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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Orioles Preview

Anthony Tynan

Anthony Tynan

Anthony Tynan writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Being stuck in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays has not been kind to the Orioles in recent years. A decent Blue Jays team further compounded Baltimore’s misery in 2010. Some would call it an accomplishment that the Orioles finished with the fourth worst record in the majors.

Things went wrong from the start. Brian Roberts was hampered by injuries that were rooted in spring training and nagged all season. Kevin Millwood began the season with an abominable line and did not improve. Nick Markakis had a down year. Matt Wieters failed to take the throne as the next great hitting catcher. The coveted pitching prospects disappointed. Indeed, it was a challenging year.

To put it bluntly, the Orioles probably won’t win the division in 2011 either. The goal now is to develop a nucleus that will be around for years to come and to start contending in the near future following the Rays' organizational model. Markakis and perhaps Adam Jones seem like the two pieces that are in place. Now it is up to Wieters, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta to build a foundation.

Baltimore utilized both the trade market and free agency in an effort to put a decent product on the field this year. The corner infield spots are much better than they were a year ago and the bullpen is a bit deeper. There was no splash in the rotation, but the plan now is to let the youngsters continue to develop since they have already proven everything they can in the minor leagues.

Offseason Moves:

Traded David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Mark Reynolds

Desperately needing corner infielders, the Orioles sacrificed some pitching depth to get the slugging third baseman Reynolds. Some say either Hernandez or Mickolio could turn into a closer some day, but both are overdue in producing in a consistent role (although Hernandez made a smooth transition to the bullpen from the rotation last season). Reynolds failed to break his own single-season strikeout record (223), but he eclipsed the 200-whiff mark for the third consecutive season while hacking his way to a .198 average thanks to a 58 percent contact rate and surprisingly low .262 BABIP. Fortunately, there is at least some silver lining in that he was playing hurt throughout the season as a lingering quad injury, hand and wrist ailments, as well a concussion limited him at various points last season.

Signed Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year deal.

Guerrero gave Texas everything they could have reasonably expected, as Vlad managed to remain healthy and eclipsed the 150-game and 100-RBI barrier for the first time since 2007. It's his poor numbers (.278/.322/.426 and just nine home runs) after the All-Star break that had the Rangers balking at offseason demands for a two-year contract. Guerrero finally landed with the Orioles after he could find no other takers for his salary demands. The signing moves Luke Scott to left field and sends Felix Pie to the bench as the fourth outfielder.

Signed Derrek Lee to a one-year deal.

Lee got off to a slow start, hitting .205 in April and then put up arguably the worst stretch of his career since he became an everyday regular. He hit just .251/.335/.416 with 16 home runs with the Cubs before he was traded to Atlanta in August. He turned his season around by hitting .287/.384/.465 with the Braves. While Lee dealt with a bulging disk in his back with the Cubs, he also played with a torn ligament in his right thumb after he was traded to Atlanta. Lee still has the skill set to be a productive regular at first base as he draws walks at a good rate and hits for power. Injuries and a low BAPIP rate (.309 compared to .321 career average) may have played a part. Still, his power may never rebound to the 35-homer season of 2009. However, he could offer decent value after signing with Baltimore if others think he's washed up at age 35.

Signed Justin Duchscherer to a one-year deal.

Duchscherer was once again limited by injuries with continued hip and back problems being the culprit this time. If healthy, Duchscherer brings some sense of stability to the rotation, but those injury concerns certainly linger. He should be the No. 3 starter. If he can produce anything close to his 2008 line at 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 22 starts, it would be a victory for the Orioles.

Signed Kevin Gregg to a two-year deal.

Gregg inherited the closer's role last season after a couple of shaky outings from Jason Frasor in April and recorded a career-high 37 saves as a result. His overall numbers kept him from joining the elite closers, but his cheap draft-day price tag made that easy to swallow for most owners. He'll likely find his way into the ninth inning again in Baltimore given Koji Uehara's injury history and the fact that he has 121 saves over the last four years.

Signed Jeremy Accardo and signed Mitch Atkins to a minor league contract

Accardo saved 30 games in 2007 while B.J. Ryan was hurt, but he has had just one good season since. He had a 3.48 ERA and 24 saves in 42 games in Triple-A in 2010. Baltimore snatched him up in the offseason to shore up its middle relief. Atkins will fight for a spot as a swing reliever who can make a spot start. The bullpen’s outlook is crowded, so starting the season in Triple-A is more than likely.

