The next in line

November 3, 2016 · Posted in Sports · Comments Off 

It’s definitely time for a fun, topical post, and since my tradition on Thursday nights during the season is something baseball-related I thought this would be a enjoyable thing to do.

Unless you were under a rock for the last six months, you know the Chicago Cubs had the best record in baseball this season and proved why by outlasting three solid teams (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cleveland) to win their first National League pennant since 1945 and their first World Series in 108 years. Since none of the other major professional sports leagues existed in 1908, their stretch between championships is likely a record that won’t be broken.

But while the Cubs had generations of fans that lived and died without ever seeing their heroes hoist a World Series trophy, beating the Indians made sure Cleveland’s record of championship futility extended to 69 seasons – they have gone without a World Series title since 1948. Yet I have figured out they are not the most overdue baseball city. (Actually, as a city Chicago hadn’t gone all that long since the White Sox won it all in 2005.)

So I sat down at lunchtime and did some figuring – here are the cities that are most overdue, and the top city may surprise you.

Washington is actually the city which has gone longest without a World Series title, although perhaps they receive an asterisk because there was no team there for over three decades. The first version of the Senators won it all in 1924, lost the World Series in 1925 and 1933, then went decades in futility (Washington was “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League”) before the team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season. The expansion team they received (also called the Senators) lasted from 1961 to 1971 before that franchise left for the greener pastures of Texas to become the modern-day Rangers. A 34-year hiatus ensued before the Nationals were moved from Montreal in 2005, but they haven’t won a pennant - let alone a World Series.

Cleveland has the next longest losing streak, going since 1948. Here is the list of the major league cities, from way overdue to the most recent.

  • Washington (1924 – Senators 1 until 1960, Senators 2 1961-71, and Nationals since 2005)
  • Cleveland (1948 – Indians)
  • Milwaukee (1957 – Braves until 1966, Brewers* since 1970)
  • Houston (1962 – Colt .45s/Astros*)
  • San Diego (1969 – Padres*)
  • Seattle (1969 – Pilots* for 1969 season, Mariners* since 1977)
  • Dallas (1972 – Texas Rangers*)
  • Pittsburgh (1979 – Pirates)
  • Baltimore (1983 – Orioles)
  • Detroit (1984 – Tigers)
  • Los Angeles (1988 – Dodgers)
  • Oakland (1989 – Athletics)
  • Cincinnati (1990 – Reds)
  • Minneapolis (1991 – Minnesota Twins)
  • Denver (1993 – Colorado Rockies*)
  • Toronto (1993 – Blue Jays)
  • Atlanta (1995 – Braves)
  • Tampa (1998 – Devil Rays/Rays*)
  • Phoenix (2001 – Arizona Damondbacks)
  • Anaheim (2002 – Angels)
  • Miami (2003 – Marlins)
  • Philadelphia (2008 – Phillies)
  • New York (2009 – Yankees – Mets since 1986)
  • St. Louis (2011 – Cardinals)
  • Boston (2013 – Red Sox)
  • San Francisco (2014 – Giants)
  • Kansas City (2015 – Royals)
  • Chicago (2016 – Cubs – White Sox since 2005)

Teams demoted with an asterisk (*) are still looking for their first World Series title.

There should be an honorable mention for Montreal (which would slot in with the Padres and Pilots from 1969) who did not win a title in their 1969-2004 Montreal run and for Brooklyn, which lost the Dodgers after the 1957 season but last won the World Series in 1955.

Of the most overdue teams, Washington has a legitimate shot at ending their streak next season as they were a playoff team this season. Obviously Cleveland looks like a contender as well. (Just as an aside, for all the talk about the AL East being a good division, the Central division has sent four of the last five AL champs to the World Series – Cleveland this year, Kansas City in 2014 and 2015, and Detroit in 2012.) Milwaukee has an up-and-coming young team that should contend with the Cubs in the next few seasons, while Houston has made some noise in the playoffs recently, too. Only San Diego in the top 5 seems to be stuck in mediocrity.

All right, you’ll get political stuff again tomorrow and Sunday, although I have a music review set for Saturday. I just had to have some fun expanding a Facebook post I did in the wake of Chicago’s victory last night.

A look at the trade (part 5)

October 27, 2016 · Posted in Sports · Comments Off 

Things will be a little different for the 2016 evaluation because, simply put, we have a long way to go in determining winners and losers. Guys who are in A or AA ball now may need another three to four seasons to pan out, so in this instance it’s likely I won’t determine a winner or loser – just the deal and how it’s gone so far.

  • Trade 32 (December 2, 2015) – Orioles trade catcher Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for pitcher C. J. Riefenhauser and outfielder Mark Trumbo.

Clevenger was the Orioles’ remnant of the disastrous Jake Arrieta deal (Trade 13) with the Cubs but he was enough to get Trumbo, who was being traded for the third time in two years. But 2016 has been a lost year for Steve, who broke his hand in June and was suspended indefinitely by the Mariners for comments made on Twitter in September. If Clevenger is through in Seattle and cannot be traded (chances are he won’t, because no one will take him in this PC climate) the 0.0 WAR Seattle gets makes Riefenhauser, a pitcher who pitched in the bigs for Tampa Bay but was waived shortly after his acquisition, a cipher in the deal. (Riefenhauser was eventually released from the Cubs organization in August.) My surprise is that Trumbo, the MLB home run leader, only has a 1.6 WAR for the season. But this good 2016 trade also accrues on the Orioles’ side of the Arrieta ledger, and, if they can keep the pending free agent Trumbo, makes that deal a little less bitter.

  • Trade 33 (February 4, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Jean Cosme to San Diego Padres for pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne.

Cosme is at least two to three seasons away from making a major league impact, as he pitched at Class A ball with Fort Wayne – essentially the Padres’ version of Delmarva. Despaigne was largely ineffective for the Orioles, compiling an (-0.2) WAR before being lost on a September waiver claim to Miami. So the best the Orioles can do on this one is a push.

  • Trade 34 (March 24, 2016) – Orioles trade player to be named to Chicago Cubs for pitcher Edgar Olmos.

Olmos, who had big league time with Miami and Seattle, was the subject of a waiver wire tug-of-war between the Cubs and Orioles in December, 2015 before Baltimore finally broke down and made this trade. Edgar pitched in Norfolk all season, so this may become a trade for no one or a cash deal.

  • Trade 35 (March 29, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Chris Jones to Los Angeles Angels for minor league outfielder Natanael Delgado and minor league infielder Erick Salcedo.

This trade was strictly a minor league deal but I include it to close the loop on Jones, who was acquired in a 2013 trade (Trade 10) and spent three seasons in the Orioles organization. He had a mediocre AAA season for the Angels, basically on par with the season Delgado had here in Delmarva. Salcedo, on the other hand, did well with Frederick and may be the best prospect going forward.

  • Trade 36 (April 18, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league outfielder Alfredo Marte to Philadelphia Phillies for player to be named.

There was actually a cash option to this deal as well, and given the fact Marte only lasted two months in the Phillies organization before his release, that’s the most likely outcome. Prior to that, he spent time in MLB with the Diamondbacks and Angels.

  • Trade 37 (May 23, 2016) – Orioles trade pitcher Brian Matusz and their 2016 Competitive Balance Round B draft choice to Atlanta Braves for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves selected catcher Brett Cumberland with the draft pick, June 9, 2016.

Matusz was only the property of the Braves for a week before his release, which eventually led him to the Cubs organization. (Shades of Jake Arrieta!) Meanwhile, their draft pick Cumberland did not burn up the Appalachian League, although he still is with the organization – as a high draft pick Cumberland will be given a lot of leeway for awhile. For the Orioles side, Barker had a decent, but not great, remainder of the season with Bowie while Belicek struggled with a promotion to Frederick – he was pitching for the SAL Rome Braves to start the year. It’s more likely the Orioles do well with this one, besides dumping Matusz. It’s also interesting to note the Orioles have traded away their last 3 CB picks, which are the only draft choices teams are allowed to trade. The only one they have used was to draft outfielder Josh Hart in 2013, the first year the feature was added to assist small-market and struggling clubs. Hart played this season for advanced-A Frederick since being drafted out of a Georgia high school.

  • Trade 38 (July 31, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Ariel Miranda to Seattle Mariners for pitcher Wade Miley.

While this was an effort to upgrade the starting rotation, a key difference in this deadline deal was that Miley is under team control through 2017, so the Mariners received a prospect closer to major-league ready – in fact, Miranda debuted with the Orioles earlier that month. Since then Ariel has been plugged into the Mariners’ starting rotation and put up a 0.9 WAR in his brief Seattle stint. Meanwhile, Miley is responsible for a (-0.3) WAR after a slow start with the Orioles – however, over his career he has been good for a WAR of 1 to 2 a year. It’s possible this could be a winner for both teams, although Miley’s team made the postseason in 2016 over Seattle.

  • Trade 39 (August 1, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league catcher Jonah Heim to Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Steve Pearce.

The jury is obviously out on how successful the heretofore light-hitting but defensive-minded Heim will end up being as he’s only playing in advanced-A ball. But the latest go-round for Pearce in Baltimore has been less than successful as he battled injuries the entire time before finally giving in and having season-ending surgery. An 0.1 WAR with the Orioles in 2016 is a far cry from the (team-leading) 5.9 he put up in 2014. But the Orioles may be willing to sign him once again in 2017.

  • Trade 40 (August 31, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league outfielder Jason Heinrich to Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Michael Bourn.

It’s way too early to speculate what sort of player Heinrich will be given that he’s never played beyond short-season ball, so we won’t know for awhile what sort of price was paid for Bourn, who’s often been used as a defensive replacement and has put up a WAR of 0.1 since the deal. Considering teams have picked Bourn off the scrap heap twice this year, Arizona could be in line for a good return.

  • Trade 41 (August 31, 2016) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Zach Phillips to Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Kyle Lobstein.

