Ten Biggest Questions Facing The Orioles Right Now

Nick Markakis - Baltimore Orioles right fielder

Everyone seems to agree that the Baltimore Orioles have had one of the most disappointing offseasons in baseball. Many questions about the 2014 O’s remain unanswered. Here are my top ten:

1. Who Is The Closer?

The biggest attention grabbing question of the offseason is one that I find myself worried the least about. The Orioles traded Jim Johnson to the Athletics then backed out of their deal with Grant Balfour. Now everyone is left wondering who pitches the ninth inning, but I’m much more concerned about those five guys pitching the first six or seven.

Baltimore has expressed interest in Fernando Rodney, though it appears that talks have stalled between the two sides. As of now, the newly off the market (sorry ladies) Tommy Hunter appears to be the top candidate. Big Game pitched to a career-low 2.81 ERA over 86.1 innings pitched in 2013 posting a 0.985 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 and 4.86 K/BB. By comparison, baseball’s saves leader, Johnson, posted a 2.94 ERA over 70.1 innings pitched in 2013 with a 1.280 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 and 3.11 K/BB.

2. What Will The Orioles Get Out Of Nick Markakis in 2014?

Nick Markakis finds himself in the final year of his six-year, $66 million contract with the Birds. At the time I exulted the Orioles locking up their talented young right fielder to such a deal, now I can’t wait for them to get out from under it. Markakis will make $15 million in 2014 (it hurts just typing that, imagine signing the check) and has a club option of $17.5 million in 2015 (that ain’t happening).

We’ve seen Markakis’ power numbers dip over recent seasons. He declined from a 20 home run hitter in 2008 to a guy that hit just ten last season. Additionally, Markakis’ doubles have also decayed (45 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 28 in 2012, 24 in 2013). Markakis went from a 7.5 WAR player in 2008, to a 2.9 WAR in the first year of his contract in ’09. Last season he posted a -0.1 WAR.

So what type of year will Markakis put together in 2014? Will the 30 year old rebound into the .300 hitter the O’s thought they were signing six years ago? Will he get a crack at leadoff with Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth gone?

3. Have The Orioles Properly Replaced Nate McLouth?

Dan Duquette has certainly attempted to replace Nate McLouth, who signed a nice two-year, $10.75 million deal with the Nationals, with quantity in David Lough, Francisco Peguero and a presumably healthy Nolan Reimold (if such a thing in fact exists). I’m just not certain of the quality said O’s options in left field.

McLouth posted a .272/.342/.411 slashline against right handed pitching last season, but just a .209/.283/.357 mark against southpaws. In 335 plate appearances with the Royals last season, Lough posted a .286/.311/.413 slash and 2.7 WAR (the highest among AL rookies). But much about Lough remains unknown at the big league level entering his 28 year old season.

The same can be said of Peguero, a career .200/.217/.289 hitter in just 46 plate appearances in the big leagues. Reimold became a fan favorite in 2009 when he came up to the big leagues and hit 15 home runs over 104 games, but he’s never been able to repeat it.

Ryan Flaherty - Baltimore Orioles second baseman

4. Are Ryan Flaherty And Jemile Weeks Enough At Second Base?

Brian Roberts in pinstripes. It just isn’t right.

I became more of a fan of Ryan Flaherty after I watched him progress last season. After a big spring training, Flaherty started the season swinging out of his shoes and attempting to hit for a bit more power than he was probably capable of. When he settled in at the plate, he proved to be a competent bottom of the order hitter (.296/.337/.580 in 86 plate appearances in the nine hole). More than anything though, Flaherty proved to be an above average defender at second base posting a .993 fielding percentage (.985 league average), 4.91 range factor per 9 (4.64 average) and 4.32 range factor per game (4.62 average) over 65 games.

Weeks’ defense isn’t as strong, but I’m eager to see if he can get back to those 2011 totals he posted at the plate with a new team.

5. What Do The Birds Do At DH?

Henry Urrutia? Steve Pearce? Who DH’s for the O’s?

Personally, I would like to see Showalter use the designated hitter role to help give some guys a day off every now and then. There’s no reason that Matt Wieters should catch 1,201 innings in 2014. Adam Jones and Chris Davis also need a few more days off.

Right now the O’s options at DH are less than appealing. They weren’t last season either though. O’s DH’s hit .236/.290/.418 last season (17th in MLB). Some offseason rumors have them linked to Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales, both candidates for the job. Either guy will cost the O’s their first round pick however.

Cruz’s strikeout totals over the past two seasons (140 and 109 respectively) are enough to scare me away from his services and I’m just not sure Morales is really the guy you want to surrender a draft pick for.

