Due to nagging back injuries, Brian Roberts only played in 59 games last season. This season, due mostly to lingering concussion symptoms, Roberts has been limited to 39 games. And judging by the latest news, Roberts will not be returning to the lineup anytime soon, certainly not before the All-Star break. Unfortunately, not only have Roberts’ extended stays on the DL deprived the team of its only true leadoff hitter and a great defensive 2B, they have also raised the possibility of a very dark prospect for the O’s future: the impending end of Roberts’ career.
Such an early and sudden end to Roberts’ career would be highly unpalatable for a couple reasons. First is the most obvious: his tremendous value to the team. As previously stated, his combination of speed and OBP (above .350 for the last 4 years) make him a very ideal leadoff hitter and very valuable to the offense as a whole. He’s not just a punching Judy, singles hitting leadoff hitter either. When healthy, he is a veritable doubles machine, ranking 1st or 2nd in the AL in doubles 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. What’s more, in addition to leading the AL in doubles in 2009 with 56, he also set the record for doubles by a switch hitter while doing so. So his contributions on offense alone are certainly tangible. And without delving into the complex world of defensive metrics, I think we can also safely say Roberts is an average to slightly above average defender at 2B. The whole package translates into a player most teams would love to have and one whose absence you certainly notice in the team’s performance. Buck Showalter himself has often cited the return of Brian Roberts as one the primary reasons the O’s went 34-23 under him last season after going 32-73 prior to his arrival.
But perhaps the larger reason Robert’s departure would be disastrous for the O’s is that there is no one even remotely ready to replace him. For most of this season, Robert Andino has been called upon to serve as his replacement, and he’s done fairly well in that role, posting a .253 BA and .333 OBP. He noticeably the lacks the doubles power of Roberts though, as well as the threat of stealing bases. However, Andino is without a doubt an equivalent or better defender than Roberts, so the team loses nothing in that department. In other words, you can live with Andino at 2B, but the drop-off from Roberts is still noticeable.
There’s also Ryan Adams, whose main problem might be that Buck Showalter seems to hate him, as he has appeared in only 9 games since his call up from AAA Norfolk on May 20. Adams has always been a very encouraging offensive prospect throughout his time in the minors, even demonstrating very Roberts-esque offensive tendencies, including a 2010 campaign at AA Bowie where he hit a club record 43 doubles. He was also hitting .303 with a .373 OBP at the time of his call-up to the majors. All of this points to the distinct possibility that Adams could be an everyday offensive contributor at the major league level. The main thing holding him back from the future, which has always been a concern of scouts, is his defense. Now, since I have never seen Adams play in the minors and Buck seems unwilling to give him any sort of chance to prove himself in the bigs, it’s hard for me to say personally how valid these concerns are and to what extent, if any, Adams has already overcome them. But you would think with Roberts’ future being so uncertain, it’d be time to find out whether Adams has any hope of being his long term replacement.
For now, I don’t think the team is suffering with Andino at 2B and I could definitely live with him at the position for the rest of the season. But I think everyone is hoping for a better option in the long term, including Andy MacPhail. Personally, I’m hoping we get B-Rob back and he stays healthy for the rest of his contract, allowing someone like Jonathan Schoop to mature and possibly replace him. The odds are against it, but that’s the reality of life as an O’s fan, so I’ll keep believing it can happen until I’m forced to believe otherwise, because I’m not giving up, and hopefully neither is Brian Roberts.