Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rites of Spring: Completely Useless Facts

Get to know some new Birds and contemplate an Ex-Orioles Factor

By Christopher Heun

Now that the first team workouts of spring training have begun, the grand tradition continues of reporting about mundane details like fielding drills, unruly facial hair and new designs for practice jerseys.

To do our part, we present a few completely useless facts about the 2007 Orioles:

1. Newcomers Jay Payton and Chad Bradford were once traded for each other. Not sure what this proves, exactly, other than that 19 months ago a pair of general managers (Theo Epstein in Boston and Billy Beane in Oakland) estimated the two players were of roughly equal value.

If that’s still the case, and Bradford signed for three years and $10.5 million while Payton got nearly the same amount this off-season, $9.5 million, but over just two years, then Bradford must be a steal. All that talk of overpaying for the bullpen is totally unfounded.

2. Hayden Penn’s 2006 season was derailed by an appendectomy the night before he was scheduled to make his first big league start of the season. But he isn’t the only pitcher on the staff to have suffered the unusual injury last year. New reliever Danys Baez suffered an “emergency appendectomy” last August. That prompts the question, when is the removal of a person’s appendix not an emergency?

Bonus Appendectomy Tidbit: During spring training six years ago, Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre was forced to forced to undergo surgery to close a wound in his abdomen that had not healed from an appendectomy performed two months before in his native Dominican Republic. He had not eaten solid food since the first operation.

3. Miguel Tejada hasn’t missed a game since the middle of the 2000 season. His streak of 1,080 consecutive games played is the longest in the major leagues; if he keeps it up this year, he’ll surpass three players and own the fourth-longest streak in history.

He’ll pass Joe Sewell April 27 at Cleveland, Billy Williams May 12 at Boston and then Steve Garvey Aug. 24 at Camden Yards against Minnesota. At that point, Everett Scott, who played in 1,307 games in a row, is all that would separate Miggy from Lou Gehrig and Cal at the top of the iron man list.

Tejada, who turns 31 May 25, would pass Scott in early June 2008 but would need to play every day for five more years to catch Gehrig. He’d need to play three more years after that to reach Cal at 2,632. By that time, Miggy would be 40 years old.

4. The Birds traded Rodrigo Lopez to Colorado last month (where he joined his former battery mate, Javy Lopez; more on that in a minute) for two Double-A relievers, Jim Miller and Jason Burch. Neither of the young pitchers were invited to spring training – not a good reflection on the likelihood they will appear in a big league game anytime soon.

So, rather than the players, why couldn’t Lopez have been swapped for the Rockies’ infamous humidor? The cooler – a humidity- and temperature-controlled room built near the Coors Field clubhouses – has had a chilling effect on scoring in Denver. Maybe it could work the same wonders for the Orioles’ pitching staff? But with Rodrigo coming to town, the Rockies were wise to keep their contraption.

(Incidentally, Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball is considering making the humidors mandatory for all teams. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone probably wouldn’t object.)

But getting back to the Rockies. In addition to acquiring Rodrigo Lopez, this winter they also signed two 2006 Orioles, Javy Lopez and LaTroy Hawkins. That’s a lot of former players from a team that lost 92 games a year ago. The logical initial reaction to such a move would be to send condolences and pencil in the Rockies for a woeful season.

But maybe it’s actually a positive sign. Four of the eight playoff teams last year featured at least three former Orioles. (The other four teams had none.) The Padres had the most, four: David Wells, Manny Alexander, Jack Cust and Jim Brower. Remember Jim Brower?

Meanwhile, Sidney Ponson, Larry Bigbie and Brian Falkenborg (a second round pick by the O’s in 1996 who got a cup of coffee three years later) all wore a Cardinals uniform last year – though none of them did so in October, which may be exactly the point. The team that signs the most former Orioles, and then sees the error of its ways, winds up World Series champs.

The well-documented “Ex-Cubs Factor” that predicts post-season doom for any club with three former Cubbies may have a corollary in The Ex-Orioles Factor. More research is necessary. Who knows, since the 2001 Diamondbacks World Series victory disproved the Ex-Cubs theory, could it be time for the Orioles to fill the void?

The 2007 Texas Rangers may have an inside track on testing the theory on behalf of the Birds, having already signed Bruce Chen and Sammy Sosa (who, it should be noted, has played for both the Cubs and the Orioles).

In the interest of thorough reporting, the three former Birds to play for the Yankees last year: Mike Mussina, Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson. For the Mets: Jorge Julio, John Maine and Eli Marrero.

2 comments:

Oriole Magic said...

Ha! That's so true...what exactly is an 'non emergancy apendectomy?

Doe people have that as an elective cosmetic proceedure?

Patient: "Hi, doc. I'm looking to lose 10 lbs."

Doctor: "Are you aware that the apendix weights 2 pounds? That's 20% of your goal right there!"

Christopher Heun said...

And speaking of "elective" procedures, what do you think of Kris Benson's bum shoulder? Peter Schmuck in The Sun this morning makes the case that Benson may have his future contract foremost in mind.

I don't know. But even if the Orioles are a better team if he's healthy, losing Benson isn't the end of the world.