Getting Out of the Cellar: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have quite a climb ahead of them. They weren’t the worst last-place team in 2010, but they have the furthest gap to reach fourth place (19 games, tied with the Mariners). Last year the AL East produced four above-.500 teams, and none of them appear particularly weak for 2011. That means Baltimore has to improve considerably if it wants to catch Toronto and move out of the cellar.

In particular, Baltimore would do well to improve on these positions in the off-season:

First Base

Six players manned first base for the Orioles in 2010; they combined to produce -1.1 WAR. Chances are five of those players will not play another inning at first base for the Orioles, barring serious injury. The only one that has a decent shot, Brandon Snyder, had a poor year in the minors following three very good years. Chances are the Orioles will seek a steadier upgrade at the position.

Thankfully for them the market features a number of players who can man the position. They can explore veterans such as Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady, Derrek LeeDerrek Lee, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Nick Johnson, or Lance Berkman. If healthy any of these players can potentially provide a three-win swing. That’s enough for the rebuilding Orioles. They don’t need to go nuts here. They just need competence.

Shortstop

Long-term the Orioles think they have their solution at shortstop in 2010 first-round pick and No. 1 prospect Manny Machado. But he won’t be ready until 2013 at the earliest, which leaves two-plus seasons in which the Orioles must fill the shortstop position. Cesar Izturis has done it for the past two seasons, but he is a considerable liability at the plate. His glove could not compensate for his bat in 2010; he finished last among MLB shortstops in WAR. The Orioles would do well to find a better stopgap.

Someone like Juan Uribe, perhaps, could help, but beyond that it’s tough to see a free agent shortstop that could interest the Orioles. They could take a shot with Edgar Renteria, but that’s not advisable following his tenure in San Francisco. Chances are that the Orioles will take their time filling the position, knowing that Izturis will likely remain on the market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back with the team in 2011, though it probably won’t help the them much.

Third Base

Josh Bell‘s debut didn’t go as well as planned. After a season in which he murdered the ball for two AA clubs, his production dropped off in 2010. He hit for some power in AAA, a .203 ISO that led to a .341 wOBA, but his 161 PA in the majors couldn’t have gone much worse. That has to give the Orioles some reservations about bringing him back as the de facto starter in 2011.

This is a way in which re-signing Ty Wigginton can help the Orioles. Should Bell falter again he can take over at third base — that is, if his presence isn’t required at first base. There are some other options at third base, though I’m not sure the Orioles would find one attractive enough to sign, especially since they have two other infield positions to fill. Again, Wigginton makes the most sense because he can play all around the infield. Bill Hall could be a good fit, and might be attracted to the position since he’d get his share of playing time.

Outfield

Chances are the Orioles enter the season with an outfield of Felix Pie, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. That’s a top-notch defensive outfield, and it has offensive potential as well. Markakis had a down year with the bat but has proven himself in the past. Jones started hitting later in the season and could be in store for a rebound in 2011. That leaves Pie, who is the biggest outfield question mark for the club.

The Orioles could take a chance on someone like Andruw Jones or Magglio Ordonez: a veteran who can play the OF corners and take time at DH. This would give the team another option should Pie remain healthy and effective, and would give the player at-bats regardless of how the situation shakes out. That does leave Luke Scott‘s role in question, though there’s little chance he’s in for a repeat of his career year.

Pitching

Brian Matusz and Jeremy Guthrie will head the staff, followed by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. Zach Britton could follow at some point during the season. But as the Orioles learned in 2010, young pitchers can fail miserably. The team cycled through a number of them, and probably want to avoid the same type of situation in 2011. That could mean adding a veteran starter.

This could mean a reclamation project such as Aaron Harang, or it could mean a veteran innings eater in the mold of Jon Garland (or Garland himself). They don’t need a superstar here, but rather someone who can provide some insurance should their young arms run into trouble again.

