Enduring the second half: What I’d like to see from the Orioles (Part 1 of 2)

July 05, 2010 | Luke Jones

With the Orioles officially reaching the halfway point of the season on Sunday, the second half of the schedule began much like the first—with a 12-9 loss in Detroit on Monday afternoon.

It’s no secret that much of Baltimore has shifted its attention to the Ravens and the upcoming start of training camp with the Orioles appearing destined to finish with the worst record in franchise history. Whether you choose to persevere through the season’s final three months or tune out in hopes of regaining your sanity after the horrid first half, much needs to be accomplished between now and October—on and off the field.

The most critical question of whether Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos will commit to significantly improving the roster via free agency and trades in the offseason will linger long after October—and beyond—but in the mean time, a plethora of other issues can be addressed, some by the organization and others by players themselves.

If I had a crystal ball to predict what will unfold over the final three months of 2010, here’s what I’d like to see:

1. A new skipper is hired

This one is a no-brainer, but it’s imperative that the Orioles bring in a guy who truly wants the job and is willing to do the legwork of changing the culture of losing that exists in the clubhouse. It won’t happen by season’s end or even in 2011, but the club needs a dynamic leader.

I’ve championed Buck Showalter as the man, mainly due to his work with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the infancy of the franchise. Showalter, of course, did not stick around long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor when Arizona won the World Series in 2001, but his obsessive work ethic could hopefully do wonders for the Orioles’ player development.

With MacPhail’s preference for an experienced manager, Showalter might be the man needed to ruffle some feathers, not only at the big-league level but throughout the organization.

2. A true commitment to the international market is made

While most have focused on the Orioles’ inability—or unwillingness—to make improvements through free agency and their poor track record with the amateur draft for the better part of 25 years, the organization continues to abstain from the international market.

The Orioles have opened a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, but far more needs to be done on the international front, both in the Caribbean and the Far East. The club’s sheer number of international scouts pales in comparison to their competitors in the American League East, a simple but poignant indication that the organization is not doing enough to find talent elsewhere in the world.

And no, signing a 33-year-old Koji Uehara two winters ago doesn’t qualify as really trying.

It won’t fix the franchise alone, but tapping into the international waters instead of wasting $5 million on the Garrett Atkins types of the world every winter is a far better use of resources with a higher potential reward.

As one simple example, Robinson Cano, my choice for Most Valuable Player of the first half, was signed out of the Dominican by the New York Yankees. Talent is out there; it’s up to the Orioles to find and develop it.

3. Do whatever it takes to fix Matt Wieters

The claims of “Mauer with Power” and “Switch-Hitting Jesus” were always ridiculous, but no one—inside or outside of Baltimore—expected Matt Wieters to struggle as he has over the first 600-plus at-bats of his major league career.

It’s not just the .239 average or the lack of power (.344 slugging percentage) this season, but his approach at the plate is undisciplined and his swing is passive, often looking to slap the ball somewhere instead of attacking the baseball when he gets a good pitch to hit.

Many blame Terry Crowley while others will point to the team’s struggles and the overwhelming expectations bestowed upon the young catcher, but Wieters needs help to realize his vast potential.

Whether it’s a new hitting coach, a former Oriole such as Eddie Murray working with him, a demotion to the minors, or the apparition of Charley Lau returning to tinker with his swing, Wieters must get on track if the Orioles are to pull themselves out of this 13-year abyss. Aside from the final month of his rookie season, he’s looked nothing like the future star so many projected him to be.

For the record, I still believe Wieters eventually becomes a good-to-great catcher in the big leagues, but the organization must do everything in its power to help him.

Immediately.

4. The trade pieces perform and are dealt at the deadline

Anyone with delusions that Kevin Millwood, Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, Jeremy Guthrie, or any other veteran would fetch a return comparable to the one the Orioles received for Erik Bedard a few years ago was always setting himself up for disappointment, but these players have a few more weeks to improve their value in hopes of being dealt.

Millwood’s struggles are painfully apparent as the 35-year-old was shelled again on Monday afternoon in Detroit, lasting only an inning while giving up five runs against the Tigers lineup. His 2010 story has transformed from a sympathetic figure (standing at 0-4 despite a 3.26 ERA on May 8th) to one who can’t get anyone out (5.77 ERA after Monday’s start).

Even if MacPhail was unable to find a suitable deal for Millwood at the deadline, there were hopes that Millwood could perhaps fetch a compensatory pick as a Type B free agent—and certain to reject arbitration—but as Millwood’s ERA continues to skyrocket, that likelihood is becoming very unlikely.

Wigginton would appear to have the most value with his recent All-Star selection and the versatility of playing several positions on the diamond, but his hot start feels like a long time ago, and the numbers support it.

Entering Monday afternoon’s game, Wigginton has hit just .218 in 202 at-bats since May 3. For the sake of fetching a better return, a Wigginton hot streak would do wonders by the July 31st deadline.

Tejada might be an attractive option for a team looking for a third baseman or even a short-term answer at shortstop, but his .373 slugging percentage suggests a singles hitter, not the man who once led the league in runs batted in or even the hitter who led the National League in doubles last season. In other words, teams won’t be knocking down the door at the Warehouse to get him.

Guthrie might be the most valuable piece as he’s under control for two more seasons. His 4.64 ERA isn’t sparking by any stretch of the imagination, but a National League team looking for an arm to supplement the back-end of the starting rotation could do far worse than Guthrie.

Of course, the Orioles could elect to hold on to Guthrie because of those two years of control and his positive presence for a young rotation.

Reliever Will Ohman (2.88 ERA) might be another trade candidate, but it’s hard to imagine getting anything more than minor league filler for the lefty specialist.

5. Brian Roberts gets healthy for 2011

The simple act of Brian Roberts taking the field again in 2010 matters very little for a team currently 32 games below .500, but it might be viewed as a symbolic act to show he will be fully-recovered in 2011, the second year of a four-year extension signed 17 months ago.

Roberts is once again taking batting practice in Sarasota, but we’ve heard this story several times already. Surgery continues to be ruled out by all parties, so it’s imperative for Roberts’ back to hold up as we’re now approaching a time frame in which surgery could jeopardize the start of his preparation for the 2011 season.

It’s too late to debate whether it was a good idea to give the then-31-year-old Roberts a four-year extension, so you can only hope the decision to rest and rehabilitate the herniated disc proves to be the right one for his career.

If there’s any long-term risk for Roberts to try to play baseball again in 2010, he should be shut down immediately and given the rest of the season to rest.

Check out Part 2 of what I’d like to see from the Orioles over the season’s final three months later this week.

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