Raise your hand if at the beginning of 2012 you thought the Orioles would go 43-29 against the AL East, win 16 straight extra-inning games, earn a Wild Card spot, end the Rangers season, and push the Yankees to the limit in a playoff series.
Didn't think so...
And yet it happened. Naysayers will point to a run differential of just +7 on the season and chances are the Orioles will have to find a way to get more run production if the team does not want to rely on luck to get back to the postseason. It was a quiet offseason, as the Orioles had a host of arbitration eligible players who were due for a raise. That means there was no marquee free-agent signing, but the core of last year's team remains intact as the Orioles again play underdog in what may be baseball's most competitive division.
Re-signed Nate McLouth.
The Orioles claimed McLouth off waivers after his dismal start to the season with the Pirates. He spent some time in Triple-A before being promoted to fill a big void in the outfield. Though he delivered some timely hits down the stretch and in the playoffs, McLouth's .241/.314/.380 line for the Pirates and Orioles does not even give him an OPS over .700 for the season. McLouth will compete with Nolan Reimold for time in left field, and it should be noted that McLouth's glove could relegate Reimold to the DH spot unless Wilson Betemit asserts himself in that role.
Traded cash to Minnesota for Danny Valencia and claimed Alexi Casilla off waivers.
Valencia completely fell apart in 2012, hitting a combined .188 for Minnesota and Boston. Most of his season was spent with each organization's Triple-A affiliates. He will give the Orioles some infield depth and has hit lefties well in his brief MLB career. Since he has options left, Valencia may open the season as Triple-A Norfolk's starter at third base.
Casilla began last season as Minnesota's starting second baseman, but moved to a utility role after posting a .585 OPS in the season's first six weeks. He didn't improve much at the plate the rest of the season, but did help fantasy owners by stealing 21 bases. He'll be in the mix for playing time at second base for the Orioles, though he is likely better suited to a utility role.
Signed free agents Jason Pridie and Conor Jackson, traded Robert Andino to Seattle for Trayvon Robinson.
The Orioles feel they upgraded their utility infield positions with Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla, so Andino became expendable. These three outfielders will compete with Xavier Avery for the last outfield spot out of spring training. Pridie and Jackson are on minor league contracts, while Robinson is out of options.
Signed Jair Jurrjens.
It's hard to make heads or tails of Jurrjens at this point. Is he the former top prospect who posted a 2.60 ERA in 2009 and 2.96 ERA in 2011? Or is he the pitcher who posted a 4.64 ERA in 2010 and a 6.89 ERA in 2012 while also struggling in Triple-A both years? It all comes down to keeping a lower than average BABIP for Jurrjens. During his two good years, his opponents BABIPs were .268 and .269. The league average tends to hover around .300, which is exactly where Jurrjens was at during 2010. During his awful season in 2012 his BABIP was .354, and he allowed a lot of contact with a 3.5 K/9. Jurrjens will have to compete for a rotation spot with Baltimore after signing an incentive laden contract. He does have minor league options remaining.
The Orioles will enter spring training with players who are out of options on the roster, and there is a lot of depth from the starting pitching department. With that in mind, the Orioles could flip pitching for an outfielder, first baseman, or designated hitter this spring.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/vs. LH)
1. RF Nick Markakis
2. SS J.J. Hardy
3. 1B Chris Davis
4. CF Adam Jones
5. C Matt Wieters
6. LF/DH Nolan Reimold
7. LF Nate McLouth/DH Wilson Betemit
8. 3B Manny Machado
9. 2B Brian Roberts/Alexi Casilla
The top five hitters should break camp in that order unless Brian Roberts has a healthy and productive spring. If that is the case, Roberts could move back to the leadoff spot and the Orioles would have to shuffle from there. Manny Machado should start low in the order and rise if production warrants. It seems likely that Reimold, McLouth and Betemit would settle in the second half of the order. If Casilla, Ryan Flaherty or Danny Valencia see playing time they will likely slot at the bottom of the order.
1. Jason Hammel
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3/4/5. Miguel Gonzalez/Chris Tillman/Jair Jurrjens/Tommy Hunter/Jake Arrieta/Brian Matusz/Steve Johnson/Zach Britton/Tsuyoshi Wada
Hammel and Chen are the only Orioles that are virtual locks for the rotation. Things will get interesting in a wide open battle for the back end of the rotation.