Re-signed Koji Uehara and Mark Hendrickson

Uehara missed most of the first half of the season, but he was well worth the wait. He had a 2.86 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 13 saves in 43 games. Though he is not a power pitcher, he struck out 55 in 44 innings. Despite Uehara’s success in 2010, Kevin Gregg enters spring training as the favorite to close. Hendrickson will return to a long relief role or serve as a left-handed specialist.

Traded Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to the Minnesota Twins for JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris

Looking for an upgrade over Cesar Izturis at shortstop, the Orioles made a move to get Hardy. Hardy spent six weeks on the DL after hurting his left wrist while sliding in early May and it remained a problem all season. When healthy he was productive (.714 OPS) while putting up his usual strong defense (8.1 UZR last season). He also posted a .791 OPS in September when his wrist was finally close to full strength. Hardy has power and the move away from Target Field could make him a bargain, but he'll need to stay healthy. Jacobsen is an interesting pitching prospect that never had the buzz of the organization’s top tier pitchers. It seems the Orioles knew they could get something for Hoey when they added him to the 40-man roster after the season, rather than letting him go.

Signed Randy Winn to a minor league contract

Winn's downward spiral continued in 2010 as first the Yankees and then the Cardinals realized he doesn't have much left in the tank anymore. As recently as 2008, he had 10 homers, 25 stolen bases and a .306 batting average, but since the calendar turned to 2009, Winn has been one of the worst offensive outfielders in the league. He will have to overcome Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold to win a spot as the fourth outfielder, or a fifth if the Orioles keep five.

Re-signed Cesar Izturis

Izturis still has a career because of his glove, not his bat and 2010 was no exception to his pathetic display at the plate (it's rare that a player posts a lower slugging percentage than on-base percentage given more than 500 plate appearances, but Izturis achieved that feat). The Orioles won't give him everyday at-bats with the acquisition of J.J. Hardy, and the cheap 20 steals he used to deliver withered away even before he was forced into a part-time role.

Projected Lineup/Rotation

Lineup (vs. RH/vs. LH)

1. 2B Brian Roberts
2. RF Nick Markakis
3. 1B Derrek Lee
4. DH Vladimir Guerrero
5. 3B Mark Reynolds
6. LF Luke Scott
7. CF Adam Jones
8. C Matt Wieters
9. SS J.J. Hardy

It seems every year the Orioles release a lineup that has young talent and they sign a couple of veterans past their prime to try to keep things competitive. We aren’t here to scream about how the team could have bankrolled Vladimir Guerrero’s contract to use it when the team is competitive or invested it in the draft. The truth is this lineup just might actually work.

Lee and Guerrero may have already seen their best years, but consider that this lineup was banking on similar contributions from Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins last year. That type of veteran infusion is enough to push Nick Markakis to the No. 2 spot, where he can use his solid on-base skills in front of the meat of the order. Mark Reynolds and Luke Scott have plenty of pop to offer in the middle of the order. Either Scott or the developing Adam Jones could wind up batting sixth. Matt Wieters remains a wild card, but it doesn’t look like he will be the juggernaut many were expecting as his OPS sat at just .695 in 130 games.

Rotation:

1. Jeremy Guthrie
2. Brian Matusz
3. Justin Duchscherer
4/5. Jake Arrieta/Chris Tillman/Bradley Bergesen/Zach Britton

The lone departure is Kevin Millwood following his horrendous season. Guthrie’s “ace” status is relative considering he is not better than many other No. 1’s in baseball, let alone 2’s and 3’s. His poor strikeout ratio (119 K in 209.1 IP) causes him to lose fantasy value and it was just two seasons ago that he put up a 5.04 ERA and 1.420 WHIP. Matusz posted a league average ERA as a rookie in a tough division, but his strikeout rate (7.3 K/9IP) fell while his walk rate (3.2 BB/9IP) rose. However, he really shined at the end of the season, posting a 2.17 ERA and 1.032 WHIP from August-October.

