- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
From a team aspect, I like the Vladimir Guerrero signing for the Baltimore Orioles. While he doesn't bring much upside at his age and level of mobility, and I seriously doubt he'll match his 2010 performance, as colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft noted over the weekend, his addition is an upgrade for the team. Let's just say I wasn't all that excited about the projected Felix Pie-Nolan Reimold platoon in left field. I doubt opposing pitchers were scared as well.
The Orioles continue to remake one of baseball's lousiest lineups, and Guerrero's presence and ability to smack southpaw pitching shouldn't hurt. They've made major offseason news by adding other names to their regurgitated Baltimore infield as well. Derrek Lee might not be capable of 25 home runs and 100 RBIs anymore -- he has accomplished these numbers just once since 2005 -- but I can see him coming close, being helpful for fantasy owners. Mark Reynolds was a top-10 fantasy option in 2009, and I wouldn't call him done at age 27, especially if he can hit .240 (baby steps, folks). And shortstop J.J. Hardy, for all the warts of the past two seasons, did hit 50 home runs combined in 2007 and 2008. He's certainly a 20-homer threat.
Then there's the only returning infield batsman, the once-coveted Brian Roberts. If the Orioles are going to feature a half-decent offense this season, then it's going to be all about the team's leadoff hitter and second baseman. Roberts was a clear top-five second baseman in 2009, and despite concerns about him missing the first month last season because of back problems he still wound up fifth at his position in ESPN average live drafts, and 41st overall. By now you know that Roberts missed far more than a month; he played in a mere 59 games and didn't hit for power when he did return, as other lingering injuries likely affected his performance. Hey, I'm just happy he played at all. For awhile there, it was presumed one of the worst teams in baseball would simply shelve this critical player until 2011.
Now it's 2011, and the longest-tenured player on the team appears confident his health woes are, pardon the pun, behind him. Roberts told the Baltimore Sun all is well, and based on where I'm seeing him slotted in fantasy baseball rankings so far, it doesn't appear many people are buying what he's selling.
"I'm great ... I feel as good as I've felt in a year and a half, two years, so I'm excited to get out there and start playing," Roberts said. "It took me a little while, as the winter went on, to get to that point, but once I got there, my workouts have been great. I'm already hitting and throwing and running and doing all that stuff, so I'm excited."
I know what you're thinking: Silly Karabell, what do you expect him to say? Fair enough, but since I seem to be the staff optimist who still lives in the past -- the past dating as far back as 2008 and 2009, generally -- I can't forget just how valuable Roberts was. Just as I believe a good leadoff hitter such as Roberts can help the hitters that follow him in the lineup, I also believe the statistical health of run producers such as Lee, Guerrero and Reynolds can help Roberts, too. It's awesome that the Orioles have added former All-Stars to the fold, but let's not forget about the team's signature offensive player. That's Roberts.
Orioles leadoff hitters batted .265 with a .320 on-base percentage last season, and those not named Roberts -- Corey Patterson, Julio Lugo and Adam Jones (.188 in the role) -- were considerably worse. Many teams rely on their leadoff hitter to do more than set the proverbial table; they rely on him to set the tone of the offense. When Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes and Rafael Furcal, among others, are struggling, the hitters behind them tend to do the same. As such, I say we just write off the 2010 Orioles offense, as their record sans Roberts was awful. Everyone credits the managerial change to Buck Showalter as saving the day, but an improved Roberts -- his OBP was .363 from Aug. 1 on -- played a large role as well. Perhaps the Orioles are last-place bound even with a healthy, formidable Roberts, but fantasy owners can win here.
Roberts remains a top-10 second baseman, and it sure looks like you won't have to pay that price on draft day. Yes, he is an injury risk, but one has to like the fact that he stole nine bases in the final two months of 2010. He didn't look hurt to me. I'd draft Roberts over Howard Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, Ben Zobrist, Chone Figgins and, depending on team need, perhaps Aaron Hill as well. Roberts doesn't need to hit 16 home runs, knock in 79, score 110 runs and steal 30 more to be a top-10 second baseman, but 12 homers, 95 runs, 30 stolen bases and a .280 batting average would get him there, and that's what I see happening.