O’s sign OF Nelson Cruz

After an off-season that initially started off with lackluster deals and fan disappointment, the Orioles have shifted into high gear within the last couple of weeks. They have already inked Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, added former Rockies sensation pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, and now they added the slugging bat they had been seeking all off season in Nelson Cruz.

Cruz gets a 1 year deal that could be worth up to $8,750,000 with incentives ($8 million base, $750k incentives). This move is not without potential issues though. After surrendering their 17th pick in the draft for Jimenez, the Orioles also lose their 2nd round pick to sign Cruz. For a team with a long history of having a fairly weak farm system, this move could set them back a few years. Cruz has also been linked to the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for 50 games for an apparent PED violation. He has had a recent track record of injuries. He is also not known to be a very gifted defensive player when he does go out into the field. On the plus side Cruz has produced 20+HR and 75+RBI every season since 2009. He doesn’t offer much outside of power as he doesn’t bring speed to the table, and he also strikes out frequently while not walking. We’re not talking Mark Reynolds level strike outs, but he’s not too far behind him.

The alternative was Kendrys Morales who would also be tied to draft pick compensation, is two years younger, is a switch hitter, but also comes with some injury history and a shaky reputation as a 1B. At least with Cruz you could hide him in LF and it would make sense to play him there in NL games with no DH rule. The Orioles already have Chris Davis at 1B and I can’t envision a scenario where you sit Davis for Morales. So Cruz does offer a bit of flexibility.

It was a gamble that the Orioles felt they had to take given the window of opportunity this current core of players has to win a championship. Lots of key players are due to end their rookie contracts or are due to become free agents and their price tags are all going to go up. They can’t keep everyone, so they’ve done an “all in” type move. I would have been happier if Cruz was not tied to draft pick compensation because for me, the risks were too much to invest so much. On the other hand, how many draft picks pan out and even make it to the majors?


O’s sign SP Ubaldo Jimenez

Earlier today the Orioles had announced their deal with Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, and later today comes this news. The Orioles had been catching quite a bit of flak from the fans for being bystanders for the most part this off season. Fans seemed upset that the team allowed closer Jim Johnson to walk in a trade for almost no return. Opinions changed when the deal with Grant Balfour seemed all but done, but the deal ultimately fell through due to a failed physical and once again the O’s were met with fan disdain.

Jimenez is arguably one of the best remaining free agent pitchers on the market. It took a 4 year deal worth around $50 million to bring him to Baltimore. This is news in another way since it is the first time in possibly two decades the Orioles signed a pitcher to a contract longer than 3 years. The Orioles really seemed to be more interested in Arroyo and Burnett, possibly because the team thought they could sign them to shorter term deals.

Jimenez should help bolster a team that has really struggled in the starting pitching department. He is probably best known for his 2010 season in Colorado when he posted a 19-8 record with a 2.88 ERA and threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history. His success didn’t exactly follow as the following season his record dropped to 10-13 and his ERA jumped to 4.68 while being traded to the Cleveland Indians. His first full season in Cleveland was even worse as his record deteriorated to 9-17 and his era jumped up to 5.40. Last season though he seemed to regain form and went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and those strike out numbers were once again on the rise.

During his 2010 campaign, Jimenez was known to be if not the hardest throwing starting pitcher, he wasn’t very far removed from it. His fastball sat an an average of over 96MPH and in his no-hitter it was reported to reach over 100MPH several times, including hitting 101MPH. Recently though his velocity has dipped to an average of 94MPH, which is still very good, but also causes a bit of concern.

At 30 years old, as long as he is healthy, Jimenez could be an immense help to bolstering a rotation that already saw the emergence of Chris Tillman, the steady performances of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, and then seemed to be floundering to find those last two arms. Up until today, Duquette seemed to be stockpiling low risk, journeymen type deals and seeking to find the cream of the crop to compete with some in house candidates who just haven’t locked down a rotation spot. The arrival of Yoon and Jimenez seem to have cemented the rotation now. This allows Matusz to remain in the bullpen where he seems to be most effective and also bolsters depth waiting in the wings just in case an injury occurs….and it always does with pitching.

More Orioles Moves

Been awhile since my last update, but things had been pretty quiet on the Orioles off season. Within the last couple of months some things have happened:

1) The O’s had invited OF/1B/DH Jack Cust to mini camp, and then finally signed him to a minor league contract

2) The O’s had claimed INF/OF Jimmy Paredes off waivers from the Marlins, but due to another O’s move they exposed him to waivers and he was just claimed by the Royals.

3) Signed Korean Pitcher Suk-Min Yoon to a 3 year $5.575 million deal.

4) Signed RP Juan Morillo to a minor league contract.

5) Signed Lefty RP Steve Garrison to a minor league contract.

6) Signed 1B Henry Wrigley to a minor league contract.

7) Deal with OF Tyler Colvin falls through due to a failed physical.

8) Signed 1b/OF Matt LaPorta to a minor league contract.

9) Signed RP Evan Meek to a minor league contract.

10) Signed SS Alex Gonzalez to a minor league contract.

11) Signed 1B/IF Chad Tracy to a minor league contract. The “other” Chad Tracy.

12) Singed INF/OF Scott Savastano to a minor league contract.