Prognosis

The Orioles’ chances for success in 2011 are tied not only to their improving on the above positions, but also improvement from some disappointing performances in 2010. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters need to start fulfilling their potentials. Brian Roberts needs to stay healthy. The young pitchers need to step up. If they can do all this, the Orioles will already be on their way to a better future.

Still, they need to address the considerable holes in their lineup. Getting below replacement level production at first base — a full win below, at that — won’t cut it. Yet even if the Orioles do add a 2 WAR first baseman and a 1 WAR shortstop, they still have a long way before catching the Jays. Of all the cellar teams the Orioles might be the best positioned for the future, but they still might have the longest way to go in improving their standing.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


14 Responses to “Getting Out of the Cellar: Baltimore Orioles”

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  1. bflaff says:

    I know he’s not much of a glove, but shouldn’t Adam Dunn be on the list of 1b possibilities?

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  2. Ben says:

    If by “top-notch defensive outfield” you mean one that combined for -12.2 UZR/150 last year, then right you are.

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    • Bill says:

      Pie wasn’t out there much last year and all of the outfielders have proven, in the past, that they are capable of being good fielders. There is no physical reason that any of the current outfielders should have gotten worse, so I think it is likely that the -12 UZR is not a true measure of their fielding ability. There is room for doubt, but more reason for optimism. To beat a tired drum, one year is too small of a sample to draw true talent level conclusions from UZR.

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      • Ben says:

        They didn’t really get worse. Markakis was -5.2 last year and -6.0 the year before that (although he was admittedly +12 the year before). Adam Jones was -5 this year and -7.6 the year before (+5.8 the year before). You’re right Pie was only there for half the season, but he’s never played a full season in left so it’s hard to judge. For his career, his average UZR/150 (which I recognize is a crude way of going about it…) is 3.3.

        Long story short, even if you view the numbers as optimistically as possible, there’s just no objective way you can call this trio a “top-notch defensive outfield.” The best-case scenario is more like, “a slightly above average defensive outfield.”

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  3. mbrokos says:

    This article forgets about Nolan Reimold, who has shown big-league potential and who has a chance not only to start in left field over Felix Pie, but to factor into the 1B mix as well at some point in the season.

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    • Ben says:

      Yup, always liked Reimold. Not entirely sure what went wrong this year…most likely a combination of some bad luck and slower than anticipated rehab from the Achilles injury. Still some big time raw power from the right side of the plate. Hope they find a way to get his bat in the lineup every day.

      Also don’t get the hating on Luke Scott. Why is there, “little chance he’s in for a repeat?” Other than simply playing the entire season, he didn’t do anything radically different this year. He simply improved pretty moderately across the board. Slightly better wOBA than career, slightly fewer Ks, slightly more BBs. A moderate uptick in ISO. I suppose the HR/FB% (18.6 vs career average of 15.5) was a bit high, but still nothing extreme. Seems like a very possible case of a late bloomer who finally got to play every day.

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  4. Eric says:

    Based on this read, I presume you think the Orioles are still too far off to “make a move”? I agree heartily with the idea that 1B, 3B, and SS are the trouble spots…it would be difficult to come to any other conclusion. I agree that the market sets up nicely for the O’s to make a short-term commitment to a 1B who will likely provide a 3-win boost over what we had last season. However, your end-game result at these positions results in essentially the status quo at SS , 3B, and SP.

    Izturis may bounce back from a career-worst season at age 31, but I think the best-case scenario there is 1.0 WAR…and the most likely scenario is between 0.0-0.5 WAR.

    Wigginton, while he would be a solid option off the bench for his versatility, would be a hugely disappointing starter at 3B. At best, we’re probably looking at something in the 0.5-1.0 WAR range.

    Signing a Garland (or Garland lite) type won’t be a significant upgrade on Millwood. In the AL East, Garland would have a difficult time cracking a 4.75 ERA.

