Mailbag: Is Roberts in long-term plans?
Beat reporter Spencer Fordin answers Orioles fans' questions
When the Orioles did not make a deal this past year involving Brian Roberts, was that a signal that the organization plans to keep him long term?
-- Mark B., South Portland, Maine
My guess would be the only thing the Orioles were signaling was that they didn't like the offers they got. Roberts was bandied about heavily last year, and several sources thought he was a sure thing to be dealt to the Cubs. Those talks started at the Winter Meetings and persisted until Spring Training, but Roberts remained an Oriole.
One year later, what's different? Well, Baltimore has added another year with a losing record, and Roberts has progressed one year closer to free agency. The Orioles have moved forward a bit with their rebuilding program, adding Adam Jones and the anticipation of Matt Wieters, who will likely be up with the parent club in short order.
Roberts, however, is another year older. The switch-hitter will play this season out at 31 years of age, and his next contract will likely take him through his 35th birthday. The Orioles still have to decide whether he can be the second baseman on their next contending team or whether it makes more sense to deal him for spare parts.
And in reality, that decision may hinge on whether Baltimore can sign a game-changing free agent. If the Orioles are able to ink Mark Teixeira, then Roberts may loom large in their near-future plans. But if he signs elsewhere, Baltimore may decide to follow through on the retooling and jettison Roberts to the highest paying contender.
When Teixeira said that he wants to be near home and wants to be on a team that has a chance to compete in the near future, why would he choose the Nationals over the Orioles?
-- Rick W., Pikesville, Md.
It's hard enough to explain why real people make real decisions, but let's honor Rick's hypothetical. Let's say that Teixeira does entertain an offer from Washington, and let's say he chooses it over a similar contract from the Orioles. What can we surmise from that signing, other than that it probably involves a huge dollar amount?
First of all, we'd probably guess that location really does mean something to Teixeria, who figures to be one of the most hotly pursued targets on the open market. The Severna Park, Md., native has said that it would be a pleasure to play close to home, and the Nationals would have that going for them almost as much as the Orioles.
Secondly, we'd likely guess that Teixeria believes the Nationals are closer to contention than the Orioles, a theory that may have as much to do with the team's division as anything else. Baltimore hasn't had a winning record in 11 seasons, and the American League East hasn't exactly been run by wallflowers over that span.
New York and Boston have been two of the best teams in baseball over the last decade, and there's no reason to believe that won't continue. Plus, now Tampa Bay is near the top of the heap. By contrast, four of the five teams in the National League East -- excluding the Nationals -- have made the playoffs in the last six seasons.
In short, Washington may not have as sound a talent base as Baltimore and may not have comparable prospects in the Minors, but the lay of the division land is much more forgiving. The Nationals will likely need fewer things to break right to contend in their division than the Orioles do -- or at least that's what Teixeira might think.
I keep hearing about the boost that the bullpen will get when Danys Baez comes back. Did we sign a new pitcher with that name? Or is everyone remembering a different pitcher than I am?
-- Kevin H., Westminster, Md.
Nope, our Baez is your Baez. Look, nobody's expecting Baez to come back and turn into Trevor Hoffman. But with a healthy arm, there's no reason to believe he can't be a productive reliever. The veteran is just four years removed from a berth on the All-Star team, and he's posted an ERA under 4.00 in four of his seven big league seasons.
If you discount his 2007 season -- a campaign characterized by his elbow injury and an attempt to struggle through it -- Baez has had an ERA at or below the league average in three of his last four years. And factor in his role: Baez isn't being asked to close out games or work the eighth inning, reducing the stress related to his outings.
If anything, the reports surrounding his return are optimistic by virtue of the alternatives. Baltimore used relievers like Randor Bierd, Rocky Cherry, Lance Cormier and Fernando Cabrera in the middle innings last year. And while Baez makes a far higher salary than any of those guys, he's also been more reliable throughout his career.
Frankly, if you're expecting Baez to come in and justify his salary by mowing down American League batters, you may be disappointed. But if you're looking for an experienced arm to complement the existing talent in the back end of the bullpen -- namely, Chris Ray, George Sherrill and Jim Johnson -- you could do worse than Baez.
If you had to pick one location, where do you think the future Spring Training home for the Orioles will be?
-- Sandy F., Yardley, Pa.
Before I answer this question, I must note that there is no correct answer. The Orioles have discussed their Spring Training future with several cities, not least of which is their current home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Baltimore has also explored moving to facilities in Sarasota, Fla., and Vero Beach, Fla., but nothing has been decided yet.
If I had to guess -- and I must caution all readers that this a preliminary guess at that -- I would think the Orioles will eventually decide to move to Sarasota after the 2009 exhibition season. Baltimore's Minor League facility is already anchored in that city, and moving the big league team there would make sense on a number of levels.
For one, the city is apparently open to the possibility of building a brand new stadium on the grounds of the existing facility. And secondly, most of the money for that renovation would come through a tourism tax instead of out of the team's coffers. Finally, Baltimore's spring travel schedule would be made far more manageable.
By contrast, Vero Beach appears to be promising renovations to its existing facility, and Fort Lauderdale has its options limited by the presence of an executive airport that borders the grounds of the stadium. If any expansion or changes were to be made -- and many are needed -- there would be some red tape to cut through.
There are probably a few spins left in this soap opera, and that's why the news has remained stagnant for the last few months. Baltimore continues to call Fort Lauderdale its spring home, but that era may be drawing to a close.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.