Mailbag: Is this the year Mora is traded?
Beat reporter Spencer Fordin answers Orioles fans' questions
Melvin Mora knocked in only 58 runs and hit .274 last season. Will they look to trade him for pitching or will they give him one more chance to start?
-- Jacob C., Richmond, Va.
Mora has a full no-trade clause, so it's highly unlikely that he'll be moved before his contract expires in 2009. The veteran is in full control of his future and has said several times that he wants to keep his family in Baltimore. That's probably not going to change between now and Spring Training, unless Mora gets a compelling reason to reconsider.
The veteran has struggled in his last two seasons, posting back-to-back years with statistics below his career averages in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Mora finished with an identical batting average (.274) in 2006 and '07 and tailed off considerably after the All-Star break last season, hitting just two home runs the rest of the way.
The two-time All-Star has had a fairly atypical career path, but he'll be 35 years old and three full seasons removed from his last slugging percentage over .500 when he reports for Spring Training. His contract gives him every reason to be secure, but if he doesn't start hitting, the Orioles may be forced to start considering all the options available to them.
Scott Moore, acquired from the Cubs last year in exchange for Steve Trachsel, could be a contigency plan. If Moore performs well in Spring Training or early in the year, Baltimore may consider moving Mora back to his super-utility role. The veteran has grown accustomed to third base and hasn't played the outfield since 2003, but it remains a remote possibility.
I've followed Aubrey Huff's career since he was with the Durham Bulls. What kind of future does he have with the Orioles?
-- Josh H., Chapel Hill, N.C.
Huff played to his career norms in 2007, starting slow and heating up as the year progressed. Huff batted .258 with a .294 on-base percentage and a .392 slugging mark before the All-Star break, then turned around to hit .309, reach base at a .398 clip and slug more than 100 points better (.508) than he had in the first half. Somewhere along the way, he also hit for the cycle.
The Orioles expected more production out of Huff, who went into 2007 with a four-season streak of 20 homers or more. His late-season surge brought most of his rate stats close to his career averages, though, which may camouflage how much he struggled at times. Baltimore may look to deal him this offseason, but he could be back at first base or designated hitter.
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Despite his declining power numbers, Huff could still play a big role in any Baltimore batting order -- especially with the uncertain status of fellow designated hitter Jay Gibbons, who had left shoulder surgery and is currently undergoing rehabilitation. Huff may even out-perform Kevin Millar, which could make it worthwhile for the Orioles to keep him and hope he has a rebound season.
What are the chances Billy Rowell spends time with the O's in 2008?
-- Dylan L., Croydon, Pa.
Those chances can be summarized in two words: Not good. Rowell, who just turned 19 in September, played all season for Class A Delmarva last year, which places him at least three rungs below the Major Leagues. He'll likely move to Class A Frederick in 2008, and if he thrives there, he could finish the season with Double-A Bowie.
Even with that timetable, Rowell would likely need additional time at Bowie and some seasoning at Triple-A Norfolk in 2009. He won't even be 21 until the end of the '09 season, so the Orioles don't see any reason to rush his development. Rowell may not see the Majors at all until 2010, and that would still be a normal progression through the Minors for someone his age.
Rowell struggled through injuries last season and didn't post huge numbers, but he didn't do anything to derail his progress. The former shortstop and current third baseman may eventually end up across the diamond at first, but Baltimore will let his glove make that decision over time. For now, he's unquestionably one of the team's best prospects.
Why do the Orioles still believe that Daniel Cabrera can be a standout pitcher? He hasn't shown anything except that he can walk people and give up a lot of runs.
-- Jeff W., Shippensburg, Pa.
Say whatever you want about Cabrera's control, but you can't deny that he has tantalizing physical gifts. The hulking right-hander cuts an imposing figure on the mound and can throw as hard as 98 mph, but he's yet to make significant progress as a starter in the big leagues. The Orioles still believe in him because he's still under contractual control.
They have no reason to simply give up on Cabrera, but his rope may be getting a little thinner with each passing year. He managed to make it through 200 innings for the first time last season, but that was the only positive in another erratic season. Cabrera remains a pitcher that's less than the sum of his physical parts for reasons that defy explanation.
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz will undoubtedly make Cabrera one of his pressing priorities in Spring Training, and the Orioles seem to be pencilling him in for a slot in the starting rotation. He could even end up being traded, but Baltimore has resisted several deals for Cabrera in the past and may not be able to get a fair price this winter.
Things are really wide open for the Orioles, who are moving in a new direction and may be tempted to cut ties to many of the team's galling disappointments. Nobody embodies those struggles more than Cabrera. People have always joked that he'll likely figure it out as soon as he gets traded out of Baltimore, and that punch line may turn into a prediction sometime soon.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.