Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Orioles may move up Cobb’s 2018 debut date

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after saying Alex Cobb wouldn’t make his Orioles debut before April 14, Buck Showalter has apparently changed his tune about his new starting pitcher.

The manager is now leaving open the possibility of Cobb making his 2018 debut against Toronto on Monday if his five-inning simulated game goes well in Sarasota on Wednesday. It’s a moving target after the 30-year-old missed virtually all of spring training and didn’t sign his four-year, $57 million contract with Baltimore until March 21.

“Most of it’s going to come from what Alex is telling us,” Showalter told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game in Houston. “He’s very mature about it. It’s like I told him, regardless of how someobody else is doing it, we’re going to do what’s best for him, which is what’s best for the organization. If anything, we’ll err on the side of caution. We think we already have.”

Former Orioles and Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta is in a similar position after only signing with Philadelphia on March 12 and is scheduled to make his season debut on Sunday.

Baltimore would prefer not rushing Cobb to a competitive environment before making sure he’s ready physically, but the early performance of the starting rotation hasn’t helped matters with Andrew Cashner, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Tillman all pitching poorly in their first outings of the season. Mike Wright was making his 2018 debut against the Astros on Tuesday and figures to be the odd man out of the rotation once Cobb is activated.

Showalter also confirmed top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will begin the season at Double-A Bowie with the goal of completing three innings per outing and gradually increasing that workload as the year progresses. This leaves more innings available to him later in the season if he progresses rapidly enough to be promoted to the majors.

“That is where he is going to start so the innings are there,” Showalter told reporters in Houston. “I don’t think you’re going to see him make a seven-inning start anywhere except Baltimore.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-0 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 01 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their first series of the season with a 7-0 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You know it’s been a sobering weekend when there’s a question over whether the pitching or offense was worse. The Orioles batted .117 against the Twins and allowed 13 runs over the final two games of the series. I suppose the answer to the debate is … yes.

2. Kevin Gausman giving up a home run on the first pitch of his season wasn’t an encouraging sign for his first half being different this time around. He followed that by giving up six runs and three homers in four innings. It was only one start, but a brutal one.

3. His average fastball velocity of 92.3 miles per hour was the lowest single-game average of his career, according to FanGraphs data. Gausman said he felt fine physically, but his average fastball velocity was 95.0 last season. That’s something to monitor.

4. Gausman absolutely needs to be able to succeed throwing to catchers not named Caleb Joseph, but he posted a 2.62 ERA with him (113 1/3 innings) last year and a 7.85 mark with others (73 1/3 innings). I would have stuck with that partnership at least to open this season.

5. No matter how unhappy you want to be with the Orioles bats, Jose Berrios deserves much credit. The 23-year-old was terrific in nearly pitching a “Maddux” before finishing with a three-hit shutout on 107 pitches. That’s quite a statement after a solid 2017 campaign.

6. Just imagine if Eddie Rosario hadn’t misplayed Chance Sisco’s fly to the left-field wall into a double in the third inning. The Twins could have taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning two days in a row and Berrios might have had a perfect game into the ninth.

7. It’s too soon for Buck Showalter to pull the plug on the Chris Davis leadoff experiment after committing to it in the first place, but an 0-for-12 start doesn’t bode well for his early-season confidence.

8. I dislike the unwritten rules of baseball as much as anyone, but I figured Sisco’s bunt single against the shift with one out in the ninth inning of a seven-run game wouldn’t go over well in the Minnesota dugout. That doesn’t make those complaints any less ridiculous though.

9. Minnesota starters combined to allow zero runs and five hits over 21 innings. For what it’s worth, Showalter was singing the praises of the Twins even before the series began.

10. Richard Bleier, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens all had good outings. So, there’s something positive to take away from Sunday.

11. When you’re about to go on the road to face the defending World Series champions followed by the American League runner-ups, a series win would have been a nice confidence boost. Instead, there wasn’t much evidence of a pulse this weekend.

12. As ugly as the final two games of this series were, remember to exhale and allow the new season to breathe. Whatever your 2018 expectations were a week ago really shouldn’t be any different at this point.

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Cobb won’t make Orioles debut before April 14

Posted on 31 March 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free-agent acquisition Alex Cobb won’t be making his first start for the Orioles before April 14.

The right-hander completed a four-inning outing on 48 pitches in extended spring training on Friday and will complete five innings in his next start and build up to six frames before being recalled from Double-A Bowie. Cobb will be on the Baysox roster for that final six-inning outing, but he is not expected to pitch in an actual Eastern League game at this point.

