Orioles’ listless offseason leaves sour taste instead of excitement

February 12, 2013 | Luke Jones

Orioles’ listless offseason leaves sour taste instead of excitement

This was supposed to be the most exciting start to spring training of the last 15 years as Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota on Tuesday.

To be fair, it still is as the Orioles come off their first playoff appearance since 1997, but that wasn’t exactly a daunting standard to top after a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons was snapped last year. However, that positive feeling isn’t nearly as overwhelming as it should be as we hear the predictable reports this week of players being in the best shape of their lives and others eyeing career seasons after making adjustments over the winter.

Even with the memory of the Ravens winning the Super Bowl fresh in our minds, the city should be abuzz over the Orioles after one of the most exciting seasons in the 59-year history of the franchise in which a club expected to finish fifth in the American League East won 93 games and prevailed in the inaugural AL Wild Card game to advance to the AL Division Series. But instead of using the success of 2012 to springboard the Orioles to new heights and capitalizing on their karma with a productive offseason, the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette largely stood pat.

The Orioles appeared dormant to put it mildly while harsher critics believe Duquette and the front office rested on the laurels of the unlikeliest of seasons instead of striking while the iron was hot to add talent to a roster that overcame countless flaws last season. No matter how you want to describe or justify it, the Orioles didn’t do enough to make improvements to a club that deserved better after one of the most remarkable seasons in team history. They didn’t spend money or even pull the trigger on a notable trade like they did last year when they sent veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, a move that worked beautifully for the Orioles.

This winter, Baltimore parted ways with first baseman Mark Reynolds and pitcher Joe Saunders, re-signed left fielder Nate McLouth, traded second baseman Robert Andino, and acquired infielders Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, and Travis Ishikawa. That essentially brings you up to speed if you were hibernating all winter and aren’t concerned with a few other waiver-wire additions and minor-league signings, which — in fairness to Duquette — could bring this year’s version of Miguel Gonzalez or McLouth to light at some point.

The idea of parting ways with Reynolds would have been acceptable had the Orioles found an upgrade such as signing veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche or trading for Kansas City’s Billy Butler, but they elected to solve the problem from within by sliding Chris Davis to the position. In turn, that’s created a question mark at designated hitter as a platoon of Wilson Betemit and a right-handed bat to be named later will be counted on to hold down that spot in the order.

Instead of looking to the free-agent market to find an established bat such as veteran Torii Hunter — who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with Detroit — to man left field, the Orioles will pray for the health of Nolan Reimold and hope McLouth can build on two strong months of play last season that resurrected his big-league career from life support.

Few expected the Orioles to be players for the top commodities on the market — outfielder Josh Hamilton and starting pitcher Zack Greinke — but “kicking the tires” was as far as the organization was willing to go on any free agent of even modest note. Avoiding a $150 million contract is understandable and even prudent, but avoiding the open market like the bubonic plague is disappointing.

Duquette vowed that the Orioles would look to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat and another veteran starting pitcher but has done neither to this point. While it’s true the free-agent market was lukewarm in terms of talent, take a look at the number of trades that went down around the big leagues this winter and you’ll find plenty that didn’t involve an organization parting with its top prospect, dispelling the notion that the Orioles would have needed to part with top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy to fetch anything of value.

Their payroll did climb as the Orioles dealt with a number of arbitration-eligible players in line for raises, but that’s simply the price of doing business and not a real reflection of trying to improve your club. The payroll increased from an estimated $84 million in 2012 to closer to the $90 million range at the start of spring training.

All those excuses sound too familiar for an organization that appeared to turn the corner last season. Instead of building on their success, the Orioles didn’t spend money or make a single addition — and, no, re-signing McLouth wasn’t an addition since he was already in Baltimore — that appears primed to help move the meter in the AL East.

It’s disappointing after such an enjoyable year.

In truth, there are still plenty of reasons for optimism as All-Star players Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are in their respective primes, talented 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado will play his first full season in the majors, and Bundy and 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman could make an impact before the season is over.

A rotation including Hammel, Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman appears promising, but all four are also coming off career seasons that will need to be built upon. The names vying for the fifth spot in the rotation haven’t changed as Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Steve Johnson are all in the mix.

One of the best bullpens in baseball from last season remains intact, but relievers are also as unpredictable as the stock market from year to year.

Maybe the Orioles will be poised to finish 29-9 in one-run games and win 16 straight extra-inning games as they did last season, but both figures were historically remarkable and more anomalies than standards you could possibly expect to repeat, even with a shrewd manager such as Showalter.

Instead of a offseason that included a couple impact acquisitions to augment the progress made last year, we’re once again left with too many ifs and maybes, a familiar story for a organization with a group of players that deserved much better after the work they put in last season.

To truly feel confident in the Orioles’ ability to build upon the magic of last season — or even maintain it — Duquette, the front office, and ownership needed to take advantage of that fortune and simply didn’t. Finally poised with an opportunity to sell Baltimore as one of the most desirable destinations in all of baseball and Showalter as a manager players would love to play for, the Orioles instead stood pat with the hope that lightning would strike twice this season.

The Orioles may still compete this season, but a listless offseason did nothing to build confidence that they will do it again.

We’ll still look forward to spring training more than we have in a long time, but it could have been that much more exciting.

And I suppose the Orioles will once again need to prove us all wrong.

