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Sosa? So-so

According to the latest reports (Baltimore Sun, Washington Post), Slammin' Sammy Sosa is about to bring his bat—and his baggage—to Baltimore. The Orioles have reached a tentative agreement with the Cubs that would send second baseman Jerry Hairston and two minor-leaguers, second baseman Mike Fontenot and right-hander Dave Crouthers, to Chicago in return for Sosa and $12 million, which would help cover the slugger's $17 million salary in 2005 and the $4.5 million buyout of his 2006 option (which would have been worth $18 million if activated). Sosa's unusual contract also has a $3.5 million severance award that the Cubs have agreed to pay. Sosa would waive his no-trade privilege and void the part of his contract that was to trigger his 2006 option in the event of a trade. In turn, his 2007 club option for $19 million also would become void. (Some sources suggested earlier in the week that relievers Jorge Julio and Kyle Farnsworth were in the mix as possible trade material, but the most recent reports did not include them in the deal.)

There are other hurdles to clear before the transaction becomes official, although none appears especially imposing. The cancellation of Sosa's 2006 and 2007 options would require the consent of the players association, and the commissioner's office would have to approve the deal because of the amount of money involved. And of course, all the traded players would have to pass physicals. So the deal cannot be finalized until sometime next week.

Cry “Havoc!”

My initial reaction to this trade was, “Say it ain't Sosa!” After all, Sosa's numbers have plunged for three straight years—starting in 2002, his OPS has gone from .993 to .911 to .849—and at age 36 he's not likely to rebound much, if at all. Last year his .253/.332/.517 performance was barely above average for a right fielder; his VORP of 30 ranked seventh among NL right fielders and tenth overall. Sosa appears to have reverted to his former hack-hungry ways after remarkably transforming himself into a patient on-base machine during the 1990s. And while he was one of the league's most durable players from 1997-2003, his health is now in question: he missed 36 games last year with injuries to his back (caused by a sneeze) and hip. He's no longer a good right fielder defensively; at this point in his career he's hardly better than Jay Gibbons with the glove. The corked bat incident of 2003 and recent problems with Cubs fans and manager Dusty Baker don't speak well for him either. In short, Sosa is simply not the all-world superstar he was as recently as 2002.

Also, if the deal goes through, the Orioles would be giving up some promising young talent. Hairston is a slick-fielding second baseman who hit well (.303/.378/.397) last year even as he was shuttled around the field defensively. Fontenot and Crouthers are two of the team's better minor-league players. They ranked #7 and #10 on Baseball America's list of the organization's top prospects and are close to being ready for the majors. Fontenot's bat has some serious punch; he was the club's 2003 Minor League Player of the Year at Double-A Bowie, and after a horrendous first half of 2004 at Triple-A Ottawa, he adjusted nicely in the second half to post respectable final numbers. Someday he could be as good as the Cubs' incumbent second baseman, Todd Walker. Crouthers, like Hairston an Illinois native, has the stuff to be a decent major-league pitcher; he struck out about a batter per inning at Bowie last year. At best, he could be a mid-rotation starter or a closer in the majors. A more conservative guess would place him as a middle reliever.

The bottom line: the Orioles will get Sosa for one year and $9.5 million (Sosa's $17M salary for 2005 plus the $4.5M option-year buyout minus the Cubs' $12M contribution), an excessive if not bank-breaking amount. But unlike a free-agent signing, which comes with no other costs except perhaps a future draft pick, this deal also requires the loss of a useful major-leaguer in Hairston and two prospects that could become valuable contributors in the next few years. The Orioles gave up a lot for one year of Sosa. It's possible that they could end up on the positive end of this trade, but they could also end up looking very bad if Sosa goes into the tank and the prospects play up to their potential.

In equal scale weighing delight and dole

But before you break out the sackcloth and ashes, consider the other side of the coin. Hairston will be a free agent after the 2006 season, and he doesn't hit for enough power to be an asset as a full-time outfielder. He was blocked at second base by the emerging Brian Roberts, and he has almost no experience in center field, where he was slated to compete with Luis Matos. Sending him back to his old haunts in the Chicago area wouldn't be a bad way to cut ties with him. Fontenot, who is 24 years old, and Crouthers, who is 25, were not the cream of the Orioles' crop. Rather, they fell into the category of surplus depth, the kind of players a team makes available for trade. Losing these three players would not be acutely painful because the Orioles were not counting on any of them to be major contributors in 2005.