The smart money is on Gonzalez and Tillman. Gonzalez was promoted in late June and the 28-year-old rookie was Baltimore's most reliable pitcher in the second half. He won nine games with a 3.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Tillman gets the benefit of the doubt because he is out of options and because he also won nine games in 15 starts. Tillman's numbers edge Gonzalez with a 2.93 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, but the his repeated lack of success leading up to 2012 may linger in the thoughts of Orioles executives.
Jurrjens will be in the mix. Hunter is also out of options, thought a move to the bullpen seems likely. Matusz thrived down the stretch from the bullpen and he too could make the move permanent in 2013. Arrieta, Johnson and Britton have options. Wada is coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he probably will not be ready until June.
Closer: Jim Johnson - Johnson had himself quite a season in 2012, leading MLB with 51 saves and finished seventh in Cy Young voting. Still, he does not fit the bill as the prototypical closer. Johnson actually had more saves than strikeouts, a reflection of his finesse style rather than simply blowing batters away. Although he normally induces twice as many groundballs as flyballs, he took it to the next level with a 2.93 GB/FB ratio in 2012. Johnson has plenty of job security entering 2013, but his lack of strikeouts separate keeps him out of the list of top tier of closers. Keep in mind that Johnson consistently begins camp with a lower velocity in the spring. Meanwhile, Darren O'Day had supplanted Pedro Strop as the top setup man late in the season.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
What is going on at second base?
Stop me if you have heard this one before, but the job belongs to Brian Roberts if he can remain healthy. The good news for Roberts is that he has a clean bill of health entering camp, but at this point his health is simply unreliable. Alexi Casilla is the next most likely candidate and he would offer stolen-base potential. Ryan Flaherty will compete for a roster spot, but now that he made it through the whole season with the Orioles after being a Rule 5 selection, he again has options remaining.
Lots of competition in the rotation, isn't there?
It is a great problem to have. Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman really seem to have a leg up on two of the three open spots. The Orioles say Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz will compete for a spot, but it seems likely one or both will move to the bullpen to alleviate some of the logjam in the competition. Jair Jurrjens and Jake Arrieta have experience, but Steve Johnson had a good run in 2012. Tsuyoshi Wada is recovering from Tommy John and should be ready in the first half of the season, though probably not right out of the gate.
When can we expect to see Dylan Bundy?
Working on a 125-inning limit for the season, Bundy rifled off 30 scoreless innings to start the year at Low-A before advancing to Double-A in time to make a few appearances. The Orioles emptied the bullpen in marathon extra-inning games down the stretch and promoted Bundy, who made two September appearances. Look for Bundy to start the season in Double-A, while a late-season promotion is likely if he continues to breeze through the minors. Keep in mind, there will be an innings limit. Look for Bundy to be a full timer in 2014.
Buy Manny Machado?
It was a shocker that the Orioles called up Machado in the middle of 2012 at just barely 20 years old in the first place. There is no looking back now. While he was a bit overaggressive at the plate (9:39 BB:K), Machado held his own considering his age. Lots of people will overreach on Machado come draft day, especially those of a “find the next Mike Trout” mentality. Just remember that Trout is the exception to the rule and it is unreasonable to expect stardom out of Machado at this young age.
Virtually everyone that made a major contribution last year is back, except for Mark Reynolds and Joe Saunders. Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis carried the offense and will be expected to do so again this season. There is a lot of pitching depth, which not many organizations can boast. The bullpen returns intact and gets even scarier if Brian Matusz becomes a permanent fixture there.
While the rotation has depth, there is no definitive ace. However, when you put the numbers of some of the half-seasons of guys like Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel up against other teams' aces, you might no know the difference. Health has held back Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold for years and it has created a lot of inconsistency at second base and left field.
Rising: Manny Machado - It may not happen this year, but Machado seems destined to become a very good third baseman. At just 20 years old, he is more serviceable than plenty of other third basemen in the league.
