By Christopher Heun
Do we love Brian Roberts? Yes.
Does that mean he should not be traded? No.
Roberts has endeared himself to fans for his perennially dirty uniform, for his batting helmet that looks two sizes too big, and for his ear-to-ear grin that we all wish he had reason to flash more frequently. Often, he looks like a little kid out there on the diamond, wearing his glove on his head during the elaborate game of paddycake he plays with Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora after an O’s win.
We’ve watched Roberts grow up as an Oriole since breaking into the league in 1999, in the process becoming a solid leadoff hitter. He’s also active in many Baltimore charities; last year, he helped organize a $100,000 fund-raiser for the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, which is part of the reason he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award for community service.
“Brian Bob is the type of Yankee-killing gamer about whom you write haikus. And we have. Twice,” Camden Chat writes on Roberts’ page on baseball-reference.com. When sports bloggers compose poetry, you know it’s love.
Roberts’s biggest fan, though, just may be owner Peter Angelos, who allegedly blocked a trade that would have sent the second baseman and Hayden Penn to Atlanta for Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche, who hit 30 homers last year in just his third season in the big leagues and who could be just the big bopper that the Orioles have been missing for too long.
But how much will Angelos care for Roberts after the 2008 season, when the second baseman is a free agent and asks for $5 million a year?
LaRoche could turn out to be the next Glenn Davis, but I say that’s a trade the organization has to make, regardless of how we feel about Roberts. Landing a young, power-hitting first baseman is the one move this winter that would have dramatically improved the roster.
We’ve got all winter to ruminate over the seven new free agents GM Mike Flanagan did manage to get past his boss (with a total price tag of $72.8 million). The short answer is that while individually the players are barely above average, collectively they address the team’s glaring needs in the bullpen and the middle of the lineup. So the team will be marginally better in 2007. Adding LaRoche would have made a big difference.
But I would have traded Roberts anyway. He’s just not as good as we like to think. For the past two seasons, the most similar player to Roberts is Adam Kennedy. That’s right, Adam Kennedy. Placido Polanco has also posted similar stats. Would anyone be excited if Kennedy or Polanco was playing second base at Camden Yards? Giles, the player for whom Roberts would have been traded, has higher career slugging and on-base percentages than Roberts.
One of two things will happen to Roberts next season: Either he will fail, for the second year in a row, to repeat his All Star season of 2005, reinforcing the error in not trading him; or, to the joy of Orioles fans everywhere, he will duplicate his career high-water mark from 2005 of 18 homers and a .902 OPS, which while boosting the team’s offense in 2007, will only raise his price on the free agent market and increase the likelihood that the Orioles will not be able (or willing) to keep him.
There is an unfortunate precedent for this. See: Ryan, B.J. Before the 2005 season, instead of paying Ryan what he wanted to stay in Baltimore, the Orioles waited for him to leave, which he did the following winter, accepting a five-year, $47 million contract from the Blue Jays, considered a staggering sum at the time. Then the Orioles turned around and spent nearly the same amount, $41.5 million, on three above-average relievers – Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, and Danys Baez – the very next December to patch a porous bullpen. Imagine how much smarter Sam Perlozzo would have looked if he had Ryan and Chris Ray to pitch the 8th and 9th innings last season.
This is why Angelos doesn’t get it. Or should we blame Flanagan and his assistant, Jim Duquette? The key to building a winner is developing young talent and holding on to it – and being smart enough to appraise those players honestly without getting sentimental.
It may be that the Roberts of 2005 was an anomaly, that he is actually closer to average than we would like to admit, in which case it will be easier to replace him. If Brandon Fahey keeps drinking malted milks after school and manages to put on a few pounds, he won’t be so far from an adequate replacement.
If the Orioles aren’t going to trade Roberts, then they should sign him to a contract extension. But if there’s still a chance to swap him for LaRoche, then let’s go ahead and make a deal.