Results tagged ‘ Orioles ’

Kranitz to Brewers

Former Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz is back in the big leagues. The Brewers officially relieved Rick Peterson of his duties on Monday and didn’t waste any time naming Kranitz as his successor.

Kranitz was recently hired as the Minor League pitching coordinator for the Houston Astros, but obviously was able to leave for a spot in the big leagues again. The announcement was made per a team press release and includes this interesting fact: Kranitz pitched for five seasons in the Brewers’ farm system after being
selected by Milwaukee in the fourth round of the 1979 draft.

Talk about coming full circle. Good for Kranny.

Russell expected to be bench coach

The Orioles’ coaching staff is one step closer to completion, as a Major League source confirmed on Monday afternoon that the organization is expected to name former Pirates skipper John Russell bench coach.

Russell interviewed with O’s manager Buck Showalter over the weekend in Baltimore and has yet to agree contractually, but according to the source “all wheels are in motion” and as of Monday afternoon it looks to be nearly a done deal.  Russell is expected to speak with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail -who is in Orlando, Fla. for Tuesday’s general manager meetings – to hammer out details in the next few days.

Russell was named manager of the Pirates on November 5, 2007 but became one of three Major League managers dismissed a day after the 2010 season ended. He finished with a record of 186-299 in Pittsburgh and is still under contract through 2011, meaning that the Pirates will be responsible for paying the rest of his salary.

A former big-league catcher, Russell brings the Major League coaching experience Showalter wanted as well as the expertise to work with young O’s backstop Matt Wieters. Russell played part of 10 seasons in the Majors, including five with the Phillies, who selected him in the first-round of the ’82 Draft.

Following his playing days, Russell managed in the Minnesota Twins and Phillies Minor League systems before taking over the helm in Pittsburgh. He will be the fifth coach hired under new manager Buck Showalter, who will bring in Jim Presley (hitting coach), Mark Connor (pitching coach), Rick Adair (bullpen coach) and Wayne Kirby (first base/outfield).

The only remaining position to be filled on staff is that of third base coach, which could be done by retaining Gary Allenson or bringing in another external candidate. Whoever fills the role will likely have an infield background given that former leading candidate Juan Samuel -who was hired away by the Phillies – chose to decline the Orioles offer, leaving Showalter without a specific infield coach. 

Russell’s hiring is not official and both Showalter and MacPhail have declined to comment on the record until the entire 2011 staff is in place. Should Allenson not be on Showalter’s staff, he has been offered a position managing Triple-A Norfolk, which is where he started last season.

*Also, the Orioles have agreed to terms with Minor League free agent Mitch Atkins. A right-handed pitcher who spent time with the Cubs last season, Atkins will also get an invite to big league Spring Training.

Juan on what happened

Juan Samuel just had a conference call with the media and the subject of why he left Baltimore for Philly obviously came up. Here’s his response, courtesy of MLB.com’s Phillies reporter Todd Zolecki. If you missed it, the full story on Samuel’s departure is up here.

“I probably had about three conversations with Buck Showalter and Andy MacPhail,” Samuel said. “They wanted to see if I wanted to come back to the [third base] role I was before I took over the club and left the team. We talked about my role. But in the end things just didn’t come out the way I wanted them to be.

And then later here the Phillies came into the picture through my agent Rex Gary and things developed quickly. It was a decision I had to do, and my heart had a lot to do with it. And I think the right decision was made.

It was very unfortunate things didn’t work out with Baltimore, but we just couldn’t finish up the contract situation with Baltimore. And to be fair with the Orioles and everybody and Buck Showalter, I told them, time is crucial here for everybody and if they’re just going to continue to drag and we’re not going to get things done we’re just going to have to go our separate ways and give the Orioles time to find somebody if I didn’t come back. So time had a lot to do with it. And Philly came into the picture and it was a very good situation.”

A few tidbits

*Free agency brings about all sorts of rumors, with any scrap of info having the potential to become “big news”. The Orioles aren’t going to reveal who they are in on and who they aren’t. I know they’ve made some calls, both to former players turned free agents and options outside the organization. How active they are compared to other years or other organizations is impossible to say. But they are certainly throwing their name in there.  President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is close to the vest and always has been, so the potential of hearing “the Orioles have contacted player X” is less likely than with other clubs. I wouldn’t read too much into that.

*I wrote last night about Juan Samuel exploring other options outside of Baltimore, namely joining the Phillies staff as first-base coach. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki has more on that today on his blog including a quote from Samuel’s agent, Rex Gary. 