The final trade this series will cover, it took a player who made his debut with the Orioles in 2011 (but had bounced around two organizations since and hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2013) and sent him off for a pitcher who didn’t seem to fit into Pittsburgh’s plans. Phillips pitched a little for the Pirates this September, putting up a 0.2 WAR. Lobstein made one single-inning appearance for Norfolk but was not called up in September.

At this early juncture, the jury is still out on Duquette’s 2016 trading success – thus far he is slightly ahead in WAR, but that is mainly on the strength of Trumbo and if he walks away from the Orioles it may be a losing season in the market for Dan. This would be a bit of a contrast: throughout the series I have tallied up the results and they tend to closely follow the results on the field. Since Baltimore had a regular season that was the third-best of the five-season Duquette era – the Orioles won 93 games in 2012 and 96 in 2014 compared to 89 this season – it’s likely this season will end up as a modest success, with a few hits and some misses.

In 2012, the players Baltimore acquired in trades put up a collective 4.6 WAR for the team, while those going to the various trading partners [Texas, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado, Arizona (twice), Philadelphia, and Cleveland] actually lost a WAR of (-1.1). One player still has potential to add to the opponents’ total, but it’s unlikely he will tip the scale away from Baltimore in this group of trades.

The story was different in 2013, as Baltimore received just a combined WAR of 3.9 for players who have provided the partners [Seattle (three times), Pittsburgh (twice), Atlanta, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs (particularly), Milwaukee, and Houston] a combined 25.5 WAR. Toss out the Arrieta deal, though, and it’s almost even (1.3 vs. 1.7). Unfortunately, the one player Baltimore has that accrues to their side of the bargains is up against six who combine for the opposition ledger.

On the other hand, 2014 was beneficial overall to the club as they have gained 7.1 Wins Above Replacement for their acquisitions while giving up just 0.9 to the partners [San Diego (twice), Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston (twice), and the Chicago White Sox]. There are three players on the Orioles side who will help their cause while two still play against them.

The comparatively quiet year of 2015 has so far netted Baltimore a (-0.6) WAR while partners (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee) have accrued a total of 4.8 WAR so far. Three players can still net gains for Baltimore right now while four players work against them.

In 2016, the Orioles picked up 1.3 WAR in its trades while opponents [Seattle (twice), San Diego, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Pittsburgh] have picked up 1.1 WAR. Of course, much is still to be determined when 10 players involved for these deals are still in the Orioles organization while 8 play with the various partners.

Duquette seems to be most willing to swing a deal with Seattle, trading with them five times. (Obviously they haven’t learned from the Eric Bedard deal.) Pittsburgh is also another willing dealer with four trades, while he’s not afraid to stay in the division with Boston, risk another disaster with the Cubs, or try and pry more folks out of Arizona or San Diego – each of them have made three deals with Duquette. So far he has avoided Cincinnati, Miami, Minnesota, both the Yankees and Mets, St. Louis, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington.

But to answer the lament of the person who started all of this, it appears that the trades have done more harm than good overall. Duquette has gained just 16.3 Wins Above Replacement over five seasons while giving up 31.2 WAR. And even if you toss out the Arrieta trade as an outlier – which puts the advantage back on Dan’s side – you have to figure that several of those he has given up (like the young pitchers Rodriguez, Brault, Davies, and Miranda) will be useful to their new clubs long after those he got in return are gone.

That’s the risk you run, though, and the Orioles haven’t been slouches on the field as they have the most wins in the American League since Duquette took over. In the end, that is an important statistic, but there’s also the aspect of player development to look at and, to succeed, the Orioles have to develop players both for their needs and as trade bait. Since Delmarva was the only team in the Orioles’ system to have a winning record this season, that prospect may hurt Duquette’s ability to secure pieces for his teams in the future.

This has been an enjoyable series to put together over a couple weeks as the season came to a close. Next on the sports docket for me will be updating the SotW Tracker in the next couple weeks and the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame in early December.

A look at the trade (part 4)

October 20, 2016 · Posted in Sports · Comments Off 

With the Orioles having a successful 2014 season – and having only one loss from a “rental” to deal with in replacing relief pitcher Andrew Miller – Dan Duquette actually waited until the beginning of 2015 to spring his next trade in an effort to replace departing outfielder Nick Markakis.

  • Trade 27 (January 27, 2015) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Stephen Tarpley and a player named later to Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Travis Snider. Minor league pitcher Steven Brault was added on February 20.

The Pirates obviously believed Tarpley, who had not pitched beyond short-season A ball with Aberdeen, would be a valuable future pitcher. But his value turned out to be that of being a part of the August 2016 trade that brought pitcher Ivan Nova to Pittsburgh from the Yankees, with Nova adding a WAR of 1.4 in his brief tenure with the Pirates. At times Nova’s rotation-mate has been Brault, who worked his way up the Pirates’ minor league chain to debut for the Bucs this season. Thus far Brault has a WAR of (-0.4) with Pittsburgh, but both players involved from the Orioles can pay dividends in their own way for seasons to come. Snider wasn’t the answer to replace Nick Markakis, posting a WAR of 0.9 before being released in August 2015 (and going back to Pittsburgh.) He tried to latch on with Kansas City in 2016 but did not make the club, spending the season at AAA. Slight loss for Baltimore now, but could get much worse.

  • Trade 28 (April 9, 2015) – Orioles trade minor league catcher Brian Ward, pitcher Ryan Webb, and their 2015 Competitive Balance Round B draft choice to Los Angeles Dodgers for minor league catcher Chris O’Brien and pitcher Ben Rowen. The Dodgers selected pitcher Josh Sborz with the draft pick on June 8, 2015.

Ward was a catcher who the Orioles liked for defense, but never hit enough to make the big club. That remained the case with Los Angeles, who released him after a half-season at AAA in his final baseball stop. And with Webb lasting just four days (!) with the Dodgers before his release (he has since pitched for Cleveland and Tampa Bay), it seems like they wanted the draft pick. Sborz has advanced to AA in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Dodgers organization. O’Brien is the only player of the two remaining active in the Orioles organization, as Rowen – who had debuted with Texas the season before – was released in July, 2015. He’s now pitching for the Brewers. A push, with the greater potential for an Orioles loss.

  • Trade 29 (June 3, 2015) – Orioles trade outfielder Alejandro De Aza to Boston Red Sox for minor league pitcher Joe Gunkel.

While the Orioles weren’t sellers at this point of the season, this was a reverse of the usual Duquette method of using minor leaguers to fill big league holes. De Aza, who came in a August, 2014 deal (Trade 25) was struggling at the plate for the Orioles so they decided to scoop up a prospect for him. It turned out the De Aza was a good fit for Boston, putting up a 1.3 WAR in a couple months before he was traded again to San Francisco for Luis Ysla. Since then De Aza has moved on to the Mets, but Ysla could still help the Red Sox end of the ledger in this one. Meanwhile, Gunkel has also climbed the ladder to AAA, meaning this will eventually be a battle of 2 AAA pitchers to determine the winner of this deal. Slight loss for Baltimore, but could go either way.

  • Trade 30 (July 31, 2015) – Orioles trade pitcher Tommy Hunter to Chicago Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake.

Hunter was a popular presence in the Orioles’ clubhouse and was pitching relatively well, so it was a shock to see this deal go down. It turned out that neither player succeeded in their new home – Hunter had a (-0.2) WAR for the Cubs before signing with Cleveland as a free agent and eventually coming full circle back to Baltimore this August. Lake was even worse, posting a (-0.4) WAR in just 8 Baltimore games before being waived during the offseason. He played a little for Toronto this season, but was not a September callup. I’ll call this one a push.

  • Trade 31 (July 31, 2015) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Zach Davies to Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Gerardo Parra.

In what seemed like a never-ending effort to shore up the Oriole outfield, they got the hot-hitting Parra from Milwaukee for yet another draft choice made under Duquette predecessor Andy McPhail. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Davies was almost a finished product and a month later he debuted with Milwaukee. So far he has a 2.7 WAR and should get consideration as the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year. The rental Parra was not the hitter they expected and put up a (-1.1) WAR for Baltimore before departing for Colorado as a free agent. Clear loss for Baltimore.

That sour note ended the 2015 trading season for Duquette, who was comparatively quiet in his fourth season with the Orioles. And as has been the case throughout, the result of the trades he made was reflective of the season’s result, as Baltimore tumbled to an 81-81 finish after three straight winning seasons under Duquette. Would 2016 continue the trend?

A look at the trade (part 3)

October 13, 2016 · Posted in Sports · 1 Comment 

After the disappointment to Oriole fans that was the 2013 season, it was up to management to address the deficiencies. Three of the players Dan Duquette traded for in 2013 (pitchers Scott Feldman and Francisco Rodriguez as well as outfielder Mike Morse) departed at season’s end for greener pastures, so he had some holes to fill from within or elsewhere. Fortunately, this was the point that some of the young prospects were beginning to develop so needs weren’t as great. We start with a trade that’s a clear win for Duquette.

  • Trade 18 (November 25, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Devin Jones to San Diego Padres for pitcher Brad Brach.

Devin Jones was a high draft pick in Andy McPhail’s final draft (2011) and one of the last dealt away by Duquette. All San Diego got out of him was 9 minor league appearances before an injury ended his season. The Orioles actually got him back as a minor league free agent a year later but Jones voluntarily retired just days after joining Frederick. On the other side, Brach has blossomed into an elite setup man, made the All-Star team in 2016, and has contributed a composite 5.1 WAR in three seasons (including 2.6 this year.) Clear win for Baltimore.

  • Trade 19 (December 2, 2013) – Orioles trade pitcher Jim Johnson to Oakland Athletics for infielder Jemile Weeks and a player named later. Minor league catcher David Freitas was added December 12.

This was truly a contract move to free up some money, although it turned out well for Baltimore. Johnson was a complete bust for Oakland, garnering a (-1.3) WAR before being released that August. He similarly failed that season for Detroit and the next for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but has somehow been a serviceable closer this season for the woeful Atlanta Braves. Weeks managed to put up a 0.1 WAR in three games with Baltimore before being traded to Boston later in the 2014 season (Trade 26.) The return for that later trade (Kelly Johnson) wiped out Weeks’s 0.1 WAR back to zero for scoring this deal but there is still one minor league player involved on Baltimore’s side, as you will see. Freitas spent two seasons between Bowie and Norfolk before moving on to the Cubs organization. Slight win for Baltimore, with a bit of potential for more.

