Merry Christmas: Orioles Surpise Fans With Gonzalez, Atkins Signings

Joe M.Correspondent IIDecember 19, 2009

ATLANTA - JUNE 26:  Pitcher Mike Gonzalez #51 of the Atlanta Braves against the Boston Red Sox at Turner Field on June 26, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last year at this time, if you remember, I bought into the falsified Tex to Baltimore rumors hook, line, and sinker.

In doing so, I wrote  "Who says you can't go home? Orioles expected to court Teixeira, Burnett" and "All Baltimore Orioles fans want for Christmas is for Mark Teixeira to come home" among others.

In the most exciting offseason since 2003, which netted Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmiero in Baltimore, the team was able to extend Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis in addition to signing Ty Wigginton, Cesar Iztris, and Koji Uehara as simple stop gaps that all failed to varying degrees. 

The latter three remind me of 2007 when the team failed miserably on a trio of expensive bullpen blunders: Jaime Walker, Chad Bradford, and Hideki Irabu-wannabe Danys Baez, who is mercifully gone despite an okay 2009.

In the end, he simply wasn't worth the $6.3 million they paid him each year. 

This is why Orioles fans like myself will grow to appreciate and understand just how vital former Braves reliever/closer Mike Gonzalez (pictured) will be to the team in a bullpen that desperately (always) needs depth and experience.

In addition, his ability to fill multiple roles, which is yet to be determined, is a valuable resource.

By paying him $6 million a year over two years, it appears they have signed him to close. With him in the ninth inning and Jim Johnson in the eighth, suddenly it could often be a seven inning game. 

They have the potential to be the next Alan Mills—Armando Benetiz combination, respectively, the last good tandem that saw the Orioles make the playoffs in 1996-1997.

Gonzalez, in particular, brings an excitement reminiscent of a Carlos Zambrano and hopefully his attitude and emotion is infectious on the team, in addition to his snake-charmer delivery. 

Finally, what Gonzalez does is reduce the pressure on the weaker aspects of the bullpen, namely Uehara and others whose roles and innings will not only be reduced. By pitching earlier in the game—fifth and sixth innings if not a quality start—the Orioles likely won't be asked to preserve the leads for nearly as long since greater quality is able to relieve them at the first sign of trouble toward the end of the game.

Should a lead be blown by one of the weaker arms, there will be more time to get it back since they will have already blown the same lead earlier in the game.

Bottom line, like de-facto "Ace" Kevin Millwood pushing each of the other starters back a spot in the rotation thus making their pitching opponent more on their level as opposed to last year's overmatched Jeremy Guthrie as example 1a, Gonzalez will do the same for the bullpen.

Milwood's presence cannot be understated, as not only is he coming off a solid 13-10 season with a misleading ERA of 3.67 (translation: that will be going up once away from Mike Maddux, the Rangers pitching coach), but his wins are about right for his ability.

We aren't talking the same garbage Sidney Ponson, Mark Hendrickson, Rick Helling veteran addition-disasters that were spun and sold to the fans as legitimate improvements when all in reality flopped. 

The Atkins move only works because for one, at least it fills a need and Atkins should be considered an upgrade over Ty Wigginton.

The money is about the same ($4 million versus $3 million for Wigginton), he's two years younger at age 30. At least the Orioles didn't do the alternative and promote from within when clearly their only viable option, Josh Bell formerly of the Padres, isn't ready.

On top of that, while his numbers are actually worse than the aging Melvin Mora, who put in years of service with his old club which shouldn't be discredited, his salary is half the cost of Mora's 2010 number would have been had the options not been declined. 

Considering Atkins put up .226 at the plate with nine homers and 48 RBI to Mora's .260, eight home runs, and 48 RBI, at half the cost, what's the risk?

At the very least you're getting a cheaper Mora—but O's fans will argue at the expense of Mora's glove.

They will also note the alarming decline in power numbers across the board at hitter friendly Coors Field or Atkins' home/road splits.

Again, Josh Bell wasn't ready so this is a sensible stopgap.

That's all it is—the Izturis of third base if you will.

It also shows the fans at least the O's are trying as he had other options in San Francisco and Minnesota as potential homes. The fact he chose here possibly finishing fourth over those situations should tell you something about he and Gonzalez' optimism.

Why the optimism? Because now the rotation can look like this hopefully:

Millwood: 12-14 wins

Bedard: 10-14 wins

Brad Bergesen at 7-5 3.43 ERA in 123 innings clearly is the most advanced and ready to only improve.

Thus he gets the spot here. You know what you're getting with Brad.

No more Daniel Cabrera or Rodrigo Lopez hoping and wishing.

Could be the next Mike Mussina with the only concern being he went down July 30 with an injury so he'll have to battle back.

12 wins?

With a higher ERA now that MLB has got used to him.

Brian Matusz: 5-2 4.63 ERA

Not bad when you're a rookie, a rookie pitching in the AL East , and an Orioles draft pick that not only worked out, especially pitching-wise, but also shot through the minor league system.

Only problem is with just 44 IP it's a small sample size but again, a long way from the Hendrickson/Helling/Cabrera days.

10-12 wins?

Chris Tillman: 2-5 5.40 ERA.

Gets dicey here as his numbers actually got worse the more hitters saw him, but as a fifth starter he'd be not only going against the weakest opposition in pitchers but he'd also skip a ton of starts.

He was 1-3 with a 7.40 ERA in five September starts, but the postives are he pitches deep into games—about 6 innings pitched per start, which is great especially as a 21-year-old.

10 wins would be nice but expect about a five ERA.

This is another observing year for the young stud from the Mariners deal.

As for the Matt Holliday rumors it's just like Traitor Tex, but it hard to understand why the O's would be, being used to push up the price for a team like the Red Sox who are rivals in geography only since money and competitiveness are no match.

After the Tex disaster, I'll believe this when I see it since I believe any money going to him should go to Bedard to solidify the rotation and also added to get another proven arm for the pen so Uehara don't have to get shelled when Tillman falters.

Finally, the Stillwater, O.K. native, Holliday, doesn't appear to have the ties that got the O's burned by Burnett and Tex. If they sign him apparently the plan is to outslug and outscore the opposition, regardless of pitching. 

By adding Milwood and Gonzalez, the team has already done more to address the pitching than last year's annual patchwork.

But it does look like even without Bedard and Holliday, the O's should have already jumped Toronto considering the loss of 17 game winner Roy Halladay and now have their sights set on third place and the Tampa Bay Rays—a big improvement in these parts.

Along with the annual hope of a .500 record and some long awaited respect. 

Statistics and information courtesy of and Jeff Zrbiec of the Baltimore Sun which were used to directly contribute to this article. 


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