6. Are The Orioles Seriously Going With This Starting Rotation?

And so we’ve reached my biggest concern of the offseason. It doesn’t matter what else the Orioles do this winter, if they don’t address the starting rotation. Yeah, I like A.J. Burnett, but is even he enough to make them a 90 win team again?

When people tell me they feel confident in the Orioles current rotation I feed them this glaring statistic: O’s starters posted a 4.57 ERA in 2013 (27th in Major League Baseball). Yeah, there’s lots of work to be done.

Is Chris Tillman going to have another career year? Can Wei-Yin Chen handle 30+ starts? What is Miguel Gonzalez? There are far too many questions about this rotation for me to feel confident in the team as a whole in 2014.

7. When Will Manny Machado Be Ready?

It was one of my New Year’s Resolutions for the Orioles and it’s worth repeating again, do not rush Manny Machado. There’s no sense in hurrying him back from his torn medial patellofemoral ligament and risking another injury.

With that said, what is the Orioles plan if Machado isn’t ready come opening day? How do you replace a 6.5 WAR player who happens to be (one of?) the best defending third basemen in the game?

Matt Wieters and Chris Davis - Baltimore Orioles

8. Can The O’s Keep Chris Davis And/Or Matt Wieters?

Two Scott Boras clients. Two guys who hit free agency after the 2015 season. Can the Orioles afford to sign both Chris Davis and Matt Wieters? Do they want to keep both players?

Buck Showalter often praises the work Wieters does with the Orioles pitching staff and his countless innings behind the dish, but the statistics say that Wieters is a struggling switch hitter (.235/.287/.417) and one of the worst pitch framers in baseball. He did however throw out 64 percent of base runners attempting to steal last season.

No one expects Christopher Lyn “Crush” Davis to hit 53 homers again in 2014, but is he a 40 homer guy? A 30 homer guy? Will he come close to that mark again? If Davis starts strong, the O’s should push hard to keep him in Baltimore before he hits the open market.

9. Have The O’s Gotten Worse This Offseason?

I see this one on Twitter and get asked a lot about the disappointment of the Orioles offseason. Last year, they won 85 games. Given the Yankees improvements (imagining they strap a Brinks truck to a military aircraft and fly it to Japan to sign Masahiro Tanaka) and assuming the Blue Jays perform better in 2014, I think the Orioles are a worse team right now than they were in 2013. They need starting pitching help, a designated hitter and bench depth.

Chris Davis won’t repeat 2013. Chris Tillman likely won’t either. They’re an injury away from slipping far out of contention. These next few weeks of the offseason are crucial.

10. What Kind Of Awesome Throwback Uniforms Will The O’s Wear During Their 60th Anniversary?

On a more light-hearted note, I hope the Orioles wear some kick ass unis to celebrate the big 6-0. Pull out the all orange pumpkins, the ’67 angry bird and the script “B” hats.

Which uniforms do you want to see this season?

Image Credit: Keith Allison, Keith Allison and Keith Allison

Zach Wilt is the Founding Editor of BaltimoreSportsReport.com and host of the BSR Podcast. He's a loyal Orioles, Ravens and Capitals fan who is obsessed with baseball, loves traveling, In-N-Out Burger and Walt Disney World.

4 Comments

  1. Ryne Mehan

    January 7, 2014 at 10:12 am

    1: Baltimore should bring in Bronson Arroyo and have Gausman start out of spring training, which would essentially push the number of legitimate starting pitchers on the roster to six (Tillman, Arroyo, Gonzalez, Chen, Gausman, Norris). What I personally feel the team should do is slate Bud Norris into the closing role after they sign Arroyo. Signing Bronson would push everyone back in the rotation one slot and would relieve a lot of pressure in Gausman because he would be the fifth man in the rotation. As for Norris, he is very aggressive, throws strikes, doesn’t fall behind in counts often, has the right demeanor and attitude to be a closer, and feeds off of the moment. I don’t think people realize just how intense Bud is. He would be a perfect and very ideal fit for the closer, especially if Arroyo is signed and Gausman is ready. Also. Unlike Hunter or Matusz Norris can effectively get both sides of the plate out, so matchups wouldn’t be a big concern.

    2: If Markakis is healthy, which he wasn’t last season, then Os fans have absolutely nothing to worry about. There is not one player I have more faith in in the entire league when it comes to making the right plays and doing things to help his team win. What statistics don’t point out is that he still played gold glove type defense and whenever there was a runner on third with less than two outs or someone needed to be moved over he got the job done. Buck really needs to get him out of that number three spot though. Markakis should be leading off, statistics even back it up. If utilized correctly and fully healthy then expect Markakis to return to his true form, which we all know is a perennial .300 hitter who does everything well. And again, much like what is the case for Norris, people don’t realize how much of a competitor Markakis is. The fact that he plaed through various injuries last season and still had a respectable season shows that. Don’t be surprised if he has his best season.

