Remaking a Team Through Free Agency
As wonderful a tool as free agency is for teams that need an extra piece, I usually think that it's a sham for teams like the Baltimore Orioles, or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, or the Kansas City Royals. Teams that are just not that close to having a competitive team in place aren't likely to benefit too much from the guys on the market - even if they make a splash and sign a player like a Miguel Tejada, as the Orioles did a few years ago. The reason is relatively simple: these teams have much, much more wrong with them than can be cured by a high-priced free agent superstar, or even a few moderately priced (no longer) average players. Developing prospects, working out beneficial trades, and retaining the talent that you develop is the best way for most bad teams to get out of their slump (e.g. Minnesota Twins).
But, if you're going to try to spend your way out of the bottom half of your division, maybe the way to do it is being demonstrated by the Baltimore Orioles. Indications are that the Orioles tried to sign Carlos Lee, which would have been a huge mistake in my mind, because it would have tied up significant amounts of money in an aging player who won't dramatically change the teams fortunes. But the Orioles lost out on Lee, and seem to have decided to invest that money in the team anyway - through middle relief.
Granted, the middle relief binge that the Orioles have been on started before Carlos Lee signed with the Astros. Nevertheless, it continues to grow, and I have to assume that the recent signings of Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Scott Williamson (to join the already signed Jaime Walker) would not have happened, or would have been dramatically complicated, by signing Lee.
Normally, I would ridicule a team for investing this much money in middle relief. But look at what the Orioles threw out there for a bullpen last year:
Chris Ray - 61 games / 2.73 ERA / 51-27 K-BB
Chris Britton - 52 games / 3.35 ERA / 41-17 K-BB
LaTroy Hawkins - 60 games / 4.48 ERA / 27-15 K-BB
Sendy Rleal - 42 games / 4.44 ERA / 19-23 K-BB
Todd Williams - 62 games / 4.74 ERA / 24-19 K-BB
Kurt Birkins - 35 games / 4.94 ERA / 27-16 K-BB
Bruce Chen - 40 games (12 starts) / 6.93 ERA / 70-35 K-BB
There were others, but none of them pitched over 30 games, so I'm not going to discuss them. The point is, the Orioles bullpen left something to be desired, finishing with a 5.27 team ERA out of the pen.
How does the new pen stack up? Well, removing LaTroy Hawkins (he's a free agent) and Chris Britton (traded to the Yankees) from consideration, the new bullpen should look something like this (first ERA number is last season, second is career)
Chris Ray - 2.73 (2.70)
Danys Baez - 4.53 (3.79)
Jaime Walker - 2.81 (3.95)
Scott Williamson - 5.72 (3.32)
Chad Bradford - 2.90 (3.40)
Sendy Rleal - 4.44 (4.44)
Kurt Birkins - 4.94 (4.94)
The Orioles are making three assumptions: they're assuming that Baez and Williamson will return to form (check out the departure from career ERA last year for Williamson, especially), and that Jaime Walker didn't have a fluke season last year for Detroit. But if you look at those career ERA's, you see the makings of a very solid relief corps that should significantly improve the Orioles chances of holding leads late in games and getting to closer Chris Ray.
If you're going to try to rebuild your team through free agency, totally making over one of the worst bullpens in the league is propably the best place to start. It gives the Orioles the most bang for their buck, because while this guys are getting more expensive, they're relatively affordable. I don't necessarily agree with the approach of spending your way to success, but this version of the Orioles plan makes a lot more sense to me than signing Carlos Lee would have.