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HitOrGetHit 01-13-2011 11:07 AM

Revamped O's infield has Lee's confidence

BALTIMORE -- He would hear about it from his agent, Mike Milchin. Or on ESPN's SportsCenter on the bottom scroll.

"[I would] go on their website," newest Oriole Derrek Lee said prior to signing with Baltimore. "I saw the guys they were signing, how they finished up. And I looked at their lineup and I saw what [manager Buck Showalter] did over there."

Lee -- who agreed to a one-year deal Thursday -- saw the potential in the 2011 Orioles, a team revamped by almost an entirely new infield, and one solidified with the veteran first baseman's signing.

"I think this team is confident," Lee said in an introductory conference call. "And I'm excited to be a part of that and maybe surprise some people."

The Orioles' offseason upgrades -- which have drawn positive reviews from several national media outlets -- started with the acquisition of third baseman Mark Reynolds from the D-backs, a trade that sent right-handers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to Arizona on the first day of December's Winter Meetings.

The O's also dealt a pair of Minor League arms to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility player Brendan Harris and re-signed former shortstop Cesar Izturis to a backup role. Second baseman Brian Roberts, the lone returnee among the four infielders, missed three-quarters of last season with a herniated disc in his lower back but is expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training.

"So far, so good," president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said of the organization's position-player upgrades. "But the most important factor is going to be the continued health and maturation of our young arms."

To that end, the Orioles have spent most of the winter trying to better support their young pitchers, upgrading their corner-infield spots offensively and keeping an eye on run reduction in signing defensive-minded players like Lee and Hardy.

While Reynolds -- who fills the position split last season between veteran Miguel Tejada and prospect Josh Bell -- has never been considered a great defender, he has been lauded for his work ethic and posted a career-best 1.7 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2010, saving nearly two runs compared with an average defender at the position. His true upside is his offense -- where the organization hopes Reynolds can develop into a consistent home run threat, particularly in the hitter-friendly Camden Yards, and help bolster a lineup ranked among the worst in the Majors for most of 2010.

Adding a pair of right-handed power bats in Reynolds and Lee should also beef up the Orioles' lineup against some of the southpaw-heavy American League East rotations. Reynolds is a career .257 hitter against left-handed starters, hitting 45 homers in 174 games, and has a career .252 average against lefties in four Major League seasons. Lee is a career .284 hitter against left-handed starters and hit .290 with seven homers in 51 games against them last season.

Despite a down year, Reynolds' 2010 numbers -- which included 32 homers and 85 RBIs -- would have led Baltimore in numerous offensive categories, including homers, RBIs, slugging percentage and runs scored. Lee is also coming off a down year -- he hit .260 with 19 homers and 80 RBIs last season -- but is confident he can return to form.

"I hear people say I'm old, I'm declining. I want to prove that theory wrong," Lee said. "I've had some pretty productive years. I feel like I'm kind of getting thrown by the wayside because of this one year, so yeah, I've got a chip on my shoulder, and I'm anxious to prove these people wrong."

A two-time All-Star and three-time National League Gold Glove Award winner, Lee is considered one of the better defenders in the game and -- assuming he stays healthy -- will present a significant upgrade at first base. The Orioles relied mostly on departed free agent Ty Wigginton, who posted a negative UZR at first base, but represented the club's best option among a group that included Garrett Atkins, Luke Scott, Rhyne Hughes, Scott Moore and Jake Fox.

While Izturis' defense -- he ranked second in AL fielding percentage (.985) last season -- was lauded by Showalter, his offense left much to be desired. Retaining the former Gold Glove Award winner and adding Hardy as the regular shortstop enhances the Orioles' lineup without sacrificing on the other end. Hardy is comparable to Izturis in the field and hit .268 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games last season. He was hampered by a right wrist injury that led to a drop in power numbers, an aspect of the game that Hardy is looking forward to getting back.

"There's no question in my mind that that's what I'm capable of," Hardy said, referring to his consecutive 20-plus homer seasons in 2007 and '08. "This last year, I felt like would have been a good year to do that.

"But I definitely believe that's the player I am and definitely capable of it. I'm kind of looking forward to having a year like that this year."

Added Harris: "When [Hardy is] healthy, he's one of more productive power-hitting shortstops in baseball."

The new infield solidifies Scott as the Orioles' designated hitter and gives Showalter -- who has been making mock lineups all winter -- a much-improved group to work with. While the O's manager has admittedly never been one to put too much stock in the ripple effect adding hitters has to the rest of the lineup, Showalter hopes the workmanlike approach of the new infielders becomes contagious.

"They are great players, but more importantly, they also have that want-to," Showalter said of player like Reynolds, Lee and Hardy. "These are guys that play through injuries and show up every day."


4584 01-13-2011 12:19 PM

I hope the O's get off to a good start this season :)

HitOrGetHit 01-13-2011 12:46 PM

I am hoping for the same thing. With Lee and Hardy in the infield, I think they should fair a little bit better.

4584 01-13-2011 02:40 PM

I've always liked the O's in large part because of the player in your signature :)

HitOrGetHit 01-13-2011 02:48 PM

Cal Ripken Jr was the man!

4584 01-13-2011 03:04 PM

He really was a class act :)

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