The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Dexter Fowler Spurns Orioles at the Altar, Returns to Chicago

This is an archived post from my prior blog, The Sprained Ankle. It was posted February 25, 2016.

After the Orioles culminated a wildly successful offseason by landing certified innings-eater Yovani Gallardo, I was ready to praise GM Dan Duquette.  The research was finished, as was my first paragraph.  But then, I got this text from my friend, a diehard Orioles fan:

What was he talking about?  I viewed Fowler as an excellent signing for Baltimore and was surprised that my normally stoic, calm friend was so incensed.  Then, I checked Twitter:

Wow.  Ctrl+A+Delete.  Fowler had shockingly pulled a DeAndre Jordan, spurning the Orioles to return to the Windy City. The ramifications of the move for both the Cubs and Orioles are widespread.  I’ll start with the Orioles, whose fans surely feel queasy after this unexpected gut punch.

Baltimore Orioles

After seemingly landing their coveted leadoff man and right fielder in one fell swoop, the Orioles are now forced to revert back to the drawing board.  Unfortunately, with Spring Training already well underway, the free agent market is desolate, rife with tumbleweeds and little else.  But there are still a few players available that can help Baltimore, even if the upgrades are more incremental by nature.

The first of these aforementioned players is Justin Morneau.  Morneau, who turns 35 in May, has suffered through concussion issues in recent years, but is still a good hitter when healthy.  Last year, in just 49 games, Morneau slashed his way to a vigorous .310/.363/.458 line.  Of course, this comes with a caveat that Morneau played home games at America’s greatest launch pad, Coors Field.  But still, adjusting for park and league effects, Morneau was 7% better than average as a hitter last season–albeit in only 182 plate appearances.  And in 2014, Morneau was 22% better than league average across 135 productive games.  Morneau’s power has dissipated since his heyday in Minnesota, but he would still become one of Baltimore’s best on-base threats.  Of course, health is a major concern.

Oriole Bird Crying Jordan Meme

The Oriole Bird expresses his feelings about Dexter Fowler’s decision.                        Photo (modified): Gary McCabe

 

Another free agent first base option is Pedro Alvarez, who is virtually a left-handed Mark Trumbo.  The Pirates, frustrated with Alvarez’s defensive inadequacy and propensity to strike out, decided to let Alvarez walk this offseason.  However, this is still a hitter with prodigious power, one who will send a baseball to the moon if the pitcher throws it in his wheelhouse.  While the Orioles would ideally like more of an on-base savant–rather than another boom-or-bust slugger–the thought of the potent Alvarez playing home games in Camden Yards may be too tantalizing to pass up.  Last year, Camden Yards was rated as the 2nd most conducive ballpark for home runs, and is especially favorable for left-handed hitters.  Put Alvarez, who has averaged 27.75 home runs over the past four seasons, in Baltimore for a full season and it would be surprising if he didn’t hit at least 30 bombs.

Now, of course, if Baltimore signs either player, the Orioles defense will suffer.  Mark Trumbo would likely shift from designated hitter to right field, a far-from-ideal proposition.  But in late February, beggars can’t be choosers, and the Orioles would be wise to pursue Morneau or Alvarez.  From my viewpoint, Baltimore should eschew signing Morneau due to his health issues and ink human powder keg Pedro Alvarez to a one-year deal.  This would leave Baltimore with a lineup looking something like this:

1) Hyun-Soo Kim LF (L)
2) Manny Machado 3B (R)
3) Chris Davis 1B (L)
4) Adam Jones CF (R)
5) Matt Wieters C (S)
6) Mark Trumbo RF (R)
7) Pedro Alvarez DH (L)
8) Jonathan Schoop 2B (R)
9) J.J. Hardy SS (R)

Despite lacking a prototypical leadoff hitter, this is a lineup that has the potential to go toe-to-toe with any American League team not located in Canada.  However, Alvarez’s paltry career splits of .203/.270/.332 versus left-handed pitchers demonstrate that he is much better suited for a platoon role.

Enter Marlon Byrd into the equation.  Despite qualifying for near-geriatric status at age 38, Byrd remains a very productive hitter against left-handers, hitting a formidable .271/.324/.496 against southpaws in 2015.  And like Alvarez, a team that signs Byrd will not have to surrender a draft selection.  So, here is my proposal for Baltimore: sign Alvarez AND Byrd–and platoon them.  Against left-handed pitchers, Baltimore’s lineup would look like this:

1) Hyun-Soo Kim LF (L)
2) Manny Machado 3B (R)
3) Chris Davis 1B (L)
4) Adam Jones CF (R)
5) Matt Wieters C (S)
6) Mark Trumbo DH (R)
7) Marlon Byrd RF (R)
8) Jonathan Schoop 2B (R)
9) J.J. Hardy SS (R)

Make no mistake about it, though.  Losing Fowler at the altar is a big blow for Baltimore.  Their defense will suffer and the team will have little recourse at the leadoff spot if Korean import Hyun-Soo Kim is unable to translate his gaudy numbers from the Korean Baseball League to the Major League level.  However, if GM Dan Duquette strikes quickly, he can still piece together a solid lineup from the remaining free agents.

Chicago Cubs

I mean, where do I begin?  The already-stacked Cubs somehow became even better today, and are now able to shift Jason Heyward back to right field, where he is more comfortable.  In addition, the move pushes Cuban sensation Jorge Soler to the bench, providing the Cubs with either a powerful bat off the bench or a valuable trade chip.  Their lineup is downright ludicrous.  Check it out:

1) Dexter Fowler CF (S)
2) Ben Zobrist 2B (S)
3) Anthony Rizzo 1B (L)
4) Kris Bryant 3B (R)
5) Kyle Schwarber LF (L)
6) Jason Heyward RF (L)
7) Miguel Montero C (L)
8) Pitcher
9) Addison Russell SS (R)

Goodness gracious.  If you’re a Cubs fan, now may be a good time to change your pants. While Chicago is firmly entrenched as the best team on paper, tread carefully before preordaining them as NL Central champions.  Many paper champions, including last year’s Nationals and the 2011 Red Sox, have thoroughly collapsed under the pressure–and the Cubs will be feeling the ire of their fans if things don’t go as planned.  The Cubs–armed with a heavy and balanced artillery of pitching, defense, power, and speed–are the clear team to beat as it stands now.  But let’s not coronate them just yet.

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