Despite masses of doubters (including me), the Orioles reached postseason play for the first time last season in more than a decade. Baltimore defied conventional wisdom, winning one-run and extra inning games at an incredible rate, propelling them to a Wild Card appearance in which they stunned the Texas Rangers. Their dream season finally came to an end against the Yankees, but it took a full five games to do so.
Entering this season, the doubters are still aplenty. All eyes will be on Buck Showalter‘s club to prove 2012 was not a fluke. There are certainly a few reasons to be excited, notably Adam Jones plus the future core of Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman. However, the front office stood pat in the winter, essentially placing a lot of confidence on the roster’s construction when 2012 ended. Chances are, this team takes a step back from the previous season, but the future is still bright.
Notable New Face(s)
- Jair Jurrjens: There was a slew of minor league free agent signings made by Baltimore, but Jurrjens headlines the bunch. He’s basically the only “name” player to join to club this offseason (although he may not make the team), as Dan Duquette did not make any significant trades nor give any non-club free agent a major league contract. He hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2009, when he was very effective with Atlanta (2.60 ERA, 3.9 WAR). Since then, he’s mostly battled ineffectiveness and health issues, spending four stints on the disabled list in the previous two seasons. For a team with a lot to prove after what appears to be a flukey 2012, Jurrjens being the highest profile addition does not bode well for 2013.
- Mark Reynolds: The Orioles likely decided to let Reynolds go with Nolan Reimold returning after missing nearly all of last season. Reimold will help replace the right-handed power loss of Reynolds, but I still find this loss to be significant. Without Reynolds, there isn’t really any insurance in the event that Machado struggles this season. Machado is as well regarded as they come, but he’s still only 20 years old. Guys like Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla aren’t bonafide safety nets.
- Joe Saunders: Despite doing a nice job after a midseason move to Baltimore, Saunders won’t really be missed. The O’s have good enough starters already on the roster with guys like Bundy and Gausman waiting in the wings.
Wilson Betemit is at risk of missing the entire season, suffering a knee injury yesterday. He would have been the primary insurance policy at third base should something go wrong with Machado. I should mention that I’m not anticipating anything detrimental to Machado’s progression; there’s just always a fair amount of risk allowing a 20 year old to play everyday.
Nick Markakis is questionable to start the season with a neck injury, but he plans to be ready for opening day. Markakis missed nearly all of September plus the entire postseason after having thumb surgery. While not an elite hitter, it’ll be nice for the Orioles to have him back as one of the team’s most important everyday fixtures.
Lastly, Japanese reliever import Tsuyoshi Wada is still working his way back from Tommy John Surgery. He’s yet to pitch in the bigs with Baltimore since signing prior to the 2012 season.
Baltimore is pretty strong up the middle, especially with Matt Wieters behind the plate. He’s become one of the best all-around catchers in baseball, and ZiPS projects 4.5 WAR this season. Expect him to pick up where he left off in 2012, when he belted 23 home runs, threw out nearly 39% of attempted base stealers, and graded well above average in advanced defensive metrics.
Moving into the middle of the infield, J.J. Hardy is one of the better shortstops in the game. He had a rough offensive 2012 (78 wRC+), but did hit 22 over the fence. As always, he provides excellent defense per UZR. ZiPS foresees a bit of an offensive bounce back and 3.5 WAR overall.
Rounding out the strength up the middle is Adam Jones. The center fielder emerged as an all-star in 2012 posting 4.6 WAR. He’s established himself as the face of the O’s and will be burdened with a lot of pressure to carry this club in 2013.
The bullpen played an integral role in the Orioles’ performance in 2012, and should be effective again in 2013. Jim Johnson has proven to be a stellar anchor of the team’s pen the past two seasons, with a nice supporting cast including Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, and Troy Patton.
Baltimore lacks a frontline starter at the present moment. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are solid middle of the rotation hurlers, but there’s nobody this team can really count on for a big performance every five days. This could change relatively soon, however, depending on how long it takes Bundy and Gausman to eschew the rotation’s incumbents.
Positional depth is sorely lacking, especially within the infield. Who knows what Brian Roberts will provide this season, after barely playing the past three years. As mentioned when discussing Machado earlier, the backups don’t provide much confidence.
I’m a fan of Baltimore’s young core, but I don’t think the team is ready to compete this season. 2012 was a nice taste of success, but in all likelihood will prove to be full of hot air. If the front office had made a conscious effort to improve the roster in the winter, I might have been more willing to consider them as contenders. However, as constituted, they’re simply not deep enough.
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.
Photo By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA (Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons