Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"O"dds and Ends; Little League World Series Theme

The Little League World Series version of the "O"dds and Ends Roundup teaches us a few things about Orioles past and present:

(1) In a rare form of sports irony, LaTroy Hawkins' off-field performance is something to boast about, even when his on-the-field performance isn't.

(2) Mike Flanagan was a Little League star before moving on to bigger and better things like the 1979 Cy Young Award.

(3) They were pining away this week in Pennsylvania for Rick Dempsey and his famous rain delay routines. As Baseball Library notes, the 1983 World Series MVP who caught more games than anyone else in franchise history had a father who was a Vaudeville actor and a mother who was a Broadway star.

On to the Roundup:

He's Better Than Advertised (Washington Post)
In Hawkins, 33, the Orioles have one of the most socially conscious and charitable players in the game, and yet under a blanket of blunt backtalk he has gained a mostly unsavory reputation.

"I think he's misunderstood and people go about what they read," said Hawkins's best friend, Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter. "One guy might write something bad, and then 'Bam!' it's over with. The pen is mightier than anything. Once somebody writes something about you, it sticks with people's view of you no matter what. When people think of LaTroy Hawkins, they think he doesn't like the media, and that the fans hate him."

Wilkinsburg Little Leaguers fall short in their first game at the World Series (Post-Gazette)

Most U.S. teams at the Little League World Series hail from white suburbs, but all the players in the Wilkinsburg-New Haven game were black. Torii Hunter, center fielder of the Minnesota Twins, brought them to the series as part of Little League's Urban Initiative, which is designed to get more city kids playing ball each summer.

Mr. Hunter and nine other major leaguers also paid the way for two other teams, from the Bronx, N.Y., and North Richmond, Va., to play exhibitions at the series.

"We need to do this," Mr. Hunter, 31, said after greeting the boys from Wilkinsburg. "I played youth baseball in Pine Bluff, Ark., but it's not around anymore and I see kids getting in trouble."

Joining him at the series was LaTroy Hawkins of the Baltimore Orioles, another pro who helped fund Little League's Urban Initiative.

The two players share the same agent. They were talking one day during the off-season about what could be done to reverse the trend of fewer kids in U.S. cities playing baseball.

"Torii had the idea to support the Urban Initiative by bringing them here," Mr. Hawkins said. "I thought it was a good one."

Little League a major hit (Spokesman Review)
Hunter and Orioles reliever LaTroy Hawkins took a short flight from Baltimore, where the Twins and Orioles were playing a midweek series, to promote "The Torii Hunter Project" and the Little League Urban Initiative, programs designed to encourage more children in urban areas to play baseball.

For at least a couple of hours, they felt like kids again.

Hall of Famer Brock has "fireside chat" with Missouri Team (Sports Illustrated)
Baltimore Orioles executive Mike Flanagan will also be honored with the William A. Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award on Aug. 27, the final day of the tournament. Flanagan played Little League in Manchester, N.H.

Rainout muddies LL waters (Pennsylvania Live)
Little League officials told Mike Flanagan, scheduled to receive this year's distinguished graduate award, to stay home in Baltimore because bad weather figured to wash out his ceremony.

Upon reflection, they probably should have told him to come anyway and bring Baltimore Orioles coach Rick Dempsey to drenched Lamade Stadium.

We needed Dempsey, baseball's most renowned rain delay entertainer, during yesterday's soggy and ultimately futile Little League World Series championship game vigil.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fast Fact

In case you missed it, Corey Patterson and Brian Roberts are the first pair of Orioles teammates to have 30 steals in the same season.

Chances are that Patterson won't set the team's single season steals record, a possibility that was discussed in a previous Roar posting. Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio stole 57 bases for the Birds in 1964, leading the major leagues and his next closest competitor - Al Weis - by 35 bases.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Cal

The Iron Man turns 46 today.

I'm guessing we don't need to write about the things Cal did as an Oriole. We don't keep statistics on the demographics of our readers, but something tells me that no one takes up residence under a rock.

If you found "Roar from 34" on the web, you probably know the trivia items like who Cal replaced to start the Streak (hint: Sugarbear) and who replaced him to end the streak (hint: his name starts with Ryan and ends with Minor).

The rest is sweet Orioles history.

Hi Hoey, It's Off to Baltimore We Go

It's that time of year when we start to see the guys from down on the farm in major league uniforms and become overly optimistic for the future. Loving O's legends the way we do on this blog, can we go ahead and credit Bowie pitching coach Scott McGregor with James Hoey's rise to the parent club?