With Duchscherer joining the team as the likely third starter, there are two rotation spots open. Arrieta and Tillman were top pitching prospects and made 29 starts between the two of them, but neither one saw much success. Arrieta couldn’t translate his minor league strikeouts (4.7 K/9 IP) to his 18 MLB starts (5.8 K/9IP) and posted a 52:48 K:BB ratio in 100.2 innings. Tillman faced a different problem. Despite displaying control in Triple-A (2.2 BB/9IP), he was wild with the Orioles (5.2 BB/9IP). Like Arrieta, Tillman had a lousy K:BB ratio at 31:30, a reason both were shuttled back and forth from Triple-A.

While Arrieta and Tillman are the favorites for the final rotation spots, Bradley Bergesen and Zach Britton try to unseat them. Bergesen spent almost the entire season with the Orioles, making 28 starts. After allowing 11 home runs in 123.1 innings in 2009, he was more prone to the long ball in 2010, giving up 26 dingers in 170 innings. He is a control pitcher who plays to contact, but like Guthrie, he will never be a strikeout pitcher and it makes him marginal at best in fantasy. Britton is the latest pitching prospect to emerge from the system and he put up a 2.70 ERA and 1.239 WHIP in 27 appearances in Double-A and Triple-A. He allowed just seven home runs on the season, so expect him to run into a learning curve when he faces major league power. It is more likely Britton starts in Triple-A and is called up midseason.

Rick VandenHurk and Troy Patton are extreme dark horses to crack the rotation this spring, and both more likely to handle relief roles.

CL: Kevin Gregg

Gregg will enter as the favorite to close, but there is closing experience all over the place. Koji Uehara had the best 2010 of any of the relievers and he should be the primary setup man. Then there is Mike Gonzalez, who spent plenty of 2010 on the shelf with a shoulder problem that lowered his velocity. It seems as though the velocity returned later in the season, which eases his outlook for now. Meanwhile, Jeremy Accardo and Jim Johnson also have closing experience, but they should be forced back to middle relief given the better qualifications of the aforementioned pitchers.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Can newcomers Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero put up fantasy worthy numbers with the Orioles?

Lee and Reynolds should be much more productive offensively than Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada were at the corner-infield spots a year ago. However, Lee and Guerrero should be on the downswing of their careers and banking on their hay days is not advised. The usual injury concerns follow both players. In the last two years, each player put together one good half-season and they did it with a better offense around them. Reynolds' power should remain consistent moving into Camden Yards, but his batting average will likely be something to overcome.

What can we make of Matt Wieters?

A very productive September in 2009 made Wieters a hot commodity on draft day and few players ended up as much of a disappointment as he did in 2010. He never hit .300 or more than three home runs in a month. That means he will come cheaper on draft day this year and it could be the time to buy. Unfortunately, his expectations as a superstar do seem to be a bit premature as of now.

The Orioles may be active in trade talks this summer. What do we need to know about how this could impact both potential trade chips and the players who could see playing time as a result?

Lee and Guerrero jump off the page as eventual trade candidates, unless the Orioles are in the thick of the playoff race come July. That could mean Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell could find another audition in the second half of the season. Keep in mind that if Luke Scott is moved, he will likely take on a bench role elsewhere. That type of move could pave the way for Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold in left field.

Will Nick Markakis rebound?

The phrase “model of consistency” and the name “Markakis” were known to be synonymous prior to his subpar 2010 season. Historically, his strongest month is August, but he hit just .257 with one home run for the month. On the season, most of his numbers quietly stayed around his career norm with the exception of his 12 home runs, the lowest output in his five seasons. He will get a lot more protection this season with the help of Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Reynolds. However, it will be tough for Markakis to get to his normal RBI range assuming he hits second in the order as expected.

Should anyone from the rotation be drafted in standard leagues?

Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer should not be overlooked completely, but each of the three is associated with a certain risk. Guthrie had a 2.76 ERA and 0.990 WHIP in the second half, but his on-the-field successes are often outweighed in fantasy by a weak strikeout rate and low win totals on a poor Orioles team. In Duchscherer’s case, he has accumulated a 2.60 ERA and 1.055 WHIP in 27 starts, but that is over three injury riddled seasons. Matusz closed 2010 with nine quality starts in 10 turns (leaving out a start in which he left after one inning with an injury concern). It is just one half of a season and Matusz is young, but the future looks bright.

