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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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