And it must be said that although Sosa is a shadow of his former superstar self, he's still better than any outfielder the Orioles had last year. Moreover, because the team is committed to Sosa for only one year, it retains the financial flexibility to go back into the free-agent market next offseason or pursue another big name via trade. So if the worst-case scenario plays out—that is, if all the team gets for its trouble is to watch the decline and fall of Sammy Sosa—at least the O's will have the means to acquire another outfielder to replace him the following year. Even better, perhaps young Val Majewski, seasoned by a full year at Triple-A, will be ready to take over right field for Baltimore in 2006.

From a performance standpoint, Sosa could almost single-handedly fix the Orioles' lineup imbalance that left them so vulnerable against left-handed pitchers last year. For his career, Sosa has posted a sparkling .948 OPS against left-handers; over the last three seasons he has shown no slippage whatsoever in that area, compiling a 1.041 OPS versus lefties. And while his power numbers have gotten a boost from the friendly confines of sunny Wrigley Field, Sosa should find Baltimore a welcome place to hit as well. As Kerry Leibowitz showed in his recent exposition of Camden Yards's park factors, right-handed home run hitters have been aided significantly by the dimensions of the Orioles' ballpark in recent years.

There would be other benefits to having a former MVP and certain Hall of Famer such as Sosa in town. Despite his public-relations missteps over the last two seasons, Sosa remains an enormously charismatic and illustrious player. He revels in the spotlight and is popular with kids; in his best moments, he can be a theatrical crowd-pleaser. One of the iconic and heartwarming images of the days after the September 11 attacks was that of Sosa sprinting around Wrigley Field as he clutched a tiny American flag that rippled in the wind.

Sosa also is just 26 homers away from 600 for his career. That fact, combined with Rafael Palmeiro's likely attainment of his 3,000th hit this season, should give the Orioles' marketing department plenty of material with which to lure fans away from their new rivals in D.C.

The most optimistic outcome to this trade is that a happy and rejuvenated Sosa will hit like he did in 2003 or even 2002, catapulting the Orioles into playoff contention and packing the seats of Camden Yards in the process.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

More likely, though, Sosa will continue his decline and provide about league-average production while spending some time on the disabled list. In that case, Sosa would be a band-aid, not a cure.

With him in the lineup, the Orioles' offense should rank in the top half of the league in 2005. Their bullpen also appears to be deeper and stronger than last year's, at least on paper. But the club's chances of contending this year will depend mostly on the quality of its starting pitching. To be more specific, Sidney Ponson needs to bounce back, Rodrigo López must maintain his level of performance, and two or three of their young pitchers must take a major step forward. That's a lot of questions to be addressed in the rotation going into the season, but that's the nature of going with unproven youth (and in Ponson's case, a proven knucklehead). Sosa will put runs on the board with his bat, but he won't take very many runs away from opponents with his glove, and the Orioles need to do both next year to become serious contenders.

For now, the acquisition of Sosa will take some of the heat off of Baltimore's front office, which has repeatedly come up short this offseason in its pursuit of free agents. In the days after the Marlins outbid the Orioles for Carlos Delgado, the local and national press pilloried the O's for their failure to land any notable names this offseason. Oriole fans were feeling snakebit, and a few were getting downright mutinous. This move should assuage them temporarily, for having Sosa in the fold is measurably better than the status quo (i.e., sticking with the same group of outfielders as last year). Of course, having Carlos Beltrán or Adrián Beltré in hand would have been better still, but nothing can be done about that now.

In the long run, one over-the-hill star is not going to change the second-fiddle status of the organization, and no one on the Orioles should delude himself by thinking that Sosa is anything more than a salve for the open wound on the face of the team. Sosa may be a show unto himself, but people will pay to see him only so long as he proves that he can still provide the fireworks. And even if that happens, they won't come back unless those fireworks are accompanied by something worthy of celebrating: wins.

Correction: This article originally stated that Hairston would be eligible for free agency after the 2005 season. However, he will not be eligible until after the 2006 season. (More details: Hairston's first arbitration opportunity occurred when he qualified as a "Super Two" after the 2002 season, meaning that he was one of the few players with between two and three years of major-league service to qualify for arbitration that year. Therefore he will not accumulate more than six years of major-league service until mid-2006 at the earliest. Players become eligible for free agency after they have served the equivalent of at least six years on a major-league roster. For more information, consult the 2003-2006 collective bargaining agreement.)

