As the season is upon us, the Orioles are poised to repeat their 2012 performance. But after a lackluster offseason by Dan Duquette, there are still several question marks on the Opening Day roster. Baltimore was tops in the league in one run and extra innings games last year, but cannot not rely on repeating such efforts this year.
2012 also saw many roster moves, whether it being under-the-radar signings and trades or call-ups from the minors; something sure to be expected by the brain trust once again. Though this team will not make big splash moves, there are pieces to improve upon the roster in 2013. The following is a list of 4 moves the Orioles should make throughout the season.
Though Jim Johnson has been dominant the past two seasons, he is the Orioles biggest bargaining chip at this point. Baltimore’s deep bullpen could provide a number of options for an in-house replacement including: Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter and Luis Ayala. Johnson is at his highest value now, and with the history of closers around the league, his reign in the ninth inning may have a dwindling shelf-life.
Jason Hammel is the Opening Day starter, but is not an ace of the staff by all means. He is a solid pitcher, but after 4 straight seasons with over 170 innings, he began to wear down at the end of 2012. The Orioles have a good amount of pitching depth, as hopes are that Zack Britton or Brian Matusz can bounce back (and take his spot in the rotation). Hammel is also in the last year of his contract, and expendable in the future with Bundy and Gausman in waiting.
The Rangers play in the best division in baseball, with some pretty good lineups, where pitching will be at a premium (just think what Oakland did last year). After failing to acquire a front of the line starter in the offseason, Hammel adds depth, while pitching in his more natural role, behind Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. Johnson should shut down the back end of games for Texas, especially with Nefalti Feliz’s move to the rotation and Joe Nathan’s age (38) creeping up on his production.
Olt is a top prospect but blocked at third base by Adrian Beltre. The move would also clear a spot for the top prospect in the MLB, Jurkison Profar, at second base, as Ian Kinsler could be moved to LF (in replace of Craig Gentry). Martin Perez recently broke his arm, an injury which may set him back to appearing in the big leagues on a regular basis.
In return the Orioles get two young pieces to build upon, in Olt and Perez, and a solution to the starting left field spot, as well as a possible leadoff hitter, with Gentry. Olt is the prize of the trade, as he could be the future for Baltimore at third base, if the team inclines to move Manny Machado to shortstop. Olt also adds more power to the lineup and a sorely needed middle-of-the-order bat.
Craig Gentry only had 240 at-bats in 2012 but did hit .304. He also had 13 stolen bases last season (and 18 in 2011) in limited action. He is a very good fielder, who can play all three outfield positions if need be. Adding Gentry allows Buck flexibility in the lineup and the field, as Nate McLouth becomes the fourth outfielder (a role he is more suited for). Adding Perez adds depth to a minor league system, which will see its top pitching prospects advance to the majors soon.
The Marlins are completely rebuilding, after failing on free agent spending spree in 2012. Arrieta has enough potential to find a spot in a rotation that is filled with young pitchers with question marks. This move also coincides with the Marlins cost cutting ways, as it clears over 5 million dollars off their payroll.
Like Hammel, Arrieta is expendable, with the depth of the rotation for the Orioles. Though he has shown flashes of dominant stuff, his consistency makes him the odd man out for the near and distant future. Acquiring a right handed bat for the bench, along with a veteran player and adding depth at several infield positions, Polanco fits Buck’s model of role player.
Baltimore also adds a catching prospect in Realmuto, who is defensively sound but needs time to develop at the plate. Talks have already started about how long will Wieters last at catcher; with the wear and tear behind the plate (not to mention his size). Realmuto (22) could be an eventual replacement for the catching duties for the Orioles, whenever they decide to move Wieters to another position (most likely first base or DH).
The Tigers are set to make another run at the World Series, and are willing to spend money to do so. Roberts is in the last year of his contract and few people expect him to be back in Baltimore in 2014. Omar Infante is currently the Tigers starting second baseman but may be better suited as a super utility player. Splitting time with Infante will also help the aging Roberts be more productive, when inserted into the lineup. This trade will be impendent on his health and what form he can return to, after the past two seasons spent mostly on the DL.
The Orioles receive prospects back for a player at the end of his career, which will continue to develop a growing farm season. Burgos could become a fourth or fifth starter with some grooming, while Hoffman could make his way into the bullpen sooner than later, spending 2012 in Triple A. Collins adds a left handed prospect, which is solid defensively and adds speed to the minor leagues.
This move seems most likely with both players performing well in the minors last season, as well as 2013’s Spring Training. Gausman could take over a rotation spot by the All-Star break, if he continues to develop as expected. He may never be an ace of the staff, but is expected to be a really good No. 2 starter. With the previous moves, shipping off two starters, Gausman will be expected to fill the void by the end of the season.
After finally moving on from Brian Roberts (and his contract), the Orioles will also have a roster spot for their second baseman of the future. The pressure to perform immediately will not be as demanding, with the presence of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Cassilla already on the roster and the addition of Polanco. Schoop should take on the position full-time in 2014, with a revamped, younger infield.
After all these moves are complete, the Orioles not only have a deeper roster, but farm system as well. The additions create the versatile bench that Buck likes to utilize, as well as sets the starting rotation for the next several years. Baltimore will need to rely more heavily on their young players, but with a good mix of veteran backups, this team should develop into a consistent contender for years.