Pitchers on minor-league rehab assignments are usually permitted to use a major league ball, but since Cobb was optioned to the minors and is not coming back from an injury, he would be required to use the minor-league ball that has raised seams. Some fear this could put strain on the pitcher’s arm, and it’s no secret that Cobb is only three years removed from Tommy John surgery.

“One of the problems you have is in a situation like this, they don’t let you use a major league baseball, which really doesn’t make much sense at all,” manager Buck Showalter said. “One, to have two different baseballs [between the majors and minors], and a lot of guys don’t want to throw the minor-league ball. I’m sure [Philadelphia is] going to have the same issue with Jake Arrieta in Clearwater.

“Alex will not throw that baseball, so if they make him throw it — and that’s where they’re going — then we’re going to come up with another plan. Crazy, isn’t it?”

That plan could mean him simply pitching in a simulated game involving Baysox hitters on April 9 before he would make his 2018 debut at Boston five days later. Showalter cautioned that the organization could decide to give him an extra day of rest at some point or adjust the current schedule if necessary.

Right-hander Mike Wright will indeed fill Cobb’s spot in the Baltimore rotation and will start against Houston on Tuesday. Showalter has elected to give Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy the benefit of an extra day of rest rather than moving him up in the five-man rotation because of the Friday off-day.

Chris Tillman will start Monday’s game against the Astros while Bundy will pitch the finale of the three-game set on Wednesday afternoon.

Outfielder Mark Trumbo (right quadriceps strain) has begun to do some light hitting and will travel to Sarasota after Sunday’s finale against Minnesota. He will take full batting practice on Monday and is scheduled to play in an extended spring game on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) will travel with the club on the upcoming road trip.

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Davis leading off on Opening Day as Orioles finalize 25-man roster

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After much speculation about the Opening Day lineup in recent days, first baseman Chris Davis will indeed begin the season as the Orioles leadoff hitter.

Prior to Wednesday’s workout, the veteran slugger welcomed the possibility of hitting in the top spot in the order before manager Buck Showalter officially penciled in his name there against Minnesota. Davis served in the leadoff spot a number of times toward the end of the Grapefruit League schedule, but that also served the purpose of giving him extra at-bats after he missed action with an elbow issue.

It’s certainly an unconventional move as Davis tries to rebound from a 2017 season in which he batted only .215 with a .309 on-base percentage. Prior to Thursday, the leadoff spot was the only position in the batting order in which he’d never hit in his major league career, but Davis does own a respectable .328 career on-base percentage and the Orioles lack ideal options for the job.

“It’s something that everybody felt like was a good way to start,” said Showalter, who isn’t committing to Davis as the long-term leadoff hitter. “Chris is a very important part of our club, potentially, and I hope this kind of helps us. Sometimes you’ve got to give a new toy, something that signifies a new start. We’ll see.”

Showalter went out of his way to mention left fielder Trey Mancini as another candidate he’d considered this spring, perhaps a hint that he was the manager’s initial preference for the role. Mancini finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season and was in the No. 5 spot in the order on Opening Day after hitting in the top spot a few times in spring games.

Third baseman Tim Beckham saw extensive time as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter last year after being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, but he was slotted into the sixth spot on Thursday and owns a career .310 on-base percentage.

“I didn’t like Trey there. I tried [that],” Showalter said. “You could tell Trey was a little uncomfortable with it. Anytime a player kind of embraces things [like] it’s as much his idea as somebody else, those usually get a good return.”

The Orioles finalized their 25-man roster Thursday morning by selecting the contracts of outfielder Colby Rasmus and Craig Gentry and infielders Danny Valencia and Pedro Alvarez. To make room for those four on the 40-man roster, pitchers Alex Asher, Stefan Crichton, Michael Kelly, and Jesus Liranzo were designated for assignment.

As expected, outfielder Mark Trumbo (right quadriceps strain) and right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa (right shin stress reaction) were placed on the 10-day disabled list. Both moves are retroactive to March 26, and Showalter indicated Trumbo is “not too far away” from returning to action.

Closer Zach Britton remains on the 60-day DL as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.

Below are the Opening Day lineups:

MINNESOTA
2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
3B Miguel Sano
LF Eddie Rosario
DH Logan Morrison
SS Eduardo Escobar
RF Max Kepler
CF Byron Buxton
C Jason Castro

SP Jake Odorizzi

BALTIMORE
1B Chris Davis
SS Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
CF Adam Jones
LF Trey Mancini
3B Tim Beckham
DH Pedro Alvarez
RF Craig Gentry
C Caleb Joseph

SP Dylan Bundy

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Start of spring not encouraging for Davis, Trumbo turnarounds

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Luke Jones

We all know the starting rotation is the overwhelming reason why expectations remain low for the Orioles three weeks ahead of the start of the 2018 season.