Update (Feb. 1): Amended some of the financial figures of the deal per the latest AP report.

Comments (18)

Dear Baltimorians-

Welcome to 'The Sammy Show". You are going to get some great home runs, preceeded by a mini hop before the potential home run...as I stated...potential homerun! Last year many of the balls that left Sammy's bat didn't make it out of the yard, but ended up at the warning track?

The Homeruns will be solo shots and come during 7-0 blowuts of the Royals and Devil Rays! The Strikeouts will come in bunches against any good pitcher. 4 Strikeout games will become very common place and last year he started missing balls by FEET not inches. I am talking Wiffing by a Couple of FEET!

After he get hit in the head, he stood so far from the plate last year, I don't think he could hit a ball even with a perfect swing.

if you are need a bunt...ever...don't even think about it! STATS Inc. Sammy has Never Ever laid down a BUNT! EVER! He moves nobody over...ever!

In the field it is "Hopeless" he could be one of the worst fielders you will see in the Majors. Wait until you see him try and track a fly ball. If it is not hit right at him, you will see some crazy catches. Shockingly he actually made a bunch of these catches, but I think LUCK played a big part of that.

His arm might even be powerful, but I am not sure he has ever heard about the cut off man, as in his career I don't think he ever hit that guy! he sure is good though at hitting the fan sitting behind the third baseman.

He may workout as a team mate in Baltimore, as he will bring a boom box bigger than some peoples houses and crank Salsa music to a 11 on the decibel scale. Just to tell you that after the last game, his teammates took the bat rack to Sammys Boom Box and destroyed it...so how's that for clubhouse Chemistry.

Just so you know, I have been watching Sammy's steady decline since after the 1998 season...my season tickets are on the RF wall at Wrigley...and what it all comes down to is that Sammy might get you some HR's...but you are never going to WIN....Good Luck...Hope he found his needle he lost last year!


Well, first off, it's not "Baltimorians," it's "Baltimorons." Wait, that's not right either. Let's see... Baltimoreans. Yeah, that's it!

I have to say, we Oriole fans are not exactly thrilled to be inheriting your problem, but under the circumstances, a washed-up Sosa's better than nothing. Slightly.

I'm not sure whether your comments are worthy of a response, but I'll take them as ample warning of Sosa's considerable downside, which I'm sure we'll explore (and experience) much more in the coming year. However, to touch on a few obvious points: the Orioles did not acquire Sosa to watch him bunt, they probably aren't expecting great things from him defensively, and they'll swallow his strikeouts as long as he supplies the big bops.


Another thing I just noticed is how this trade addresses offensive deficiencies in the lineups of both clubs. The O's and the Cubs had nearly opposite problems on offense last year: the Orioles got on base pretty well, but didn't hit the long ball nearly often enough; the Cubs led the league in homers but finished back in the pack in OBP, so the impact of their homers was lessened. Hairston gives the Cubs a player who can get on base regularly, and Sosa gives the Orioles a hitter who can reach the fences. So there may be a conscious effort here by each club to achieve better offensive balance, even though it involves a tradeoff in both cases.

We didn't get Sammt to bunt either...but on occassion...like man on second...nobody out...game tied...8th inning...Any baseball fan with half a brain knows you want to move the guy over! Sure a HR would be nice, but your odds of moving the player over are much higher with a bunt or some contact...you won't see any of that!

Mr. BTW, your owner got a player to put somem people in the seats...and hit a few HR's againt terriblepitching....328...288...278...253...Guesswhat those are?

1 of every 3.5 AB's is a K!

Hey, the guy was great! He is now 36...or so he says...Sammy is about nothing more than Sammy! Winning Baseball and Sammy never have got along....have fun with him...Write me back at the end of the seaosn when Sammy hit's 37 HR...has 92 RBI...185 K's and Bats .265 and you end up in 4th! Wait until you see how far fromt he plate he stands!


BigFan, your opinion of Mr. Sosa is abundantly clear, and in fact I agree with a lot of what you've written. I might take issue with a point here or there, but don't take it personally; in general I'm just trying to advance the discussion.