  • Trade 20 (December 18, 2013) – Orioles trade infielder Danny Valencia to Kansas City Royals for outfielder David Lough.

Valencia was only on the Royals through the trading deadline, posting up a composite 0.0 WAR in 36 games and netting the Royals two players (Liam Hendriks and Eric Kratz) in a trade with Toronto that actually lost (-0.2) WAR between the two in their time with Kansas City. However, Hendriks went back to Toronto a year later in a trade involving minor leaguer Santiago Nessy, who eventually was waived. So the total balance for the Royals in all this dealing was a (-0.2) WAR, which makes the total 1.6 WAR Lough put up in two seasons with the Orioles look fabulous. Lough signed later as a free agent with the Phillies. On a side note, Liam Hendriks was an Oriole for a brief period himself, picked up on waivers from the Cubs days after the Valencia trade and lost to the Blue Jays just as spring training started. Clear win for Baltimore.

  • Trade 21 (March 24, 2014) – Orioles trade infielder Alex Gonzalez to Detroit Tigers for infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

This was a trade made out of desperation by Detroit, who had seen their starting shortstop Jose Iglesias go down with a serious injury in spring training. The longtime veteran Gonzalez, who the Orioles picked up as a free agent, wasn’t the answer as he put up a (-0.5) WAR in just nine games with the Tigers before being released. However, that (-0.5) WAR was the same Lombardozzi put up in 20 Oriole games, spending the bulk of the season in the minors before Pittsburgh purchased his contract for 2015, his last big league stop. Since then Steve spent time in independent league baseball as well as Washington’s AAA team. A push.

  • Trade 22 (April 7, 2014) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Torsten Boss to Cleveland Indians for minor league pitcher Preston Guilmet.

Boss was an infielder who had just played for Delmarva the season before (and was the second Duquette draft selection to be dealt away from the 2012 draft), but in splitting time between two Cleveland Class A teams he hit poorly and was let go at season’s end. Guillmet made 10 appearances for Baltimore with a (-0.1) WAR before going on to Pittsburgh the next season. It’s almost a push but Guilmet did help the Oriole bullpen. Slight win for Baltimore.

  • Trade 23 (May 24, 2014) – Orioles trade pitcher Troy Patton to San Diego Padres for catcher Nick Hundley.

The struggling Patton, who had been a fairly effective reliever for several seasons but was demoted to AAA to start 2014 before being recalled, only lasted seven appearances with San Diego (with an 0.1 WAR) before injury claimed him. He signed with the Royals organization the next season and Marlins for 2016, but was let go before the season started. Conversely, Hundley was the best backup catcher Duquette acquired in several tries, making it to 50 games for the Orioles and at least compiling an 0.0 WAR before signing with the Colorado Rockies for 2015, where he remains and has played well. A push.

  • Trade 24 (July 31, 2014) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston Red Sox for pitcher Andrew Miller.

Every time Boston plays the Orioles, the Baltimore faithful wail and gnash their teeth about this deal. Although injuries have taken a bit of a toll on Rodriguez, since his 2015 promotion he has provided Boston a 2.9 WAR. (He was also another minor leaguer signed during the McPhail years, in 2010.) As we all know, Miller was a rental player for 2014, and was effective enough in Baltimore’s stretch run to receive an 0.9 WAR in the short time he was here. A more recent deal involving Miller may invoke similar future heartburn for Cleveland fans, as the Yankee team that signed him away from the Orioles got four Cleveland Indian minor leaguers in return for Andrew this season. But the Rodriguez deal could break Oriole hearts for another decade. Clear loss for Baltimore.

  • Trade 25 (August 30, 2014) – Orioles trade minor league pitchers Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas to Chicago White Sox for outfielder Alejandro De Aza.

Another deadline deal for postseason rosters, the Orioles went to shore up their outfield. Since the minor league season was about over, Blackmar didn’t make his White Sox organizational debut until 2015, lasting one season in their system before retreating to independent league baseball long enough to secure a deal with the Washington organization, where he ended the 2016 season. Chalas pitched at AAA for the White Sox in 2015, but missed the whole 2016 season with an injury. Once again, both were acquired originally under Andy McPhail. De Aza spent the rest of the 2014 season and part of 2015 with Baltimore, playing well in the 2014 postseason but only compiling an 0.2 WAR before leaving in another trade made with Boston (Trade 29) a year later for minor league pitcher Joe Gunkel. Most likely this will eventually pan out in the Orioles’ favor. Slight win for Baltimore, but could eventually go either way.

  • Trade 26 (August 30, 2014) – Orioles trade minor league infielders Ivan De Jesus and Jemile Weeks to Boston Red Sox for minor league infielder Michael Almanzar and infielder Kelly Johnson.

Weeks was one of the players acquired from Oakland for Jim Johnson (Trade 19) but didn’t make the Orioles out of spring training, so both he and De Jesus (minor league players with a little MLB experience) were spare parts that Boston could perhaps find a place for – in parts of two seasons there Weeks accrued the same 0.1 WAR it took him 3 games with Baltimore to get; meanwhile De Jesus was involved in a trade with Boston for the third time as he was traded from Los Angeles in the Carl Crawford deal and to Pittsburgh a few months later in the Joel Hanrahan trade. This time De Jesus never played a game with Boston as he was allowed to become a free agent – the Reds signed him and he’s become an everyday infielder for them. Weeks also got back to the majors eventually with San Diego after two seasons back and forth between the Red Sox and AAA. Baltimore had acquired Almanzar once before, selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft from Boston but forced to return him after sheltering him as long as possible from an early-season injury. He’s become a Norfolk mainstay since the trade but has yet to play a big league game. The veteran Johnson had a (-0.1) WAR for Baltimore in 19 games before leaving via free agency. In the two seasons since he has been signed as a free agent twice by Atlanta and traded twice from the Braves to the Mets mid-season. A push, but could eventually be a Baltimore win.

That was the last trade Duquette made in 2014, beginning an eerily quiet period for him. Granted, he could rest on his laurels after the Orioles’ most successful season in a generation. Aside from the Rodriguez trade, his 2014 deals were generally favorable to the team. It was a trend they hoped would continue for the team in 2015.

A look at the trade (part 2)

October 6, 2016 · Posted in Sports · Comments Off 

I’m going to pick up on this saga where I left off last week. The 2012 season brought Oriole magic back to the minds of Charm City fans who, for over a decade, had little to cheer about between football seasons. But a loss in the ALCS meant there were improvements to be made, so Dan Duquette quickly set to work during the Hot Stove League season.

  • Trade 8 (November 20, 2012) - Orioles trade infielder Robert Andino to Seattle Mariners for outfielder Trayvon Robinson.

Andino is still remembered in Baltimore for the last day of the 2011 season, when his base hit defeated the hated Boston Red Sox and, coupled with a stunning comeback by the Tampa Bay Rays against the Yankees, knocked the BoSox out of the playoffs. Some consider it the birth of the Orioles’ recent renaissance. But Robert slumped in 2012 (although he played well in the postseason) so Duquette shipped him off to Seattle. Andino would spend barely a half-season there, compiling a (-0.3) WAR before being traded to Pittsburgh for a player to be named that never was. Andino resurfaced in the big leagues briefly last month with the Miami Marlins, the team Baltimore got him from back in 2009. It’s more than Robinson can say – he spent one season between Bowie and Norfolk before being allowed to sign with the Dodgers as a minor league free agent. Since then Robinson has played with four organizations and split time between two independent league teams this year. I’ll call this one a push.

  • Trade 9 (November 30, 2012) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Jhondaniel Medina to Pittsburgh Pirates for infielder Yamaico Navarro.

Apparently Duquette was looking for infield depth, but Navarro didn’t stick long with the Orioles – most of his time with the organization was with Norfolk, although he compiled 0.1 WAR in 8 games with the O’s before latching on with teams in Korea and Japan over the last three seasons. On the other hand, the 23-year-old Medina has worked his way up to the AAA level with the Pirates, meaning they could still get a return on the deal four years later. In this respect it is similar to the Jim Thome deal (Trade 5.) A push, but could still be a Baltimore loss.

  • Trade 10 (April 10, 2013) – Orioles trade pitcher Luis Ayala to Atlanta Braves for minor league pitcher Chris Jones.

This was sort of a head-scratcher at the time – Ayala was a solid veteran pitcher who had a good season for Baltimore in 2012 but struggled in his first two outings in 2013. Luis pitched the rest of the season with the Braves, picking up an 0.4 WAR for the campaign before signing for the next season as a free agent with the Washington Nationals. An attempt at a 2014 reunion with the Orioles fell flat as Ayala pitched briefly at Bowie, but he was still active in the Mexican League this season. Jones pitched mainly in Norfolk for three seasons before being dealt to the Los Angeles Angels in a 2016 spring training deal (Trade 35.) Slight loss for Baltimore, but could eventually be a push or better thanks to the later trade.

  • Trade 11 (April 28, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Rob Delaney to Los Angeles Angels for catcher Chris Snyder.

Delaney was a “just in case” pitcher the Orioles had signed for minor league camp, although he had brief stints with Minnesota and Tampa Bay in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Once the season began at Norfolk, he was lit up and didn’t fare much better at AAA for the Angels, pitching his final game by mid-June. Delaney replaced Snyder on the Salt Lake roster, where he was the starting catcher. For the Orioles, though, Snyder played in just 9 games in two different stints as backup (for a WAR of 0.0) and spent most of his lone season in the organization at Norfolk. The next season he was signed and released by the Nationals before a short run as a AAA catcher with Texas led to Snyder voluntarily retiring in April 2014. A push.

  • Trade 12 (June 30, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Ty Kelly to Seattle Mariners for outfielder Eric Thames.

