Saturday, March 29, 2008

Orioles can't catch a break

Jay Gibbons 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Anti-Drug Policy was supposed to begin Monday. The same day that the Orioles are to open the 2008 season. A season that most pundits are saying will see the Orioles finish with more losses than wins for the 11th straight season.

Gibbons hit 26 homers as recently as 2005 and drove in 100 runs in 2003. Those type of numbers earned him a fair contract. One that is due to pay him $11.9 million over the remaining two years of the deal. But his numbers have dropped off dramatically in recent seasons. He's left the yard just 19 times in the last two seasons combined. He hit .230 and drove in 28 runs last season.

Now Gibbons' suspension has been delayed. Perhaps even cancelled. Part of the Major League and its players new tougher drug policy which they'd like to announce by the time Nationals Park opens on Sunday Night is for amnesty for all previous drug users. That would include Gibbons, and Kansas City outfielder Jose Guillen. But since the policy hasn't been officially enacted, MLB decided to put the suspension on hold.

That complicates matters for the Orioles. The Oriole brass was planning on using Gibbons spot on the roster to further evaluate Scott Moore during the season's opening days. Moore, a former first round pick of the Tigers, was picked up in a deal with the Cubs near the end of last season. He has some versality, and some pop in his bat. Both of which Gibbons seems to lack at the moment.

But now the Orioles much choose between the two.

Many figure that Gibbons will ultimately get the call. Afterall, they argue, the Orioles don't want to waste the $11.9 million they are paying Gibbons over the next two seasons. And they would still owe him whether he's with the team or not. Folks, the money is already wasted. Sure they can get something out of Gibbons the next two seasons. But it won't be much.

Something has changed. He's no longer the budding power hitter. Maybe it was all the money. Maybe it was his recent marriage. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the performance enhancing drugs that were enhancing his performance. Either way the performance is no longer enhanced.

So the Orioles are faced with a decision. And its not an easy one. They can pay Gibbons the 11.9 million and let him further clog up the lineup, and hope that maybe he returns to form. Or they can pay Moore an additional 770,000 (the MLB minimum over the next two years), while still paying Gibbons. Neither player is likely to perform at a level near 6 million a season.

The argument is out there that the move would cost them the money owed to Gibbons. Not true. Offering him that deal cost them that money. Getting rid of him only costs them the salary of his replacement. And of course the fear that Gibbons resurrects his career somewhere else, while you are still paying him.

The bottom line for me is that Moore is the most likely to perform. The 11.9 is already spent. The Orioles need to decide if Moore is going to outperform and be more productive than Gibbons. Then they need to decide if it's worth spending an additional league minimum salary (pocket change in the economy of baseball) over the next seasons and cut ties with Gibbons.

Maybe it isn't such a touch decision. So long, Jay Gibbons.

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