Taking a closer look at the Wilson Betemit signing

The Orioles are getting some criticism for signing Wilson Betemit to a two-year contract. Not only is it a two-year deal, but there is a vesting option for the 2014 season. This for a player that has never been a season-long regular for any team and has never had more than 373 at-bats in any one season.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network wrote this late yesterday via Twitter:

lost in huge day is how wilson betemit gets $3.25M guaranteed for 2 w/ $3.2M vesting option for ‘14 w/ #o’s. #lotterywiner

I don’t know which other clubs were after Betemit and what they were offering but a two-year deal is surprising to me. Maybe the Orioles do, in fact, have to overpay for any free agents and that is what happened here.

I will say this: After a closer look at Betemit’s career stats, he could turn out to be a decent designated hitter and corner infield backup for the club, if that is the role they settle on for him. He was statistically much better last year than Vlad Guerrero and the Orioles got him for a fraction of Guerrero’s $8 million salary.

Betemit has a career OPS of .784 and that easily tops J.J Hardy and Adam Jones, both at .756, and Matt Wieters at .743. Jones has averaged a homer every 29.8 at-bats in his career and Betemit has hit one every 27.7 at-bats.

His career on-base percentage of .336 tops the percentage that any Oriole regular had last year, save for Nick Markakis, who was at .351. Dan Duquette said he wanted better OBP and this guy is an upgrade in that regard.

With batting stats so much better against right-handed pitching for the switch-hitting Betemit, you have to wonder if a DH platoon is coming for the Orioles. His career batting average is .277 with an on-base of .348 and OPS of .817 against right-handers while those numbers are .246/.299/.684 in his career against the lefties.

Over the last two years, Betemit has hit .298 with an OPS of .868 as a lefty batter with 54 extra-base hits in 433 at-bats.

Maybe Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, Matt Antonelli, Wieters and others could get some DH at-bats against the southpaws as the Orioles try to dramatically increase production with a platoon from the DH spot.

Could Betemit even be a leadoff hitter option? Well, he has a career average of .406 and OBP of .461 in the leadoff spot. But that is in just 76 career plate appearances at that spot. He has his most career at-bats hitting eighth followed by the sixth spot.

On another topic, plenty of fans have asked what the Orioles plan to do to get them excited and to sell tickets for the coming season. This after Prince Fielder agreed to a nine-year, $214 million dollar deal with Detroit.

Short of signing Albert Pujols or Fielder, was there a move out there that could really do that? Orioles fans got excited with the team’s finish to the 2010 season, when they went 34-23 and what it was about then and still is now, is pitching.

The Orioles starting pitching led the way then and when the 2011 Orioles began with a 6-1 record last April, there was more excitement. The Orioles scored more than five runs just once in those first seven games last year, but the team ERA then was 2.00.

The clear message here is that better pitching will lead to more wins. The Orioles were a midde-of-the-pack team in runs scored in the American League last year but a bottom feeder in pitching. They have tried to upgrade the pitching this offseason, but no, they didn’t add C.J. Wilson and probably won’t get Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt either.

The club still has plenty of hopes for its young pitchers and how they do continues to remain a big part of how the team will do in the future. If Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta take steps forward and if Wei-Yin Chen is a solid starter, this club could take a step forward - maybe a couple of them - in 2012.

The only way the Orioles are going to stem the tide of eroding attendance or to even begin to build it back up is to win.

Final note today about the great contract that Scott Boras secured for Fielder: Boras’ clients with the Orioles include Arrieta, Britton, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden and Wieters.

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