3. Figure out if Reimold is a piece
It’s no secret how much I’ve clamored for Nolan Reimold to play regularly over the last month, and we saw the beginnings of that when he started five of the last seven games prior to the break. It’s time to make a final decision on whether the 27-year-old can be a piece moving forward.
Injuries and inconsistency have plagued the outfielder since he hit 15 home runs in 358 at-bats as a rookie in 2009. His .257 average in 2011 won’t raise eyebrows, but his .338 on-base percentage reflects his patient approach at the plate.
And, please, forget about a platoon with Felix Pie. His lack of patience (four walks in 125 plate appearances), concentration lapses, and punchless bat (.521 OPS) suggest a player lucky to still be on the roster, not one who deserves any starts at this point. Pie may have the tools, but he’s shown little ability to actually use them.
I have my doubts whether Reimold can be an everyday player in the major leagues, but the Orioles need to find out for sure over the season’s final 2 1/2 months.
4. Insert Tillman and Bergesen back in the rotation
I don’t know what to make of Matusz.
No one really does. Injury, mechanical problems, poor conditioning, a “dead” arm, or a combination, depending who you talk to. Until he — or someone — figures it out, the lefty should remain at Triple-A Norfolk.
Britton figures to be back from Double-A Bowie by the end of the month as the club finagles an extra year of service time from the rookie pitcher — much to his displeasure.
But it’s time to address the futures of Tillman and Bergesen.
With apologies to Chris Jakubauskas, Mitch Atkins, and Alfredo Simon, you can’t tell me the Orioles will do any worse with Tillman and Bergesen in the starting rotation compared to what they’ve trotted out to the bump over the last couple weeks.
I’ve been a critic of Tillman over his diminished velocity and inability to pitch down in the strike zone, but his 4.69 ERA in 10 starts projected out to an average fifth starter on most clubs. The days of hoping Tillman would be a premier starter are history, but the 23-year-old has more upside than the aforementioned three currently in the rotation.
Bergesen’s story has been far more complex. After his successful rookie season was cut short by a line drive to the shin in 2009, the sinkerballer had a disastrous start to 2010 before finishing 7-4 with a 2.88 ERA over his final 11 starts after Showalter took over.
The 25-year-old has been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk at two different points this season and was sent to the bullpen upon being recalled in the middle of June. His 5.65 ERA isn’t pretty, but his strikeout rate is up from last year (5.6 to 4.3). While he projects as a long reliever going forward, Bergesen has shown the ability to eat innings in his brief career — something the Orioles desperately need given the horrendous starting pitching (7.76 ERA in 26 games) over the last month.
5. Take a long look at the coaching staff
Showalter could do no wrong after he led the Orioles to a promising finish. He had every right to bring in his own guys for the coaching staff.
But with the collapse of the “cavalry” after starters had a 3.16 ERA under Showalter to finish 2010 and the abrupt resignation of pitching coach Mark Connor last month, you have to wonder if Showalter regrets letting go of former pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Of course, that decision doesn’t absolve the pitchers from blame, but it’s clearly a factor to consider with the current mess of a starting rotation.
The starters haven’t responded favorably to Rick Adair since the bullpen coach took over for Connor on June 14.
Showalter needs to assess whether Adair is the right man for the job or whether someone else, such as highly-regarded Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin, can connect better with the pitching staff.
Though the issue appears to be resolved, Showalter’s hiring of former Pirates manager John Russell as third base coach was largely unsuccessful, forcing the skipper to slide Willie Randolph to the third base coaching box and reassign Russell to bench coach duties.
6. Come to a decision on MacPhail’s future by summer’s end
Naturally, this storyline will dominate the headlines in the season’s final weeks, but it’s critical that the Orioles make a prompt decision on MacPhail’s future.
“Let’s just see how we feel, see whether we’re helping move the ball forward and take it from there,” MacPhail told season-ticket holders last month. “I’m very fortunate; the owner has done everything he said he was going to do with me. We have a good relationship and we’ll just see how we feel and see how the record is at the end.”
With the Orioles on the way to their fourth consecutive last-place finish in the American League East and the upper minor leagues virtually empty, it might be time for a new architect. The organization has made some progress under the conservative MacPhail, but it hasn’t been enough to close the gap in the division and to justify a new contract.
If given the choice, I’d prefer a younger general manager willing to take more risks and use every possible avenue to make the club better, both at the big-league level and throughout the farm system. Former Dodgers general manager and Billy Beane disciple Paul DePodesta is just one name fitting the profile of what I’d look for in a general manager to evaluate the organization from top to bottom, focusing heavily on player development.
Aside from an inability to acquire impact free agents, MacPhail’s stance on the international market of refusing to spend lucrative money to sign teenagers from the Dominican and elsewhere sounds logical on the surface, but it can also be interpreted as an excuse for limitations in the club’s scouting department.
When you consider Mariners rookie sensation Michael Pineda was signed for a reported $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic, it shows there’s talent to be found — and not always for the $4 million price tag MacPhail has denounced in recent interviews.
If MacPhail chooses not to return or majority owner Peter Angelos decides to go in a new direction, it’s crucial that the decision be made quickly. Given the snail’s pace at which the Orioles move in matters such as these in recent years, the organization cannot afford a lengthy general manager search to begin the off-season when there is clearly much work to be done.