“We’ve been in touch with the Phillies, just very recently,” said Gary. “I don’t know where it’s going to go, but there’s obviously a position and Juan Samuel is still available. We’ll see. We’ve been in touch with other teams, too. But I will acknowledge that we have spoken with the Phillies.”

The Orioles have yet to agree contractually with Samuel, who is currently still in the Dominican Republic, and the feeling out of Baltimore is that he’s likely headed for Charlie Manuel’s staff. No offer is believed to have been extended by the Phillies yet.

*The O’s also have to fill a bench coach spot and although I’ve gotten a few emails about it, it won’t be Samuel. My guess is Showalter will go with someone experienced, and it could very well depend on who does (or doesn’t) get the two remaining managerial openings in New York and Pittsburgh. If Samuel does go to Philly, Gary Allenson has a chances to stay on Showalter’s staff as third base coach. He’s a former catcher, which is another plus since the O’s don’t have a staff member with specific catching expertise.

*If you missed it last night, ESPN.com has a story that Japanese middle infielder middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka could potentially be posted to MLB teams. Have the Orioles scouted him and would they be interested if he does become available? The answer to both questions is yes. But don’t get too excited as this is all in the infancy stages.

What about Juan?

Amid speculation that former Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel would stay in Baltimore and return to his third-base post, multiple sources confirmed on Monday night that Samuel’s future with the O’s is far from certain.

Samuel was not present at the Orioles mini-organizational meetings in Arizona that took place last week, and the sentiment is Samuel is leaning toward other options, which include joining Charlie Manuel’s staff as Phillies first-base coach. Samuel is one of several candidates being considered for the position vacated by Davey Lopes, and given his ties to the Phillies organization as a player — as well as his experience as an outfield/baserunning instructor – it makes sense.   

The Phillies have had conversations with Samuel, who is currently in the Dominican Republic, but no formal offer has been extended. A highly-respected baseball man, Samuel is a candidate to join several organizations as a coach, including the Mets, whose staff is still in a state of flux while they conduct a managerial search.

Following Brian Butterfield’s decision to stay in Toronto, Samuel was thought to be the Orioles leading candidate to return to his third base role, a position he held until manager Dave Trembley’s dismissal in June.

And while there is still a chance he ends up in Baltimore, the organization has yet to reach an agreement contractually with Samuel as they have with pitching coach Mark Connor, hitting coach Jim Presley, bullpen coach Rick Adair and first base coach Wayne Kirby.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail have both declined to comment on the coaching staff until it is complete and official. Showalter did acknowledge on Monday night that there are still some “moving parts” regarding his staff, which would be a third-base coach and a bench coach.

Welcome to the Offseason

The San Francisco Giants are World Series Champions. I’m not sure how I feel about that just yet. Anyways, as soon as the last pitch was recorded 142 players filed for free agency. Here are the Orioles names, including Mark Hendrickson who has a club option that will be declined.

Of the names, Cesar Izturis and Ty Wigginton have the best chance of coming back although that depends on where the O’s find that big power bat. Even so, the team is not expected to sign any of their free agents in the newly-shortened five-day window. That means come Sunday the free agent market will really get going with other clubs allowed to negotiate. Here are the former Orioles who will hit the market…..

Cesar Izturis, SS
Julio Lugo, 2B BA
Kevin Millwood, SP
Corey Patterson OF
Koji Uehara  RP
Ty Wigginton, INF

Mark Hendrickson, RP

First and foremost the Orioles need a power bat, preferably one who plays a corner infield spot. Here are the 2011 first base free agents, with their age, according to the wonderful website MLB Trade Rumors:

Garrett Atkins (31)
Lance Berkman (35) – Type B
Russell Branyan (35) – $5MM mutual option
Jorge Cantu (29)
Adam Dunn (31) – Type A
Troy Glaus (34)
Eric Hinske (33)
Aubrey Huff (34) – Type B
Nick Johnson (32)
Paul Konerko (35) – Type A
Mark Kotsay (35)
Adam LaRoche (31) – $7.5MM mutual option with a $1.5MM buyout -Type B
Derrek Lee (35) – Type A
Melvin Mora (39)
Xavier Nady (32)
Lyle Overbay (34)
Carlos Pena (33) – Type B
Robb Quinlan (34)
Fernando Tatis (36)
Mike Sweeney (37)

*First and foremost, not a lot of power jumps off on this list. It’s not the Orioles only option (we’ll spend time looking at third base and shortstop options as well), but it’s a pretty uninspiring group given that the O’s want a middle-of-the-order bat. Do you take a gamble of Pena, who had a career-low year and struggled to bat .200? I’ve been told that Adam Dunn has no interest in coming here –he also prefers to play the field–, and according to ESPNChicago.com, the Diamondbacks will make signing Konerko an “offseason priority”. Huff was dealt away once, I’d be shocked if president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail made a serious effort to bring him back.  Berkman and Johnson struggled with injuries and declining numbers.
 