I agree that there are rare occasions when it may make sense to bunt—for example, when scoring at least one run in a given inning is more important than scoring as many runs as possible. The situation you described above is one of those times. But I doubt that the Orioles are ever going to ask Sosa to bunt. They'll ask him to swing away, praying that he doesn't hit into a double play while hoping that he can advance the runner with a hit. In the larger picture, though, they hope that he'll produce lots of runs with extra-base hits so that the team will be ahead late in games and thus won't be bothered by his inability to bunt. Follow my logic?

I also acknowledge that since 2001, Sosa has been in a downward spiral from which he is unlikely to extricate himself. But he was still a league-average right fielder last year, and a league-average right fielder is something the Orioles lacked in 2004. The O's would gladly accept the 2005 numbers you suggested above for Sosa, which are optimistic in my opinion. Such numbers might not elevate the Orioles into a playoff spot, but they would help the team put some pressure on the Yankees and Red Sox, something that never really happened last year.

And I don't want to nitpick too much, but your implication that Sosa is somehow incompatible with winning baseball is just not true. You may have a point about his self-centeredness being detrimental to the team, but you seem to have overlooked that in Sosa's thirteen years on the North Side (1992-2004) the Cubs had six winning seasons, including a wild card berth in 1998 and a division championship in 2003. Sosa played a part in many Cubs victories over the years. Of course, he also contributed to some losses in that period. But most of the time he was part of the solution, not part of the problem. In other words, he is not the reason the Cubbies haven't been to the Series since... well, you know. (Oriole fans can empathize with the Steve Bartman episode. Back in '96, there was this kid named Jeffrey Maier...)

Obviously, at this late stage of his career Sosa's not going to contribute nearly as much as he used to with the bat. But the Orioles don't need him to be great because they have above-average performers at other positions. What they need is someone who can improve on the horrendous performance they got from their right fielders last year. And Sosa, even on his last legs, can provide that.


Why would anyone ever ask Sosa to bunt? That's a waste of his talent. Also, Sosa has been declining since 2001, not 1998. He was a far better player in 2001 than in 1998.

This is a very good trade for the Orioles and a terrible one for the Cubs. There's almost no risk for the O's, and lots of potential upside. I don't see what the Cubs get out of it. Fontenot and Crouthers are not prospects and there's very little chance they'll contribute at the ML level at this point. Hairston is decent, but already 29 and frequently injured.

I hated this trade at first just like everyone else out their who are O's fans, but this deal is just to good to pass up. The O's pay 9 million dollars for a player who hit 35 HRs and 80 RBIs in a bad year, compared to Sexson and Delgado who were going to make 13 million a year. Delgado has about 2 years left until he really declines and just hits over 40 HRs now and can't play a simple position of 1B that well. This offseason had to many jacked up prices for players and it was smart of the O's not to overpay for talent. No one knows what is in store for next offseason, but it can't get any worse then this year.


From a purely marketing standpoint, it's a terrific trade. Angelos is trying to compete for fans with a team moving 45 minutes away from Camden Yards. Sosa, despite his decline in numbers, despite the rumors of clubhouse disruption, is still one of the premier names in baseball -- BaseballReference.com has Sosa listed as the 6th most popular player of all-time (I know, I know -- stupid stat). The casual fan doesn't know beans about his OPS or his VORP; but they know Sosa hits the ball a country mile. The O's will have more butts in the seats this year, and that's a good thing, and I bet his jersey outsells the next most popular Oriole by 2 to 1. Is it so wrong to want a little baseball buzz in Bawlmore?! Now, let's all just say a prayer for the pitching staff....


Gotta agree with enrique. My wife is a life-long O's fanatic. Loves the team, understands the game but doesn't get into the deep stats analysis. Her reaction when I told her about picking up Sosa?


This will be good for the O's on many levels, hopefully some of them will be on the field.


Wow what a great site. i read the entire thing. We got a discussion going on at http://sportsjunkies.blogspot.com/
about Sosa. Please come by and post what you think!


I'm coming down in Enrique's corner-we didn't exactly mortgage the future away for Sosa, and the Cubs are kicking in some serious money to dump him. Besides, after the awful luck Jay Gibbons had last year, Sosa would really have to screw up to be worse. If nothing else, it's worth a one-year trial run.