Strengths

A young core in the lineup now blends with legit offensive capability in the offseason acquisitions. There is still a solid young nucleus of pitchers, but it is time for Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta to prove something at the MLB level.

Weaknesses

There is no superstar in his prime in the lineup. The rotation has some room for improvement, but it can't stand up against division rivals. Several minor league prospects have emerged over the last couple of seasons, but Zach Britton is the only minor league player capable of making a real splash in the near future.

Sleepers

Rising: Luke Scott – There would have been more reason to be excited about Scott had the team not signed Vladimir Guerrero. Now Scott could end up hitting as low as eighth in the order. He has averaged 25 home runs over the last three years despite an average of just 457 at-bats per season and in 2010 he pushed his OPS to .902. Besides the question of where he belongs in the batting order, Scott was probably above his head with that .284 average and as a late bloomer he is already 32 years old. Still, that discount power is worth a late round pickup.

Declining: Brian Roberts – Various ailments, primarily his back, prevented Roberts from getting in all but 59 games in 2010. He still showed a propensity to steal (12 SB), but he slugged just .391, well below his 2005-2009 seasons when he averaged a .452 percentage. He is 33 years old this season and back injuries never seem to go away completely.

Sleeper: Nick Markakis – Last season was a down year for Markakis, right? Just 12 home runs and 60 RBI on the year. Don’t be so sure. He actually managed to increase his lines to .297/.370/.805 (OPS), though his slugging percentage dropped from .453 to .436. Now consider how bad the offense around him was. Brian Roberts was not there to set the table, while both Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins disappointed behind him. Even if Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero disappoint, it is difficult to believe Markakis would not get back to his usual productivity. However, keep in mind he will not see as many RBI opportunities in the No. 2 spot in the order.

Supersleeper: Nolan Reimold – After being sent to Triple-A following what seemed like a breakout 2009, Reimold managed just a .249 average and 10 home runs in 337 at-bats. Things didn’t go any better when the Orioles recalled him late in the season as he slugged just .610 in 116 at-bats with the Orioles. To make matters worse, left field is more crowded than ever with Luke Scott, Felix Pie and Randy Winn seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart. However, Scott could be trade bait, Pie has not exactly set the world on fire offensively and Winn is in a huge decline.

Roster

Here’s the rundown on the rest of the team not mentioned above.

Robert Andino – Andino gives the Orioles depth in the middle infield, but he spent most of the 2010 season in Triple-A. A September audition didn't go too badly, but the Orioles traded for J.J. Hardy to address their organizational need at shortstop. Don't bank on Andino as a starter, as the Orioles are not sold on him in an everyday role. His .226/.275/.318 line over 403 career big league at-bats should say enough about why you should avoid him.

Josh Bell – Bell showed slight improvement in the minors against left-handed pitching, a matchup that has been a big concern as he has developed. Still, the Orioles lost faith in him during the season after he didn't overwhelm at Triple-A, and he hit just above the Mendoza Line in more than 150 at-bats with the big club while striking out in a third of them. The Mark Reynolds trade certainly does not do Bell any favors and it looks like a full season at Triple-A could be on tap while he attempts to improve his plate discipline.

Bradley Bergesen – Bergesen was a pleasant surprise in 2009, but he struggled from the outset in 2010. As a control pitcher, Bergesen relies on getting players out with the ball in play. However, he allowed 26 home runs in 2010, the same number as he gave up throughout several levels in the previous two seasons combined. With the organization stocked on starters the Orioles may try to convert him into a long reliever, where his arsenal could be a better fit given his ability to induce groundballs, but he doesn't miss enough bats to project into a high-leverage role.

Jason Berken – The Orioles converted Berken into a reliever in 2010 and he really seemed to catch on. In fact, Berken may have been the most valuable pitcher on the staff in the first half as he racked up a 1.95 ERA in 32 games before the All-Star break. Shortly after the break, his shoulder became a bother and he had to be shut down early. Look for Berken to jump back into long relief, but his shoulder may not be conditioned properly for his new role.

Jake Fox – Fox is a roster wild card, but he is hurt by the fact the Orioles don’t need a third catcher. He can play anywhere, but the Orioles don’t have a need for a super utility player given they expect to have flexibility from others on the roster.