Get to know Hoey with the following stories:

Single-A has diamonds in the rough (The Sun)

As the club's full-season minor league teams wind down their schedules, the Orioles have unearthed a few gems and seen a few top prospects lose their luster.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to come from Single-A is reliever James Hoey. The 6-foot-6 right-hander started his season as Delmarva's closer and dominated with his 97-mph fastball and slider, accumulating 18 saves.

Hoey Takes a Winding Road Up (The Post)

Hoey's rise through the Baltimore minor league system has been peculiar. A 13th-round pick in the 2003 draft, Hoey began the season in Class A Delmarva and then was moved to Class A Frederick before settling in at Bowie.

"The only thing I was shooting for was perhaps Double-A," Hoey said. "That was my main concern -- trying to get on the 40-man [roster] to go to big league spring training. That's the only thing I was worried about."

Baltimore's Diamond Mine (Press Box)

The most recent graduate of Youse's Orioles to reach the major leagues, although not yet for good, is Gavin Floyd, the Mount St. Joseph grad and a No. 1 pick of the Phillies four years ago. Albany believes that three more of his former right-handed pitchers are high on the Orioles' radar screen. "Brandon Erbe and Chorye Spoone are doing a great job at Delmarva," he said. "James Hoey has moved up to Frederick and already has 29 saves (18 at Delmarva, 11 at Frederick). All three of those guys were picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star game and I think we'll be hearing a lot about them."

Bowie's Hoey has the closing power (Examiner.com)

James Hoey has a major league-caliber fastball. Just ask the guys who face him.

Hoey’s fastball is so difficult for his peers to hit, he has been throwing it exclusively in recent weeks.

“I’ve gotten away with a lot of fastballs,” he said. “I haven’t even thrown sliders the past couple of games.”

Hoey an Oriole (Rider University)

Hoey was selected in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 2003 following his junior season at Rider, when he was a first-team All-New Jersey selection. Hoey won his final five decisions at Rider and finished 6-4 with a 2.24 earned run average as a junior.

Rider Edges Jaspers 2-1 in 14 Inning Thriller (Manhattan College)

The starters for each team, Manhattan's Ryan Darcy (Levittown, NY) and Rider's James Hoey, each pitched and incredible 11 innings and allowed just one run apiece. Darcy, who worked 11 innings without a decision, struck out a season-high 11 batters and walked one while allowing one unearned run. Hoey struck out nine Jaspers and walked four while scattering six hits.

Final random fact, just because:

Hooey is apparently a graduate of both the Dave Gallagher Baseball Academy and the Baseball Factory.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No Such Thing as Home Field Advantage in Baltimore

We wouldn't be treading any new ground if we wrote about the declining attendance numbers at the Yard or how Yankees and Red Sox fans treat Baltimore as a home away from home. But a recent "Sports Illustrated" players poll (Aug. 21, p. 36) adds a new dubious distinction for one of baseball's greatest ballparks, or at least the fans who inhabit it.

When asked, "Which ballpark is the most difficult to play in as a visiting player?," 21 percent of players said Yankee Stadium. Fenway Park was a close second at 20 percent, followed by Wrigley Field (10 percent), and Citizens Bank Park (10 percent).

Wondering about Camden? Look among the "Fast Facts" following the poll results, and you'll find this statement: "Every stadium except for Oriole Park at Camden Yards received at least one vote."

An optimist would say that no one voted for Camden because we O's fans help our city live up to its Charm City nickname. Opposing players love to visit St. Louis because the fans are knowledgable and respectful; they'll applaud a good play by either team. However, a realist would note that Camden has been losing some of its charm since the team went into its extended slide.

Hopefully, things will change in the near future. Looks like we're a fan base that can adopt the familiar refrain, "Wait 'till next year."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Timing Could be Everything for Markakis

If a hit falls in the gap, and no one sees it, are you still a good batter?

By Matthew Taylor

[Vote in our online poll about Nick Markakis.]

Earlier this month, O’s rookie right fielder Nick Markakis joined the likes of Albert Pujols, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Justin Morneau, and teammate Brian Roberts in some elite company: He became a member of my fantasy baseball team.

Granted, it’s no Rookie of the Year announcement for Markakis. But unlike most scenarios involving males and fantasies, this one actually has some relationship with reality. Whether it's at the major league level or the fantasy level, Nick Markakis' solid performance this season hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

Luckily for Markakis, things are changing. He's now getting some love on a blog with a lifetime readership roughly equivalent to the attendance at a "Nails on the Chalkboard" promotion night at the local minor league park. Congratulations, Nick. You can pick up your Tripper Johnson bobblehead on the way out of the stadium.

