It’s really a miracle that I’m not bald by now. Being an Orioles fan in the Angelos era could drive the Pope to drink, and so many nights in the last 13 years after watching them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I’ve absolutely wanted to tear my hair out. I guess I never thought about it until recently, but a pattern has emerged in the last few seasons. Has anyone else noticed this? Lately, there always seems to be this Achilles Heel, which makes you say: “the Orioles would be a decent team if it weren’t for (fill in the blank).” One year, it’s the starting pitching. Then it’s the crappy offense. Then it’s always losing on Sundays. And in 2011, it’s been the errors. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Orioles would be a .500 team right now but for all the miscues on the field.
With Buck Showalter’s reputation for running a tight ship, I’m really shocked that this has become the latest reason for the Orioles’ ineptitude. As I’m sure you know, a good portion of the extra outs donated to the other team have come courtesy of Mark Reynolds. Are 40 homeruns worth a .200 batting average, about 40 errors, and at least 150 strikeouts? I’m really not sure, and I’d welcome your take on it. What I am sure of is that this entire team needs to play better defense. As Buck says in that MASN propaganda commercial, you can play against anybody if you play smart. He’s right about that, but the words have not translated into action. This must be the primary focus of the second half.
We are now at the halfway point of the season, and right on schedule the Birds are shifting from “still kind of in it” to “let’s start thinking about next year”. Since we know that yet another October will come and go without any baseball in Baltimore, the next big thing to think about is entering this year’s trade market as sellers. So what do the O’s have to offer and what do they need?
The first bargaining chip that comes to my mind is Jeremy Guthrie. My heart absolutely aches for that man. We all know that he’s far better than his 3-10 record, and that he may well be the unluckiest pitcher in all of baseball. Everyone praises him as a guy who works hard, takes lots of extra practice, and really puts forth the effort to be the best he can be. He gives up a few too many homeruns, but on a team that gave him consistent run support (and particularly one that has a pitcher-friendly ballpark) he could be an ace. I’d really hate to see him go but it might be best for all concerned.
Then there’s Koji Uehara. In the reverse situation of Jeremy Guthrie, he was brought in to be a starter and then found his niche in the bullpen. And this year, he has been lights-out as the setup man. I, for one, think he should be the closer instead of Kevin Gregg as he is far less erratic and gets most of his outs via strikeout. While his value might be high, I would be reluctant to part with him because he, Gregg, and Jim Johnson have been the only relievers we can rely on. Koji could very easily be the closer one day, and it would not be wise to gut an already shallow bullpen with a young rotation that is likely to need them for lots of innings. Unless the offer is simply too good to refuse, keep Uehara here.
And finally we come to JJ Hardy. Of all the offseason acquisitions, he has by far been the best. He’s got a good glove, and has really shined in the leadoff spot in the absence of Brian Roberts. There’s no doubt that losing Roberts is the other big reason for this year’s lack of improvement, and at his age, one has to wonder how much longer he can be counted on as the everyday leadoff man. Hardy’s current contract ends at the end of this year, and hot-hitting middle infielders are always in demand at trade time. Presumably, Hardy will only be needed here until Manny Machado assumes the position as our SS (unless they decide to move him to 2B to replace Roberts). Certainly they should shop him, but I’d lean toward hanging onto him and getting him extended before the season ends if no good offers come. Hardy seems to be a very good fit for Baltimore (unlike so many of the imports of late), and he’s young enough to be productive for several more years.
So here we are again, only halfway thru the season and already looking ahead to the next in hopes that it might be better than this one. I’ve been hearing this chatter lately about the Orioles going after Prince Fielder in the offseason. That’s a topic for another day, but I would advise you not to be too optimistic about it. Andy has yet to actually “buy a bat”, at least one that isn’t about 5 years past his prime. Besides cutting down the errors, the other thing the Orioles must do is end this bad habit of signing old guys who have had great careers and are just looking for somewhere to retire. When they brought in Vlad, I had a bad feeling that he’d go the way of Joe Carter, Albert Belle, Will Clark, and Sammy Sosa. Damn it, I hate being right all the time…