Troy Patton – In the time since the Orioles obtained Patton for Miguel Tejada, the team again signed Tejada and again traded him, all before Patton finally threw at the MLB level. That’s why teams don’t take on players despite known injury issues. Patton is an extreme long shot for the rotation and it looks more likely he will be a bullpen guy in the future.

Felix Pie – Pie is the fourth outfielder now, though he should see frequent at-bats. Luke Scott tends to see frequent days off and Vladimir Guerrero may see rest periods too. Last year was supposed to be a critical season in Pie's development, but a significant shoulder injury in April lost half of his season. When he returned, Pie stagnated at the plate, walking just 13 times in 288 at-bats. The comparisons to Corey Patterson remain pertinent, though Pie hasn't yet hit for the same power that Patterson once displayed.

Alfredo Simon – Simon is facing accusations that he murdered someone in the Dominican Republic this winter and it seems almost certain he won’t be back in the U.S. this season.

Brandon Snyder – With Derrek Lee and Luke Scott on the club, there won’t be any need for Snyder at the big league level. He is 24 now and it feels like a make or break season. His 2010 season at Triple-A Norfolk was especially stagnant in the power department as he slugged just .407 in 339 at-bats.

Craig Tatum – Tatum served as a capable backup to Matt Wieters, but the Orioles also used Jake Fox as a backup and sent Tatum down to Triple-A for a time. It is unlikely he will ever see starting time with the Orioles, but he should be able to stick around as a backup for defensive reasons.

Rick VandenHurk – VandenHurk doesn’t have any options left, so he could be released if he doesn’t make the roster. He has a lot of work to do if he wants to make the rotation and long relief is a better bet.

Pedro Viola – Viola hopes to be a lefty specialist, but it is a crowded bullpen in middle relief and he may not make the roster.

Top Prospects

Manny Machado – He was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft and has drawn A-Rod comparisons. That’s a bit lofty, but he is a prime keeper candidate if you can wait a few years. Those lofty projections include hitting for average and 20-homer power. Consider him the best hitter out of high school in last year’s draft class.

Zach Britton – See ROTATION above.

Mychal Givens – A big dropoff in the organizational rankings after Britton. Givens may slide to second base now that Machado is the shortstop of the future, but his bat may not be good enough to be an MLB regular. He barely got his feet wet in 2010, hitting .286 with three home runs in 84 at-bats throughout four low minor league levels.

L.J. Hoes – After surprisingly signing Hoes over slot out of high school, he hit .290 and topped out with a few games at Double-A in 2010. He will need some fine tuning in High-A before making a jump and it doesn’t look like he will have much power to speak of.

Xavier Avery – Avery was a second round pick in 2008 and he has plenty of speed, swiping 28 bags in 52 attemptes between High-A and Double-A. He needs to develop some power in order to get a shot in Baltimore’s outfield some day after hitting just seven all season.

Dan Klein – Klein could move through the organization quickly as a reliever out of UCLA. He had ten strikeouts in 5.1 innings in a brief debut in the New York-Penn League and could be Baltimore’s new closer in waiting.

Wynn Pelzer – Pelzer made a nice organizational leap to Double-A, but he is 24 years old and may wind up as a reliever. With 103 strikeouts in 114.1 innings in 2010, he is one of the few power pitching prospects in the organization. However, a 4.25 ERA and 1.65 WHIP at levels no higher than Double-A are cause for concern.

Ryan Berry – The Orioles want Berry to continue to progress as a starter and he impressed in Low-A and High-A. He compiled a 3.22 ERA and 1.21 at the two levels and even saved a couple of games in relief at the end of the season. Look for the 22-year old out of Rice to get to Triple-A this year.

Ryan Adams – Adams could get a call later in the season. He hit .298 with 15 home runs in Double-A in 2010 and should be pegged to start in Triple-A this spring. Still, it is doubtful the Orioles view him as a long term option to replace Brian Roberts.

Matt Hobgood – Hobgood was an unimpressive pick for a first round selection in 2009. He had a ho-hum line in Low-A with a 4.40 ERA. A shoulder issue means he won’t start throwing until this May at the earliest and that is obviously not a good sign.

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