After Thursday's performance at Yankee Stadium, Nick Markakis is batting .299 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. Forget Rookie of the Year, this guy deserves Comeback Player of the Year.

Markakis batted .182 in April. By June, he had raised his average to .228. Take that, Mario Mendoza. Or was it Minnie? Whatever the case, that mythical Mendoza guy isn’t even a speck in the rearview mirror after Markakis batted a Williams-esque .403 for the month of July. (Thinking Bernie rather than Ted? I’ve got a heaping plate of history with a side of common sense for you to sample.)

Now, every time we Birds fans pick up the newspaper we're treated to the latest updated statistic about our sizzling rookie right fielder: "Since (month), (day), Nick Markakis leads the major leagues with a (.xxx) average." With his recent power surge, perhaps the storyline can change: "Nick Markakis has batted (.xxx) with (xx) home runs since moving to the No. 2 spot in the Orioles lineup."

I'm no sportswriter, so I'll leave the extended feting to the guys who do it best, or at least most often. (Check out these articles about Markakis from The Sun and The Post. Don't worry, neither one uses the word "fete.")

I’m more concerned with what it's going to take for Nick Markakis to truly get the credit he deserves. The stats tell an impressive story about his mid-season resurgence, but chances are that fans outside of Charm City still answer "It's all Greek to me" when asked about baseball's hottest hitter. So it's not just about what Nick Markakis does for the rest of the season. It's also about when he does it.

Fans will know Nick Markakis if he comes up big in the 13 remaining games that the Birds have with the division's overexposed Northeast rivals. Hit a walk off homer in the Bronx. Snare a game-tying hit before it drops on the Fenway grass. Be an equal opportunity antagonist, a "Yankee Killer" and "Sawks Killer" wrapped into one. If Reggie Jackson showed us anything it's that baseball fans have selective memories when your timing is good.

Let's face it, the story of the AL East is once again the Yankees and Red Sox. Try an experiment this afternoon: Crawl under a rock. Stay there until Monday. Chances are you'll still get sick of hearing about a certain five-game set in Boston. You can't pay for the type of media exposure that the Sawks and Yanks receive. Okay, you can. And both teams essentially have. But that just means opportunity is knocking down the stretch for Markakis.

Brian Roberts dismisses the notion of the O's as a spoiler: "The spoiler role doesn't matter," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "It just feels good to play well, to win. It's not like we have a preference of who wins the East. I think it's more about us, trying to play better, trying to finish well. I think that's the most important thing."

Teams are spoilers. Markakis has the chance to be an assassin. The "not him again" guy who tortures spoiled fan bases.

The opportunities have been there. Markakis came to the plate in Fenway on Aug. 13 with the bases loaded and one out. The O’s trailed 11-9. Markakis struck out. Baseball, though, is like that ex-girlfriend whose moods would swing and who you surely don’t miss. It’s a fickle game. So consider yesterday’s match-up in the Bronx a rebound for Markakis.

Provided that Nick Markakis is "money, baby" over the next several weeks, it’ll be more Cheers than jeers when it's all said and done. Everyone will know his name.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Boog

Orioles legend and the namesake for "Boog's BBQ" at Camden Yards, Boog Powell turns 65 today. Happy birthday, Boog.

A four-time All-Star from 1968 to 1971, Boog was the American League MVP in 1970 when he batted .297 with with 35 home runs, 114 RBIs, and, yes, one stolen base. He had the
league's third-highest on-base percentage (.412) and the second-highest slugging percentage (.549). Boog finished second to Harmon Killebrew in MVP voting in 1969.

Talk about your glory days, the 1970 Orioles had six players in the top 20 of the MVP voting that year: Boog, Brooks (No. 7), Frank Robinson (No. 10), Mike Cuellar (No. 11), Dave McNally (No. 16), and Don Buford (No. 20). Cuellar and McNally both won 24 games in 1970. Meanwhile, Jim Palmer, a 20-game winner, finished No. 25 in the MVP voting and was the seventh Oriole receiving votes.

The Orioles of course went on to win the second of their three World Series titles that season, beating the Cincinnati Reds in five games. Boog batted .294 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs in the Series.

In 1971, the Orioles would become the last Major League team to field four 20-game winners: Palmer, McNally, Cuellar, and Pat Dobson.

