Early Hot Stove Thoughts.
I know the league championship series are just ending and it will be a while before anything remotely interesting really happens in the baseball free agent market, but I want to get this out there now, because I hope the FO sees this and heeds the wisdom. Yes, I think that much of myself.
This is only regarding the Baltimore Orioles. I am (as stated before) a self professed homer and care a great deal about "my" home teams. The Orioles have payroll flexibility and (according to the owner and FO) money to spend and plans to spend it. The problem is that the free agent pool is not overly impressive. And the Orioles have some major holes to fill. The bullpen is a big concern, but that is the case for too many teams. I am by no means belittling the need for a quality bullpen, even if I do think that pitchers are a little too coddled there is nothing that can be done about that now as it starts in the minor leagues. It is ingrained to treat pitchers with kid gloves (yet they teach 12 year olds how to throw curveballs when their underdeveloped elbows clearly are not designed to handle it. Look here and here for just two examples of this). But since the bullpen is an almost universal concern, at least in MLB, I am not going to focus much on it.
That leaves the Left Fielder/1st Baseman/#1 Starting Pitcher holes. It is pretty standard. The Orioles need a big bat in the middle of the line-up (really two), and a #1 pitcher at the front of the rotation. So what do they do?
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee are probably not coming to Baltimore. Soriano is going to at east TRY to get a team to sign him as a 2nd baseman (even if left field is a much better fit for him), and both of them are going to go to a "contender" (I hate the automatic exclusion of 2/3 of the teams in any given sport). The Orioles will have to overpay, and make it almost impossible to walk away from in order to sign either one of them (and there is a decent to good chance that even that won't even make them come here). That leaves David Newhan, who was, if not a big bat, a good catalyst for the offense when he was healthy. With him and Brian Roberts setting the table (and with Corey Patterson at the bottom of the order doing the same after the 1st at bat), Miguel Tejada and Gibbons and Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez (PLEASE sign a decent backup catcher and PLAY HIM) will be able to drive in some runs. For 1st base, I want them to commit Jay Gibbons there, and to re-sign Kevin Millar. I love Jeff Conine, but Millar is a better fit with the team and the attitude that the team needs. And when he was given regular play time he produced. So really, it is a battle of attrition in regards to position players. So what is left? Pitching. And I know EXACTLY who the Orioles need to sign.
I know that I am not the first to suggest that he should be brought back. Unlike some of the others, I have a reason besides sentiment and "sticking it to the Yankees" (look how well that worked out the last time we tried to sign someone just to beat the Yankees to the punch. Albert Belle anyone?). I'll tell you in 2 words why the Orioles need to go after and sign Mike Mussina. Rick. Sutcliffe.
In 1993 the Orioles were playing their first season at Camden Yards. They had some good young players and some solid veterans. In the rotation they had 3 young arms they thought very highly of. They were Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, and Arthur Rhodes. Jamie Moyer was around, but he wasn't thought of (by anyone in baseball) as anything more than a 3rd or 4th starter, and Fernando Valenzuela, who was another stopgap who was (if we are being brutally honest) signed more for name recognition than skills. But Rick Sutcliffe, he was brought in, more than anything else, to teach those young arms how to become pitchers. In the case of one of the three, it worked. Mussina was a good arm, but under the tutelage of Sutcliffe, he became a good pitcher. I know that 1 out of 3 doesn't sound like too much, but of the other two, one was a fireballer who threw the ball so straight that it might as well have been rolled down a pipe (McDonald), and the other one didn't have any real success until he was turned into a relief pitcher (Rhodes, who I am willing to bet would give a lot of credit to Sutcliffe too). If you look at those 3 arms, 2 were possibly viable major league starters, and of those 2, 1 made it and is a legitimate 1 or 2 in pretty much ANY rotation.
Now look at the 2006 Orioles starters. Erik Bedard already on his way to being a 2, and could be a 1 with the right guidance. Kris Benson is that tantalizing arm that has never reached its potential, but if he did, wow. Daniel Cabrera could be Johann Santana good if he harnessed his stuff. His Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn/Grandmama glasses seemed to give him a helping hand. A full offseason and spring training with Leo Mazzone will be helpful. Being able to sit next to a guy with 240 wins (239 to be precise) and ask him questions in the moment of the game would be invaluable. Adam Loewen is another big arm that could be a legitimate staff ace. Put Hayden Penn in the bullpen and let him learn from Mussina too. Look at this 5 man rotation...
And as for Mussina, it would be a chance to give back to the sport, and also, he could be the next Maddux. With his control and Mazzone's philosophy, he could win 22-24 games with a sub 3.00 ERA. Sound too lofty? Not to me. It really is win win for everyone.
I guess what I am saying is that even if the team HAS money, it doesn't need to spend it all right away. I look at how NBA teams will add bad contracts on purpose, just because they know that in 2 years there are 2 or 3 players that they could add that would make them contenders. Basically they are spending money in order to have money when it is worth it. They might have a good player under contract for 4 years, but the player they need is available in 2 years. Baseball doesn't work that way, but the analogy does work in the sense that it is okay to look 2 years ahead. I speak for myself, but I think I have the voice of the masses when I say that this town will tolerate a plan that needs more than one year to complete. We have tolerated 9 years of floundering. Just show us that you HAVE a plan and we will go with it. And here is my plan. Sign Mussina, sign him ASAP. Let him start working with the pitchers in the offseason. Overpay him if you have to. I am willing to bet that adding Mussina to the rotation is enough to lead the Orioles to .500, and once they are .500, the team is showing improvement. Once the team is showing improvement it will be easier to get the marquee free agent bat. It is building step by step.
My fear is that the FO and/or the owner (he who shan't be named) cannot see the forest for the trees. Nine straight losing seasons cannot be corrected in one off season. It is impossible. In that regards, this isn't the NBA. Baseball starts twice as many players and requires a much deeper bench, just due to the length of the season and the grinder that it puts the players through. So let this be an impassioned plea to the powers that be to think this through and make sound decisions. As fans, we have more than earned it.