Believe it or not, this trade is still an active one in terms of value. While Kelly never made it to Seattle, after the 2014 season he was traded again to St. Louis for minor league pitcher Sam Gaviglio, who is still active with Seattle’s AAA farm club in Tacoma. So they can still score from this deal. (Kelly eventually made his MLB debut this season for the New York Mets.) Meanwhile, Thames languished in the Gulf Coast League for a rehab stint before a forgettable 36 games with Norfolk. He was lost on waivers to Houston after the minor league season ended but has spent the last three seasons playing professionally in Korea. A push, but could still be a Baltimore loss.

  • Trade 13 (July 2, 2013) – Orioles trade pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to Chicago Cubs for catcher Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman.

Jake Arrieta was a prospect for whom the Orioles ran out of patience. As his ERA climbed with each season in Baltimore, the team decided it needed a more reliable starter and sent Jake off to Chicago for the rental of pending free agent Scott Feldman. Pedro Strop was a decent relief pitcher who sweetened the deal for the Cubs as a return if Arrieta was a bust, while the Baltimore native Clevenger was Duquette’s third try at trading for a backup catcher. Of course, no one knew that Arrieta would blossom to be a Cy Young winner for the Cubs, racking up an aggregate 19.4 WAR in four seasons in Chicago (compared to 0.3 WAR in four Baltimore seasons) while Strop has chipped in with 4.4 more Wins Above Replacement in his seasons with Chicago. For Baltimore, Feldman had an 0.7 WAR but they couldn’t sign him to a deal – he eventually went to the Houston Astros as a free agent and now pitches in the AL East in Toronto’s bullpen. Clevenger had just an 0.3 WAR for Baltimore in three seasons. So the deal looks like a huge loss for Baltimore, but there is a potential silver lining in a later trade (Trade 32) since Clevenger was the price the Orioles paid to get Mark Trumbo (and his 1.6 WAR in 2016). Overwhelming loss for Baltimore, but may even out some over time.

  • Trade 14 (July 12, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league outfielder Russ Canzler to Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson.

This turned out to be a strictly minor league deal. While Canzler had a modest amount of MLB time with Tampa Bay and Cleveland, by this point he was bouncing on and off 40-man rosters with regularity. Canzler only played in the Pirates organization through the end of the 2013 season, later on trying to grab a spot with the Yankees and Phillies before his career closed in 2015. Alderson spent about one full season in Norfolk before being released, moving on to minor league stints with Oakland and Washington then independent baseball in 2016. A push if there ever was one.

  • Trade 15 (July 23, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Nick Delmonico to Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Francisco Rodriguez.

Looking for that elusive shutdown reliever, Baltimore sent a decent prospect out for the veteran closer “K-Rod” – and promptly used him mostly as a setup guy. Their reward? An 0.1 WAR and watching him return to Milwaukee in free agency, where he would be an All-Star for the next two seasons before being traded to Detroit for this year. However, Milwaukee only had Delmonico for a season before a suspension for amphetamine use led them to release him after the 2014 campaign. He’s now playing in the White Sox organization. Slight win for Baltimore.

  • Trade 16 (July 31, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Josh Hader, outfielder L.J. Hoes, and their 2014 Competitive Balance Round A draft choice to Houston Astros for pitcher Bud Norris. The Astros selected outfielder Derek Fisher with the draft pick on June 5, 2014.

Hoes had just been called up to the Orioles when he was sent across the stadium for Norris, as the Astros were in town when the trade occurred. It led to the unique situation of Hoes getting his first MLB hit off Norris, the player he was traded for, the next day. In three seasons bouncing between the Astros and AAA, Hoes compiled a WAR of 0.2. He ended up coming back to Baltimore in a cash deal last November but spent the season in Norfolk. For his part, Norris gave the Orioles a great 2014 season (15 wins plus another in the playoffs and 1.9 WAR) but in roughly 2 seasons with the Orioles only compiled an aggregate 0.7 WAR. After a disastrous start to 2015 Norris was let go in August and has gone on to pitch with San Diego, Atlanta, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who released him last month. If the trade were straight-up Hoes for Norris, it would be almost even. But the fact that Fisher has smartly rocketed up to AAA in 2 1/2 seasons for Houston means the strong potential for this trade to be a significant loser. And then you have Hader, the first draft pick in a Duquette draft to be traded away, who was involved in a six-player deadline deal with Milwaukee in 2015 that netted the Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers. While Gomez contributed a net WAR of 0.0 in about a season with Houston (he was released and signed with the Texas Rangers in August) Fiers has put up a WAR of 1.3 in a little over a season with the Astros, where he remains active. Clear loss for Baltimore.

  • Trade 17 (August 30, 2013) – Orioles trade minor league outfielder Xavier Avery to Seattle Mariners for outfielder Mike Morse.

The final trade of the 2013 season sent Avery, who had played sparingly for the Orioles in 2012 but was in Norfolk at the time, for the pending free agent Morse. Avery would play one season in the Mariners’ chain before leaving for AAA stints with three different teams in 2015. The Orioles re-signed him for 2016 but he never got out of Norfolk. Only the fact that Avery never panned out makes this deal a slight loser since Morse managed to accrue a (-0.5) WAR in just 12 Oriole games before an injury ended his season. Morse went on to have a decent season for San Francisco in 2014, but fared worse for Miami and Pittsburgh before his career ended the next season. Slight loss for Baltimore.

As you can tell, the 2013 trading season was not Duquette’s shining moment. In ten trades Duquette only won one and was significantly burned on at least two others. Most of the rest had little effect, and it may be why Baltimore slumped to an 85-win season. So it was back to the drawing board for Dan, who had plenty up his sleeve to begin 2014.

A look at the trade (part 1)

September 29, 2016 · Posted in Sports · 1 Comment 

As you likely are aware, Thursday evenings during the summer were reserved for my Shorebird of the Week feature. But tonight, and ongoing for a few weeks anyway, I’m going to resume baseball coverage.

A few days ago I saw the lament of an Orioles fan who pondered what could have been. Given the team’s pitching woes over the course of the season, he wailed, could they have been better with a starting rotation that included Eduardo Rodriguez, Zach Davies, or other pitchers the team traded away to help themselves during a pennant chase several years ago?

As a Tigers fan, I feel his pain. In 1987 they were victimized by what is considered to be one of the greatest thefts in baseball trade history.

In the thick of the AL East race (at the time, each league had just two divisions rather than the current three), on August 12 the Detroit nine found themselves 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for the division title. They decided Doyle Alexander, who was pitching for a Braves team that was enduring another mediocre season near the bottom of the National League, would be an upgrade over longtime Tiger Dan Petry in the rotation. Alexander was a 36-year-old veteran righthander that was in his seventeenth big league season and was a valued commodity – the Tigers trade would be the sixth and final trade involving him during his lengthy career.

Doyle indeed helped the Tigers overcome their deficit by going 9-0 the rest of the way during the regular season, but folded like a cheap suit in the 1987 AL playoffs, losing both his starts as Detroit lost to an 85-win Minnesota team that would have placed 5th in the then 7-team AL East. In two-plus seasons Alexander finished just 29-29 with Detroit - including a 6-18 mark in 1989, his final season. That 1989 season marked the sudden end to a great Tiger run during the 1980s that netted two division titles, a pennant, and a world championship. A veteran team went from seasoned to past its prime.

In return for Alexander the Tigers sent the Braves a former 22nd round draft choice who was languishing at the AA level with a 4-10 record and hefty 5.68 ERA; a pitcher who would walk more batters than he struck out in that 1987 campaign. But this pitcher righted the ship the next season enough to reach the big leagues at the age of 21, and the Tigers had no clue whatsoever that John Smoltz would end up being a linchpin of the dominant Braves pitching staff of the 1990s as well as a Hall of Famer. It seems like a extraordinary price to pay for an average pitcher, doesn’t it? But that’s the fun and uncertainty baseball fans enjoy in that regard, perhaps more than any other sport because each team has such a vast minor league system of developing players to choose from, and for every John Smoltz a team acquires it may get 100 guys who never sniff AA ball.

So I decided to spend a few Thursdays as the hot stove season gears up for those non-playoff teams evaluating just how the Orioles have done with their trades in recent years. In their case, it’s doubtful anyone will soon top the Eric Bedard deal with Seattle that brought the Orioles two of their current stars (Adam Jones and Chris Tillman) as well as two others who spent time with the Orioles. Only one of the five players the Orioles got back in return for Bedard did not play for the team – Tony Butler (a onetime Shorebird and a 3rd round pick by Seattle) didn’t make the majors thanks to injuries derailing his career. But at the time of the trade the most renowned player coming to Baltimore was George Sherrill, a workhorse relief pitcher who the Orioles flipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers a year later to acquire two players, including pitcher Steve Johnson. Jones was a young player with a .230 lifetime batting average and .627 OPS in 73 games for Seattle over the previous two seasons, while Tillman and pitcher Kam Mickolio would make their MLB debuts with Baltimore. Mickolio would pay dividends later on as part of the deal to get slugging infielder Mark Reynolds from Arizona, with Reynolds playing a significant role on the 2012 Orioles playoff team.

As you can see, trades can take on a life of their own. So over the next few weeks I’ll consider the Dan Duquette era and his penchant for raiding the minor league system to fill big league needs, as well as other trades he’s made. Is he doing the team good or getting fleeced?

Perhaps the best direct measuring stick of how a trade benefitted a team is the statistic known as WAR (wins above replacement.) This is a complex calculation designed to show how many wins a player provides compared to an average replacement player from the minor leagues. As I write this, the leading MLB player in that category is Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who has compiled a WAR of 10.5 this season. In other words, if the Angels had played the season with a replacement-level player, they would have won 10.5 fewer games. (Considering the Angels are well under .500, they would really be lost without him.) Using the Alexander-for-Smoltz trade as an example, Detroit got a aggregate WAR of 6.4 in three seasons with Alexander, but Atlanta had a total of 67 wins above replacement with 20 seasons of Smoltz – so the Braves were an obvious winner in that regard, never mind the 13 playoff appearances, five pennants, and one world championship Smoltz helped the Braves to win vs. one division title for Detroit with Alexander.

