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November 9, 2006: Using the Value-Added Mazzone Factor

November 7, 2006

For the front office of a baseball team, October is like spring training. Mike Flanagan, Jim Duquette and the rest of the Orioles' brain trust are doing the equivalent of jumping jacks, stretches, bunting practice and throwing on the side.

None of it means anything. Yet, it means everything. 

For an Orioles front office that needs help luring free agents, one asset not often discussed is pitching coach Leo Mazzone.                 (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
Without the changes paying off in wins and losses last year, the Orioles font office improved the team in several key areas. Ramon Hernandez was a terrific surprise at the plate and just what the doctor ordered defensively. Corey Patterson was as terrific for the O's as he was disappointing for the Cubs -- the very definition of acquiring a huge upside for nothing. And Kris Benson? While only winning 11 games, Benson did throw 183 innings and gave the rotation a consistent, titular leader.

Okay, I know John Maine showed up big for the Mets in October, but the Orioles had to give up something to get rid of Jorge Julio.

In addition to those improvements, the O's saw plenty of upside in Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis. The team also saw Brian Roberts battle back from a horrific injury, won back Miguel Tejada and assured that "Mr. Mom", Melvin Mora, will be raising his kids in B-more. Throw in the continued improvement of Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and lock-down closer Chris Ray and the Orioles are still only looking at 75-78 wins.

That's why this particular front office's "spring training" takes on added significance. Sure, the O's need another big bat like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, and of course it would be awesome to land Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt or Daisuke Matsuzaka. However, as the Orioles' head men need to find out this offseason, there are less expensive ways to improve a team. Making offseason deals is like a marlin fishing contest, everyone is trying to catch the biggest fish.

For an Orioles front office that needs help luring free-agent fish, big or small, one asset not often discussed is pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Despite the dismal failure Russ Ortiz was in an Orioles uniform, his decision to come to Baltimore hinged on the past relationship he had with Mazzone -- and because he was having difficulty, he looked to Mazzone as someone who could help him right his career course.

And, who's to say Ortiz couldn't have done for the Orioles what Jeff Weaver did for St. Louis last summer after being released by the Angels. Sure, it's easy now to sneeze at that suggestion, having watched Ortiz struggle mightily in an Orioles uniform this year. But, what if Ortiz had somehow found the magic again, the way Dave Stewart had under Dave Duncan in Oakland?

More than likely, Mazzone isn't going to convince Schmidt (originally a Brave), Zito or Greg Maddux to choose Baltimore. But one significant free agent, Mark Mulder, who just went under the knife for rotator cuff surgery, has had his agent, Gregg Clifton, cite Mazzone's presence as something that could sway his client toward Charm City.

Of course, St. Louis may have a little something to say before it lets a guy with a 103-57 record leave town. The Cards have been very accommodating in signing pitchers to rehab before they pitch again (See Chris Carpenter, 2005 Cy Young Award Winner). 

There is a lesser known Cardinals free agent who has a prior relationship with Mazzone and who may be the perfect fit in Baltimore. His name is Jason Marquis, at one time a highly-regarded Braves prospect. The fact that he was traded doesn't imply Mazzone's perceptions of the pitcher since Marquis was part of the trade that brought J.D. Drew to Atlanta.

Marquis is 28 years old and is coming off a 14-16 season, in which the opposition had a .289 batting average, leaving Marquis with a 6.02 ERA. Marquis was so bad that he wasn't even on Tony LaRussa's and Dave Duncan's postseason roster. Still, he was good enough to accumulate 194 innings while winning 14 games for the eventual World Series champions.

Maybe Mazzone's added value could come by way of his reputation in luring one or two arms with lesser resumes and big upsides that he can work with in spring training.


One of the goals of PressBox is to positively affect the dynamics of the Baltimore sports scene. We have done that in one way with the ability of the Mt. Washington Tavern Community Beat to spread the word about community sports events around town.

Last week, PressBox had another opportunity to make an impact on the sports landscape with its Big Six Media Day. The Big Six is a new nickname for the local Division I basketball programs of UMBC, Coppin State, Morgan State, Loyola, Towson and Navy. The luncheon was held at McCormick & Schmick's in the Inner Harbor and included members of the local media as well as all 12 women's and men's coaches from the six schools.

While all these programs compete like gangbusters on the court and often recruit the same local players, it is only with a commonality of purpose that these schools' athletic directors and coaches can truly become a bigger six than they are today. 

Issue 1.29: November 9, 2006