You ain’t no Manny, Sammy!
On February 3rd, 2005, Sammy Sosa departed the Chicago Cubs from where he had remained for 13 years, and arrived in Baltimore to begin a new phase of his life. Sosa’s last two years had been contentious and the Chicago Cubs grew so desperate to trade Sosa that they traded him for what many view as a pittance, getting in return major-leaguer Jerry Hairston and minor leaguers Dave Crouthers and Mike Fontenot. The Chicago Cubs are also paying the Orioles $16.15 million dollars out of the $25 million owed to Sosa this year.
“I gave Chicago everything that I have. It was a beautiful experience for my wife and family. I had a great time in Chicago, but you have to move on. This is my new house, and I love it,” said Sosa at a press conference to announce his trade to Baltimore.
“I feel sad that it had to end the way that it did. Obviously, he made some mistakes late in the year. But he really deserves a better fate than has been cast upon him the last couple of months. It’s a good situation for Sammy, it’s a good situation for the Baltimore Orioles and it’s also something we feel is in our best interest,” said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who moved quickly to replace Sosa by signing former Colorado Rockie Jeromy Burnitz to a one year, five million contract.
Hendry also noted that Sosa is close to a milestone. “When he’s done, we’re going to talk about 600, maybe 700 home runs, and certainly a place in Cooperstown.” Sosa currently has 574 home-runs, in an era where 500 home-runs gets you near-automatic enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Sosa had an off-year by his standards, hitting .253 with a .332 OBP and 35 HRs while playing in 126 out of 162 games. Amid questions about his offensive decline, Sosa said that “a lot of people say my numbers are down, but I was out for almost 40 games and I hit 35 home runs. C’mon.” Considering that 63% of his home-runs were hit to left field and left-center field last year for the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Sosa is almost certain to raise his home-run total in Camden Yards, where left and left-center are shorter distances from home plate than in Wrigley Field.
Baltimore had tried unsuccessfully over the course of the off-season to attain a difference-maker. They tried and failed to entice Carl Pavano, Tim Hudson, Carlos Delgado, and Richie Sexson to come to Baltimore. They finally succeeded in getting someone who should help make the Oriole offense one of, if not the, best in baseball. Questions still abound about the pitching staff, but Baltimore is markedly improved from last season, when they finished in third place with 78 wins and 84 losses.
I love it. It’s a great trade for the Orioles. They got someone that will bash 40-45 home-runs for them for $8.5 million dollars and not only that, but got his $18 million dollar option for next year and the $19 million option for 2007 that would have kicked in if he was traded from the Cubs, voided! The Orioles are expected to sign Sosa to a two-year, $20 million dollar extension shortly, so Sosa gave up about $20 million dollars to come to Baltimore.
Now, the Orioles’ offense is all set. Now they need to fix their pitching, and to fix their pitching, they need to go after someone who can change the game, and who pitched beautifully in the first-half last year for the Yankees. Javier Vazquez. Vazquez is still young, and can stabilize a rotation that currently has Bruce Chen as their #5 starter. (Remember Bruce Chen? He pitched for the Red Sox for part of 2003.) Chen was a former Atlanta Brave, and he had been one of the best pitching prospects in the game but has not translated that to anything effective. Chen seemed to come around last year with the Orioles, starting seven games for a 3.02 ERA, but he’s a great risk. Having Vazquez would allow the Orioles to move each pitcher down one slot and bump Chen out, or at least give Daniel Cabrera some competition for the five-slot. The Orioles have other contenders for the five-spot currently, but none of them are great alternatives. If Javier Vazquez was an Oriole, the rotation would look like thus: Javier Vazquez, Sidney Ponson, Rodrigo Lopez, Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera. Is it among the best in the game? No. Is it a solid rotation? Yes, and coupled with the devastating Oriole bullpen, could carry the Orioles to contention.
Some people might think it weird that I, a Red Sox fan, could be rooting for the Orioles. The thing is that the Orioles are steeped in tradition, not only just tradition of being around, but of winning. They were in the playoffs last in 1997, and quite honestly, they got screwed out of a trip to the World Series by the Yankees, and Jeffrey Maier (when you check that link out, please note what #1 is and which fans voted was the 4Th worst call of all time). Not only that, but the Orioles can help knock the Yankees down a peg. I’m sure you’re all aware that the Orioles play the Red Sox impossibly hard, then roll over for the Yankees, which quite literally cost the Red Sox the division title in 2004. Well, I have a feeling the playing field is going to be a bit more level, which means that the Yankees will slip.