In 2004, Boog was voted as one of the fans' 50 all-time favorite Orioles.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sound Familiar?

The O's pre-trade deadline dance with Miguel Tejada to the tune of the Clash - Should he stay or should he go now? - bears some resemblance to the Atlanta Braves' situation with Andruw Jones. Reading the "Inside Baseball" section of this week's Sports Illustrated produced an all too familiar feeling.

A Brave Move By Atlanta

After entertaining offers for Andruw Jones before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, the Braves caused a stir last week when they put the All-Star centerfielder on waivers. Atlanta had the right idea: The club has to overhaul its aging pitching staff, and trading Jones (26 home runs, 95 RBIs, both team highs through Sunday) for young quality arms would move the franchise in the right direction. After the Braves had won 14 straight division titles, the bottom fell out this year (51-59, third place in the NL East) with the staff ERA ballooning from 3.98 in 2005 to 4.75 (ranked 12th in the league). "Their most impressive minor leaguers are position players," says an NL executive. "They're not as stocked with quality pitchers as they used to be." With no deal in the works after four days, Atlanta pulled Jones off waivers last Saturday - effectively ending the possibility of a trade until the off-season.

A prolific offensive star serving as trade bait for a team in need of pitching? I think we've heard that one before in Baltimore. It's just too bad that the Birds haven't resembled the Braves more often in recent years. You can ask Leo Mazzone about that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chasing the O's?

Nothing left to play for in the A.L. East unless you're wearing pinstripes or Red Sox? At least one website claims otherwise. It's an interesting read, even if it comes from a gambling website:

Could the Tampa Bay Devil Rays achieve a franchise first this season? No, not win the World Series, or the American League pennant, or the AL East division title, or the AL Wild Card. Or finish at or above the .500 mark. Or break the franchise record for wins in a season (70, two years ago). So what is the D-Rays’ big ambition for 2006?
It’s to finish ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Delino in Delaware

Former Orioles MVP Delino DeShields entered the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame this spring. As recalled by Birds in the Belfry, DeShields had one of his best professional seasons while with the Orioles in 2000.

Check out the short video of DeShields' speech at the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.

In other news:

Happy birthday, Earl Weaver! Everyone's favorite fiery skip, Weaver - who was known to manage for the three-run homer, saying "if you play for one run, that's all you'll get" - was born on this date in 1930.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Some Quick O's History

On this date, Aug. 10 (courtesy of the Charlotte Observer):

1957: Mickey Mantle became the first player to clear the center-field hedge at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium when his 460-foot homer hit the base of the scoreboard. The Yankees beat the Orioles, 6-3.

1971: Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins hit his 500th home run in the first inning off Baltimore's Mike Cuellar to become the 10th player to hit 500 or more. Killebrew also hit No. 501 off Cuellar, but the Orioles won 4-3.

A current Oriole making history (courtesy of ESPN.com):

Miguel Tejada hit his 20th home run of the season in the Orioles' win in Toronto. It's the eighth consecutive season in which Tejada has hit at least 20 home runs. Only two other players in major league history had eight consecutive seasons of 20-or-more home runs and 100-or-more games at shortstop: Cal Ripken (nine straight seasons, 1983-1991) and Alex Rodriguez (eight, 1996-2003). Ernie Banks did it seven consecutive years (1955-1961).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Peter Schmuck Has Lost His Mind

Free agents aren't the solution

By Christopher Heun

Now that the trade deadline has passed and Miguel Tejada is still in Baltimore, it appears that free agency is the most likely way the Birds will try to improve for 2007.

This is a mistake for many reasons. The biggest: the Orioles have a poor track record of attracting free agent talent and when they do manage to sign someone, more often than not it ends up backfiring. For every Ramon Hernandez there is a Javy Lopez and a Sidney Ponson; for every Tejada there’s an Albert Belle and a David Segui. Not to mention the Warehouse closet filled with the inimitable likes of Marty Cordova, Steve Kline, Mike DeJean or Jim Brower.

On top of that, I doubt the team’s chances with what has to be considered a weak selection of talent this off-season, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Does anyone really believe that one of the trio of aces on the market – Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt and Mark Mulder – will sign with a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1997?

Not everyone agrees with me. When I wrote that dealing Tejada for young pitchers was the best hope for the Birds, Josh of
Since 1954 commented that writing out checks this winter could spark a return to winning ways. “If we increased spending by ~$20 million, so our payroll would be at ~$90 million, we'd be able to acquire enough tools to get over .500.”