But even if ownership were to suddenly loosen the purse strings — perhaps simply to last year’s payroll level — to sign Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb to upgrade the projected starting five, Baltimore would still need some substantial improvement from within to dramatically increase its chances to contend. The Orioles finished last in the majors in starter ERA, but their trademark over the last six years also declined last season.

Buck Showalter’s club still hit plenty of home runs, but not at the same impressive clip that’s made Baltimore the standard in that department over the last six years.

For the first time since 2011, the Orioles finished outside the top three in the American League in homers, ranking fifth with 232 after hitting a league-leading 253 the previous season. To be clear, they hit only nine fewer than the top-ranked New York Yankees, but a new major league record was set for home runs across baseball in the 2017 season and the average AL club hit 14 more than the previous year. And when you consider Welington Castillo and Trey Mancini provided upgrades in the home run department from 2016 starters Matt Wieters and Hyun Soo Kim at those respective positions, one could have expected the Orioles to at least match the previous season’s total rather than hit 21 fewer and be one of only four AL clubs to hit fewer homers in 2017 than the year before.

The reason that didn’t happen falls on the shoulders of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who combined to hit only 49 long balls. Trumbo nearly matched that total by himself with 47 the year before while Davis clubbed 47 in 2015 and a club-record 53 in 2013. No one could have reasonably expected the pair of high-priced sluggers to match those career highs in 2017, but the Orioles instead received one of the worst seasons of each veteran’s career.

Unfortunately, the start of spring hasn’t served as a harbinger of a rebound for either player. After going 2-for-13 with a homer and seven strikeouts in early Grapefruit League action, Davis remains sidelined with a sore right elbow that prompted an MRI several days ago to rule out any structural damage. Meanwhile, Thursday brought news that Trumbo would miss some time because of a sore quadriceps. We know better than to jump to conclusions based on spring training results or minor ailments, but both sluggers are already on the wrong side of 30 and don’t profile as the type of hitter who ages particularly well. Frankly, each could stand to benefit from as many reps as possible as well as some positive results this spring to help put last year behind them.

Entering the third season of the seven-year, $161 million contract signed two years ago, Davis is coming off his worst campaign since 2014 and will try to avoid seeing his home run total and on-base plus slugging percentage decline for the third straight year. Even more concerning is that Davis batted .215 while sporting a .301 batting average on balls in play, which was dramatically higher than his .242 BABIP in 2014 when he batted a brutal .196. That means he wasn’t even unlucky in the midst of struggling.

Most assumed at the time of Davis’ signing that his record-setting deal would be problematic in its latter stages after some productive seasons, but he was worth minus-0.1 wins above replacement (Baseball Reference) and struck out looking 12 more times than anyone else in the majors despite playing only 128 games last season. His .688 OPS after the All-Star break prompted Showalter to lower him in the order, and Davis’ defensive metrics at first base also declined to minus-five defensive runs saved after registering an above-average eight in 2016 and an above-average count in the two seasons before that.

In other words, without a meaningful rebound in 2018, his contract is already bordering on disastrous without having reached the halfway point of its duration. Turning 32 next week, Davis spoke at the start of spring about his need to be more aggressive early in counts and to not take as many strikes, but he’s missed valuable at-bats to test out his revamped mindset.

Making less and only being under contract through next season, Trumbo was worse than Davis in 2017 as he hit only 23 homers and posted a career-low .686 OPS in his second year with the Orioles. Some questioned the wisdom of re-signing him last winter after a career season at the plate that still registered only a 1.6 WAR because of his fielding deficiencies, but the organization deemed a three-year, $37.5 million contract to be a bargain after the rest of the market was largely disinterested in his services.

The Orioles wisely kept Trumbo out of the field last year to try to maximize his value at the plate, but the veteran responded unfavorably to the most extensive action of his career as a designated hitter and batted only .202 with a .600 OPS after the All-Star break. His .278 BABIP was identical to the previous season when he posted a career-best .850 OPS and was not terribly far behind his .286 career BABIP, making it difficult to chalk up too much of his performance to bad luck. Trumbo hit more grounders (43.3 percent to 39.5 percent) and fewer fly balls (40.6 percent to 43.1 percent) than in 2016, which certainly isn’t an encouraging development for a one-dimensional power hitter.

Perhaps more troublesome is the fact that Trumbo’s 2017 campaign came on the heels of his 2016 second half that was boosted by his 19 homers and still included a .214 average and a so-so .754 OPS. That’s a significant sample of below-average offense to follow his incredible first half in Baltimore that fetched him a 2016 All-Star invitation.