My worry now is that the O's have traded one position logjam for another. We're finally free of the Roberts/Hairston debate, but now we've got Sosa moving Gibbons to first moving Palmeiro to DH. That's all fine and dandy, but what happens when Javy Lopez needs a day off? And what do you do if Walter Young heats up in Ottawa? I wouldn't want to be in Mazzilli's shoes...

Hey, at least people are excited now.

Big Fan:

How did that Sammy waiting for His Limo thing workout? or waiting until Wed to take his Physicals? One might think that a guy that just got traded primarily because he was such a pain in the ass, might step up and try to at least put in a good show, that he is a good guy?

If you don't believe what a jerk he is, GOOGLE this "Sammy Sosa Boombox Destroyed"....from what we understand it was like a GANG BANG on Sammy's Boom Box at the end of the season...His fellow players HATED the guy...They hated him because no matter what the situation called for, Sammy was swinging for a HR...no matter what!

Gosh, I can't wait to come back to this site in Sept, when Sammy has 155 K's 36 HR's and the O's are 15 out- and then someone can tell me how good he is



LOL...That's the type of guy who thinks Sammy is a good player...lucky for you guys!

And now he has to have a Press Conference to announce his arrival? Are you ready for the ultimate PrimaDonna?


Great site, tbw, I enjoyed your analysis and the good discussion it prompted.

I'm the eternal optimist when it comes to the O's, but I hated this deal when I first heard about it, mostly because of the baggage associated with Sosa, and secondly because of his performance decline.

But, as you pointed out, it seems the O's gave up very little for him -- Fontenot and Hairston were stuck behind Roberts and Crouthers seems unlikely to have been the homegrown ace the O's seem to think their farm system can produce. There's little risk here. Sosa, even a declining sosa, is better than what they had in RF, and if he's a problem or doesn't perform, they're not saddled with a multiyear deal.

If Sosa does perform, he can be a great asset to the O's offense and help put some much-needed butts in the seats at OPACY. The O's could then look at signing him to an extension, or maybe (I'd welcome your comments on this) shop him to a team in the playoff hunt should the O's fall out of contention.


My worry now is that the O's have traded one position logjam for another. We're finally free of the Roberts/Hairston debate, but now we've got Sosa moving Gibbons to first moving Palmeiro to DH. That's all fine and dandy, but what happens when Javy Lopez needs a day off? And what do you do if Walter Young heats up in Ottawa?

Let's see...when you have a lefty pitching, you sit Gibbons and/or Palmeiro down (since neither can hit lefties any better than Gil) and you put Javy at 1B or DH.

And you hope the Orioles realize that this would be the perfect time to offer BJ Surhoff the bench coach job he deserved about 5 years ago and call Walter up.


The reason for Sammy's steady decline? The same reason his helmet size has gone down the last three seasons and the pock-marked skin disappeared for a while---he had to quit using steroids because he was under suspicion when he refused to take a drug test in the off season. Why refuse if you had nothing to hide? It was after this that he felt he had to use the corked bat to keep up his homerun totals.

Every season the prima donna showed up two weeks late for spring training, and we he did grace the team with his presence, he walked through the locker room chanting "Sammy Sosa's in the house!" over and over. None of the other players seemed to be impressed with his act.

Let's see...how many homers does Sammy have to date this season? Since it is the only skill he is known for, one would would guess he would have at least six or seven. He has one! At this rate, he might break 25 this season (assuming he doesn't sneeze or get a blister on his big toe). Jeromy Burnitz, his replacement on the Cubs team, who is not making nearly the same salary, has cranked out at least six and has three times the RBI's.

And to those of you who admire him: remember, he is a proven cheater. As for true Cubs and baseball fans here in Chicago, we are all delighted that he is gone. Good luck, Baltimore.


OK, OK, he made a liar out of me yesterday. He now has 4 homeruns. And two came in his usual fashion---in a blowout. In clutch games, he fans. Pretty telling that he has four home runs and only nine RBIs. The guys batting in front of him are getting on, and, as usual, Sammy doesn't drive them in. When they are winning big (meaning the pitcher doesn't have good stuff), Sammy cranks out a few solo homers here and there. But a clutch player, he is not. That is why, even though is known solely as a slugger, Sammy is in the bottom half of the hitting stats on the team.


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