*Wigginton is also on this list, but resigning him hardly feels like a free agent acquisition so I took him off. He’s always an option, especially given that manager Buck Showalter loves hard-nosed players like Wiggy. 

*You can also note the line through Garrett Atkins’ name. No, he’s not retiring, but the Orioles definitely won’t gamble on him again. Look for Atkins who said he is open to signing a Minor League deal, to go back to the National League and hope to revive his career much like a Pat Burrell case.

*This blog is by no means meant to be exhaustive, just thought I’d get the Hot Stove talk started. I’m working on an inbox for later this week, so feel free to send your Orioles offseason questions my way. The Orioles Free Agent preview will be up later on the site and should help get the discussions going. Should be an interesting winter…

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A note of Thanks

thanks.jpg

 

Yesterday officially marked the start of the offseason, and I want to thank you all for reading my stories, blogs and Tweets all year. I got a slew of appreciative comments both on Twitter and in emails, and wanted you to know I’m humbled by all the support in my rookie season on the Orioles beat. It wasn’t always pretty to watch on the field but you stuck around, gave your input and voiced your opinion and it made Orioles.com and this blog a better place. (For the site’s official thank you video, click here.)

So, what now? In case you missed it, I did a pair of stories for the site: one looks ahead while one goes back and details 2010. As I blogged earlier, the O’s have some free agents and will continue to evaluate what needs to be done in a critical offseason. For more on president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail’s thoughts you can check out my story here, or read some of the highlights in his interview with MLB.com in a blog post.

As one Orioles pitcher told me before leaving, no one had an 0.00 ERA.
There’s always room for improvement, so let me know what you think.

Finally, some answers to a few questions I’ve gotten regarding my role with Orioles.com. Yes, I’m returning for 2011 and spearheading offseason coverage. Winter Meetings, trade rumors and all Hot Stove stuff will be covered appropriately. Yes, the nonstop Tweets will continue. You can’t get rid of me that easy. I’ll also be doing features on the Orioles playing in the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Winter League and be catching up with some of the guys at home for the winter. 

Got a question about what the Orioles front office is looking to do this offseason? Or how a particular player factors into their future? Shoot me an email or a message on Twitter with your name and hometown. I’ll post the best ones with answers in an offseason inbox.

One more thing: I’ll be helping out with ALCS coverage for MLB.com, so my byline and blogs will have some non-Orioles coverage during that time. My guess is it will be Yankees-Rays, but the Twins wouldn’t surprise me either… 

Os Reax to Showalter hiring

With the news that Buck Showalter has been named the Orioles manager, here are some reactions from inside the clubhouse today.

KEVIN MILLWOOD (who played under Showalter in Texas and remains in close contact with him)

[on his reaction to the hiring] “It’s going to take a lot more than a manager to get a team going in the right direction. I think Buck’s going to do a good job for us, he’s done a good job every where he’s been. It’s just going to be coming down to the simple point of guys buying into what he preaches.”
 
[on Showalter's no nonsense approach] “I think cutting back on some nonsense wouldn’t be a bad thing. Maybe just new blood around here, maybe that will help. Obviously, something needs to change and I think  [interim manager Juan Samuel] did a good job, but sometimes you got to take someone from the outside coming in to really make the kind of change that they need.”

It will definitely be nice to know who is going to be here for however long, and not worried about whether he’s getting fired at the end of the season and in the offseason. This season you are going to end up with him and you are going to go into Spring Training with him and probably have him for a while after that. So, a little stability goes a long way.”

MATT WIETERS

[on his initial reaction to the hiring of Showalter] “We’ve been hearing about it a lot over the last month or so we were certainly aware that the situation might happen. It’s something that it doesn’t really matter who the manager is, the players are going to have to play better and we’re all going to have to pull together and play better as a team. Maybe this will give us a more continuous face at the head.

I’ve loved both managers [Dave Trembley and Samuel] that I’ve had since I’ve been here, but now that I know that this guy is going to probably be here for a while. I never met the guy so I’m definitely going to be coming in with eyes wide open and see what he’s all about. It will be good that you’ll have a manager that’s probably going to be here for a long time.”

