angels for a four-game series, and the O's normally don't do well against them. But the starting pitching for them is struggling, so they do have chances.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What? Really? What? This is the greatest thing ever.

So, I go to sleep last night with the Orioles down 9-1, stuck in a rain delay. Falco and I were both ecstatic to see the rain, hoping that the game could just end there and not count. Well, I wake up today at about 6 AM, thinking "well, maybe they'll try to squeeze in the end before the game today...". Then in my haze, I amble over to my computer (not even checking the scores because I don't need that kind of pain to start my day), and see an email from Falco. "Post tomorrow about THE GAME?" Game, what game? I checked the box scores. 11-10. Orioles.

Following said rain delay, the game continued as it had b
een. The Orioles continued to be shut down, and the Red Sox even tagged on an extra run in the top of the 7th to make it a 10-1 lead. A 10-1 lead for the best team in the American league with, incidentally, probably the best back end bullpen in all of major league baseball. So then the Orioles are there in the bottom of the seventh, down by nine runs, going into the late hours of the night with a day game looming the next day. So what do they do against John Masterson who struck out the side in the sixth? I'm glad you asked.
-Aubrey Huff singles
-Nolan Reimold (the man, the legend) singles
-Luke Scott doubles, 10-2 Red Sox
-Salazar hits for Mora, hits a 3-run home run to le
ft, 10-5 Red Sox
-Matt Wieters singles, Andino grounds into a fielders choice, Roberts advances Andino to second
-Felix Pie (didn't you think the game was over when he had to r
eplace Jones?) singles to center, 10-6 Red Sox

So then the Orioles are still down by four runs going into the eighth, where Mark Hendrickson is able to keep the Red Sox down and give the offense a chance. Then the offense came up in the bottom of the eighth.
-Nolan Reimold (the man, the legend) singles
-Luke Scott doubles

-Salazar reaches on an infield hit
-Matt Wieters (the Golden Boy) strokes a base hit to left, 10-7 Red Sox
-Ty Wigginton pinch hits for Andino, lifts a sac fly to left, 10-
8 Red Sox (can ya feel it?)
-Brian Roberts singles to left, 10-9 Red Sox
Now Jonathan Papelbon comes in, relieving Saito after both he and Okajima only recorded one out.
-Pie strikes out against Papelbon, two out.

-Nick Markakis smashes a double to left-center, 11-10 Orioles

Georgie comes in in the ninth inning, has some excitement but shuts down the Red Sox culminating in a beautiful swinging strikeout of Jason Bay. Eat it, Red Sox. I hope those fans who infested the Yards yesterday night think twice before they make the trip next time.

Now, let me qualify this joy by admitting that
I am unabashedly anti-Boston. I can't stand their teams, their fans, their wretched elitism, their standing upon some supposed moral superiority when they play the dirty game of moneyball as much as any other gluttonous sports giant. Their "Red Sox Nation" (along with Yankee fans who are just the same albeit not with the sense of righteousness) has continued to make a mockery of the All-Star voting, and have made a Red Sox-Orioles game nearly unwatchable at the Yards. I'm sure Boston is a lovely city, and it has a rich and meaningful history. But when it comes to sports, there's unbridled hate coming from this Baltimore sports fan.

But all the credit to the Orioles. They could have so very very easily phoned this in but they didn't. They kept playing hard, and played the game the right way. Do I think that this will catapult this team to contention? No. But I do believe it makes a large statement about the character of this team and about the talent that does exist on this ballclub. It might not have shown in recent weeks, but this club can hit and they have an awful lot of heart. Biggest comeback in franchise history. Biggest comeback of any last place team over a first place team in major league history. Enjoy this one, O's fans.

(Photo Credit: Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)