Prior to the season, this was the Orioles' pitching staff:
Starters: Erik Bedard, Kris Benson, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen, Jaret Wright, Steve Trachsel (once Benson went down with a shoulder injury)
Bullpen: Chris Ray, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, Scott Williamson, John Parrish, Todd Williams, Jeremy Guthrie
Now, the staff looks like this:
Starters: Guthrie, Cabrera, Radhames Liz, Garrett Olson, Kurt Birkins
Bullpen: Baez, Bradford, Walker, Brian Burres, Jim Hoey, Jon Leicester, Rocky Cherry
Not to make excuses for the team -- and it turns out that Danys Baez, for three years and $19 million to serve as set-up man might be the worst relief pitcher signing in league history -- but their 13-man pitching staff (14 pitchers, including Trachsel) has turned over all but five members by this point of the season. The bullpen, which was supposed to be their strength, has been horrendous. Three of their projected starters went down to injury, four if you could Bedard's recent problems. On top of that, Daniel Cabrera hasn't shown much development; Adam Loewen lost a crucial season of development; Olson and Liz -- the team's two top pitching prospects -- have flamed out in the majors so far; and one of their other top prospects, Hayden Penn, missed most of the season after shoulder surgery.
The team won't be shedding any salary this offseason, and will have to make crucial decisions as to whether to spend on pitching or a first baseman, left fielder, and center fielder. Odds are they'll make a run at one of the top center fielders on the market (Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Corey Patterson, Milton Bradley, Aaron Rowand), and with Kevin Millar's option likely vesting, start him at first base in 2008 and hope to make a run at local boy Mark Teixeira in 2009. The rotation should look something like this:
(5) Free Agent/Penn/Olson
With Ramon Hernandez, Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons, Baez, Walker, and Bradford signed to contracts worth almost $57 million total per year all ending in 2009, and the team seemingly not going to make a legitimate run at the world series by then, look for the team to be blown up in late 2008 (when trade value can be maximized) and 2009. However, any potential free agent probably will see this is the case, and with players already reluctant to sign with Baltimore due to the existence of the Yankees and Red Sox in their division (see: Paul Konerko and Vladimir Guerrero), what big name is going to sign with them this offseason or next with a rebuilding phase looming in 2010? Here's what the Orioles are desperately hoping for:
(1) Bedard avoids long-term injury and continues to be one of the top pitchers in the American League, after which they can sign him to a below-market long-term extension (the kind they were unable/unwilling to do with Mike Mussina)
(2) Two of Cabrera, Loewen, and the surprising Guthrie continue to develop into solid long-term No. 2 and No. 3 starters. In my opinion, Cabrera doesn't look like he'll ever gain control of his pitches (he's already had two years with Leo Mazzone), Guthrie needs to display a bit more consistency with a solid 2008, and Loewen is a wild card due to his lost year of development.
(3) The team is able to land Teixeira for a reasonable salary, hoping that Tex's desire to play for the team he grew up rooting for overcomes the previously stated organizational deficiencies. Combined with fellow Georgia Tech alum Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, and a prospective re-signing of Peter Angelos favorite Brian Roberts, the Orioles would have a solid offensive base. If Bill Rowell (3B), Brandon Snyder (1B/C), and/or Nolan Reimold (LF) develop into any sort of a major league starter the Orioles could have a decent offensive core by 2011.
Things aren't looking terrible for the Orioles, because who knows what the free agent market will look like in 2010 (and how far their $57 million, minus what they spend the next couple offseasons, will take them), but it's tough to place your hopes on landing a top free agent in Teixeira when your team consistently loses out in free agency. If the Orioles make a competitive offer and Tex doesn't sign, other top free agents will most certainly stay away, and the O's could be in for another 5-10 years of losing seasons.