[on what he's heard about Showalter]: “He goes into places and he commands respect and he’s going to sort of preach his ways and the places that he’s been, he’s been able to turn around some teams and be successful. Everybody in this clubhouse wants to turn things around.”

BRIAN ROBERTS

[on his reaction] “First and foremost, you feel bad for the guys that came before him. I think we still feel bad for Dave and Juan’s done a great job filling in. I think always, the guys that have been around for a while, and the ones that have been here, you hope that they have a chance. We know now that it’s going to be Buck. I’ve heard good things. I heard he’s very prepared and certainly his reputation over the years is very good. He’s managed winning teams. Hopefully, it will be something good for us.”

[on Buck bringing some changes to the organization] “I’m sure he’s going to change some things. I think every manager is a little bit different. I don’t know how much can be changed. I don’t think any of us really know that at this point. I guess Millwood could give us a little bit of an idea of what’s coming. I think it’s just going to be something that we’re going to have to experience and see where he takes us.

[on finally knowing what's going to happen] “Direction, I think stability is always a good thing. I don’t think any organization, any company wants to be in an unstable place. Hopefully, this will bring some stability and hopefully this will be something that will be a lasting decision, and it will maybe go even beyond that. I think it’s a good starting point. When he gets here on Tuesday, we’ll see where we’re at.”

NICK MARKAKIS

“With the situation we are in, it is nice to know that we are going to have a permanent solution as far as the manager goes. It’s been tough, Juan’s been doing a good job, but the organization feels that we needed to have a long-term manager. And I think for the team and the organization it’s the right decision.”

[on what he knows about Showalter] “Nothing, never met him.  You hear what you hear but you don’t know what you are going to get until he talks to us, Tuesday. And we will go from there.”

JEREMY GUTHRIE

“I really don’t know anything about Buck other than I’ve heard a few players say they enjoyed playing for him. He expects a lot of his players, pays attention to details. That’s about the extent I’ve heard of him as a manager. I’m eager to see his knowledge of the game, just watching baseball tonight and ESPN programs. He has a tremendous track record, it’s probably one of the things that was most appealing to us in our situation is a guy who has been there and had a ton of success in his career.”

[on possible changes coming with Showalter as manager] “Yes I think he’s definitely here to change things. It makes sense for them to bring in fresh perspective, bring in a different attitude, someone who hasn’t necessarily been part of the orioles but has seen what we have gone through the past years. And try that approach. In the four years I’ve been here that’s an approach we haven’t taken yet. I can’t speak for [president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail] but I’m sure that’s part of what went into the decision making to bring Buck on board.”

[on finally having a long-term manager in place] “It will certainly provide stability and give us a foundation to start building off. As it is it feels like maybe we’ve been building kind of on a temporary foundation. But now Buck will arrive next week and he will begin his project of getting this team back where it should be.”

What do you do?

I’m off this series in Toronto with a prior engagement, but I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and questions on Twitter –enough to make me check out the remnants of last night’s game via the box score.

The question is, what do you do with Brad Bergesen? Should you have left him in longer? Do you call up Zach Britton in his place? Do you let Britton continue to develop?

Like I said, I’m not with the team and I don’t play couch-GM nearly as good as my friend/colleague MASN’s Roch Kubatko. I’ll be back with the O’s for Kansas City on Thursday, and by then I’m sure we will know Bergy’s fate.

The thing is, I’m not sure what the right move is here. It’s hard to punish a guy who is far from alone in his struggles. Do you send all the young guys back to Norfolk? Or do you let them develop in what is essentially a lost season ? Do you weigh each particular case in terms of who can maybe work through their issues up here and who can’t?

I wasn’t covering the Orioles last year and only vaguely remember Brad Bergesen when I covered an Os-Yanks series. I’ve heard he was great, a pleasant surprise for Baltimore. I’ve seen flashes of it (like that game at Fenway Park), but for the most part Bergy’s been ineffective. Is it mental or mechanical? Is the League catching up to him?

I’m just as perplexed/astounded as most of you are. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, interim manager Juan Samuel and pitching coach Rick Kranitz. But I certainly wouldn’t want any of their jobs right about now.

I will say this: I’ve done a lot of talking, mostly off the record in the visitors’ clubhouse and on the road. The general consensus about the Os young arms is they’re talented but the expectations placed on them this spring were incredibly unrealistic.
 
