Since the signing of outfielder Vladimir Guerrero yesterday there's been a not-inconsiderable amount of (g)rumbling about the real losers of the Guerrero deal: Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. Twenty-four hours ago, one of these two men was likely the starting left-fielder for the Orioles out of Spring Training, and the other was the MLB roster's utility outfielder. With the arrival of Vlad, Luke Scott will be vacating the designated hitter position and moving into left, meaning one of those two is now the utility guy (likely Pie, because he can play center pretty well to spell Adam Jones and OPS around league average for that position with a bit of power) and one of them is starting in AAA Norfolk (condolences, Nolan).
The excellent SBNation blog Camden Chat has been one of the battlegrounds for this particular aspect of the debate (we're going to set aside the issue of money and how much we really should care, considering it's Peter Angelos's and it probably wasn't going to do anything useful for the franchise anyway), with the two sides lining up roughly as follows:
- The Vladimir Guerrero signing adds a marginal but fairly known number of wins to the Orioles offense and, though it negatively impacts the defense by forcing Luke Scott to play the field most days, is not going to hamstring the Orioles on or off the field. Reimold/Pie will still get ample opportunities to prove themselves, as they should considering their past performance.
- The Vladimir Guerrero signing deprives Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie of the opportunity to develop into Major League caliber starting outfielders by giving plate appearances to an aging veteran on a one-year deal who, barring a mid-season deal, does nothing to help the future of the Baltimore franchise in a year where the Orioles are not expected by any metric or analyst to contend.
Both sides have their merits. I fall in with the former of the two.
I say this despite being one of the biggest Felix Pie fans in the world and as someone who very much enjoyed watching Reimold play in 2009. Now that Vlad is on the team -- and again, putting aside his contract and the wisdom of signing him to it in the two-thousand and eleventh Year of Our Lord -- he is clearly the designated hitter until he proves otherwise by means of performance or injury, and Luke Scott is clearly the starting left-fielder until he proves otherwise by the same.
That's because Luke Scott and Vlad Guerrero have demonstrated they can start in the Major Leagues, and Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold have not.
By the time the season begins, Pie will be 26 years old and Reimold will be 27 and they will have accrued some 1418 Major League plate appearances between them. They are no longer prospects. Pie was a reclamation project from the Chicago Cubs, who rushed him into the majors and generally handled his development as poorly as they possibly could in any given situation. He made his first appearance in 2007; last year was the first time he ever broke 300 plate appearances in a season. As a Cub a certain amount of this was due to mishandling by their front office -- hey there, Andy -- but Pie has always had an issue staying healthy, and though durability isn't a traditional scouting tool, there's a good case that it should be. Pie was always a toolbox player with poor baseball instincts offset by his amazing measurables, but on the Major League level he's no longer physically outclassing the competition like he did in the minor leagues and even when he's healthy, the man just cannot get on base to save his career. His on-base percentage hovers a tick over .300 across his entire career -- .305 last year -- and his average maybe .020 below that most of the time. The theory is that he can salvage his numbers by slugging well, but his SLG% was .413 last year and even the .437 mark from the year before is dangerously low; you simply cannot credibly put a guy with a .720 to .760 OPS in left field and call him a Major League starter.
Now, you might be able to put him in center field, but that's been discussed before; there's a younger guy with higher upside, a better bat and more years left of team control there already, and he's proven he can stay healthy. Pie is probably better defensively in center -- UZR has good things to say about him both there and in left -- but he's a good defensive centerfielder, not an elite one. He doesn't have good ball instincts and still makes poor decisions when choosing his routes. At age 26, it's high time that we amateur scouts just accept that this is how Felix plays ball and move on. Jones-Pie-Markakis could be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, but the production that Scott-Jones-Markakis gives you (with Vlad as DH) is probably going to win more ballgames.
Pie, however, blows just about every other fourth outfielding option the Orioles have out of the water (I believe we employed the ghost of Joey Gathright for a time in that position last year). He can play all three outfield positions and he's a servicable Major League hitter. Lots of teams would love to have a guy with his numbers from last year on their bench and some of them would settle for him as their starter in center on Opening Day.
Which brings us to a man with all sorts of promise countermanded by one line:
That is what Nolan Reimold, allegedly healthy after an offseason of surgury and rehab and a full spring of baseball, did in the Major Leagues last year.
I don't care about context. I really don't. Nolan had a number of issues last year that affected his performance, some of which are relevant to baseball (playing through a torn Achilles tendon for the last half of the 2009 season) and some of which are not. But everyone had a number of issues last year that affected his performance. Everyone has a story. As far as I know, Reimold never made any excuses for his performance, and he certainly doesn't owe me or any other jackass on the internet an explanation for anything. But if for whatever reason Reimold wasn't fit to be playing baseball, then he shouldn't have been playing baseball. Otherwise, the numbers are the numbers.
And the numbers are not very good. In fact, the only positive thing about them is that they only came in 131 plate appearances and represent a very small sample size. His AAA line is a little better: .249/.364/.374 in 401 PA. His discipline is still there on both levels. But in 2010, he could not hit Major League pitching, and didn't fair too much better against minor league pitching. .249 is six points lower than he hit as a 24 year old in A ball seeing professional fastballs for the first time (incidentally, he OBP'd .379). It's thirty-five points lower than any full-season line he's put up since -- and this is forgiving the MLB plate appearances where he hit just above .200.
All this is to say that Nolan Reimold has a lot of work to do before the Orioles start making free agency signing decisions around him. He wasn't the club's starting left-fielder before Vlad signed. He wasn't even a lock to make the major league squad. He's entering his year 27 season essentially starting from scratch, and barring an unforseen injury he'll be doing so in AAA Norfolk, and that's how it should be. The temptation to slot him into left field for the Next Great Orioles Baseball Team at some point in the nebulous near-future is understandable, but should be resisted. Reimold first needs to demonstrate he still belongs on a major league team at all.
The general counter-argument to Vlad bumping one of these guys to the bench and the other to Norfolk is that they could get better, markedly better, and better enough that either man's emergence coupled with Adam Jones's progression might give the Orioles a top five outfield in baseball. That's a nice thought, and it's certainly a thing that could happen. But it's not something to shape your offseason around. When you can sign a guy like Vlad without dipping into the other parts of your budget -- and since this was a patented Angelos Move, it's safe to say they didn't -- and when the only thing you give up to get him is the opportunity cost on that $8 million (which is vanishingly small because again, not part of the pot to begin with), you sign him. The discussion about how that budget is set up is one for another day, and spoiler alert: it has the unhappy conclusion that the Orioles front office is what it is, and that the only solace of someone who wants a larger IFA and Latin American presence is to be found in the fact that your fandom is probably going to be able to outlast Peter Angelos's ownership of the club.
And I'm not sure this is even going to be an issue. I think Reimold and Pie will have more than enough opportunities to showcase themselves to MacPhail, Showalter, the other guys on the team and the fans, because I don't think that all three of Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee are going to be healthy the entire year. And two of those guys more than likely won't be back in 2012. Reimold and Pie will have their chances at redemption and careers in Baltimore, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It doesn't work out for most guys. The fact that they're in the mix is testament enough to their ability.
But this is all a side note to the real questions of what Vlad, Lee, Kevin Gregg, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy mean for Baltimore's long-term future, and whether or not Andrew MacPhail has lost his goddamn mind. I'll tackle those when I'm less preoccupied with hexing the Steelers' wideouts in preparation for tomorrow.