Trumbo is a cerebral individual who’s used new-age numbers such as launch angle to refine his approach, but he said at January’s FanFest that he may have been too consumed by those numbers last season in trying to adjust his swing. And though he wouldn’t use his increased DH role as an excuse for his poor performance, one could easily reason that a hitter not playing the field would be more inclined to obssess over his struggles at the plate between at-bats. Of course, Trumbo playing anywhere in the field other than maybe first base mostly negates what value he offers when swinging the bat well.

The attempt to simplify his approach hasn’t produced positive results so far this spring as he’s off to a 3-for-20 start with nine strikeouts in the Grapefruit League and will now miss at least a few days with the quad injury.

The recent signings of Pedro Alvarez and Danny Valencia provide depth and insurance for worst-case scenarios playing out with the incumbents, but it’s difficult not to wonder if a DH platoon of Alvarez and Valencia might be better than Trumbo at a fraction of the cost. That’s little more than buyer’s remorse at this point, however, as the remainder of his contract would be extremely difficult to move.

It would be unwise to write off Davis or Trumbo after both produced monster seasons in recent memory, but the problem is the Orioles are paying them lucrative money to be difference-makers and both are bigger question marks than answers at this point. That’s not encouraging, especially for an organization that’s been unwilling to use the necessary resources to try to significantly improve the starting rotation.

We all know the Orioles need to pitch much better more than anything else to succeed in 2018, but they would further boost their chances by recapturing their edge in the long-ball department.

That needs to begin with Davis and Trumbo bouncing back in a meaningful way from their nightmare seasons a year ago.

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Schoop, Castro sidelined as Orioles open Grapefruit League action

Posted on 23 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles began Grapefruit League play with their most valuable player from a year ago and one of the leading candidates for the No. 5 starter job sidelined for health-related reasons.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that second baseman Jonathan Schoop was scratched from Friday’s opener because of left elbow bursitis. Right-handed pitcher Miguel Castro is dealing with tendinitis in both knees and will not make his scheduled start on Sunday.

Schoop was originally slated to bat second against Tampa Bay before the Orioles released a revised lineup Friday morning with Luis Sardinas taking his place at second base and batting ninth. Showalter said the All-Star selection and 2017 Most Valuable Oriole winner bumped his elbow on something recently, causing it to swell and prompting the training staff to drain it.

The 26-year-old has missed only two games over the last two seasons combined while blossoming into one of the club’s best players.

With Ryan Flaherty now with Philadelphia, Baltimore is looking for a new utility infielder with Sardinas, Ruben Tejada, and Engelb Vielma considered the top candidates for the job.

Castro is trying to transition from long relief to a starting role, making this a concerning disruption to that schedule. The 23-year-old posted a 3.53 ERA in 66 1/3 innings last season and is competing with the likes of right-handers Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa and Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes for the fifth starter job behind Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Tillman in the rotation.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of spring training

Posted on 20 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles spring training underway and Grapefruit League action beginning later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles will have an estimated 2018 payroll of just south of $130 million after an Opening Day payroll of $164 million last season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Explain again why they’re not serious players for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

2. We scoff whenever a free agent says it’s not about the money, but I believe free-agent-to-be Adam Jones when he said the chance to win will be more important than compensation. The 32-year-old obviously won’t play for nothing, but a ring is very important to him.

3. That said, how the Padres perform in 2018 would be an interesting variable to throw into the Jones mix after they signed Eric Hosmer. They have one of baseball’s top farm systems, so perhaps the San Diego native would be intrigued about going home if the Padres show they’re ascending.

4. Not that Tim Beckham has had any leverage in the matter, but I’m impressed with the way he’s handled himself in the wake of Manny Machado moving to shortstop. Showing he can be a solid third baseman would only enhance his value moving forward.

5. Dylan Bundy astutely noted at FanFest that he got away from his curveball and changeup too much down the stretch as he posted a 7.53 ERA in his three September starts. His 2017 workload was a major topic of discussion, so you pray that he has a healthy spring.

6. Chris Davis knows he needs to be more aggressive. His contact and chase rates have held fairly steady since 2014, but he swung at a career-low 60.0 percent of pitches in the zone last year, down from 64.1 percent in 2016 and 72.2 percent in 2015. That’s a disturbing trend.

7. One of Baltimore’s more cerebral players, Mark Trumbo said he was probably too caught up in swing analytics last year. He denied any negative impact from serving as the designated hitter so frequently, but that role sure provides a lot of time to overthink struggles at the plate.

