Back from a long, forced sabbatical, your humble blogger looks at what is happening in “Birdland” for 2010…
Hey, hi, and howdy, folks! So, I know what you are thinking…”where the hell have you been, jerkwad?!?!?” Well, much like the Orioles' performance for the last 12 years, my body went and rebelled against me and I spent the better part of the last 3+ months in hospitals. But, like the Orioles' farm system, I am feeling much better now.
So what has been happening since I was here last? Well, the O's wrapped up their season pushing to be the 2nd team in the Baltimore / Washington corridor to lose 100 games, but then thought better of it and ended it on a modest 4 game winning streak to finish at 64-98, 11 games out of 4th place in the AL East, and a mind numbing 39 games behind the 1st place New York Yankees. I wonder if Mark Teixeira is regretting picking the Yankees over the Orioles NOW?
I bet not.
So where does the team stand now? Well, I am feeling good about the next couple of years. And here is why. First of all, it looks like the Young Guns are for real. Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman looked good in their major league debuts, and Jake Arrieta is coming on strong in the minors. Add to that the pleasant surprise that was Brad Bergesen, and the fact that we have youngsters like David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, and Cla Meredith (that are probably going to wind up being valuable cogs in the bullpen) that also got valuable major league experience and we have a pitching staff that is beginning to look like a REAL Major League pitching staff (it has been a while since THAT has been a fact). Adding Kevin Millwood was a smart move by Andy MacPhail, also. He provides a veteran presence and is known for both his work ethic and his willingness to work with young pitchers. He reminds me of Rick Sutcliffe circa 1993. Now the big question is if the team will sign Erik Bedard (MacPhail has made no secret that he wants a veteran lefty in the rotation, and also that he likes Bedard – more on him and the other “big” signing news in a moment). I do hope that the team gets the chance to bring Steve Johnson (former pitcher and current broadcaster Dave Johnson's son) back to the fold (he was a Rule V draft casualty this offseason), but either way this is a staff that is well respected by the league and one that can be reasonably expected to make a big step forward this season.
But what about the fielding and hitting? Those are important, too. Right?
Right you are, nameless internet persona foil / make believe friend. Again, the team is not making big moves just yet (since big moves are not going to mean big changes in the standings just yet), but they are making smart moves. The Orioles have a really promising 3rd base prospect in Josh Bell, and an interesting prospect at 1st base in Brandon Snyder (since he has not too recently moved from his customary catcher position to learning 1st base, which is a doozy of a defensive mind shift as well as a big change in skill set, it looks like he is making some real progress, but he is less defined as a prospect than Bell because of that wholesale change in jobs). But since they are not ready yet, they have brought in 2 players to fill the gaps. At 1st base we now have Garrett Atkins, and at 3rd we have (pending a physical) Miguel Tejada! This is a very nice move by MacPhail for multiple reasons, the least of which is that Tejada is well loved by the guys on the team that were here when he played for the Orioles from 2004-2007 (Brian Roberts has been particularly vociferous in his approval of the signing, even when it was only a rumor), and it cannot hurt to make your team leader and one of your franchise cornerstones (Nick Markakis) happy. Plus, he is younger and cheaper than Melvin Mora would have been, hit for a better average and with better power numbers than Mora, and has a better history of staying healthy than the other best option left the team was kicking the tires on, Mr. Joe Crede.
So we have a reasonable assumption of increased offense from 1st and 3rd base as opposed to last year, which provides some more protection for some of the players that we can reasonably expect to continue to progress offensively (as well as defensively) in Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, and “The Franchise”, aka Matt Wieters.
Just to note, all Orioles fans should be elated that Jones won a Gold Glove, but they should also be realistic in the fact that he got it more for his highlight reel, “Web Gems” plays than he did for his everyday defense, which still needs work, or if nothing else more concentration. But the fact that a Gold Glove winner has enough room for improvement that he himself says as much.
Now on to the other tidbit of juicyness regarding the re-signing of Tejada and the possible re-signing of Bedard. Andy MacPhail was lauded for the bevy of prospects that he received when he traded those two players away before the 2008 season. Just look at the list of players he got for those two:
And then they turn around and trade Sherrill for Bell and the since Rule V'ed Johnson, the team got 12 players for the cost of 2, and now have the chance to bring both of those players back at reduced salaries to assist in teaching those very youngsters some of the nuances of the game. It is almost impossible to imagine, and would have been unthinkable 2 years ago when they left, but now it is already half reality. And add to that the fact that the Orioles are actually pretty loaded in the outfield with Jones and Markakis occupying 2/3 of the real estate and Reimold and Pie both showing signs of being valid and serviceable if not better than average major leaguers, this gives the team the option of shopping Scott and /or Lou Montanez (remember him? He came up before Reimold and was playing well until he got injured and had to be put on the 60 day disabled list. He is back, now). Scott and Reimold got some time at 1st base either at the end of last season or during pre-game (at least until Reimold's Achilles started to flare up), so both have flexibility there or as DH.
So overall, this is looking more and more like a team that is not going to be one of those darlings of the pennant / Wild Card race this year, but they also do not look nearly as much like the easy mark they looked like in the last few years. A .500 season is not an unrealistic expectation, even with the possibility of more trades during the season (honestly, I am expecting Scott to be gone before the trade deadline, and possibly Tejada also if Bell shows enough growth at AAA Norfolk and Miguel is having a decent season. There will be a contender who would like a 3rd baseman / shortstop that can also DH for the stretch run. Montanez could quite possibly be packaged with a midrange pitching prospect in the 2010 offseason for a frontline pitcher or a legitimate middle of the order bat if the team makes enough progress this year).
Now hopefully I am done with medical drama, and should be posting again regularly. If not, I will find a ghost writer, I promise.
About the Author
Written by Ron Burr
Ron is a lifelong resident of Maryland and has been a passionate player and fan of sports for as long as he can remember. When he is not watching the games or explaining to his lovely wife why he is cursing at the television, he runs an improv/sketch comedy troupe, Drop Three. He can't hit a curveball or run a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, but he knows the games and loves talking about it with anyone. Differing opinions are welcome and encouraged!