Hello everyone, yes it’s been a while since we have graced the interwebs. There’s a billion different reasons why our posts tailed off as the season went along so I won’t bore you with the details. (Hint: subtract 1 billion)
It’s offseason time and there is plenty to talk about since the Orioles expect to be very “active”. I use active in quotes because they were expected to be active last offseason too and we ended up with awful, but totally expected, versions of Miguel “I’m actually 47” Tejada and Garrett “Squints” Atkins. My concerns that they had both fallen off a cliff were confirmed and my concerns about the durability of Mike Gonzalez were also confirmed. The season was a disaster and basically everything that could have gone wrong did. Once everyone was healthy however, the Orioles showed that they were not as epically bad as their first half indicated. Most people want to blame the turnaround on the arrival of Buck Showalter as manager, but they would be wrong… mostly. The clear reason for the turnaround the Orioles experienced during the second half of the season was due to an exponential improvement in the starting pitching. Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen all experienced dominant second halves at the same time, while Jake Arrieta and Kevin Millwood both pitched admirably as well. The healthy returns of Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez created a bullpen that was also much better than terrible in the second half. Despite the winning, the offense remained awful but we prevented enough runs that it didn’t seem to be consistent with the second half. Still, the Orioles carry obvious holes at 1B, 3B, SS, and possibly LF going into the offseason… so what will they do?
1B -First base will be a “priority” this season just as it was last year. The free agent market is actually pretty deep with first basemen but no elite talent is available this year. Elite talent is most likely not in the Orioles price range anyway. Casual fans can scream all they want that we should be buying every free agent available but the fact is Baltimore cannot spend with the big boys. My preferred route is always to trade for young talent that will be around for a free years rather than short term veterans but I think the Orioles go the latter route here. My prediction is they sign one of Adam LaRoche, Derek Lee, Lance Berkman or Carlos Pena to man the 1 bag. My preferences of those possibilities would be Derek Lee or Lance Berkman, who were both bothered by nagging injuries all year but have shown elite level performance that the other two could only dream about.
3B – The Josh Bell catastrophe last year proved he isn’t ready for the big stage yet, he also may have proved he never will be. A trade seems to be the only likely scenario to get a legitimate upgrade at the hot corner. Adrian Beltre is the only legitimate option in free agency and Baltimore will be priced out of that race before the first offer is even made. I would love to see the Orioles get creative and acquire a talented player such as Alex Gordon or Mark Reynolds, who both may be available. Perhaps they could also try to convince Dan Uggla to move to third base which I wouldn’t hate. It’s unlikely they will be willing to pay Uggla what he wants for an extension however. What I expect the Orioles to actually do is something incredible short sighted and lazy. So they will probably re-sign Ty Wigginton or sign his statistical twin Jorge Cantu, another possibility may be Bill Hall who I may actually prefer out of those three dreadful choices. I really hope I am wrong here.
SS – Cesar Izturis was bad last year. I mean don’t get me wrong, Cesar Izturis has always been bad… but last year was reallyawful even for him. He was the worst hitting regular player in major league baseball last year. Let me stress that again: the worst hitter in major league baseball. Yes, he played slightly above average defense at short but his bat was so epically bad that he was worth less than a replacement player according to WAR. No Belanger references please, I know people love to defend a shortstop who can catch a ball like it’s still 1964. Izturis isn’t in the same stratosphere as Belanger defensively and when compared to peers in his era Belanger was a better hitter too. The comparison is a stretch to say the least. Cesar Izturis is a bad major league baseball player. Once again a trade seems to be the best option here just as it is with 3B. This will become more and more common now with teams realizing the value of young talent and locking them up earlier and earlier. Free agent classes will continue to get thinner and thinner which is why the Orioles must get better in the amateur realm all around. What I would like to see them do is sign J.J. Hardy if he is non-tendered by the Twins but that seems unlikely. They should explore his availability either way. Gordon Beckham is also appearing in trade rumors and he would be my number one target here if true. Yes, he hasn’t played shortstop because of the presence of Alexei Ramirez but all indications are he can still play it. The Orioles could also look into the availability of Jason Bartlett or Reid Brignac in the Rays crowded middle infield situation. What I expect the Orioles will actually do is to re-sign Izturis, despite a plethora of better options in the trade and freee agent markets, because it is cheap and lazy. Hell, there are probably any number of minor league free agents that would be better options as well. I really hope I am wrong here too, but I am nearly 100 percent certain that this is the way it will go down.
LF – Some may disagree with me that LF is a hole going into the season. I know most of use want to believe that we can get a legitimate corner outfielder out of Nolan Reimold or Felix Pie but I’m convinced that we cannot. Reimold’s bat still has potential but even when healthy and hitting he is nothing short of a butcher in the outfield. He should not be guaranteed anything coming into this year. If he earns his way back onto the team that will be a great problem to have but we can’t expect anything. Felix Pie is a real enigma, his talent is obvious but he only shows it in small doses. He went backwards with the progress he made in the plate discipline department in 2009 and went up to the plate with the Adam Jones strategy last season. He also has real problems with durability and even at his best his numbers play much better in center than they do in left. Felix also plays better defense in center according to UZR, though he plays good defense anywhere in the outfield. I would like to see either Jones or Pie moved, preferably Jones because his value will be much higher, but that is for a different post. There are two elite free agents (Werth and Crawford) available for left field this offseason but both are likely out of the Orioles’ price range. That leaves a thin crop headed by Manny Ramirez, Pat Burrell, and Brad Hawpe. I also can’t see any of the free agents available to be a huge upgrade here. What I would like to see if for the Orioles to acquire both a first baseman and another hitter than could DH, they could then move Luke Scott back to left where he wants to play and where he is actually pretty good despite lacking the athleticism of the other two options. He is clearly the best offensive player. What I expect the Orioles will actually do is nothing, they will continue to run out whoever is healthy out of Pie and Reimold.
To fill in other areas I am hoping the Orioles re-sign Koji Uehara, he has shown that he can be a dominant reliever when available and we are locking backend types right now. I just hope they don’t repeat past mistakes by throwing tons of years and money at the bullpen. That is always a mistake and I hope they have learned that lesson by now. I could also see them being interested in a veteran starter like Jon Garland, but I am hoping they stay out of that market. I would prefer they go into the year with a rotation consisting of Guthrie, Matusz, Bergesen, Arrieta, and Tillman with Zach Britton ready to step up when needed. Unless of course they trade Guthrie, which would be a great idea with him coming off of a rebound season. I would also not be opposed to taking fliers on a reclamation project like Erik Bedard or Rich Harden and trying them out in the bullpen to preserve their arms… Hey, it worked for Kerry Wood. It would be low risk with the potential for high reward if they can be remotely healthy.
I expect the Orioles to be far less than active and to make a few small moves with nothing ground breaking or creative being done. That’s always been Andy MacPhail’s modus operandi. I think we will see some small scale free agency moves with very little trading and we will continue not to be competitive in the amateur market in comparison to the rest of the AL Beast. I see another season with an absolute ceiling of 85 wins, with a more likely range somewhere within 75-82. Once again, I hope I am wrong.