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Why Garrett Atkins Makes Sense for the Baltimore Orioles

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Why Garrett Atkins Makes Sense for the Baltimore Orioles
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On Monday, I profiled some of the potential landing spots for Garrett Atkins, who was non-tendered by the Rockies.

I expected the Orioles to be one of the main suitors for Atkins' services given their need for a third baseman and a power hitter. As I wrote at the time:

The Orioles are yet another team that needs a third baseman. Atkins would instantly become one of the top right-handed power hitters in the Orioles' lineup and give the O's more balance. If the Orioles are serious about bringing more talent on board, then Atkins would be a good option for them to explore.

So it came as no surprise to me that the Orioles and Atkins came to terms yesterday on a one-year deal. As Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly noted:

Atkins, 30, was non-tendered by the Colorado Rockies on Saturday and immediately became a fairly hot target, drawing interest from 10 or more teams, according to his agent, Jeff Blanks.

He intrigues the Orioles because he can play both first and third base, and the club has openings at each spot—at least until minor league prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell are deemed ready.

But what most interests the Orioles about Atkins is his right-handed power bat, something the club sorely lacked in 2009. Atkins had a down year last season, hitting nine home runs with 48 RBI and a .226 average while playing half his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. He temporarily lost his starting job and registered just 354 at-bats, the first time since 2004 he didn't have at least 500 at-bats.

While I doubt anyone expects the Orioles to compete for a playoff spot in 2010, I like this move for the Orioles for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Atkins has a large upside that could give the Orioles lineup a needed boost and help surround the Orioles' young hitters with a productive right-handed power hitter. It's about time that Orioles fans see some improvement out of their team, and if Atkins is a force offensively, then the Orioles should be on the right path towards improvement.

Also, because the commitment to Atkins is so short, the risk involved in this deal is minimal for the Orioles. If Atkins produces, then the Orioles have the option of trading him for prospects at the trading deadline or holding him in return for draft picks once the season ends.

If Atkins does indeed flounder with the Orioles, then it will be a sunk cost for GM Andy MacPhail, but the deal will have zero impact on the Orioles' future and the team's ability to spend money on players.

In addition, much has been made about Atkins' defensive problems, which might have been overblown to some degree. Sure, Atkins has never been a good defensive player, but over the past few seasons, his defense has improved from -14.6 UZR in 2007 to -0.7 UZR in 2009. The Orioles did not sign Atkins for his glove, but if he can keep on improving his defensive game, then I'm sure the Orioles would be pleased.

The risk for the Orioles in this deal is that Atkins has been a far more productive hitter at Coors Field throughout his career, and his offensive numbers have been declining in each of the past three years.

While this deal is not guaranteed to work out, it does have a high degree of upside for both sides in that Atkins will get the chance to play every day and the Orioles will be adding a potentially potent bat to the heart of their lineup who is nothing more than a stopgap. If Atkins can hit .275 with 20 to 25 home runs, then this deal would work out swimmingly for both sides.

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