Again the Baltimore Orioles signed an elder statesman who has seen better days to a minor-league contract. And again ESPN's headline is that the until-recently overpaid player took a big pay cut. The Orioles signed B.J. Surhoff earlier today and now they have signed Rick Helling. ESPN/the AP reports that Helling will make $1 M if he makes the team, compared to $6.5 M in 2002.
Here's what the luckiest average pitcher in baseball had to say:
"I went into the offseason expecting to take a pay cut with the economy in general being the way it is and the new collective bargaining agreement in place,'" Helling said. "But I didn't expect it to be this drastic. It turned out to be a very tough market for a lot of veteran guys who are solid big-league players, but not superstars."
Not a superstar? Helling is exactly an average pitcher for his career. His ERA is exactly equal to the adjusted league average for his career (props to Baseball-reference.com). Helling is only 32 but is three years removed from his prime. And his prime wasn't too darn good.
Here's what Mike Flanagan, a very average pitcher himself (his ERA was the league average, too), had to say about his team signing Helling:
"He's made 30 or more starts the past five years. He's an innings eater, a guy who's won 20 games in the big leagues, and he's a guy who wanted to come here."
A) He won 20 games with a 4.41 ERA. B) Aren't 30 bad starts a bad thing whether they come from one player or from various players?
His career ERA is 4.72. That's not good. His lowest ERA in any season was 4.31. He gives up 1.5 home runs per game.
He has improved in one area though, walks. His strikeout-per-9-innings has remained pretty much in the low 6's. But his strikeout-to-walk ratio and his WHIP have improved over the last couple of years.
But Helling clearly, though unintentionally, indicts his own signing with the following comment:
""With the Yankees and Red Sox in the same division, noboby is going to say we're going to win the division. But hopefully we can surprise some people. From what I've read, the Orioles are still trying to pick up more offense for their lineup. Pitching is considered the strength of the team and that is always a good area to be strong."
The O's aren't going anywhere, so why sign these aging non-stars like Helling, Surhoff, and Deivi Cruz? They won't help the team win. They won't help them rebulid. And they won't get fannies in seats. I guess the O's just can't pass up these "bargains". Consider that signing Helling seems to destine Hentgen and Erickson for the bullpen, thereby denying two young pitchers a tryout that could help the O's build for the future.
Besides pitching is their strength? The Orioles had a 4.46 ERA last year, exactly the AL average. Perhaps being average on this team constitutes a strength, especially when your team was second to last in scoring in the league. Deivi Cruz is nearly the same player offensively as Bordick (both had OPS's in the .660s). Melvin Mora, not much better than an average player, was one of their offensive leaders (.742 OPS, 19 HRs) in 2002. He apparently has no job right now, but catcher Geronimo Gil and his .632 OPS do. By the way, the O's re-signed ever-subpar double bagger Jerry Hairston Jr. for one year at $1.55 M today.
The Orioles can thank their lucky stars for the existence of the Devil Rays or else they would be sitting at the bottom of the division all by themselves.