2011 was another year of "more of the same" for the Baltimore Orioles. It was the team's 14th straight season under .500, and fifth straight under 70 wins. That futility has led to six straight top ten picks in the June draft, giving the team such players as superstar catcher Matt Wieters, enigmatic starter Brian Matusz, and a pair of top 100 prospects in Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado. 2012 will probably be another long and depressing year for Orioles fans, but there are always chances that things could turn out well.
Depth Chart (as of 3/11)
C: Matt Wieters
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Brian Roberts
SS: JJ Hardy
3B: Mark Reynolds
LF: Nolan Reimold
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Wilson Betemit
SP: Jason Hammel
SP: Zach Britton
SP: Brian Matusz
SP: Tsuyoshi Wada
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
CL: Jim Johnson
New general manager Dan Duquette wasted no time in remaking this team, bringing in utility man extrordinaire Wilson Betemint, and apparently committing to him as the team's full-time DH. Duquette also signed a pair of foreign imports in starters Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chin, who could slide into Baltimore's rotation in a best case scenario for the team. Duquette also traded one of the most tradeable assets on his team, starter Jeremy Guthrie, and brought in a battle-tested former AL East starter in Jason Hammel, and a potentially dominant late-game reliever in Matt Lindstrom. In addition to Lindstrom, there were a few other bullpen additions signed by Duquette, like Dana Eveland, Luis Ayala, and Darren O'Day.
The team traded Derrek Lee at last year's trade deadline, and will be replacing him in the lineup with Chris Davis, acquired along with mediocre starter Tommy Hunter from the Rangers in exchange for reliever Koji Uehara in July. Former DH Vladimir Guerrero had his contract expire in the offseason, and new Oriole Wilson Betemit will replace him at the position. For the record, no team has picked up Guerrero quite yet. Former top prospect (for the Cubs) Felix Pie was DFAed in August, opening up left field for Reimold.
Most of Baltimore's prospects, a class headed up by the previously mentioned Machado and Bundy, are still rather raw, and probably won't be ready for the show in 2012. 2013 isn't out of the question, though. 22 year-old LJ Hoes, who's gotten time in both left field and at second base, could make an impact late in the season after posting a .792 OPS in AA Bowie in 2012. Ryan Flaherty, who the Orioles acquired from the Cubs in December's Rule 5 draft, could stick with the team in a bench role after a .907 OPS in 302 at bats for AA Tennessee (though his .676 OPS in 173 at bats in AAA Iowa might not inspire a lot of confidence).
One thing that confuses me about Baltimore's projected depth chart, at least what it looks like at the moment, is the insistence on keeping Mark Reynolds at third base. Reynolds has a career -52 DRS in 5400 innings at third base. He's not much better at first base, but at least he'd cripple the Orioles less on defense there. Betemit would be much better overall defensively than Reynolds, despite his lack of impact with the glove at the position. Over at first base, Davis has an aversion to walking and contract, walking just 6.5% for his career while striking out at an over 30% clip. It's pretty much time for him to crap or get off the pot. Reimold could also play first base if Davis doesn't work out, leaving left field open for a utility type outfielder like Endy Chavez, who makes up for middling offense with some above average defense.
Right off the bat, Brian Roberts might start the season off on the DL after suffering a concussion this spring. That's absolutely not the way Baltimore and the injury-plagued Roberts wanted to start the year. His replacement will likely be Robert Andino, another middling offensive player. Starting pitcher Zach Britton is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and hasn't thrown a pitch this spring. Another starter, Brian Matusz also missed two months last year with a muscle strain, and was ineffective when active.
Can Baltimore's rotation give the team a league average performance? The Orioles starters had a 5.39 ERA last year, which helped deep six their solid team OPS of .729. Baltimore also had some terrible defense, most of which came at the hands of Reynolds over at third base. If Baltimore's rotation can cut a run off of that ERA, and Reynolds's time in the field is minimized, then Baltimore can make some strides in 2012.
The Orioles imported starters, Wada and Chen, give the team ERAs under 4.00, while Matusz goes back to his 2010 form and Britton looks like the pitcher he was before he hurt his shoulder. Baltimore's offense should be fine, and the team could break even if the pitching dramatically improves.
Baltimore's pitching staff remains terrible, Reynolds plays 1200 innings in the field and breaks all sorts of negative defensive records, Davis is a bust at first base and the team continues to run him out on a daily basis....there is a lot that can go wrong with this Orioles team.
I think Baltimore will be doing cartwheels if they make it out of the basement of the AL East and escapes another top ten pick in the draft. Unfortunately, the division is so loaded that I don't think they come close to doing that.
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