Declining: Brian Roberts - A concussion and labrum tear held Roberts to 17 games in 2012. He has been in just 105 games in the last three years. Even if he is healthy, Roberts is now 35 years old. Speed was his top attribute and it is difficult to expect much out of him on the basepaths even if he can get on base consistently. The Orioles are quietly glad this is the last year of his contract.
Sleeper: Nolan Reimold - Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That's how the old saying goes, right? How many times have you been fooled by Reimold since he debuted in 2009? Are you planning on giving him one more chance this season? Before you turn your back on Reimold, keep this in mind. Reimold has been in good favor with manager Buck Showalter and there is even less competition for a starting spot this year than in years past. Health is always a concern, but after oogling Reimold's .313 average and five home runs in 67 at-bats, the thought of what he can do in a full season should mean the potential payoff is worth the risk.
Supersleeper: Jonathan Schoop - Just a 20-year-old in Double-A, Schoop had some difficulty adjusting to advanced pitching. His strikeout rate increased from 14.4 percent in 2011 to 18.6 percent in 2012. With J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado set to occupy the left side of Baltimore's infield, Schoop was moved to second base to add depth at that position. Though he will start 2013 at Double-A or Triple-A, Schoop could be the long-term replacement for Brian Roberts.
Dylan Bundy, P - See NOTES OF IMPORT, FANTASY AND OTHERWISE above.
Kevin Gausman, P - Widely regarded as the top college pitching prospect in the 2012 draft, Gausman made a brief set of appearances in short-season and High-A before starting a Double-A playoff game. Gausman throws a fastball and a changeup, but he alternated his use of a curveball and slider during his last college season. As a starter he will probably throw both of them going forward, but they need work. Gausman seems likely to start the season in Double-A with a midseason promotion possible. He could even see time in Baltimore at some point in 2013.
Jonathan Schoop, 3B - See SUPERSLEEPER above.
Nick Delmonico, 3B - The Orioles have plenty of organizational depth at third base, with Manny Machado at the MLB level, Jonathan Schoop poised to graduate from the system, and now Delmonico. He needs to improve as a hitter after dropping a .249 average at Low-A, but Delmonico swatted 11 home runs and 22 doubles. He should see time at High-A in 2013.
Eduardo Rodriguez, P - Rodriguez drew solid reviews after spending all of 2012 at Low-A. His velocity sits just above 90 MPH, but a wiry 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame suggests that he might be able to generate more power. Rodriguez is still a couple years away from getting a shot with the Orioles.
L.J. Hoes, OF - Hoes took some positive steps forward in 2012, hitting even better after his midseason promotion to Triple-A. The Orioles even gave Hoes a call in September, but the team was in contention and there was no place to give him an audition. Hoes can hit for average and he has some speed, but power is not his game. He cut his strikeout rate to 12 percent, the best of his minor league career. The jury is out on whether Hoes can be a starter at the MLB level or whether he is better suited as a fourth outfielder.
Xavier Avery, OF - Avery likely will not hit well enough at the MLB level to warrant consideration as a starting outfielder, but due to Baltimore's ravaged outfield he made his debut ahead of schedule and went through two short stretches where he played almost every day. Avery showed off his speed, his best tool, by swiping 28 bags at Triple-A. The Orioles shored up their outfield in the offseason and that means Avery is the fifth outfielder or starts the season in Triple-A.
Mike Wright, P - Hamstring issues slowed Wright in 2012, but Wright was borderline dominant in High-A before moving up to Double-A. Wright uses a sinking fastball and a slider, so he needs a third pitch if he intends to remain a starter. If not, Wright could fit in the bullpen. Wright should start the season back at Double-A.
Branden Kline, P - Kline closed in college, but converted to a starter and made four appearances in short-season ball after the Orioles nabbed him as a second-round pick in 2012. Given that he has plenty of adjustments to make if the Orioles move forward with Kline as a starter, he should take some seasoning in Low-A and/or High-A in 2013.
Adrian Marin, SS - The Orioles selected Marin in the third round of the 2012 draft, and he signed quick enough to see plenty of rookie league action before moving up to Low-A ad the very end of the season. The Orioles like him as a five-tool player, but he did not homer in 199 professional at-bats in 2012. A full season in Low-A feels is likely in order.