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Time to Assess the O's Off-Season Acquisitions

May 30, 2006
By Jason Goren, Mallory Rubin and Staci Wolfson

After the Orioles crashed in the 2005 season, the front office faced pressures from all sides to improve the product they put on the field. Watching the Orioles botch several mid-season trade talks and then later lose B.J. Ryan to the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore fans turned a skeptical eye toward the front office.

Now, two months into the season, fans can assess the Orioles’ key off-season acquisitions.

In 44 games this season, Ramon Hernandez has thrown out 18 runners and allowed only 14 stolen bases. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)

Ramon Hernandez
A free agent out of San Diego, the Orioles signed Hernandez to a four-year $27.5 million deal. Before getting injured last June, the veteran catcher was off to a hot start with a .349 batting average, five homeruns and 20 RBI.

Despite these stats, the Orioles picked up Hernandez for his defense, rather than his offense. He is praised for his ability to call a good game and for his aggressive arm, an asset that earned him the edge over Javy Lopez for the starting catcher role.

In 44 games this season, Hernandez has thrown out 18 runners and allowed only 14 stolen bases. To complement his defense, the slugger is batting .304 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. Two of those home runs came in the May 24 game against the Seattle Mariners, including a ninth-inning grand slam.

Corey Patterson
Patterson was acquired from the Chicago Cubs for two minor league players. With this move, the Orioles considered their outfield upgraded, making it younger and quicker.

Patterson was coming off of a rough 2005 in which he was sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a month to get back on track. The Orioles put their faith in the talent he showed in 2004, posting career highs of 24 home runs, 72 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

This season started slow for Patterson who saw minimal playing time, competing for a spot in the outfield against Jay Gibbons, Nick Markakis, Luis Matos, David Newhan and Jeff Conine. However, in 39 games Patterson has emerged as one of the most exciting Orioles with 5 home runs and 18 RBIs. He has also stolen 17 bases and has only gotten caught once.

Kris Benson
Since Benson was traded from the Mets to the Orioles for Jorge Julio and John Maine, he has stabilized a struggling pitching rotation. Benson has always been judged by his potential rather than his performance on the field. This is largely due to the fact that he was selected number one overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft. After breaking into the league in 1999 with the Pirates he was only able to amass a 57-61 career record before joining the Orioles.

Now, with a fresh start in Baltimore, Benson has opened the season going 6-4 with a 4.62 ERA. In 60.1 innings he has walked only 22 while striking out 31. So far this season Benson has become the man the Orioles hoped they would get from the Mets. He has recorded the Orioles’ only complete game as well with a win over the Washington Nationals on May 19.

LaTroy Hawkins
When the Orioles acquired right handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins in a December trade with the San Francisco Giants, the subtraction of left handed reliever Steve Kline gave fans as much reason to hope as did the arrival of Hawkins. Though Kline’s career ERA is more than a run lower than Hawkins’ (3.40 v. 4.76), Kline admitted after the trade that Baltimore was not a good fit for him.
General Manager Mike Flanagan thought Baltimore was a perfect fit for Hawkins, however. Though Hawkins was coming off a sub-par half-season with the Giants that included a 1-4 record, 4.10 ERA and five blown saves, the 11-year veteran had the kind of late-inning experience Flanagan wanted to add to the young and largely inexperienced bullpen.

As Chris Ray has excelled as the team’s closer, Hawkins has been able to fulfill the role Flanagan envisioned for him: right handed set-up man. So far, he has a 1-1 record with a 4.29 ERA, 6 BB and 10 SO. He has allowed 22 hits in 21 innings pitched.

Though his numbers are not spectacular and he has not been able to convert either of his two save opportunities, Hawkins has provided a consistent veteran presence in a bullpen that has been hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Kevin Millar and Jeff Conine
In order to make room on the 40-man roster when Millar and Conine were signed, power-hitting prospect Walter Young was placed on waivers and claimed by San Diego. The Orioles thought Millar and Conine would out-hit Young, who was unproven at the Major League level, despite his potential. With a low offensive output this season, it is unclear whether Millar and Conine have performed better than Young would have.

What is clear, however, is that the duo has provided a valuable veteran presence on a young team whose previously unquestioned clubhouse leader spent the off-season asking to be traded.

Millar and Conine fill the same roles on the team and the two have split time at first base. When not at first, Millar has acted as designated hitter and Conine has played one game at third base and 13 in the outfield. Unfortunately, the similarities include disappointing performances so far this season, with Millar hitting .224 with 3 home runs and 16 RBIs and Conine hitting .229 with 5 home runs and 16 RBIs, well below the .286 career batting averages that both possess.

John Halama
Since his call-up on April 8, Orioles reliever John Halama has gone 3-1 with a 4.76 ERA. In 22.2 innings, Halama has walked 10 while only striking out 9. Halama’s best outing this season came as an emergency starter when he went five innings allowing only two runs in a May 23 win against the Seattle Mariners. The game ended with a 14-4 Orioles rout, and one of the best performances by an Orioles starter this season.

Halama signed a minor league contract with the Orioles on January 31, and was invited to join the Orioles spring training roster. He went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the spring but was sent to Ottawa. He never pitched for the Lynx and was eventually called up in exchange for left handed reliever Eric Dubose.

Halama’s experience as well as the need for a lefty in the Orioles bullpen made the move a no-brainer. In his career, Halama has pitched with Houston, Seattle, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Boston and Washington. Before this season he had amassed a 53-47 record and a 4.60 ERA.

Issue 1.6: June 1, 2006