While there is much rejoicing that we Baltimore fans will no longer have to watch the lackluster efforts of Ramon Hernandez this season, there seems to be a surprising amount of enthusiasm for the centerpiece player we received from the Reds in return. I always had the impression that Ryan Freel was a defensive specialist and light hitting utility player. Am I missing something? Is this guy really going to have more impact on the team than, say, Chris Gomez did for a few years. Gomez was a versatile fielder and a decent enough hitter that he could contribute and not embarrass himself. That's nice but is it exciting? There seems to be a common thread when it comes to Freel's apparent value.
"Adding Freel to the mix in the outfield will help boost the energy on the Orioles..."- Dean Jones, Jr., Baltimore Sun
"Freel, a high-energy player and once the Reds' starting center fielder..." - Jeff Zreibec, Baltimore Sun
"Ryan Freel, if any of you have suffered through my talks in Baltimore, you've heard a lot about effort, energy and enthusiasm. Those are the three things as a franchise we want to instill in our players. It is hard to think of a poster child that more represents those things for a major league player than Ryan Freel..." - Andy MacPhail
Freel's a good energy guy that will at least make them more watchable. - Steve D.
I like the fact that the guy's a high-energy player - Dave Trembley
Did the Orioles trade for a player or a couple cases of Red Bull?
So I am starting to think that I am missing something here. Let's take a closer look at Freel and see what we can expect from him in 2009.
First, I'm going to assume that Freel will be healthy in 2009. He hasn't been healthy since 2006 but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
He gets on base. Even with a couple of down years, his career OBP is .357. During the seasons where he was healthy, the rate was in the high .360's. That's a valuable talent and when he's in the lineup, he should probably bat at least in the 2 spot. I can't imagine that with Cesar Izturis on the team that anyone else would hit in the 9 spot to give Dave Trembley the "dual leadoff" hitter lineup.
He hits lefties well. Well, at least as well as he hits against anyone. He has a .737 career OPS against RHPs and a .732 career OPS against LHPs. He would theoretically hit lefties better than Luke Scott or Adam Jones (although not by much over Jones). This would make him a nice, not great but nice, platoon option, especially in LF.
Great Glove. Freel's range is phenomenal when he's healthy. He's a top notch defender at 2B, 3B and the outfield. (The only place where he lacks a bit is in CF but he's still above average. Fantastic range. He'll be a great defensive replacement and will flash the glove nicely when he fills in.
On top of all this, he has a great outfield arm. I have no idea if he has a cannon like Nick Markakis but it must be very accurate. Defensive metrics aren't prefect but by this measure he's as good as anybody. His rep is the same.
(By the way, Buck Martinez seemed to think that Freel "will bunt more" than Brian Roberts. Roberts bunts about 2 times every 100 plate appearances. Freel bunts about 3 times per 100 PA. All that adds up to 4 or 5 times more over the course of a full season. Sure, that's more but I don't think it's a stark difference.)
So Ryan Freel brings a great glove, an ability to get on base and can hit hit lefties better than a couple of our other outfielders. A nice utility player. But am I excited? Not really.
Speaking of energy, I'll leave you with another player whose GM thinks he'll bring a lot of energy to the club. Right.
We do think a change of scenery will help him immensely. We've got a pretty good pitching staff. I think he's a guy who will work well with that staff and develop that staff and have renewed energy." - Walt Jocketty