13) Signed LHSP Aaron Laffey to a minor league contract. Laffey was born in Cumberland, MD

14) Signed RP Luis Vizcaino to a minor league contract.

15) Signed INF Brock Bond to a minor league contract.

O’s sign Pitcher Alfredo Aceves

This is another minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and a major league clause which will pay him $1.2 million if he makes the major league roster.

Alfredo Aceves is 31 and has spent his entire major league career in the AL East where he has had some level of success, and complete failure. As a pitcher he’s done everything you can do, started, pitched in relief, and was even a closer for part of a season. He is mostly used as a swing man to mainly pitch long relief and spot start on an emergency basis. My guess is that is exactly what his role will be with the Orioles. He might make the AAA starting rotation, but for the Orioles I can’t see him beating anyone out unless he is absolutely on fire in Spring…and even then, I think he’s the odd man out in that scenario if the Orioles happen to sign Arroyo.

Once again Dan Duquette is bringing in a lot of low-risk guys that have had track records of success in the majors, or do something very well in the minors that the club is looking for, and then the track record has been that one of these guys eventually pans out. Nate McLouth was one of those guys. It is no mistake that he’s going after hitters that have shown power in the past, guys that have some speed, and guys that have managed high OBP in their careers in the majors or minors. With how fragile pitching is, the old saying is that you can never have too much of it, so this was a decent move albeit not a flashy one. I can see this guy tossing some innings out of the bullpen for this club.

O’s sign RP Vizcaino, INF Bond, and invite OF Cust to camp

When the Orioles signed OF Delmon Young yesterday, they had also invited former Orioles OF Jack Cust to minor league camp. Cust is not yet under contract. At age 35 his best days are behind him and even in his prime he was a shaky fielder anywhere in the OF and at 1B. He is mostly known for being one of the purest 3 outcome hitters in the league while enjoying his best success with the A’s. Mashing prodigious home runs, walking, or striking out Cust’s only value was if he hit for power and kept getting on base. Cust’s career major league line is .242 .374 .439 and last played for Seattle in 2011 where he saw his power all but vanish. If he shows something in camp there is a good chance the Orioles give him a minor league contract and see what happens with him. If he can have a hot start he could wind up with the major league team since they will be looking for a power bat for DH and also like high OBP hitters.

Luis Vizcaino is also an older pitcher that saw his career come to an abrupt end with an Achilles tendon tear and then was hit with a PED suspension. Despite not pitching in the majors since 2009, he did make a comeback to baseball in the Mexican League and pitched a very effective 45 innings going 1-3 with a 1.41 ERA and notching 25 saves. He was inked to a minor league deal so I look for him to be in the minor leagues to start the season and if he’s got anything left we’ll see him on the major league roster.

And lastly the Orioles have signed switch hitting INF Brock Bond to a minor league deal. He is mainly a 2B defensively but has also seen quite a bit of time as a 3B. A minor league career .300 hitter he also has notched a .398 OBP. The drawbacks, that all comes with virtually no power and he isn’t blessed with a lot of speed. He suffered an oblique injury last season and never seemed to be right after that, so the Orioles are taking a low risk chance with him to get more quality depth in the system.

None of these moves are ones that will make headlines, but they are moves every major league team does. They identify their key needs, try to address those as best as possible, and then evaluate where they need more help. They take a look around and see if they can find any talent that might be able to help their club at some point. If they blow up and don’t pan out, they really didn’t cost you much. If they make it to the majors and contribute in any way, you look like a genius. I can envision a scenario where all of these players could help the major league club at some point. The Orioles have an opening at DH and LF, at 2B, and in the bullpen and starting rotation. None of the candidates for those positions have really locked them down so it is open for anyone to claim. Injuries can also be a factor. You just never know what can happen, so you prepare by adding as much quality depth as you can.

O’s sign OF Delmon Young

In a minor league deal the Orioles have added yet another outfielder in Delmon Young. Once a highly touted prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization; Young has failed to live up to the hype. He has defensive limitations in the field and his free-swinging ways lead to a lot of strikeouts and poor contact leading to double plays. He hardly ever walks, so in order to get anything out of him he has to be hitting for his modest power. This could happen if he’s strictly limited to facing lefties in which over his career he’s done significantly more damage over the years.

There is an upside here in that Young is still, well, rather young. Although he’s been in the major leagues for 8 seasons now, he is still only 28. He is a good player to have waiting around in the minors at the very least if something happens with injuries or other players the Orioles have currently don’t pan out. That list includes a whole slew of names such as oft-injured Nolan Reimold, Cuban defector Henry Urrutia, recently traded for David Lough, and several free agents the O’s have signed; Quintin Berry, Xavier Paul, Julio Borbon, and Francisco Peguero.

There is a chance that Young could be part of a platoon in LF and also see time at DH to limit his negatives in the field. Low risk with a potential return on investment if Young can sort of regain his form.

O’s sign INF Alexi Casilla

The Orioles have signed Alexi Casilla to a minor league contract. The switch hitting middle infielder doesn’t offer much with the bat, but has some speed and is capable of playing both 2B and SS. With the loss of Brian Roberts and with Manny Machado being injured Casilla can provide a bit more back up at 2B and could also be the back up middle infielder on the team. He also provides speed on the bases and can have some value as a pinch runner for a team not exactly blessed with speed from their starters.