“Everything had to go right for those guys to have a chance,” said one rival GM. “And everything has gone wrong.”

None of these guys are even 25 yet. And most of them have about a year of service time -Bergy’s a little more, Jake Arrieta’s a little less, etc.  Will they all be as good as hyped? Probably not. But they aren’t this bad, either.

If they were scattered about other organizations maybe they’d still be in the Minor leagues or be a fifth starter with far less expectation. Instead, they are all up here together, pitching in the AL East with the general consensus being that they are the “Calvary” that will restore the O’s to prominence.

This spring, I spoke with an opposing pitching coach who watched Chris Tillman throw a Grapefruit League game and marvel at the possibilities. “They’re talented,” he said of the O’s young arms. “But they’re still a couple years away.”

The problem with relying on growing the young arms is the O’s don’t have any veterans or journeyman pitchers in the organization, or at Norfolk, who can come up and serve as filler. 

Look at the Tides rotation, or most of their roster in general. It’s a youth movement. I acknowledge that they’re trying to restock their farm system and really build a nice young core, but I think the element of adding a sprinkling of veterans, especially at Norfolk, was incredibly overlooked. Even the guys who are older, so to speak, don’t have years of League experience.

I know several AL teams overpay their Minor League veterans when they’re free agents to get them to stay in the system. The benefits are two-fold : first, you get a solid backup option if your prospects aren’t ready and you need a guy to come up for a quick stint. Two, you get veterans who are generally in good spirits about the organization and willing to help foster a positive, learning atmosphere. You get enough of these guys –particularly those who have been in the bigs — and your Triple-A team also starts to win a lot more games than it loses. In the Triple-A International League the top three teams are the Yankees and Rays affiliates, with Cleveland’s Columbus squad leading the West division. I’m not saying winning in the Minor Leagues is everything, but it’s certainly something.
  
The O’s lack of these types of veterans has also handcuffed them to an extent. It’s hard to trade away Jeremy Guthrie when you can’t think of a guy to take that roster spot. I know Kevin Millwood has come under fire, but he’s usually good for at least six innings.

People are clamoring for Britton to come up, but is he ready? He’s only made a handful of starts since being promoted from Double-A. He’s a guy you don’t want to have to shuttle back-and-forth, like they’ve done (erroneously in my opinion) with guys like Tillman and Bergesen.

This was supposed to be the year they all stood on their feet, so to speak. But having no backup option in case they didn’t, no Plan B, was risky. And now, you’re seeing just how dangerous it is.

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Possible replacements for Gonzalez

Kam MickolioWith Mike Gonzalez officially on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to April 10), the Orioles will likely recall one of their final Spring Training cuts, Kam Mickolio, to fill the roster spot.

Mickolio was slowed the final week of Spring Training by a sore groin and was shipped out to Triple-A Norfolk in hopes that he would get healthy and get stretched out to go more than one inning.

Mickolio was praised this spring by manager Dave Trembley for his offseason regimen and early bullpen sessions, even going as far as to say a spot in the ‘pen was the tall, powerful right-hander’s to lose. But Mickolio’s success didn’t translate nearly as well into Grapefruit League games. He allowed two earned runs in 9 1/3 innings stretched over eight appearances, with his walk-to-strikeout ratio (7-10) a glaring statistic.

“I’m disappointed,” Mickolio said when he was sent down. “I’m mad at myself, mostly.
“[I'm mad] for all the hard work I put in this offseason, and the groin injury the last week of camp put me down.”

Now could be his chance to step up for an O’s bullpen in bad shape. Gonzalez was 0-2 with two blown saves and an 18.00 ERA in three games and never quite looked right this spring.  
Jim Johnson is currently Gonzalez’s understudy, so he’s the first guy to target, but no one in the Baltimore bullpen really projects as a closer. Johnson has allowed runs in two of his four appearances, as has sidearmer Cla Meredith. Koji Uehara could find himself in the mix for saves but he’s been on the DL (strained left hamstring) and has only just begun throwing bullpens.

Mickolio is a hard-throwing right-hander who projects to be a future closer. Listed at 6-foot-9, 255 pounds, he’s also a pretty imposing guy on the mound. The problem for him – like many big pitchers – is repeating his delivery, which in turn keeps his control in check. In three innings at Triple-A so far this season, Mickolio has walked four batters, allowed four hits and struck out five.

If the Orioles don’t call up Mickolio, there’s a chance Alberto Castillo gets the call. When asked if Johnson would assume the closer role, Trembley told reporters he would consider it.  Read: all other options are welcome.

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