30 Clubs in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

Posted: February 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

orioles

A year ago, the Baltimore Orioles fell short in their quest to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season. At 85-77, a dominant campaign by Chris Davis as well as breakout performances from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were not enough to overcome shaky rotation depth and injuries to key offensive performers in the uber-tough AL East. This season, Baltimore will hope for more of the same from Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones as well as improvement from Matt Wieters at the dish.

Up until Monday night, the Orioles had not done much this offseason. They replaced last year’s starter in left field, Nate McLouth, with former Phillies’ OF Delmon Young. In December, Baltimore traded closer Jim Johnson, who led the league in saves in 2012, to the Oakland Athletics for 2B Jemile Weeks. The brother of Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks, Jemile is expected to replace longtime second baseman Brian Roberts, who bolted for New York this winter. The O’s also looked to improve their bench by dealing Danny Valencia to Kansas City for OF David Lough.

Then, the big splash happened. Baltimore agreed to terms with free agent RHP Ubaldo Jimenez on a 4 year, $50 million contract on Monday. Jimenez, 29, went 13-9, 3.30 with Cleveland last year. His best year was back in 2010 with Colorado, when the right hander went 19-8, 2.88 in 33 starts. Those strong seasons sandwich a couple of miserable campaigns for Jimenez, as he went 19-30, 5.03 in 2011-12 with both the Rockies and Indians. Jimenez’s deal is right on par with contracts signed by Edwin 2rgavrd1qgkfw74ji5se5c1ykJackson (Cubs), Ricky Nolasco (Twins), and Matt Garza (Brewers). So, it’s not as though the Orioles overpaid for the starter. Jimenez has been praised for his work ethic. But, his cataclysmic performance splits clearly alarmed many, forcing the former All Star to wait until the spring to sign.

Jimenez’s deal solidifies the Baltimore staff heading into spring training. Behind the veteran sits Tillman, who went 16-7, 3.71 last year. The 25-year old is finally developing into the pitcher that Baltimore thought he would be when they acquired him along with Adam Jones for Erik Bedard back in 2009. Behind those two will likely be Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Gonzalez in a promising rotation. Former #1 picks Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are top prospects who will now get the chance to gain further seasoning in Norfolk (AAA) to begin the season.

The Orioles’ bullpen, a strength the past two seasons, was weakened significantly by the loss of Johnson, whose salary was climbing too high for Baltimore’s liking. He’ll likely be replaced by former Rangers’ RHP Tommy Hunter, who came over with Chris Davis two years ago. Hunter had just 4 saves last year, so it remains a question as to whether or not he can handle the role. If he fails, expect either Darren O’Day or free agent pickup Ryan Webb to pick up the slack. The Orioles were reportedly close to a deal with former Oakland closer Grant Balfour. But, reneged on their agreement after a physical.

Five Year Review

2013: 85-77
2012:
93-69
Lost ALDS vs. Yankees, 3-2
2011: 69-93
2010: 66-96
2009: 64-98

Key Acquisitions

1B Alex Gonzalez (Milwaukee Brewers)
2B Jemile Weeks (Oakland Athletics)
OF Delmon Young (Tampa Bay Rays)
OF David Lough (Kansas City Royals)
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (Cleveland Indians)
RHP Ryan Webb (Miami Marlins)

Key Departures

2B Brian Roberts (New York Yankees)
3B Danny Valencia (Kansas City Royals)
OF Nate McLouth (Washington Nationals)
OF Mike Morse (San Francisco Giants)
RHP Jason Hammel (Chicago Cubs)
RHP Scott Feldman (Houston Astros)
RHP Jim Johnson (Oakland Athletics)
RHP Francisco Rodriguez (Milwaukee Brewers)

Lineup and Rotation w/ Projected Stats

OF Nick Markakis – .280-12-56
3B Manny Machado – .264-13-54
1B Chris Davis – .267-41-100
OF Adam Jones – .288-28-90
C Matt Wieters – .253-20-66
SS JJ Hardy – .257-22-70
OF Delmon Young – .264-6-25
DH Nolan Reimold – .241-9-26
2B Jemile Weeks – .253-2-27

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez – 11-9, 3.83
RHP Chris Tillman – 9-11, 4.36
LHP Wei-Yin Chen – 10-10, 4.23
RHP Bud Norris – 10-11, 4.35
RHP Miguel Gonzalez – 9-9, 4.30
RHP Tommy Hunter – 3-3, 3.92, 12 saves

2014 Outlook

The Orioles’ rotation on opening day 2014 should be miles better than a year ago. The addition of Bud Norris at the 2013 trade deadline coupled with this week’s signing of Jimenez should ease the burden on the team’s younger arms like Tillman, Gausman, and Bundy. Wei-Yin Chen, considered the de facto staff ace a year ago, is now resting firmly as a very strong third starter. With a rotation like this, Baltimore should be able to contend for a wild card spot if the offense performs to expectations.

Now, that could be a bit of a problem. Prior to 2013, Chris Davis had never driven in 86 or more runs or slugged more than 33 homers. His break out .286-53-138 campaign has thrust the former Rangers’ corner-infielder firmly into the spotlight. If Davis responds well and hits over 40 this year, Baltimore should be in good shape. That’s because the Orioles should expect continued improvement from youngsters like Wieters and Machado. The ever steady J.J. Hardy and Weeks make a very strong double play combination. If nothing else, Weeks should be able to stay on the field more than his predecessor, Brian Roberts, was able to.

The Orioles’ bullpen, or rather the back end of their bullpen, is uneasy. Hunter could prove to be the closer that Baltimore envisioned he’d be when they shipped All Star Jim Johnson out of town. But, he could also fail to rise to the occasion in a very high pressure role. Two years ago, when the Orioles went to the postseason for the first time since 1997, they were the best team in baseball in one-run games. Last year, that number came back down to earth. Manager Buck Showalter has instilled a mindset that this team is good enough to win and should succeed night-in-and-night-out. But, if there’s no one to close out games in which they lead by one run, will the Orioles have any chance at outlasting the likes of Boston, New York, or Tampa?

The likely answer is no. Despite their offensive prowess and an improved rotation, Baltimore just does not have the bullpen as currently constructed to overcome the juggernauts in the East. If Gausman is shifted to reliever and develops into a star; or, if the Orioles acquire a closer at some point this season, they might have a shot. However, as currently constructed, Baltimore is no better than an 81-87 win team. Good enough to get their third consecutive winning season. But, not enough to reach the playoffs in a very difficult league.

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