Josh is not alone. The Sun’s Peter Schmuck has been drinking the free agent Kool-Aid in greedy gulps. In his Aug. 4
column, he espoused the oft-disproved theory – by the very same Orioles, circa Albert Belle no less! – that spending more money automatically means more wins.

I’ll let Schmuck speak for himself in italics. The normal typeface is my comments. For space reasons, I’ve skipped much of the beginning of his column, which was dedicated to the possibility that the gap separating the O’s from the top of the standings isn’t so wide after all.

The club has solid organizational pitching depth and an offensive attack that could be upgraded dramatically with one or two decent free-agent signings this winter. Throw in a No. 1 starter (Roy Oswalt still isn't out of the question) and maybe you won't be so quick to sell your tickets to the Yankees and Red Sox games next summer.

“One or two decent signings and a No. 1 starter” reminds me of what Texas Rangers manager Whitey Herzog had to say about his 1973 club: “We need just two players to be a contender. Just Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax.”

Manager Sam Perlozzo is paid to say the right things about the club, but I tend to believe him when he says the groundwork has been laid for a brighter future.

Remember this bit about groundwork. It comes up again later.

"I think one of the biggest things we did was sign some of the guys to multi-year contracts, so we have less holes to fill," he said. "We've cut our holes down to the point where we need one big guy. We could use two, but one major [offensive] guy would really make a difference."

The name that has been floating around lately is slugging left-fielder Carlos Lee, who was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers, but has not signed a long-term contract. He is expected to be one of the plums of the free-agent market and the Orioles are expected to make a big play to get him.

When did Carlos Lee become the second coming of Frank Robinson? Lee’s career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is .830; this year it’s about .890. Alfonso Soriano, also a free agent this winter, has a career OPS of .837 and is having his best year too, with a .961 OPS. For comparison’s sake, Jay Gibbons the past two seasons has put up an OPS of .833 and .841

In a perfect world, the O's also would sign or acquire another solid run-producer to play first base or fill the designated hitter role.

In a perfect world, Leo Mazzone could pitch. In a perfect world, there would be no such thing as Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis.

Of course, there is one other big need that will be much tougher to fill - the first slot in the starting rotation. The Orioles are not likely to be competitive if they hand Erik Bedard the ball on Opening Day and hope that the other young pitchers fall in behind him.

Yes! Exactly! Now Peter’s talking some sense! Why did it take him 10 paragraphs and 447 words – much of which I’ve spared you – to get here?

"We need one starter better than what we've got," Perlozzo said. "Now, you've got that guy, Bedard, [Kris] Benson and our kids to fill in."

Notice there was no mention of Rodrigo Lopez, Russ Ortiz or Bruce Chen. That they are still making starts in August shows just how tightly Perlozzo’s hands are tied.

Really, we're talking about three significant acquisitions during the offseason, and maybe another solid middle reliever just to be sure. The reconfigured Orioles front office is coming off a winter during which the team signed catcher Ramon Hernandez and made solid deals for Benson and Corey Patterson, but it is going to take some power shopping in November to get back into contention.

Power shopping? What happened to that talk in the beginning that “the groundwork has been laid for a brighter future?” He’s just said the team needs four players – which is it?

"We've got some [pitching] talent," veteran Jay Gibbons said. "It's definitely the best since I've been here, but in the offseason we're still going to have to do some work. It would be nice to be in August and be right in the thick of things. I dream of playing in a pennant race.

"One big bopper and an ace changes everything. We're not that far away. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

It’s great to dream, but two big signings like that are unlikely. The only way this team will land an ace is via trade or by growing them at home. The last time the Orioles signed a free agent starting pitcher was 2004. Care to guess who? Sidney Ponson. Going all the way back to the winter of 2000, here are the free agent starters that the team has managed to sign: Rick Helling, Omar Daal, Pat Hentgen, Willis Roberts, Jose Mercedes and Pat Rapp. Enough to send chills up any fan’s spine.

There's probably a little more to it than that. Even with the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) coming on line, the Orioles might never be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with the Yankees unless they wilt under the weight of their annual $200 million payroll and their giant revenue sharing and payroll tax burden.

Enough with the fixation on George Steinbrenner’s cash. MASN will never produce the revenue of the Yankees’ YES Network, but it doesn’t have to. Last year’s White Sox won a World Series with a $75 million payroll. The Yankees will always have the most money, but they haven’t won a championship in six seasons!

