Orioles got better, but it still may not be enough

December 09, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | Baltimore Sun reporter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Andy MacPhail, the target of intense fan criticism this offseason for his failed attempt to sign the Orioles' top free-agent targets, was one of the busiest general managers this week at baseball's winter meetings.

Over four days, MacPhail acquired a new left side of the infield by trading for Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, added a utility player in Brendan Harris, agreed to terms with closer Koji Uehara, selected pitcher Adrian Rosario in the Rule 5 draft, and laid the groundwork for deals with free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche and several relievers, including Kevin Gregg.

And yet it was nearly impossible for team officials to depart the Swan and Dolphin resort without the feeling that the gap between them and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees had widened significantly. Welcome to life in the American League East.

The Red Sox were the talk of the meetings, finalizing a trade with the San Diego Padres for slugger and Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and agreeing to terms with All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, the top position-player free agent, on a seven-year deal worth $142 million.

Those developments make it even more likely that the Yankees, who have already re-signed shortstop Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera, will land their man, ace left-hander Cliff Lee. The Yankees reportedly raised their offer to Lee for seven years not long after the Red Sox's deal with Crawford became public.

“We can only do what we can do,” MacPhail said when asked about the Red Sox's moves compared with the Orioles'. “We have to know who we are and how we are going to try and attack it and do those things we can do to make ourselves better and try to sustain the momentum that we had the last two months of the season.”

There is little doubt that the Orioles have improved. Reynolds, a 27-year-old third baseman who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday for relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, strikes out at an eye-popping rate, but he has averaged 35 homers and 95 RBIs over the past three seasons and is one year removed from a season in which he hit 44 home runs, drove in 102 runs and stole 24 bases.

Even in what was a down year in 2010 — he batted just .198 — Reynolds bashed 32homers and drove in 85 runs, totals that would have led the Orioles. He also had a .320 on-base percentage and a .433 slugging percentage. Last season, Oriole third basemen hit .260 with a .290 on-base and .378 slugging. His improving defense will also be an upgrade over what Miguel Tejada brought to the position the first four months of the 2010 season.

Hardy, who was acquired today from the Minnesota Twins along with Harris and $500,000 in cash for minor league relievers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson, is considered an above-average defensive player, even if he's not as well-regarded defensively as Cesar Izturis. However, Hardy, 28, is a much bigger threat offensively than Izturis, the Orioles' starter the past two seasons.

Hardy batted .268 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games in 2010 for the Twins, and is two years removed from a season in which he batted .283 with 24 homers and 74 RBIs in 146games for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Orioles' shortstops in 2010, mainly Izturis, combined to hit .236 with one homer, 31 RBIs, a .277 on-base percentage and a .272 slugging percentage.

“There were a lot of aspects we really liked about J.J. — makeup, defensive ability, more offense at that position,” MacPhail said. “The fact that Reynolds is 27 and J.J. is 28 is something that is attractive to us. It potentially has applications beyond this year.”

MacPhail also did well to secure Uehara, the 35-year-old right-hander who converted 13 of 15 save opportunities in 2010 and pitched to a 2.86 ERA, on a one-year $3million deal with an option for 2012 that will vest based on appearances and games saved. Highly criticized for not offering Uehara arbitration, MacPhail reached a low-risk and affordable deal with the pitcher that covers the club in case the Japanese reliever's injury woes persist.

He also took other steps to solidifying a bullpen that has been hit hard by injuries, trades and free agency. MacPhail is expected to make several other changes in that area in the days ahead as the club is negotiating with several free-agent relievers and has interest in Gregg, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Grant Balfour, among others.

“We've got a lot of balls in the air,” MacPhail said. “We've got a lot of conversations going on. Again, what happens at the end of the day, we don't know.”

Still, the Orioles' activity at the winter meetings drew praise from other executives and baseball pundits, though it was quickly followed by discussion of what the Red Sox did, and how that will bury the Orioles further in the AL East.

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