So there will be a easy way to compare players as I work through these trades in the Duquette era. This week I will review his first season, which will cover Duquette from his hiring in November, 2011 through the conclusion of the 2012 season – a season where Baltimore made the playoffs as a wild card for their first postseason in 15 years.

  •  Trade 1 (December 1, 2011) – Orioles trade minor league pitcher Randy Henry to Texas Rangers for catcher Taylor Teagarden. Also included in that deal as a player named later was minor league infielder Greg Miclat, who was added December 8.

This is an interesting trade to dissect. It was one of the first steps in a housecleaning of the minor league system built by previous GM Andy McPhail and it gave Duquette a reliable veteran backup to Matt Wieters. But in Teagarden the Orioles received a WAR of (-0.6) in two seasons, meaning Teagarden was theoretically losing the Orioles games. On the other hand, neither Henry nor Miclat ever made the major leagues, as both topped out at the AAA level in the next three seasons. Miclat was eventually lost by Texas in minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft to St. Louis, where he spent his final season in their system. In this case, a negative WAR is better than no WAR at all, and Teagarden did his job for the Orioles. Slight winner: Baltimore.

  • Trade 2 (December 8, 2011) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Tyler Henson and minor league pitcher Jarret Martin to Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Dana Eveland.

Eveland was (and is) the embodiment of the 4A-type guy who hangs on because he pitches with his left arm. The Orioles were Dana’s seventh MLB team in eight seasons, and he still soldiers on five teams later (including a short stint with the Orioles’ AAA Norfolk affiliate in 2015) as 2016 draws to a close. In one season with the Orioles he compiled a WAR of 0.2 before sitting out the 2013 season and resurfacing with the Mets organization in 2014. Henson lasted one season in the Dodgers system before signing a series of minor league deals with the Philadelphia Phillies, retiring after the 2015 season without appearing in the big leagues. Martin spent three seasons as a fringe prospect in the Dodger chain before washing out, playing briefly in Milwaukee’s system last season and rattling around the independent Can-Am League this season. It wasn’t much, but Eveland did his job for a short time. Slight winner: Baltimore.

  • Trade 3 (February 6, 2012) – Orioles trade pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado Rockies for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.

This was a rare Duquette trade involving all major league players. Guthrie was arguably the “ace” of the Orioles, but that didn’t say much for a team mired in mediocrity as he led the AL in losses in 2011. He only lasted a half-season with the Rockies before being traded to Kansas City for Jonathan Sanchez, who finished out the season with the Rockies before being let go. So the overall WAR for the Rockies was (-1.0), with Guthrie posting a (-0.6) and Sanchez an (-0.4). Guthrie was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the Royals until 2015. On the other hand, Hammel put in two decent seasons for the Orioles (compiling a 2.9 WAR) before signing with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent, while Lindstrom would be flipped later on in 2012 for Joe Saunders (see Trade 7 below.) Lindstrom contributed a 0.7 WAR in his stint with the Orioles, while Saunders added another 0.8 WAR – and won the wild card game against Texas. Clear winner: Baltimore.

  • Trade 4 (April 21, 2012) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Josh Bell to Arizona Diamondbacks for a player named later. Minor league pitcher Mike Belfiore was that player, added May 12.

Bell was acquired by the Orioles in the aforementioned trade involving George Sherrill, and had appeared in 78 games at the major league level. Most of his time with Arizona was spent at the AAA level but he got into 21 games with the big club, compiling a WAR of (-0.4). Bell left as a minor league free agent and has played for four MLB organizations, in Mexico and Korea, and in independent league baseball (in 2016) since. Belfiore climbed the ladder over the next two seasons, making his one and only MLB appearance at the end of the 2013 season. He then pitched in the Tigers organization for two more years. Mike ended up with a WAR of (-0.1). A push.

  • Trade 5 (June 30, 2012) – Orioles trade minor league catcher Gabriel Lino and minor league pitcher Kyle Simon to Philadelphia Phillies for designated hitter Jim Thome.

This is the first of those classic deadline deals where the Orioles were the buyer and Phillies the seller. As of this date, Lino (who is still only 23) has advanced in the Phillies system as far as AAA, but spent 2016 at the AA level. Simon briefly made it to AAA in three seasons in the Philadelphia system but has pitched the last two seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Thome, meanwhile, spent the final 32 games of his (potentially Hall of Fame) career with Baltimore as their DH, going 2-for-15 in the playoffs and compiling a 0.0 WAR. Unless Lino breaks into the big leagues for more than a cup of coffee for Philadelphia, this trade is about even. A push, but could still be a Baltimore loss.

  • Trade 6 (August 13, 2012) – Orioles trade minor league infielder Carlos Rojas to Cleveland Indians for minor league pitcher J.C. Romero.

Obviously the Orioles hoped the veteran lefthander (who made his name a decade earlier with the Twins) had a little more in the tank, but what they got was four mediocre innings of work for a (-0.1) WAR while the Indians got the final 10 games (in 16 days) of a career minor leaguer’s playing. Romero was still active until last winter, but the Orioles were his last MLB stop. A push.

  • Trade 7 (August 26, 2012) – Orioles trade pitcher Matt Lindstrom to Arizona Diamondbacks for pitcher Joe Saunders.

I noted Lindstrom was part of the Jeremy Guthrie deal with Colorado but he was sent out to Arizona for another starter in Saunders, who would turn out to be a rental. However, while the WAR differential was rather small (0.8 WAR for Saunders vs. 0.3 WAR for Lindstrom) the importance of Saunders’ contribution in terms of playoff pitching makes the deal worthwhile – as well as accruing to the Orioles’ side of the ledger in the earlier Guthrie trade. Clear winner: Baltimore.

So through the 2012 postseason not only was Duquette’s team a winner on the field but also in terms of trading with 2 clear wins, 2 slight wins, and 2 pushes, with one still to be determined. Next week we will look at the runup to the 2013 season, which would finish in a disappointing manner. Did the trades help create the situation?

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2016 edition

When the 2015 season came to a close in early September, you may recall that the Shorebirds embarked on a project that, it was hoped, would reduce the number of games lost to weather. By stripping the field down to bare earth and reworking the entire drainage system (along with redoing the sod) I have to say the field looked very good most of the season and perhaps that may have had a little to do with the Shorebirds finishing second in the league in fielding percentage. That set of renovations, along with improved lighting, was the second of three phases in a complete renovation of Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – the first phase, completed during the 2014-15 offseason, concentrated on player amenities.

With the field complete, Delmarva was closer to the league average when it came to openings. No SAL team went without at least one rainout (Columbia, Greenville, and Hickory came the closest by having just one) but the Shorebirds had 65 openings and the league averaged 66.3 per team. However, while attendance rebounded slightly this year to 209,120 patrons, the per-game average fell by 13 fans to 3,217. Given the performance around the league, however, holding virtually steady in attendance can be regarded as a victory: only three of the thirteen returning teams increased their gate average from 2015 to 2016 and the overall league average increased by just 62 per game despite the relocated Columbia Fireflies drawing nearly twice as well as the Savannah Sand Gnats they replaced. West Virginia, Rome, and (particularly) Kannapolis saw precipitous year-over-year declines in their average draw.

The program for this offseason, though, is an ambitious one, and it’s already underway.

(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)

One of the key changes will be all new seats, which includes the replacement of the bleachers that were the general admission seating with regular fold-up box seats. This can be a good thing – if the seats are the same size. While I am slowly losing pounds and inches, my concern is that the new seats may be a little bit smaller than the ones they are replacing since fewer seats fit into the original bleacher space because of armrests, so stadium capacity would decrease by some percentage. Of course, the sections can easily be rearranged to suit thanks to the way the seats were originally laid out (you just drill new bolt holes as needed.) I fit just fine into the seats that were there, thank you, so hopefully us bigger folks will have ample room on the new ones.

It’s my understanding that the other key construction project is the extension of the concourse to be a 360-degree concourse, presumably at the level of the top of the outfield fence (so a home run would likely bounce on the concourse.) When I discussed this idea last year, I used another SAL park I’ve visited as a comparison because I recalled it also had a similar setup.

Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park has most of the same amenities as Perdue Stadium but also uses their outfield concourse for a tiki bar, pizza restaurant, and a third picnic area. It’s nice but I think there are other food and drink possibilities that we could use as well, like moving one of the Dippin’ Dots carts out there or adding mini-hotdog stands. If some of the areas are made a little wider, such as the triangular area near the foul poles, they can use them to set up for postgame entertainment (such as the Thirsty Thursday postgame shows of a decade ago) or pregame activities like the player autograph sessions we also haven’t had in some time.

But the crowning achievement in all this will be the new videoboard. Over the last two to three years the stadium has lost use of the videoboard, the bottom section of the scoreboard (where the player information used to be) and, at times, the scoreboard itself would go on the blink. In truth, a videoboard could serve as a scoreboard with one panel reserved for that purpose. It would also be nice to have an alternate ribbon scoreboard located on the opposite end of the stadium – if the main scoreboard stays in left field, the ribbon would be placed along the first base side. Then you could linger in the outfield concourse but still be able to keep track of the score, inning, balls, strikes, and outs while watching the action.

If you look at the minor leagues from a promotional standpoint, over the last decade the trend has gone away from one-night novelty acts (like Myron Noodleman or Reggi) to a plethora of giveaways of everything from bobbleheads to hats to posters to beach towels to doormats. Fireworks continue to be a staple as well, although my perception is that the difference in attendance isn’t all that great anymore – then again, I don’t go to more than one or two fireworks nights a season. They’ve also become far more clever in figuring out ways to fill the sixteen half-innings that a normal game features with games and giveaways.

But something I think would be interesting (and it can be done with a new videoboard) is a game with no between-inning promotions, walkup music, or PA announcer. It would be sort of like those April midweek nights when there might be 300 people actually in the stands, which is neat because you can hear the players and umpires. It’s probably not in the cards because it would be a promotion aimed at traditionalists like me – the guy who thinks the designated hitter and interleague play should be eliminated – but put it in the hopper.

