Baltimore Orioles, MLB mourn loss of Yordano Ventura

The Baltimore Orioles join the rest of Major League Baseball in mourning the death of the Kansas City Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura. His Jeep was found overturned yesterday in the Dominican Republic. Along with Ventura’s body was found that of former Pittsburgh Pirate, Andy Marte. Condolences to all who knew and loved them.

This is only the latest players killed in accidents over the past few years. It’s unclear if this is something that the league will address, or if there was any ort of substance abuse involved. Time will tell.

I want to be up front about the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Ventura’s style. He was a great pitcher, and a great talent. However he caused multiple incidents involving bench-clearing brawls after beaning people – including one here in Baltimore last year. It got to the point to where if you looked at Ventura wrong, you were in danger o being hit.

But that’s beside the point. Someone’s death, especially one in that manner for someone that young, is always a sad affair. I never met Yordano Ventura in person, and for all I know he was the nicest person in the world off the field. But again, even that’s irrelevant.

What is relevant is that he had a family that loved him, and who now lacks him for the rest of time. That’s an incredibly sad prospect. Again, condolences to all who knew and loved him.

Baltimore Orioles: More on Matt Wieters

As I’ve said before, I’m shocked that former Baltimore Orioles’ catcher, Matt Wieters, is still out there on the free agent market. If I were him, I’d be looking at my agent (Scott Boras) and wonder what the heck is goin on. There’s little doubt that if Boras wasn’t so stingy and stubborn at times, Wieters might already either be back with the Orioles or have a new team.

Incidentally, it’s probably to the Orioles’ credit that they found a new direction in Castillo and all but immediately moved on. I suspect that they wanted no part of Boras’ reindeer games, and knew that the only thing they stood to gain from being in whatever Wieters sweepstakes were going to be out there was next-to-nothing. Odds are the Orioles would have been leveraged to get more money out of other teams, and then they would haave been unceremoniously jilted at the altar.

Supposedly there are teams that are still interested – including the Orioles (according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick). Crasnick says that they’re a long shot, but they could do exactly what I said they might consider doing earlier in the off season: platooning Wieters and Castillo and then DHing him the rest of the time. It’s an idea for sure, and one that could incidentally yield the Birds a couple of prospects at the deadline as well.

But again, I really feel that Boras has really overplayed his hand on this one. Only he knows what kind of offers have been out there thus far, but needless to say I suspect that someone has made an offer on Wieters. I just don’t see him coming back to Baltimore, regardless of the role he might play. But stranger things have happened.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is surprisingly still available

This column is not me suggesting that the Baltimore Orioles need to or should re-sign Matt Wieters. With the catchers that the Birds have right now, that ship has sailed. However this column is me saying that I’m shocked that Wieters is still a free agent. Are teams really that afraid of a guy who had Tommy Johns a few years back?

Again, the Orioles don’t need a catcher. However there are plenty of teams who do – such as the team down the pike. Wieters was also apparently earmarked for Atlanta at one point, which is where he went to school. But even that hasn’t materialized. So again, what gives?

We’re talking about a guy who’s appeared on multiple all-star rosters, and who’s a true team leader. The only thing I can muster is that agent Scott Boras is either stubornly asking for too much money (still), or teams really do have questions about Wieters’ health. Or could it go deeper than that?

I would submit that the shelf-life of a catcher has gotten shorter and shorter. When the likes of SF’s Posey get hurt in the manner that he did, it makes teams think. Furthermore you have the Washington Nationals who literally sent Harper to the outfield – never allowing him to crouch behind the dish.

This is how the league ebbs and flows. Sports are very reactionary in the sense that if injuries happen to high-profile people, something will eventually be done to prevent them. And I get that, however…Wieters is probably the best catcher on the market. It’s shocking to me that he’s still out there.

So just for the sake of saying it – should the Orioles bring him back? I say no. They’re set at catcher, and in fact within the organization they’re deep at that position. We’re getting to the point to where prices will start to drop. So someone will get a bargain. My guess is that it’s Atlanta.