"You have to think that they are going to come back to the pack," Perlozzo said. "It's not like they have all the young players. They can't get everybody. Sooner or later, you're hoping the availability of players is not there for them. If we continue to be smart and make some signings, then definitely we can compete."

The fans are understandably skeptical, but owner Peter Angelos has said on several occasions that he's willing to spend what it takes to return the Orioles to glory. That opportunity will present itself again in a few months.

The question isn’t whether Angelos is willing to spend the money, the question is whether spending gobs of extra money is the right course. Look at the Blue Jays. They spent $106.5 million last winter on A. J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Benjie Molina and where has it gotten them? Third place, exactly where they’ve finished seven of the last eight years.

Free agents aren’t the answer. It’s tough to convince the best to play in Baltimore and the strategy of simply throwing cash at whoever will take it is not the way to build a sustainable winning franchise. We need to look no further than the Warehouse since 1998 for proof.

Who Are the Free Agents of 2007?

Don't hold your breath, there's no savior in the bunch

By Christopher Heun

Even if Orioles owner Peter Angelos wants to open up his checkbook this winter, the crop of free agents is weak. Here’s a look by position:

Left Field

Besides the two jewels, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, the options for left field are either too old (Moises Alou, Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez), too injury prone (Cliff Floyd, Shannon Stewart) or just not worth getting excited about (Jay Payton, Preston Wilson, Jose Cruz Jr.).

The Orioles probably have better chances with Frank Catalanotto and David Dellucci, who are similar lefty hitters with some pop who would be less expensive than Soriano and Lee.

Soriano could be intriguing in an Orioles uniform, but he’d have to agree to stay in the outfield and give up batting in the leadoff spot, his preference in D.C.

Lee is a good hitter, but like I said before (see previous post), he’s not an elite player. Yes, he’s on his way to his fourth consecutive 30-homer season, but
Baseball Reference says his most similar player the past two seasons has been George Bell, who had a couple monster years for the Blue Jays in 1986-87 but then fell off dramatically and was out of baseball by age 33.

First Base

If Jay Gibbons follows in Javy Lopez’s footsteps and struggles to make a new home at first base, then that’s another hole the team will have to fill. Again, the options are limited. Shea Hillenbrand is a
malcontent. Sean Casey has lost his power while Phil Nevin has rediscovered his home run stroke at the expense of his batting average. Mike Piazza will probably want to catch in 2007 (and stay on the West Coast to do it). Nomar Garciaparra might also want to stay close to his California roots or even move back to shortstop.

That leaves Craig Wilson, who might be the best bet. He’s a versatile player, a slightly better version of Jeff Conine. Aubrey Huff, who’s struggled this season, is also an option.

Starting Pitching

There’s only three top of the line starters: Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt and Mark Mulder. Think the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and a dozen other teams won’t be interested?

The other so-called elite pitchers don’t make sense in Baltimore, because of either age, injury or established ties to other cities: Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Brad Radke and Kerry Wood.

Here’s a list of the other arms that will be available (“team option” means that the player’s team may exercise an option on a 2007 contract). As far as starters, it’s basically just a bunch of very average 30 year olds:


Tony Armas Jr.
Pedro Astacio
Mark Buerhle (team option)
Adam Eaton
Orlando Hernandez
Ted Lilly
Jason Marquis
Gil Meche
Ramon Ortiz
Vicente Padilla
Chan Ho Park
Tomo Ohka
John Thomson
Jeff Suppan
Kip Wells
Jamey Wright


There are a few relievers would could be helpful next season (Riske, Speier, Cordero) but it's a little early to be lining up next year's bullpen. Nevertheless, the choices are:

Antonio Alfonseca
Joe Borowski
Chad Bradford
Francisco Cordero (team option)
Eddie Guardado
LaTroy Hawkins
Ray King (team option)
Dan Kolb
Guillermo Mota
Darren Oliver
David Riske
Scott Sauerbeck
Scott Schoenweiss
Justin Speier
Scott Williamson

So there you go. Even if General Manager Mike Flanagan were to pull off a “power shopping” spree, as Peter Schmuck likes to call it, and signed Lee, Wilson and Meche – an optimistic but conceivable turn of events – I doubt that’s enough to make much of a dent in the standings in 2007, much less the postseason.

Further Reading

mlbtraderumors.com has done a meticulous job of evaluating the available talent by position.

For a comprehensive list of free agents including pitchers, check out www.mlb4u.com.