And lastly, the concern on everyone’s lips regarding the improvements to the stadium is: what’s it going to cost me? They raised the parking fee this year to $4 from $3, although I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when parking was free. (I think some selected ticket prices went up this season, too.) But I have been told that the idea is to hold these fees steady for several years if possible, so once they go up they should be constant for 3-5 seasons.

However, if they eliminate the general admission bleachers for what I would guess is ticketed individual seats, will that now be considered a box seat? Presently there is a $5 difference per seat from general admission to reserved box. My guess is that the new box seats will have their own tier priced somewhere between the current GA price and the reserved box cost (but kept under $10 so it’s still considered affordable.)

If you consider the league as a whole, it’s something of a wonder that Delmarva makes it to the middle of the pack in attendance because it’s among the smallest markets. (The most comparable SAL franchise in terms of population and metro area is Rome. Hagerstown and Hickory are in slightly larger cities and counties, while the city of Kannapolis is of similar size to Salisbury but lies on the edge of the much larger Charlotte metro area. The rest are significantly larger in population.) And once the thrill of getting a new team wore off after the first few years, in recent seasons the attendance has been remarkably consistent at around 3,200 per game – which translates to just over 200,000 per year.

These improvements probably won’t bring back the days of 300,000 or more attending Shorebird games over the course of a season, but I think 250,000 can be a realistic expectation if the product on and off the field is improved. For the millions of dollars spent on renovations, it bears noting that each person probably spends at least $20 at the ballpark so an extra 50,000 patrons brings in at least $1 million. If you add that much value to the experience, the dollars spent on renovation will be worth it.

I had no idea until I checked out the hotel the first night I stayed here (to interview for my old job the next morning) that Salisbury even had a minor league baseball team – I basically followed the Mud Hens so I knew a little about the other Tiger affiliates and the other teams in the International League where the Toledo nine plays. Since the Shorebirds were in neither category, I was pleasantly surprised to find that out about the city I would adopt as my hometown.

To be quite honest, though, having a brand new, critically acclaimed stadium (at the time, Fifth Third Field was 2 years old) in a much larger AAA market spoiled me for Delmarva, so I was left a little bit wanting for the first season or so. It took getting used to. But now that I am here and have probably attended a couple hundred games or more, I would like them to stick around so I’m pleased to see someone else wants to improve the Shorebirds’ nest and maybe make it like new again.

I can’t wait to see what the old place looks like come April. But it would look a lot better with the 2017 SAL pennant on the flagpole.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2016 season wrapup

September 8, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

Last season the Shorebirds snapped a six-year string of losing seasons by going 71-67, and with a team that had both first round picks from 2015, the Orioles’ first pick in the 2014 draft (actually selected in round 3), and key players from the 2015 season coming back in Alex Murphy, Ademar Rifaela, and eventually Yermin Mercedes, it was figured the Shorebirds would have a team to contend with. Turns out they did, coming tantalizingly close to winning the first half (falling a half-game short of Hagerstown thanks to an ill-timed rainout) and staying in contention for a playoff spot with a late-season run. In that respect they finished a game out behind Hickory and Lakewood, but with Lakewood clinching the second-half title a week ago over Hagerstown the Shorebirds were shut out – they needed to have Hagerstown win both halves and finish with the second-best record overall.

Those two late stretches of winning made June and August more exciting than usual around here, and the 73-66 overall record was their best since 2008. Unfortunately, a stretch of futility in late July and early August led to a 31-39 second half after a torrid 42-27 first half mark.

This year’s wrap-up will look quite a bit like last season’s. Next year, though, things will be different because there won’t be Shorebirds of the Week (but I will still select a Shorebird of the Year.)

This year the Delmarva nine was solid offensively, with the team being one after Earl Weaver’s heart in seeking the three-run homer.

  • A .251 team batting average was 5th in the league.
  • Yet the team was only 12th in runs, scoring just 548 times.
  • They were right in the middle (7th place) with 1,153 hits.
  • The 236 doubles was good for fourth in the loop, and they tied for fifth with 36 triples.
  • For the first time ever, Delmarva led the league in home runs with 112 – a franchise high (previous was 97.)
  • We finished 11th with 497 runs batted in.
  • We finished second in total bases with 1,797 – aided in large part by the home runs.
  • We drew 427 walks, which ranked 7th in the SAL, and struck out 1,172 times, which was sixth-most.
  • Again, team speed was not an asset. We were dead last with just 84 stolen bases in 119 attempts. (Lakewood was next with 86 of 132 – we attempted the fewest steals by far. League-leading Hickory was caught almost as much as we attempted – 116 vs. 119.)
  • Our .320 on-base percentage was sixth in the league, but the .391 slugging percentage was third. This meant our OPS of .711 was 4th of 14.

Our pitching was even better when compared to the rest of the league, as we finished second in ERA with a 3.32 mark. Charleston was an easy first at 3.03.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 13 shutouts tied for third in the loop.
  • We also tied for third in saves with 43.
  • Once again we were near the bottom in innings pitched, finishing 12th with 1,204.
  • 1,088 hits allowed was fifth. Being second in ERA it follows the 534 runs and 444 earned runs we gave up were also second behind Charleston.
  • Allowing only 76 home runs was fifth fewest.
  • While we only had 55 hit batters (good for third) we were in the middle of the pack with 417 walks allowed.
  • We ranked ninth by collecting 1,095 strikeouts.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) was fifth in the league at 1.25.

With 121 errors and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage only West Virginia had a tighter defense than the Shorebirds.

Unfortunately, the Orioles organization was not good in winning percentage: Delmarva was their only team to finish with a winning record, while Aberdeen was 32-43 and GCL Orioles closed 27-32. The two Dominican Summer League teams the Orioles provide players for combined for a 38-53 record. So as a whole the talent pool may be worse than average, although individual players from these lower levels may combine for a better team.

The question before us now is how this year’s crop of Shorebirds of the Week fared, so let’s review.

April 7 - Francisco Jiminez

Jiminez bounced in and out of the starting rotation during the second half, but finished with four straight strong starts to close with a 9-9 record and 4.27 ERA. It wasn’t quite to the level that he closed last season with the Shorebirds, but the 1.26 WHIP and 96:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 2/3 innings seems to me to be good enough to get a look from the Orioles insofar as advancement is concerned. He will only be 22 next season, so it may begin with a handful of starts here, too.

April 14 - Alex Murphy

For the second time in as many seasons, Alex was my second SotW. But 2016 was a far better campaign in terms of health for Murphy, who tied for the team lead by getting into 124 games. His slash of .252/16/63/.759 OPS was improved from his stint here in 2015, and Alex was here long enough to lead the team in both home runs and RBI. With nearly as many games at first base (42) as behind the plate (57) the question isn’t really that of whether he will move up, but what role the Orioles see for him. (SAL All-Star)

April 21 - Alejandro Juvier

Juvier never really got his footing at Delmarva, hitting just .198 in 30 games before being demoted to Aberdeen and slashing just .228/3/28/.586 OPS in 58 games there. He’s only 21 going into next season, though, and he had a fairly good pedigree coming into this season, so we may see him back for 2017.

April 28 - Yermin Mercedes

Returning to Delmarva for a second stint, Yermin hung around just long enough to qualify for the SAL batting crown he won by a whopping 40 points with a .353 mark, also hitting 14 home runs and collecting 60 RBI in just 91 games. The .990 OPS was also a league best (by 104 points) among qualifiers. Promoted to Frederick in August, Mercedes hit just .318/6/17/.923 OPS there. The Orioles definitely have Mercedes on their radar, but feel he needs to improve his defensive skills in order to advance through the system. He turns 24 just before spring training gets underway, so he still has time to develop and have a long career. (SAL All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, SAL July Player of the Month, SAL Player of the Week – April 18-24 and June 13-19)

May 5 - Christian Turnipseed

In most of his appearances, Turnipseed was the Shorebirds’ closer, gathering a team-leading 17 saves in 40 appearances (in saves he tied for third in the SAL, and his 35 games finished tied for second, one off the leader.) However, while he won the season finale Christian struggled down the stretch, pitching to a 5.25 ERA after August 1 with a 12-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the last 12 innings he pitched. Overall he finished 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 57 and walking 25 in 52 innings. He’ll be 25 next season so it’s likely Christian sinks or swims at Frederick.

May 12 - Ryan Mountcastle

One of the two 2015 1st round picks to open with the team, they allowed Ryan to spend his season here developing. He got off to a terrible start in April (just .162 for the month) but caught fire as the weather warmed and turned in a solid full-year campaign: .281/10/51/.745 OPS in 115 games. Mountcastle will have to work on cutting down his 95 strikeouts and improving a modest .319 on-base percentage, but he has plenty of time to improve since he won’t turn 20 until just before spring training next season. As my Prospect of the Year, I think he follows fellow first-rounder DJ Stewart to Frederick for 2017. (SAL Player of the Week – June 6-12)

May 19 - Garrett Cleavinger

One of several pitchers who were promoted during the season, Garrett was here for the first half and delivered some eye-popping numbers: a 5-0 record and 1.38 ERA in 39 innings here, with 53 strikeouts vs. just 11 walks, producing an exceptional WHIP of 0.92 On the other hand, Cleavinger was more pedestrian with Frederick in the second half, going just 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA and 49-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.55 WHIP with the Keys. Garrett will turn 23 early next season, so the Orioles may decide to keep him challenged at the advanced-A level to start the year – he really has nothing to prove here. (SAL All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month – April)

May 26 - Cedric Mullins

Considering he came from a more unheralded background and was a lower draft choice, you could make an argument for Cedric being the Prospect of the Year – or for that matter, Shorebird of the Year. He had the type of season scouts like to see as he improved the entire way, finishing among the team leaders in almost every offensive category and near the top of the league in some as well. Mullins hit .273 overall with 14 home runs and 55 RBI (from the leadoff spot), scored 79 runs, and stole 30 bases in 36 tries. Mullins and Murphy tied for the lead with 124 games played. Considering he began with a .214 mark in April, Mullins came a long way and he’s going to be just 22 next month. Improvement like this next year might get him to Bowie by season’s end. (SAL Player of the Week,  August 29 – September 5)

June 2Reid Love

In his first full season, Reid put together a solid but not spectacular effort – maybe the best word is workmanlike. On the topline he finished 9-10 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 139 1/3 innings, striking out 106 while walking just 33. It’s the kind of year that should get him to Frederick, but since he turns 25 next season it may not put him at the top of the prospect list. The question for Love is whether his stuff will advance to the next level as he allowed 134 hits during the season. One sign in his favor, though, is that he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched this year as opposed to his 2015 stint in Aberdeen where he did the opposite. Pitchers can be effective giving up contact and Love may be one of those.

