Division Preview: Baltimore Orioles

What we said last year:

Derek wrote the season preview for the Orioles last season. Here’s what he had to say:

Even with the plethora of injuries the Yankees are dealing with, I think the Orioles are still well behind. In fact, I believe Baltimore will finish at the bottom of the division. Perhaps they might threaten Boston for 4th place, but I don’t see them keeping up with the Yankees, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

What actually happened:

Aside from the bit about the Red Sox finishing in fourth place, Derek hit the nail right on the head. The Orioles managed a respectable 85 wins in 2013, but predictably failed to replicate their one-run-game magic from their 93-win 2012 campaign. The O’s offense was headlined by Chris Davis, who hit a remarkable 53 dingers. Flanking Davis were Adam Jones, Nate McLouth, J.J. Hardy, and a 21-year-old Manny Machado, who proved to be more than ready for major-league competition. All told, the Orioles led all of baseball with 212 homers last year and plated 745 runs, good for fifth in baseball.

Although the Orioles offense was solid last season, their lack-luster pitching that prevented them from keeping pace with the Red Sox and Rays. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez turned in solid seasons in Baltimore’s rotation, but the team lacked anything resembling a true ace: No pitcher on their roster accumulated more than two fWAR in 2013.

Notable New Faces:

Ubaldo Jimenez: The Orioles had a pretty quiet off season up until mid-February, but that started to change with the Jimenez signing. After missing out on virtually every other starting pitcher on the market this winter, the O’s inked Jimenez to a four-year deal on February 17th. Jimenez isn’t the pitcher he was a few years ago, but instantly becomes the best pitcher on the Orioles and makes the team 2 or 3 wins better.

Nelson Cruz: Just five days after the Jimenez signing, the Orioles went out and got Cruz to solidify their outfield and DH situation. The Orioles are definitely a better team with Cruz in tow, but given his lack of defensive skills, the upgrade is probably a marginal one.

David Lough: The O’s plucked Lough from the Royals in exchange for third baseman Danny Valencia. Lough is one of those guys who lacks a standout tool, but does just about everything fairly well. He may not be an impact player, but is a good guy to have in the outfield mix.

Suk-min Yoon: Lost among the Jimenez and Cruz signings was the signing of 27-year-old Korean right-hander, Suk-min Yoon. The 2011 Korean League MVP has started in the past, but figures to end up in Baltimore’s bullpen this year. How he does is anyone’s guess.

Ryan Webb: Webb was the team’s premier pre-February free agent signing. Webb’s been a reliable reliever for a few years now and should slot nicely behind Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day in the bullpen.

Brad Brach: Brach was acquired from the Padres this off-season and will probably serve as a middle reliever for the O’s. He strikes out his fair share of batters, but control has been an issue for him the last couple of years.

Jemile Weeks: If Jonathan Schoop doesn’t break camp as the everyday second baseman, Weeks will probably split time with Ryan Flaherty to start the year. Weeks was the 12th overall pick in the draft back in 2008, but is dangerously close to earning the “failed prospect” label.

Francisco Peguero: Once a promising prospect with the Giants, Peguero has been unable to grow into his tools up until now. Given the O’s outfield depth, he probably won’t be much of a factor this year.

Luis Vizcaino: Yes, that Luis Vzcaino. The 39-year-old hooked on with Baltimore after putting up video game numbers in the Mexican League last year (1.40 ERA, 1.29 FIP). He’s a long shot to contribute this year, but its hard to ignore his numbers from Mexico.

Key Losses:

Nate McLouth: The Orioles scooped McLouth off of the scrap heap in 2012 and he ended up turning in a decent performance last year. Mclouth was a serviceable player, but became expendable with the trade for Lough — and would have been just another face among the O’s the crowd of fringy corner outfielders.

Jim Johnson: Unwilling to pay Johnson $10M in 2014, the O’s dumped him on the A’s in exchange for Weeks. Although he wasn’t an elite closer, the back end of that bullpen looks a lot more hittable with Johnson removed from the mix.