    3: Nate will surely be missed. I was sad to see him go, I also think it was for the best though. The one part of his game that will be missed and will have a hard time being replaced is his stolen bases, which is huge. At the same time people don’t realize how good a move trading for David Lough was. As crazy as this may sound, Baltimore’s defense may be even better this season than last, largely in part because of David Lough. Lough will be the best defensive outdielder the Os have this season, even better than Jones and Markakis, and being a lefthanded hitter who seeminly always finds a way to get the barrel on the bat his power numbers will improve with the short right field porch. My biggest fear with Lough is that Buck won’t utilize him properly and will rely on him to be more of a utility player. Reimold still concerns me, as does Pearce, but Lough will easily make up for Nate’s offensive production and will be an even better defender. Lough is extremely fast too. He doesn’t get jumps like Nate, but he is probably faster, so he could easily steal twenty bags.

    4: The second base spot does scare me a little bit, then again you don’t need a star at every position. If the biggest weakness in your lineup is Ryan Flaherty at the number nine spot then I don’t think there is much to worry about. He has more experience now and the Os offense as a whole should be one of the best. I think the bigger concern would be who DHs because that is a free slot for offense. As long as Ryan can focus on just doing the little things and not tryin to hit a home run every time up then he will likely pull his own weight.

    5: This concerns me, probably even more than the starting pitching. The DH slot needs to be taken advantage of. There is no excuse for not having production a that spot. I don’t think Nelson Cruz is the answer, Morales might be. The team needs to look at matchups and even if it means having two or three players platoon that role it needs to be addressed and taken care of. It is free offense. Davis needs protection in the lineup. Hell, I still don’t understand why Jim Thome wasn’t resigned last season. Who cares if he is 43-44? Even if he only played every other day he still provided lefthanded power in a very hitter friendly ballpark. I don’t think Urrutia is the answer yet and I never thought Betemit was the answer either. Reimold can’t stay healthy and when Steve Pearce is the leading candidate for DHing then that is something that needs to be taken care of.

    Note: That is meant with no disrespect to Steve Pearce, despite the crap that many Os fans have him last season he did a very solid job.

    6: Sign Arroyo! Arroyo, Tillman, Gonzalez, Chen, and Gausman is actually a solid rotation despite what others may say. Realistically we already know what to expect out of the first three names I listed if healthy. My main concerns would be Chen and Gausman, mostly Chen down the stretch in ball games. He needs to add another pitch to his repertoire or he needs to learn to mix his pitches better. The biggest problem with Wei-Yin is that he becomes too predictable because he relies on his fastball too much. When you are in the sixth or seventh inning you become fatigued an that fastball that was getting guys out in the first few innings suddenly the bats are able to catch up to because location is a little off and it isn’t as crisp. Whether it is just mixing up pitches more or throwing more breaking balls early in the game. He needs to do something with that.

    7: *sighs* Manny will be ready when he is ready. In the meantime I still feel the Os should pursue Michael Young or a trade with Seattle involving Nick Franklin, Dustin Ackley, or Brad Miller, something along those lines. With Seattle signing Cano that pretty much gives them four every day middle infielders, Balt. Should pry one away while each is expendable in their own way and won’t require as much for a trade.

    8: This is tricky. Davis seems the more likely of the two now. I feel, and have felt since watching him hit, that Wieters should just give up switch hitting as a whole. He is just a terrible lefthanded hitter. He batted .214 last season as a lefthanded batter. So…why is he still convinced he can bat left handed? He was a .282 hitter from the right side of the plate, he also has the same amount of homers (11) from the right side despite 197 less at bats. Earth to Matt Wieters, give up switch hitting already. Look at how much it helped Victorino. This could be you…

    9: Matt Wieters can’t bat left handed…

    10: I love their uniforms as is. Matt Wieters still can’t bat left handed, but I am looking forward to seeing some kick ass unis as well.

  2. MGW

    January 7, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Ryne, nice analysis. Very well thought out. Hope you’re around the site more often, it can be a tough place for an Orioles fan. Lots of negativity in the comments section. I’m with you on Arroyo, as I wrote in an earlier post. One solid pitcher- not spectacular, just solid- could make a big difference in this rotation.

  3. Anthony W. Carrick

    January 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Good analysis, although the thing about Wieters and his low strike framing rate is garbage. Even the article you reference points out that Wieters’ strike framing rate is likely due to the mish mosh of pitchers he has to handle that are coming and going from Norfolk all season long. And let’s face it, our starting pitching staff, which as a whole suffers from significant control issues, just isn’t going to get those edge calls that teams with veteran pitchers who hammer the strike zone get.

    • Zach Wilt

      January 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      That’s a very point, Anthony. Wieters being such a big target definitely has to do with his results in pitch framing as well.