Baltimore Orioles re-sign Mark Trumbo

If you got a kick out of seeing Mark TrumboMark Trumbo in a Baltimore Orioles’ uniform last year, you’re in luck! As of late yesterday afternoon, the Birds agreed in principle to a deal that will keep the former free agent slugger in Baltimore. Pending a physical, Trumbo and the Orioles have a three-year deal in place, reportedly worth just below $40 million.

Speaking for myself, I think that’s a bargain. Trumbo was a huge factor in the Orioles’ offense last year, and he was going to be a tough act to follow. He still will be a tough act to follow – he’ll be taxed with replicating last year’s production.

Whether or not this was the right move for the Orioles remains to be seen. Many detractors point to his lack of defensive skills, although he actually had a fairly respectable year in the field. However the season he had at the plate would be tough to replicate.

Again, detractors will say that he’ll be going into the downside of his career and that it’s unrealistic to hope he can continue at that pace. However many of the same people wanted the Orioles to make a move. Well, they made a move. And personally I think it was the right move.

This signals that the Orioles are going to continually try to be competitive in 2017. They recognized that there would be a huge hole in their offense if they didn’t re-sign Trumbo or at least replace him. They went for him – and they got him.

Obviously the deal is pending a physical – so they still have to get over that hurdle. We all know the Orioles’ history with physicals, so it’s perhaps more than a mere formality. Having said that, we also know that more often than not the Orioles have tended to be right when it came to these physicals. But that’s a different story.

Trumbo is also a guy who fit into the Orioles’ clubhouse very well, so I’m sure that Buck and company are going to be happy to have him back from that perspective as well. Building a team isn’t easy, but the O’s took a big step yesterday in building their team moving into 2017.

Baltimore Orioles: A game for fathers and sons

Tim Raines of course is not going into the MLB Hall of Fame this coming summer as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Raines played for the Birds for four games at the very end of the 2001 season. And I mean the very end; as in the last four games of the year.

The Orioles consummated a trade with the Montreal Expos for cash considerations in the future to bring the future Hall of Famer to Baltimore – mainly so that he could play alongside his son, Tim Raines Jr., who was in his first season in professional baseball (with the Orioles). Junior patrolled center, while Senior hung out in left.

That was a publicity stunt for sure, however on this day we can truly say that another former Oriole is in the Hall of Fame. However Raines is obviously just another name who played for the Orioles – for a very short period. However it would be unfair to say that Raines was “an Oriole.”

At the time, I supported that “publicity stunt.” And I still do. Baseball is one of the only sports that can provide us with a moment like that. The odds of seeing a father and son playing on the same team in the NFL or in any other sport are pretty slim. At the time, Senior was 42 years old; for the most part, players in other sports don’t make it that far. There are always exceptions, such as George Blanda of the Oakland Raiders, and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets.

But also keep in mind that baseball is a sport which at it’s core begins with fathers and sons – having a catch in the backyard. And yes, as far along as the 1980’s when I grew up that was still the case. I think it still is now as well – although there’s no doubt that mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, and fathers and daughters have come a long way. However I would submit that there’s no greater example of that image of fathers and sons than the Orioles.

Orioles fans had the pleasure of watching the various Ripkens in various roles for so long. Cal Sr. of course was the architect of what we know as “The Oriole Way”…and we all know what his oldest son accoplished at the big league level as a player. Not to mention his “other son,” Billy.

So perhaps it was fitting that it was the Orioles who made that moment happening – father and son playing together in the same outfield. It was a moment that even the Ripkens never got to experience. (Although a father managing two of his sons at the big league level is pretty special – and something that’s only happened once, of course!) We hear the moniker “football is family” from the NFL a lot – and I agree in a sense. But perhaps that fits baseball a bit more so than it does football. At it’s core, this game is about fathers and sons.

Incidentally, I found this article in the archives of the Baltimore Sun. It’s from 1999, which is the year I graduated from high school – just to offer some perspective! However it details the forgotten Ripken brother, Fred. At the time, he was coaching his daughter’s softball team. I’ll be honest, I got a real kick out of the part where they talked about how he waves runners home similar to his Dad. At it’s core, this game is about fathers and…their children.

Baltimore Orioles: Should the Birds consider trading Manny Machado?

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment regarding the Baltimore Orioles and third baseman Manny Machado. Humor me, if you will. Should the Birds consider trading him?