Scott Feldman: Feldman was a decent mid-season acquisition last season, but ultimately won’t be missed with the Ubaldo in the fold and Gausman and Bundy waiting in the wings.

Jason Hammel: Like Feldman, Hammel’s departure shouldn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things.

Francisco Rodriguez: Brought on for the stretch run last year, K-Rod never really found his groove with the Orioles.

Brian Roberts: Roberts signed the Yankees this winter after 13 years in Baltimore. Roberts was a great player for the Orioles back in the day, but probably won’t be missed too much. Given how little he’s played the last few years, some might not even notice he’s gone.

Danny Valencia: Valencia crushes left-handed hitters, but didn’t really have a role with the O’s anymore with the emergence of Machado.

Michael Morse: Morse was useless in 12 games with the O’s last year. He’s just about done as a big leaguer, despite latching on with San Francisco.

Health:

Manny Machado: Machado is the primary player to keep an eye on health-wise. The phenom third baseman is still recovering from knee surgery he had last October and is questionable for opening day.

Dylan Bundy: Bundy is one of the very-best pitching prospects in the game, but is still on his way back from Tommy John surgery. He won’t be a factor until August or September at he earliest, but has the stuff to make an immediate impact if called up.

Johan Santana: Santana’s an Oriole these days and is rehabbing from his second shoulder capsule surgery. Pitchers almost never come back from that particular procedure, so he’s a long shot at this point.

Strengths:

Power: The O’s led all of baseball in home runs last year and might just do it again this year. With Davis, Jones, Cruz, Hardy, Machado, and Matt Wieters filling out their lineup, they could easily have five or six players end the year with 20+ bombs.

Young, impact talent: The Orioles have done a tremendous job of developing impact prospects the last few years. We’ve already seen what Machado’s capable of and there are more impact prospects on the immediate horizon. Kevin Gausman may not break camp with the team, but will certainly play a role later on — although it remains to be seen if he’ll be used in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Bundy could follow a similar trajectory if he’s ready to pitch again by the end of the summer. Jonathan Schoop is another guy who may crack the opening day roster as the team’s second baseman.

Weaknesses:

Second base: Schoop could be the answer to the Orioles’ second base problem, but his minor league stats from the last couple of years suggest he may need some more seasoning. Many said the same thing about Machado, though, and he proved to be more than ready for the show. Even if Schoop’s bat is big league ready, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to handle the position with his 6’2″ frame. The non-Schoop options — Ryan Flaherty and Jemile Weeks — leave a lot to be desired.

Corner outfield: The Orioles have one of the better center fielders in baseball in Adam Jones, but the guys flanking him aren’t quite as appealing. Nick Markakis is nowhere near the player he once was and David Lough is probably more of a fourth outfielder. Cuban expat Henry Urrutia has some upside, but pretty much everyone else — Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young, Xavier Paul, and Quintin Berry — are bench players at best.

Bullpen: The O’s bullpen is pretty thin following the departure of closer Jim Johnson. Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, and Ryan Webb are decent bullpen options, but none are stand-out relievers. And Yoon is a complete wild-card.

Season Outlook:

The Jimenez and Cruz signings should make the Orioles competitive at least, but it’s doubtful they’ll be able to match last year’s 85 win mark.  Like always, the AL East will be an an extremely tough division this year and the Orioles just have too many holes to stack up against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees. Maybe they could have had a better shot with a more proactive offseason, but their two sloppy-second free agent pickups probably won’t be enough to lift them over the hump.

Davis and Machado had great years in 2013, but given their lack of a track record, it’s hard to bank on them being quite as good this year. If both of those guys can replicate their 2013 numbers and Gausman and Schoop live up to the hype, the O’s might be able to hang with the big boys in the East. Most likely, though, they’ll end up dueling it out with the Blue Jays at the bottom of the division.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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