    Which leads back to my question: Do you think the Orioles are simply too far from being competitive to justify (a) giving more significant FA contracts or (b) trading young talent for more established players? This plan amounts essentially to treading water and hoping that the young players make huge strides…do you think it’s too early for the Orioles to start looking to fill holes in a more costly, more long-term manner?

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  5. B N says:

    Is there really a lot of value in playing for respectability? I’d rather see some young guys or maybes in the field than old vets, even if it involves losing a few more games. If I were them, I’d only want to sign guys to short term contracts who might end up having a big season so I could flip them for prospects or offer them arb for draft picks. Hall, Magglio, Harang, Nick Johnson, and Berkman might fit that mold. Otherwise, I don’t see the point of signing a guy like Lee. You’re going to have to offer a multi-year deal, while instead you might have been able to pick up somebody’s garbage (Rule 5 pick, junk swap) and possibly strike gold for the future. Using a spare roster spot to develop talent seems like a better long term strategy than locking an aging vet into the position.

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  6. KS says:

    Clearly, 1B was a massive black hole for the O’s in 2010, and any of the players you mention would be an upgrade. Hell, even Brandon Snyder would be an upgrade. I hope MacPhail and Co. can find a better 3B alternative than Wigginton, who’s a useful utility player but a butcher in the field.

    I take issue with your suggestion that Jones or Ordonez would be better than Pie and Nolan Riemold. On SS, I’d rather have Izturis than any of the alternatives, at least you’re getting solid, consistent defense. Plenty of teams win with good-glove, no-hit shortstops. And pitching-wise you didn’t mention Brad Bergeson, who had a miserable first half but came on strong. And barring a major trade, it doesn’t appear there’s anyone available who will be significantly better than Kevin Millwood.

    Bottom-line, it doesn’t look like the team can make dramatic improvements in the off-season, though they can get better. As you say, the most improvement is likely to come from Roberts staying healthy and the young guns getting better. Sigh…

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  7. Theo says:

    Seems to me the Orioles’ biggest problem is… cliché, cliché… playing in the AL East. The Yankees will be the Yankees next year (with or without Cliff Lee), the Red Sox can only have better luck with injuries, the Rays (despite some potentially large regression) will still have the pitching to play with the big boys, and the Jays shouldn’t realistically be expected to be any worse than they were this year, with their strong pitching core and a potent offense even when the HR numbers drop.

    The Orioles, I think, need to focus less on being a “winning” ball club than on trying to do what Alex Anthopolous has started to do in Toronto: foster or buy elite talent at every position, both for now, the immediate future, and the distant future. It’s the only way to win in the beast that is the east.

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    • tbad says:

      What does that even mean? Is there a way to “foster” talent besides what the O’s are (attempting) to do? That basically just boiled down to “get better players”

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  8. captain_oblivious says:

    Given the glut of 1B options and lack of SS options, strengthening the bullpen will likely be top priority. A second LH to complement Gonzalez would be nice, and either re-upping Uehara or replacing him with a Putz/Benoit-type would be ideal. Plus less innings out of Albers/Hendrickson/Simon and more out of Berken/Johnson/Hernandez can’t hurt.

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  9. Eric M. Van says:

    The Orioles were the fourth best team in baseball in August and September, after schedule adjustments.

    Phi .692
    Min .631
    TB .602
    Bal .592
    SF .588
    Tor .576
    NYA .564
    Bos .555
    Tex .549
    Cin .546

    They obviously have some holes to fill, but their young talent is probably way better than their 2010 season lines would indicate.

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  10. Kyle says:

    I would say paying big money at b is justifiable at this point. I mean Prince or Adrian Gonzalez big. Bringing in a bona-fide stud at their biggest hole would not only affect the ability of one position but could influence some of the other guys in the club. Izturis is the best they can do this year at SS, is Uribe really that reliable at SS? What about the big boy at 3b, if it is feasible to get him? All I know is McPhail has one more year to make some decent moves that don’t involve Garret Adkins. Bleh.

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