June 9 - Gerrion Grim

Gerrion was the Shorebirds’ fourth outfielder – appearing in just 68 games - but he was selected as a team player who came on to save an important win on the mound. At the halfway point it looked like Grim was pointed in the right direction with a .258 batting mark but in the second half he hit just .149 to finish under the Mendoza line for the season. (Strange split: Grim hit just .136 at the unfriendly confines of Perdue Stadum and a respectable .248 everywhere else.) A .193/5/25/.574 OPS slash line isn’t going to get it done, though. In his age-23 season coming into spring training - and much as he is the type of player one can root for - the unfortunate reality is he may be looking for a job elsewhere before then.

June 16 - Ryan Meisinger

Like Garrett Cleavinger, Ryan had tremendous numbers with Delmarva (only a 3-2 record but an 0.78 ERA, 48 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 34 1/3 innings, and 24 hits allowed for an 0.95 WHIP) but he did reasonably well in Frederick after his June promotion. There he matched the 3-2 Delmarva record but had a 2.25 ERA in 40 innings with a 46-to-12 ratio of strikeouts to walks with a 1.15 WHIP there. So the Maryland native may have an outside shot of reaching Bowie’s bullpen to start 2017 – good stuff for his age-23 season. (SAL All-Star)

June 23 - Jesus Liranzo

Speaking of Bowie’s bullpen, that’s exactly where Liranzo finished the season, skipping Frederick after posting 46 strikeouts and allowing a whopping 12 hits in 34 1/3 innings here with the Shorebirds. (That was a .109 average against, not to mention a 0.79 WHIP.) So jumping two levels only dented Liranzo’s numbers to the tune of allowing just 8 hits (but walking 12) in 18 2/3 innings there. For the season Liranzo allowed a ridiculous .116 average against him in 53 innings – not bad for a player signed (and released) twice by the Atlanta Braves for their Dominican League team. It’s not out of the question to contemplate the 21 year old, who will be 22 about the time minor league spring training begins, getting a cup of coffee with the big club at the end of next season.

June 30 - Drew Turbin

Drew never really got untracked this season – he was hitting .212 at the end of April and finished the campaign with a .211/6/31/.626 OPS slash line. It was certainly a regression from his season with Aberdeen last year, and as he goes into his age-24 season he may get another shot here. A strike against him, though, is that he wasn’t particularly versatile, playing all but one of his games at second base. Fortunately for him, Aberdeen wasn’t well-stocked at second this season (in fact, most of the games were played by the aforementioned Alejandro Juvier) so he may be in the mix despite his tough 2016 season.

July 7 - Christian Alvarado

Christian finished second in the SAL with 148 strikeouts in exactly 148 innings pitched, compiling a 10-9 record and 3.41 ERA to go with them. His 1.16 WHIP also placed him in the top 10 of league qualifiers, so the argument can be made whether he or Brian Gonzalez will be considered the ace of the Frederick staff next season. While Alvarado’s 143 hits allowed was relatively high, the fact he only gave up 29 walks is a plus. Alvarado turns 22 later this month so he has time to develop. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – June, SAL Pitcher of the Week – June 27-July 3)

July 14 - Ofelky Peralta

More of a raw talent (and a year or two younger than Gonzalez or Alvarado at age 19), Peralta’s numbers weren’t as stellar – 8-5 with a 4.01 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 103 1/3 innings – but he was considered a prospect nonetheless. Yes, he gave up 60 walks this year and that was the most on the team, but over his three-season pro career he’s steadily decreased his walk rate and considering he jumped from the GCL to full-season this year it wouldn’t hurt him to repeat this level, at least for the first half. Peralta threw a five-inning no-hitter the start after a six-inning one-hitter, but sandwiching those starts were three where he was shelled for 15 runs in 13 2/3 innings. The key word for him in 2017 will be consistency. (Organization Pitcher of the Month – July, SAL Pitcher of the Week – July 4-10. )

July 21 - Natanael Delgado

Delgado was considered a fringe prospect for the Los Angeles Angels when the Orioles acquired him in a late spring training trade, so they are probably disappointed with his injury-marred 2016 season. In 88 games Delgado hit just .250/8/36/.680 OPS, and considering he was essentially repeating at this level after hitting .241/6/46/.631 OPS in the Midwest League last year one has to wonder what his future holds. However, Delgado is young for this level (turns 21 next month) so he may get a third try at full-season A ball in the hope he can stay healthy and bring the average closer to the .280 or so he had in rookie ball between two teams.

July 28 - Jay Flaa

He didn’t dominate this level as he did with Aberdeen last season, but Jay put up a decent year with a 3.50 ERA in 46 1/3 relief innings. One cause for concern, though, would be allowing 21 walks in that stretch after giving up only 5 in 20 2/3 innings last season. With a 1.34 WHIP Flaa could be one of those guys who’s on the brink between advancing and staying put out of spring training next season. Jay is old for this level (25 next June) but the Orioles spent a 6th round pick last year on a college pitcher about to turn 23 so we may be able to throw age out the window in this case.

August 4 - Randolph Gassaway

With all but 5 of his 55 games this season played with Delmarva, the thought has to be: where did this guy come from? Granted, he hit .273 with Aberdeen last season but to hit .340/7/21/.919 OPS for the year either Gassaway is legit or a flash in the pan as we have seen many times over the years from players who washed out a season or two later. It’s hard to imagine him jumping a level with just 50 games under his belt, so I would expect Randolph to be counted on to lead the Shorebirds next season – at least for the first half when he turns 22. (Organization Player of the Month – August)

August 11 - Brian Gonzalez

The Brian Gonzalez we got this year was the one the Orioles hoped for last year. But he was a raw rookie only a year removed from high school, so his second time here proved to be much better with a 10-8 record and 2.50 ERA that was third best in the league overall. Since his WHIP was a more or less average 1.31, the reason his ERA stayed low had to be the recognition of how to avoid a lot of damage when an inning begins with a baserunner. Worrisome among his numbers was 58 walks allowed, although it was in 147 2/3 innings so the rate is only a shade above average. If he has the ability to continue working around them he should move up the system quickly. (SAL Post-Season All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month - August)

August 18 - Ricardo Andujar

Ricardo was the steady utility player every team needs, quietly hitting .251/3/24/.620 OPS while splitting time between second base, third base, and shortstop seemingly on a daily basis. Aside from an 11-game stretch when he spelled an injured Ryan Mountcastle at shortstop, he didn’t play more than five games in a row at any one position. For a bench player to get into 101 games while not playing more than 43 at any position proves your worth, and it may lead to advancement and opportunity for Ricardo down the line. He turned 24 this season, so I think the Orioles will give him a chance at the next level – even if he only hits .250 the versatility makes Andujar useful. He just needs to pick up the outfield somewhere down the line.

August 25 - Jake Bray

Between Delmarva and Aberdeen Bray threw just 30 innings this season; however, that is only one off his career high of 31 last year. Bray did well as a whole (1-1 with an even 3.00 ERA and 1.1 WHIP, 29 strikeouts and 6 walks, mostly with the Shorebirds) but needs to get a full year in to prove himself. 2017 could be that year – while Jake at 24 would be old for A ball, a successful first half could put him in the more age-appropriate advanced-A level with Frederick. 60 innings in a season would be a major accomplishment and a body of work Bray can be judged by – especially if he can hold to single-digits in walks allowed.

September 1 - Mike Burke

Mike finished the season with Delmarva, but he split the 2016 schedule among three teams – debuting in June with Frederick, sent down to Aberdeen when their season began, and returning to Delmarva to play the second half here. Overall Burke was 1-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 52 innings, posting an outstanding 1.06 WHIP based on a 60-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (My question is why he didn’t stay at Frederick considering he pitched eight superb innings there in three appearances, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 10. That is a microscopic 0.25 WHIP. Sure, he’s a 30th round draft pick, but come on.) If there is justice in the world, Mike gets the shot to pitch a full season for the Keys and see whether he can keep that string going.

*********

Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006:

  • 2006 – Ryan Finan
  • 2007 – Danny Figueroa
  • 2008 – Sean Gleason
  • 2009 – Ron Welty
  • 2010 – Brian Conley
  • 2011 – David Walters
  • 2012 – Brenden Webb
  • 2013 – Lucas Herbst
  • 2014 – Chance Sisco
  • 2015 – John Means

This is a year where I have three or four guys who could have easily been Shorebird of the Year in some of those leaner years around the turn of the decade. You could easily plug in Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Brian Gonzalez, or Christian Alvarado for those lost seasons.

But sometimes you get a situation where one player just stands above the rest, a no-doubter. I think the moment that sealed this year’s selection was watching some hapless team put on a shift against this batter and watching him calmly rip a double and a triple the other way in consecutive at-bats. You didn’t see that shift anymore.

I wouldn’t imagine there are many teams in baseball history who have two league batting champions that were both catchers, but Delmarva is one. And they both share something else in common: the Shorebird of the Year award.

He barely made the requisite 2/3 of the season on the Shorebirds roster, but then Yermin Mercedes barely made the number of at-bats required for qualification for the SAL batting crown as well. Yet it should be noted that after his promotion to Frederick on August 1, the Shorebirds went into a 5-18 funk that all but eliminated them from playoff contention. It seemed like they couldn’t function offensively without Mercedes and his potent bat, which solidified his claim on the SotY honor.