The idea is out there, and it’s being discussed by fans across the board. Yes, I said by fans. There’s a prevailing sentiment that the Orioles won’t be able to sign Machado when the time comes. So they may as well trade him and get something for him – right?

However I would submit that’s akin to admitting defeat. In this case, it’s admitting defeat before you even start. How many people thought the Orioles were going to re-sign Davis last year? Remember that send-off at Camden Yards in the last game of 2015?

Point being, it came as a surprise when Davis finally re-signed. Obviously Machado is going to cost a pretty penny more than what Davis did. That’s about par for the course when you’re dealing with a would-be hall of famer like Machado.

Here’s my point; don’t just assume that Machado’s going to be gone before the time comes. So on that point, no the Orioles shouldn’t trade him. In fact I would submit that it would be foolish to do so. But apparently people on message boards know better than I.

Baltimore Orioles: Is Jose Bautista being used to negotiate with Trumbo?

The Baltimore Orioles’ aversion to signing Jose Bautista has been well-documented here, and elsewhere. Yet over the weekend there were reports that the Orioles had in fact been in contact with Bautista’s camp. Are the Orioles actually interested?

My view on this is well-documented. I think that Bautista’s history with some of the Orioles’ players is too much of an issue for them to be able to “welcome” him into the clubhouse as one of their own. Furthermore he’s 36 years old, and injury-prone. So with all of that being the case, I just don’t see him as a viable fit in Baltimore.

Up to this point, that appeared to be the case on the team’s side as well. It’s often tough to say when stories like this come about who put the rumor out there. It may well have been someone on Bautista’s side who started this “rumor” so as to generate interest for the free agent slugger. Or it could…have even been the Orioles.

Why would the Orioles do that? Well first off, I suppose it’s possible that there is some muted interest on the team’s side. You really never know. However keep one other thing in mind: Mark Trumbo is still out there on the free agent market.

Regardless of which team we’re talking about, does anyone out there actually think that Bautista would be a better bargain than Trumbo at this point? I don’t think that Trumbo brings the baggage Bautista does, and I think his potential for production is higher. Again, that’s an opinion on my part. You may disagree, and that’s okay.

But I wouldn’t put it past a team to claim to be flirting with another player (even one as potentially odious as Bautista) so as to pressure someone else into signing. Sometimes that’s the name of the game. The reason Trumbo is even on the Orioles at all is similar to that. They made the trade to get Trumbo in anticipation for the fact that Chris Davis might not have been back. Davis obviously saw that the Orioles had a contingency in place, and decided to sign. In some situations, that’s all it takes.

My personal opinion is that Bautista will stay in Toronto. Further reports have surfaced to that ends as well. Toronto is where he’s made his name, he’s a fan favorite, and he seems to fit in with the city and organization. Mind you, that’s also a fan base that throws open beers at players…

Baltimore Orioles: The ever-changing industry of sports

The Baltimore Orioles do a great job in my view with what’s now called the gameday experience. I’ve never met one person who’s attended a game at Camden Yards that’s come away saying that the Orioles really need to step up their game in terms of how the game is presented to the fans. And fortunately or unfortunately, in many cases that presentation is the game these days.

I say that because it used to be that people came to the ballpark to see the game itself. While in many cases that’s still true, it seems that people sometimes need an incentive here and there. How often do you find yourself looking at the promotional schedule so as to try to get to the park the day of a big giveaway?

At the end of the day, that’s part of the business of sports nowadays. As a purist in most sports, I feel like it would almost be refreshing to attend a game where the game was literally the attraction. No crab shuffle, no kiss cam, etc. Just a scoreboard filled with statistics for fans to read and analyze in between innings. To me, that’s how baseball should be.

But luckily for Orioles fans, I’m not in charge of that. I recognize that I’m in the minority on this, and a bare-bones presentation like that would probably drive fans away. And I also understand that teams are constantly looking for new ways to keep fans engaged throughout the game…

…over the weekend I attended a basketball game at George Mason University down in Fairfax, VA. Now as a Maryland fan I was there purely as a spectator with no real rooting interest. However while I’d prefer that not every timeout have a sponsorand so forth, I also recognize that it’s a revenue-generator. Furthermore perhaps it’s that revenue which allows the school to throw free t-shirts into the stands whenever the team hits a three-point shot and so forth.