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9 Comments For This Post

  1. matt Says:

    the good news is the yankees and sox are going to be awful

    (L.J. – Even more reason why the Orioles should have taken the opportunity to make a couple more improvements. I’m not saying the Orioles can’t or won’t compete, but it’s tough to justify their offseason.)

  2. tsnamm Says:

    I agree with you Luke, but they did pick up Jaier Jurgens, who if healthy will bring a lot to the staff…still they went for the cheap fix at 1st and the outfield, 2 positions that are a lot easier and financially reasonable to fill, than say starting pitching, which they never get involved in….

    (L.J. – The Jurjjens signing isn’t official and may never become official if the medical part doesn’t check out. There are definite health concerns with the knee, so we’ll see what kind of resolution we get in the next few days.)

  3. Unitastoberry Says:

    Lets talk on July 4th.

    (L.J. – I absolutely think they can still compete in this division and they very well could repeat a 93-win season. It still won’t make me sign off on this offseason.)

  4. Unitastoberry Says:

    Well yes it’s the same off season formula since 96 but last year it worked so maybe it will now and Machado will hit 20 bombs and Reimhold will too and the pitching holds up or gets better. I’m not a koolaid drinker but I have to give them until July on this after last season.

  5. Steve from Sandpoint Says:

    I love Buck as manager but Duquette I am still not sold on. Last year he rolled the dice and won, this year they might come up craps. One run wins last year will not be repeated. Dan rested on his accomplishments from last year without making improvements and that just might come back to bite him in the ass this year, every business tries to improve on last years performance, not the Orioles. I hope they prove me wrong, but I am rolling the dice they won’t. We all know no moves means Angelos behind it.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    This article sums up my feelings of the offseason perfectly. The Orioles played great last year (obviously), but so much of it was plain old “GOOD LUCK”. One decent signing or trade would have gone a long way in the eyes of the average fan. Fingers crossed for some more O’s magic.

  7. Stoner Says:

    Who were they supposed to trade? Machado? Bundy? Gausman? To get something, you have to give something. Other teams wanted any combination of those guys I mentioned and/or Arrieta/Matusz/Britton. Orioles were not going to do that, and good thing they did not. Pitching is a commodity, and unless someone blows you away w/a trade, you don’t trade away your young pitching. As for signings, you wanted to see the Orioles spend $26 million on a guy closer to 40 than he is to 30? For a couple years? That’s one of the ridiculous signings of the offseason, and you and your ilk at wnst would’ve ripped them like you usually do. That’s a fact. The market was pretty bare, no need to overspend and make a move just to make a move. Guys will have bounce back years, pitching will be even stronger (experience in a pennant race is a major help), the defense wil be better from the start, and having Buck behind the wheel is the great equalizer. Like one of the posters said, how about waiting a bit before the sky is falling reaction in February? Just as many O’s fans are pretty excited and have no “bitter” taste in their mouths.

    (L.J. – Those are just the same old excuses we’ve heard for years and years and you know it. At no point did I say they can’t or won’t contend and be competitive this year, so the “sky is falling” comment doesn’t fit. And unlike the Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee signings of the past, Torii Hunter has remained a very productive player and would have been a nice addition to a winning team. As for the ‘you and your ilk at WNST’ comment, I speak for myself and my work the last few years supports that. The Orioles may very well go on to win a World Series this year, but it still won’t change the fact that I wouldn’t sign off on this being an acceptable offseason. A couple real improvements could have been made but weren’t. Plain and simple.)

  8. bob Says:

    So signing a 37 yr old OF for $26M would have made it an acceptable offseason?

    (L.J. – I would have liked an upgrade in left field and/or a first base/DH type and another established starting pitcher. As for Hunter, he hit .313, posted an .817 OPS, and is known for being a great leader in the clubhouse. He hit .350 in the second half of last season. Not exactly showing signs of a player slowing down and while it’s not a cheap contract, it’s not going to cripple you for years to come either if it wouldn’t work out. It’s not a move I would have endorsed a few years ago, but it seemed a reasonable move for a winning team trying to get over the hump but not wanting to spend over $100 million for a Josh Hamilton. And if you want to venture into the world of sabermetrics, his 5.5 WAR dwarfed anyone else on the 2012 Orioles.)

  9. bob Says:

    I’m not ready to declare the Dan Duquette era a success by any stretch of the imagination, just don’t see this year’s inactivity as necessarily a sign of same old same old. Sure, would have been nice to get all those things, they simply weren’t there. Grienke is a head case, at that price you’d have to be nuts (not to mention on a good day long term deals for starters rarely work out), and I don’t see where a Dan Haren does anything for you. I don’t think Davis is as bad a fielder as some think, and his numbers last year where the same as LaRoche, so I did not see LaRoche a must have. As for Hunter, I don’t think they have a need for a “leader in the clubhouse” type, and it’s not like he’s a middle of the lineup guy. With respect to trades, outside of Bundy or Machado who’s gonna bring back anything of significance in a trade? Now if they passed on a chance to get a proven major leaguer for some combination of Arietta/Tillman/Matusz/Hoes/Britton etc, then shame on them. We have no way of knowing, but highly unlikely anyone would be swooning over their long list of wanna-be prospects. Maybe if the system produces a few Machado’s more frequently than once every 20 years, then they could swing some helpful deals. Again, not saying DD has done anything to set the world on fire, but given the circumstances, not ready to label him with the stink of previous regimes either

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