It’s time to shake things up in Birdland

May 03, 2009 | Luke Jones

The first month of the season should come as no real surprise, but it doesn’t make it any easier for Orioles fans.

With low expectations entering the season due to a thin starting rotation, the Orioles are fulfilling those prophecies in addition to disappointing in other areas.  The bullpen has been shaky, the defense inconsistent, and the bottom of the lineup completely anemic.

Having lost 14 of their last 17 games, the Orioles are crashing to the bottom of the division.  Frustrations are mounting as Dave Trembley has been ejected twice in the last week and players are slamming bats and helmets in anger.

Changes must be made.

The starting pitching will continue to struggle with limited options in the minor leagues ready for an immediate promotion to Baltimore.  Lefty Rich Hill continues to rehab his sore elbow and appears to be ready to join the starting rotation by mid-May.  Chris Tillman and David Hernandez have pitched well at Norfolk but are averaging less than five innings per start.  Once these two can go deeper into games, they would be the next logical choices for a call-up.

The club has cooled offensively with the bottom of the lineup contributing next to nothing.  Catcher Gregg Zaun is hitting .129 and has looked feeble trying to throw out baserunners—though pitchers haven’t exactly done a great job holding runners.  Left fielder Felix Pie does not pass the eyeball test and is hitting only .167 while struggling in the outfield.

Unlike the starting pitching, attractive options are ready at Triple A in catcher Matt Wieters and left fielder Nolan Reimold.  It’s time to bring them both to Baltimore.

Wieters’ situation is well-documented, the club choosing to delay the start of his service time and preventing him from becoming a free agent until after the 2015 season.  This was a financially-prudent decision—keep in mind, the Orioles gave Wieters a $6 million signing bonus—but it’s time to show the baseball world what he can do.

Despite Wieters’ slow start at Norfolk (.270, 1 HR, 6 RBI), Andy MacPhail needs to overlook these numbers, much like he did at the beginning of the season when Wieters was sent to Norfolk despite a monster 2008 season (.355, 27 HR, 91 RBI) and a productive spring training (.333, 1 HR, 5 RBI).

If you’re going to ignore his monster numbers to save some money, it’s a show of good faith to ignore his early-season slump and grant him a well-deserved promotion.  Spending a few more weeks in Norfolk is not going to make him a better player, so it’s time to allow Wieters to help improve things in Baltimore.

Wieters would immediately become the starting catcher with Zaun taking the expected role of mentor to the 22-year-old phenom.  Not only would it spark some interest in the Orioles’ fan base—something that is already needed with it only being May—but it’s the right move to make.  Zaun is no longer a viable option as a starting catcher at the major league level.

Perhaps an even more obvious move would be the promotion of 25-year-old Nolan Reimold to become the everyday left fielder.  Reimold tore up the Grapefruit League with a .321 average, four home runs, and eight runs batted in before being sent to Triple-A Norfolk in favor of Felix Pie.  Instead of sulking, Reimold has responded positively by hitting .390 while slugging eight home runs and 24 RBI.

I think it’s safe to say he’s ready for a shot in the major leagues.

Hitting coach Terry Crowley has already confirmed that Pie will not be playing on an everyday basis for the foreseeable future, so the logical move would be to promote Reimold.  Lou Montanez is currently with the Orioles, but he does not provide the same upside as Reimold.  For the time being, Montanez should be sent to Norfolk and Reimold inserted into the Orioles’ starting lineup.

Promoting Wieters and Reimold will not turn the Orioles into a winning team this year, but it will send a message to the current players that management will not hesitate to make changes if they are not performing.  It signals to the fans that there is hope for the future despite the miserable season currently taking place.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it shows the players in the system that they will be rewarded for performing at the minor-league level—an important message to send after the Wieters situation and the failed experiment with Pie.  Young players need to know that the big club is paying attention to what’s happening down on the farm.

The Orioles could well be on their way to a 100-loss season in 2009, but they can still take positive strides, few as they might be.  In any case, changes must be made in Birdland—standing pat does nothing but create more indifference with players and an already-declining fan base.

Wieters and Reimold just might pump some life into this team—and this city.

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