Here’s one nice touch that you’ll never see at an MLB game or a professional sporting event at all: the game program was free. When I was a kid I’d buy a program at every game I attended. I have fond memories of gleefully reading the Washington Bullets’ game program from cover-to-cover the day after attending a game. Unfortunately for today’s youth, game programs are obsolete. And while the game program from the game I attended was small and short as compared to what I’m used to, I thought it was a nice touch to give it away for free.

Again, you’ll never see that at a professional game. In fact, the Washington Wizards don’t even sell game programs any longer. The fact that the Orioles still print one up and sell it means that people still buy them. However giving it away for free was a nice touch.

The fact is that sports is now entertainment in a way. Perhaps it always has been for all I know. So if you aren’t doing things such as shooting t-shirts into the stands, the crab shuffle, etc., people aren’t going to pay attention. In some circles is that sad? Yes, perhaps. But if the idea is to keep people in the stands, you have to do what you have to do.

Baltimore Orioles: Arbitration is a waste of time

The Baltimore Orioles currently have three players with whom they haven’t reached agreement on a salary for 2017: Kevin GausmanBrad Brach, and Caleb Joseph. The club and each player will set a date and time for an arbitration hearing at some point in the near future. Those hearings will in theory occur prior to the beginning of Grapefruit League play.

I say in theory, because in general the parties come to an agreement before the hearing. If that happens, the hearing is canceled. There are times that’s happened literally the morning of the arbitration hearing itself – it’s an ongoing process.

However I think it’s one that needs to stop. This is one area where sports such as the NFL do things much more efficiently than they’re done in MLB. I get the whole point of the big league clock starting on a player once he comes up from the minors and so forth – which is part of why arbitration exists. However can we not all agree that it’s a fruitless process?

In saying that, I’m suggesting that it causes unnecessary ill will at times. Think about it; the player of course goes to arbitration to argue that he’s worth the salary he’s proposing he should make. The team however is going there to argue against that view. Basically, they’re saying this guy isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.

So again, could that not cause ill will down the line? Let’s say you as the team win your arbitration hearing, which incidentally is how it usually goes across the board – especially with the Orioles. When it comes time to re-sign that player as his rookie contract is expiring, he may well remember that the team didn’t think he was all that. So maybe the cash didn’t flow at that time, but in order to keep that player it may have to do so down the line.

Would both teams and players not be better served by srapping that entire system and just signing contracts worth x-amount of dollars for x-number of years? Yes, that sounds very simplistic, and for the most part I’m not the most simplistic of guys. However in this case I think that would work better.

To say the least, it would take a bit of money out of the pockets of agents and lawyers. But hey, what do I know?! As I said, I expect these three Orioles to be signed well before their arbitration hearings. They’ll be on the team, it’s just unclear how much they’ll be making.

Baltimore Orioles: First month will be telling

The Baltimore Orioles and the rest of Major League Baseball operate on a schedule that’s heavy with division games at the beginning and end of the season. That’s why of late, teams have had the opportunity to come back and win divisions late in the year. Previously they would have been out, however having a division game-heavy slate in September gives teams opportunitites.

Throughout the month of April, the Orioles play against AL East teams for all but three games. (An interleague series in Cincinnatti.) They say that you can’t win a division in April; but you certainly can lose one. That will be true again this year.

I tell people all the time that the goals of an MLB season should come in phases. First off the goal should be to come out of spring training with no serious injuries. Then the goal should be to be competitive through the first half. At that point you can set your sights on either selling or getting into the post season. After that, it’s advancing in the playoffs – at which point you set your sights on the World Series.

Hand-in-hand with getting into the post season is winning the division. As the O’s found out last year, you really do want to do everything in your power to stay out of that Wild Card Game. And the first month of the season might well dictate if the Orioles are able to have a shot at doing that.

When you play a slate of games that heavy in your division, there will be some things that are figured out early. How will Oriole pitching stack up against AL East bats? Are the NY Yankees for real coming out of last season? Will Toronto fair with their new lineup?

Mind you, the post season picture won’t magically come forward on May 1st. However the first month of the season will give us an idea of whether or not the Birds might stand a chance in the American League East of 2017.