Reason for hope in Balmer

I received this mailbag submission from Jake Rake, a long suffering Orioles fan. As someone who’s not an Orioles fan, I hardly ever think of them, and the fans I do run across seem to range from resigned to actively angry. But who knows; hope springs eternal, and it’s only
165 till Opening Day 2009.

For the first time since 1997, there is reason to be optimistic about baseball in Baltimore. Other than the false hope of 2005, when the Orioles looked to contend for a postseason berth into the All-Star break, only to [astoundingly] finish with an even worse record than they had a year earlier, the most compelling goings-on at Camden Yards have centered around Boog Powell’s barbeque tent and Rafael Palmiero’s ultimate plunge into the bowels of disgrace. After a decade of mediocrity unmatched anywhere outside of Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, the Orioles finally appear to have a plan.

Led by an actual baseball executive for the first time since Pat Gillick left the team in 1997 in Andy McPhail, the 2008 Orioles differed from the other O’s teams of the past decade in that they came into the season with no apparent delusions of expecting to win anything. Rather than running out and spending the farm on mediocre veterans like they have in the past, with the likes of Omar Daal, Sidney Ponson, Marty Cordova, Jay Payton and Rick Helling coming to mind, the Orioles finally took inventory of their assets and sold high where they could, trading over-the-hill shortstop Miguel Tejada for organizational depth and Eric Bedard to the Mariners for most of their farm system.

Assuming that they don’t go and blow their load over every available A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster and every other overpriced free agent that will be dangled in front of them over the next two offseasons, the Orioles are finally in a position to begin to look to almost think about maybe competing with the rest of the American League East. With an outfield of Adam Jones flanked by Nick Markakis and either Luke Scott or Nolan Reimold, the Birds will have the makings of one of the top all-around outfields in the league – one that will also be under team control for years to come, as Markakis, Reimold and Jones currently have a combined four years of service time under their collective belt. The Baltimore infield should also receive significant upgrades in the next two seasons, with the arrival of uber-stud Matt Wieters replacing the anemic Ramon Hernandez at catcher and the eventual ascendance of Billy Rowell at third base.

While the Markakis-Wieters-Jones triumvirate is walking and homering all over Body-more, the Orioles will also have some intriguing arms backing them up. Jeremy Guthrie and Garrett Olsen could well be the lone Orioles pitchers to make starts for the team in both 2008 and 2010, as Guthrie has emerged as a legitimate No. 2 starter and is under control for three more seasons, while Olsen is still young enough that he could become equally effective. The rest of the 2010 starting rotation can be selected from group of under 24-year-olds that includes current Double-A hurlers David Hernandez (23 y.o., 535:206 k:bb in 473 innings) and Chris Tillman (20, 338:146, 302 1/3), Class-A Frederick’s Brandon Erbe (20, 151:50, 150 2/3) and Jake Arrieta (22, 120:51, 113), and 2008 first-round draft pick Brian Matusz.

Assuming this organization finally plays their cards right, The Orioles could finally be getting back on track and there will be something more positive coming out of Baltimore than the incarceration of Avon Barksdale.

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