Going into the offseason for the Baltimore Orioles there was a pretty clear list of things that needed to be accomplished. And like the to do list from my wife full of things that are often attempted but never quite finished, the Orioles weakly and unsuccessfully attempted to address these needs. Starting pitching, DH, second base, left field, and better positional depth are areas that the Orioles either did not address or at least were not bolstered to the extent that most fans desired. The Orioles clearly possess flaws and could have benefited (could still benefit) from some additions in these areas; however, as the team is constructed now, it is an improvement over the opening day roster of last year.
Let’s begin with the starting rotation. Orioles 2013 pitching staff consisted of a one-year-wonder in Jason Hammel who reverted to form, and an immature pitcher Jake Arrieta whose bulldog mentality (both on the field and on twitter) did not make up for his lack of effectiveness on the mound. In a surprisingly high number of starts (23) Hammel pitched to an ERA of 4.97. In only 5 starts Arrieta pitched to an ERA of 7.23. This is a classic case of addition by subtraction. Replace Hammel with Bud Norris and it’s at worse a push, but could potentially be an upgrade. Replace Arrieta with… well with anyone at all and we are looking at a significant upgrade. Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Brian Matusz should all be an upgrade over Arrietta. Eventually this spot has Kevin Gausman’s name written all over it which will, in all likelihood, be a substantial upgrade over Arrieta.
Moving to the bullpen where we see more addition by subtraction as the Orioles will not be starting the 2014 season with Pedro Strop and his 7+ ERA. Also, the Orioles won’t be hamstringed into keeping Rule 5 draftee, long man/mop-up duty extraordinaire, TJ McFarland on the MLB roster. Another difference from last years opening day bullpen will be the absence of Luis Ayala, but while he was a solid right hand arm, he is replaceable. Of course, the loss in the bullpen that everyone is talking about is Jim Johnson. Johnson is interesting as one could argue his value pointing to 101 saves the past two years. An impressive number but one could just as easily diminish what he brought to the club by pointing to his 9 blown saves last year. No one can say the Orioles are better off without Jim Johnson but all in all it’s a loss but not an extremely significant loss. To mitigate this loss (because Jemile Weeks certainly did not mitigate this loss) the Orioles in what could quite possibly be their best off-season move (I know it’s not saying much) signed right-handed reliever Ryan Webb. Webb appears to be a similar pitcher to Johnson with similar numbers, save the saves of course.
Moving around the outfield the major change is David Lough to replace Nate McLouth. McLouth came out of nowhere (also known as Norfolk) in 2012 to play a huge role in getting the Orioles to the playoffs. For this reason (and I suppose for his adorable dog picture in the Orioles Pet Calendar), McLouth became hugely popular in Baltimore, and probably the most overrated player on the team. We mourned the loss of McLouth, a player who last year slashed .258/.324/.399. For the sake of McLouth’s family and not wanting to cause undue hardship, I won’t type here what his batting average was against lefties. If you really want to know, it’s not hard to find out, but fair warning, it is not pretty.
On the other hand, last year David Lough slashed .286/.311/.413. Lough, a lefty like McLouth, even managed to hit .292 against lefties. Also most people in the know say Lough is an upgrade defensively in left field with a significantly better arm than McLouth. It sounds like the Orioles replaced a fourth outfielder with an everyday outfielder.
Going around the diamond the only change will be at second base. Ryan Flaherty will most likely replace Brian Roberts. This should be interesting to watch as right now Roberts appears to be the better player but Flaherty is younger and at this point in his career has a much bigger upside than Roberts. The question is will Flaherty take advantage of the opportunity. At least the bar wasn’t set too high with Roberts the past couple years. If Flaherty can stay healthy, hit around .250 and hit double-digit homeruns, I think the Orioles will take it. Oriole fans were sore at losing Roberts, but this had more to do with where he went and what he had meant to the Orioles franchise in the past. The Orioles were not upset to lose Roberts because of his current production on the field.
The Orioles did not significantly upgrade at DH. The Orioles hope the answer lies in house with Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia. At first glance it would be hard to imagine the injury plagued Reimold and the unproven Urrutia as being upgrades at the DH position, but not so fast. Last year the Orioles DH’s batted a combined .234. Ouch! The thing that makes this batting average even more amazing is this includes Danny Valencia batting over .300 as a DH in 42 games. And yes Valencia is no longer here. Even without Valencia it’s not hard to imagine that a healthy Nolan Reimold (I know it’s an oxymoron) and a more experienced (not to mention more beefed up!) Henry Urrutia can outdo our DHs last year.
(The Orioles also have made several changes in positional depth, but seeing how Showalter refuses to use his bench, it seems like any changes in depth would be negligible.)
I know now it seems like everything has gone wrong with our Orioles. It has been an embarrassingly bad offseason. However, taking a ‘birds eye view’, one can see that this year’s team going into spring training is better than the team that took the field opening day last year. Let’s hope these improvements are enough to get us back into the playoffs.