So that’s a wrap on the player side for 2016. Next week will be my picks and pans feature speaking as a fan, and then in December I will update my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. The Class of 2016 is another large one on the heels of a five-pitcher class in 2015.

But while I’m dialing back on my Shorebirds coverage in 2017, you can rest assured they won’t be completely out of sight and out of mind. As I think I’ve said on a couple occasions, the biggest problem I had in doing Shorebird of the Week was the fact I only get to about 15 games a year now so I don’t have the photo stock I believe I need to make it a great feature. Give me the photos and maybe I bring it back, perhaps even as a semi-weekly or monthly thing – writing the copy is the easy part.

Thus, you have the offer on the table. I like covering the Shorebirds but it has to be more than me doing it.

Shorebird of the Week – September 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Tonight an era comes to an end after 11 seasons.

At the end of the season I would always have several players who were perhaps deserving but not selected. This last Shorebird of the Week is one of those holdovers from 2015 who’s been quite effective in his return season.

It took 18 appearances for Mike Burke to pitch in a game I attended, but his one-out save on Sunday evening was the first of Burke’s two straight saves at a time when the Shorebirds maintain extremely faint playoff hopes (they need a lot of help, but can greatly enhance their chances by winning out.) Last night Burke came up with a two-inning save to help Delmarva sweep the fading Greensboro Grasshoppers in a doubleheader and move to within one-half game of the overall second-place Hickory Crawdads. (The help they need is from Hagerstown, who edged Delmarva by 1/2 game to win the first half and needs to win the second half for the Shorebirds to have a chance of making the postseason as the second-best overall record in the division – the Shorebirds are out of contention for the second half crown.) That sweep also assured Delmarva a second consecutive winning season after six straight losing campaigns from 2009-14.

While Mike spent the 2015 season exclusively at Delmarva, going 2-2 with a 3.36 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, the exceptional part of his overall line was the 53-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 67 total innings. This year, though, Mike has bounced around between the Aberdeen roster (stashed for most of the first half there), the Frederick Keys, and Delmarva. As a whole Burke has gone 1-3 with a 3.49 ERA this season, but he pitched very effectively at Frederick (1 run and 2 hits allowed in 8 innings) and Aberdeen (4 1/3 shutout innings in 2 appearances.) He’s maintained that exceptional K/BB ratio with 53 strikeouts and 8 walks between the three stops.

Burke is an Cleveland native who pitched his college ball at the State University of New York at Buffalo (we MAC folks just call it Buffalo) and was a 30th round pick by the Orioles in 2014, so in essence he’s playing with house money at this point in his career. But having just turned 24 on Saturday he still has plenty of time to make it up the ladder and control will likely be his calling card. Allowing just 20 walks in 139 1/3 innings is a good way to advance, especially with a strikeout per inning on average. He deserves a shot at seeing if he can keep that stellar work going in Frederick in 2017.

And thus we have the 242nd and final Shorebird of the Week – a list of prospects and suspects that epitomizes the Shorebirds over the years I have covered them. We won’t know until next season which list Mike will find himself on, but like everyone who plays here I hope he gets the opportunity to see his dream come true and make it to The Show. As for me, I’m already looking at next year’s schedule and digging the fact we will have eleven Thirsty Thursdays – I just won’t be putting up a Shorebird of the Week to complement them.

Thanks for being a part of the SotW ride – but don’t forget Shorebird of the Year comes next week and on September 15 I will do my annual picks and pans – so the season lives on for a bit whether Delmarva makes the playoffs or not.

Shorebird of the Week – August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Returning to the Shorebirds’ fold after a trip to the disabled list and month-long reassignment to Aberdeen, Jake Bray picked up pretty much where he left off by tossing two scoreless innings against Lakewood on Monday.

Injuries such as the oblique strain that kept Jake out for 6 weeks are, unfortunately, nothing new for him. He got off to a promising start after being a 12th round pick in 2013 out of California’s Feather River College with 12 solid GCL innings but was out for the entire 2014 season. Bray basically had to start all over in 2015 and did so impressively, with matching 0.87 ERAs at both the GCL level (20 2/3 innings) and Aberdeen (10 1/3 innings.) Even more eye-popping is 11 career walks in 66 innings pitched – in his first 24 pro appearances a walk blemished his linescore just twice, in 2015. (Bray allowed zero walks in 2013, in 12 outings.) One can argue that he’s strictly a one- or two-inning relief pitcher so walks are minimized in those situations, but thus far Jake has managed to have good control yet not give up a lot of hits. (49 in 66 career innings – so his career WHIP is under 1.)

So in recovering from his latest setback down in Aberdeen, Bray had some uncharacteristically high numbers, such as a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances there. Much of that damage, though, came in one bad outing July 23 (4 ER in 1 1/3 innings.) Here with Delmarva Bray has managed to keep his numbers in line with his career means, with a 1-0 record and 1.46 ERA in 9 appearances covering 12 1/3 innings. SAL batters are a little more selective, though, as Bray has allowed five walks in that span (but no more than one in any appearance.) However, Jake has given up only 9 hits while striking out 14, so his stuff is still playing well at this level.

Bray will turn 24 over the offseason, and it’s unfortunate the injury bug got him again because this level seems to be a good test for him. I think there may be some more innings in store for him post-season in the instructional league – he’s probably not quite ready for the Arizona Fall League, but that could come next season if he can repeat his success in keeping his control numbers going.

Jake is the penultimate Shorebird of the Week – next week will bring the series to a close after 11 seasons, with the Shorebird of the Year season review the following week and picks and pans wrapping up the season September 15. With the likelihood of playoff baseball getting slimmer by the day, Delmarva’s long offseason will be setting in September 6.

Shorebird of the Week – August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

It’s a little ironic that I select Ricardo Andujar as the SotW the day after the Red Sox swept the Orioles in a two-game series at Camden Yards. While the losses did damage to the Orioles in the pennant race, perhaps someday they can get a little revenge in knowing they took a solid player from the Boston fold. In June of 2012, Ricardo began a two-season stint in the Dominican Summer League as a Red Sox prospect, but after hitting just .214 in two seasons there the Red Sox let him go. Baltimore signed him for the next summer (2014), Ricardo figured things out (hitting .318 in 63 games), and two seasons later with a stop at Aberdeen thrown in, Andujar is one of the better hitters on the Shorebirds with a .255/2/20/.627 OPS slash line in 87 games.

Granted, Ricardo is old for this league (he turned 24 earlier this month) and was a comparatively late Dominican signing as he started pro baseball at the age of 19. But he fills that gap that teams need as a utility infielder with speed – so far in 2016 Andujar has made 36 starts at third base, 28 at shortstop, and 23 at second base. Judging by statistics, he’s probably best suited for second base but has managed to find plenty of playing time from his fellow infielders by being a reasonable alternative at the three positions. And while he won’t wow you with his power, Andujar seems like the kind that might sneak in a half-dozen dingers a season but is more likely to swipe a couple dozen bases. Between Andujar and center fielder Cedric Mullins (25 steals) they have about 3/4 of the stolen bases among those on the active roster.

If it seems like Andujar has snuck up on you, it may be true. At the end of May he was stumbling with a .225 average, but since the first of July he’s hit an even .300 in 34 games to push close to his career mark of .263 overall. With about three weeks to go in the season, he has a decent shot to finish with a batting mark right around .263 and earn a shot at the next level. As I’ve mentioned before, a high batting average is not as necessary for success at the big league level if you have the versatility to play multiple positions. A little work in the outfield in coming seasons and Ricardo can have a long career as a jack of all trades. We’ll see how he develops.

Shorebird of the Week – August 11, 2016

August 11, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

Perhaps the most deserving – but hitherto not honored – Shorebird of the Week this season has been pitcher Brian Gonzalez. Among the Shorebird hurlers, Brian has been perhaps the most consistent starter with a 7-7 record but a 2.59 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 22 starts covering a team-leading 121 2/3 innings. Brian has fanned 92 and walked 49 – not bad for a pitcher who’s not yet turned 21 and is still a couple years younger than league average.

You may recall a couple years ago when the Orioles signed free agents Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez that those signings cost the O’s their first two draft picks in the 2014 draft. So despite being a 3rd round selection, Brian was Baltimore’s first choice that year. After getting his feet wet with 33 2/3 innings split between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen that season, the Baltimore brass threw Gonzalez to the wolves in 2015 by bringing him to Delmarva – and arguably he wasn’t ready, finishing a tough campaign with a 4-9 record and 5.71 ERA in 23 starts. In 105 2/3 innings, Brian allowed only 98 hits but walked 59 to give him a WHIP of 1.49.

This year, repeating the level, he has thrown 16 more innings in one fewer start, struck out 11 more batters (relatively consistent) but walked 10 fewer. He has allowed about the same number of hits per nine innings but learned to mitigate damage by walking fewer batters and allowing just 4 home runs, compared to 8 last season. All in all, it’s been a solid second season for Gonzalez here and if he’s not promoted for a couple late-season starts, once 2016 ends I don’t think we will be seeing him back here unless it’s for a rehab assignment. As a third-round pick and leader of that draft, the expectations are high for Gonzalez - especially with the failure (thus far) of 2013 first rounders Hunter Harvey (multiple injuries and now surgery) and Josh Hart (hitting just .193 at Frederick.) 2015 first rounders D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle have spent time here this season, although Stewart was promoted to Frederick in June.

Brian, though, is also the poster child on why this SotW series is coming to an end after the 2016 season. The photo I’m using comes from a start in April, 2015 – having such a bad season, I did not pick Brian as a SotW last year so I dug through my old SD cards and fortunately found this photo. In 2016, though, he’s been the most elusive Shorebird player: he seems to start games I can’t make it to for some reason. Out of 12 games I’ve attended, he hasn’t played in one. I have been meaning to pick him since May as he got off to a great start, but couldn’t connect. Now he gets his due.

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