Daily Jolt: Real Hope in Baltimore?

The Daily Jolt is a dose of baseball reality every weekday morning.

Why Brian Roberts and why now? The Orioles haven't had a winning season this millennium. Andy MacPhail is entering his second full season in control of the team's baseball operations. The five-year plan, it would seem, is still several seasons away from coming to fruition.

Baltimore handed Roberts a four-year, $40 million contract extension over the weekend. He is 31, and that question lingers. Why give Roberts $10 million a season when he figures to be on the down slope of his career before the O's are in any position to win?

Roberts is a fan favorite in Baltimore. Other than third baseman Melvin Mora, he is the longest tenured player on the team, and he has been one of the few star-caliber players in the Charm City during a decade of futility.

Of course, holding onto him because he has been a good soldier over the years or because the kids smile a little wider when he autographs their program is hardly a reason to spend that kind of money on him. Sentimentality at the expense of prudent business decisions can be the ruin of any baseball team.

But there's more to Roberts than his status as Mr. Congeniality at Camden Yards. Roberts is extremely underrated -- likely the product of toiling on a losing team for his entire major league career. He gets on base at a well above average clip, and is a threat to swipe a bag once he gets there. He has posted an on-base percentage above .375 in three of the last four seasons and has stolen 36 or more bases in each of the past three years. On top of that, he's a doubles machine, with 40-plus two-baggers in four of the last five years.

His Triple Crown numbers don't jump at you in the same way as Chase Utley's or Dustin Pedroia's, but Roberts is one of the better second baseman and leadoff hitters around.

Even those numbers alone aren't enough to justify such a hefty extension, especially for a player who was named in the Mitchell Report. Roberts needs to be around and be playing at a high level when the O's mount a real challenge against the rest of the AL East, or else he's best utilized as a trade asset.

Crazy as it sounds, Baltimore has a chance, albeit a somewhat remote one, to challenge the big boys in its division very soon. The offensive core is nearly in place. Nick Markakis is young and even more underrated than Roberts. Center fielder Adam Jones has a sky-high ceiling. Highly regarded prospect Matt Wieters could become the best offensive catcher in the game over the next season or two.

What the Orioles lack is pitching. Prospects like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta have high ceilings and could move quickly through the minor leagues. To top it all off, the O's have very little on the horizon at second base. Of course, they could dip into free agency and hope for a bargain like the one the Dodgers got with Orlando Hudson, but why change one of the few things that has worked in Baltimore this decade.

Roberts is one of the very best second baseman in the game and there is no obvious heir apparent waiting in the wings. The Orioles are going to need to keep drafting well over the next few seasons, and they are going to need a number of things to go just right to break through in the cutthroat AL East. There's no reason Roberts can't be a part of that. It's all a matter of how quickly things come together.

Daily Jolt: Real Hope in Baltimore? originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 23 Feb 2009 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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