Whats going on with Gibbons?
What are the team's long-term plans for Jay Gibbons? I have always appreciated his bat and defense as well as his ability to fight through injuries.
-- Jason S., Washington, D.C.
Baltimore signed Gibbons to a lucrative four-year contract extention last winter, which is the reason his name hasn't come up much this winter. Gibbons is signed through the 2009 season, which represents the first time the former Rule 5 Draft pick has had multi-year security. Now, he just needs to stay healthy and hit.
The Orioles expect Gibbons to line up as their designated hitter next year, but he'll get a chance in Spring Training to prove that he can play first base. If he can handle the job defensively, he may relegate Kevin Millar to DH duty. A more likely scenario has Gibbons starting at DH and occasionally spelling Millar and both corner outfielders.
Aubrey Huff's signing crowded the picture at both first base and left field, but it also allows Gibbons to bat lower in the lineup. The veteran will likely hit sixth and protect catcher Ramon Hernandez, who led the Orioles in home runs last year. Gibbons just has to bounce back from another injury-marred season, and he'll have plenty of support.
Gibbons has played in 100 games or less in three of his six seasons, and he's only reached the 500 at-bat mark once. The O's hope to keep him healthy by keeping him out of the field on a regular basis, but he's hurt himself before just by swinging the bat. In fact, that may be why Baltimore sought redundancy at first base and the corner outfield.
Why is Corey Patterson hitting sixth or seventh when he was in the top 10 in steals? He should be hitting first.
-- Brian H., Columbia, Md.
And somewhere, a sabermetrician is screaming at his screen. Patterson bats at the bottom of the lineup because of his on-base percentage, which has been below the league average every year of his career. The left-handed hitter makes his living by being an outstanding defender with base-stealing ability and a smattering of power.
The old saw says, 'You can't steal first base,' and rarely has that been more true than with Patterson. The center fielder will go through long funks in his offensive game which keep him off the basepaths and give his steals a streaky quality. To wit, Patterson stole 30 bases in the first half last season and just 15 after the All-Star break.
Part of that drought was due to a shoulder injury that sapped his playing time, but part of it was due to twin sub-.300 on-base-percentage performances in July and August. Patterson enjoyed a modest bounce-back season last year and proved that he deserves a starting job, but he'll never be the superstar people predicted unless he becomes more consistent and more patient.
Assuming that five bullpen slots are taken by Scott Williamson, Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Chris Ray, who do you think will get the last one or two spots?
-- Brad S., Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
My opinion on this subject may change three times between now and Spring Training, but for now, I'm leaning toward Hayden Penn and Todd Williams. Penn could use a low-impact big-league role that will allow him to get over his big-league hiccups, and as noted last week, he's perfectly suited to fill in as a long reliever and swingman.
Williams has big-league experience and can serve in a variety of roles, which could make him valuable to the Orioles. Baltimore may decide it needs a second left-handed pitcher, which would endanger Williams' spot on the team. If the O's do decide to go with another southpaw, rookies Kurt Birkins and Brian Burres might both have a shot.
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