8. A healthy Darren O’Day would go a long way in the bullpen’s effort to endure the extended absence of Zach Britton. Little went right for the Orioles last September, but the 35-year-old quietly posted a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts over his last 18 2/3 innings of the season.

9. If the best Dan Duquette can do in adding a lefty-hitting outfielder is 32-year-old journeyman Alex Presley, the Orioles need to give Austin Hays every opportunity to show he can be an everyday player and this year’s version of Trey Mancini despite lacking the same minor-league seasoning.

10. There’s much evidence supporting concerns about Cashner, but citing his 42-64 career record pitching mostly for bad teams tells us very little about his performance. Pitcher win-loss records are baseball tradition, but they should induce an eye-roll if used in attempts at meaningful analysis.

11. I’m skeptical just how much baseball’s new initiatives to improve pace of play will move the meter, but limiting the number of mound visits is long overdue. You’d think some pitchers and catchers had never met before with how frequently they congregate.

12. Many of the spring training caps introduced around baseball in recent years have been cringe-worthy, but I do like this year’s Orioles version. It was a smart call taking the logo from the deer hunter caps used for “Players Weekend” last summer.

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Orioles’ lack of direction taking optimism out of spring

Posted on 14 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Orioles pitchers and catchers have reported to Sarasota and participated in their first workout on Wednesday.

This is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy time for those longing for baseball and warmer weather while reminding themselves that hope springs eternal, right?

You’ve read the primers with the top five or 10 biggest questions going into spring training, but what’s currently happening on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex feels rather inconsequential. Musings about another left-handed bat, the utility infielder competition, or even the vacancies in the starting rotation simply don’t measure up to the colossal question emanating from this organization.

What the heck is going on?

The Orioles finished in last place in 2017 and posted the worst starter ERA in the major leagues and worst in club history, but the most notable rotation candidate added this offseason has been Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes. The loudest and most consistent buzz about a veteran signing continues revolving around Chris Tillman, who last year posted the worst ERA (7.84) by any major leaguer throwing more than 90 innings since Scott Erickson (7.87) in 2000. His track record prior to 2017 makes him an acceptable flier to compete for the final rotation pot, but he’d currently be penciled in as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the projected 2018 payroll is currently around $40 million lower than last year’s, but reports and speculation continue to suggest reluctance to commit to long or even medium-term contracts, making one wonder if the decrease is deliberate. Players who’ve meant so much to their recent success like Adam Jones have indicated that the club isn’t even engaging in extension talks. And Baltimore still hasn’t traded Manny Machado as the 25-year-old superstar is now nine months away from walking away as a free agent.

Why, why, and why?

The Orioles certainly don’t appear to be “going for it” with Machado, Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach all scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season and haven’t yet signaled a rebuilding process by dealing any of the aforementioned names. Blame executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette if you want, but both he and manager Buck Showalter are also in the last year of their contracts, only adding to the perceived lack of direction exhibited by ownership.

Do Peter Angelos and family have a plan for 2019 and beyond?

Of course, excuses are there if you want to entertain them. Duquette has regularly conducted business late in the offseason and well into spring training and an abnormally-stagnant market has left dozens of free agents still looking for jobs, but you’d assume that increased supply will be accompanied by more demand from other clubs whenever the thaw occurs.

Perhaps the Orioles will silence critics by still signing an Alex Cobb or a Lance Lynn, but we know they historically don’t win bidding wars and rarely even engage in them. Would such an addition make enough of a difference anyway or only increase the likelihood of the organization keeping Machado and others through the trade deadline with ill-advised thoughts of chasing the second wild-card berth as we saw in 2015 and last year? Those pondering the future should feel conflicted about that possibility since the current club is hardly devoid of talent despite its clear deficiencies.

You could try to argue that the rotation can’t be any worse than it was a year ago and the removal of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Tillman — at least the 2017 version — is addition by subtraction, no matter who ends up making those starts. Of course, that “glass half full” outlook still doesn’t translate to consistently competing with a group currently comprised of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and three shoulder shrugs. The bullpen also isn’t as strong on paper with Britton sidelined indefinitely and former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day another year older and having dealt with different ailments over the last two seasons.

Even with baseball’s bizarre market, the organization isn’t proceeding all that differently from recent offseasons, but the reality is that it’s entering the ninth inning of the current era with the same old flaws more magnified than ever. It’s no longer 2012 or 2014 when most of the club’s top commodities remained comfortably under contractual control, meaning there should have been much more urgency.

The organization deserves credit for accumulating the most wins in the American League from 2012-16 and ownership has steadily increased the payroll over the last six years, but frustrating peculiarities have remained such as the philosophical refusal to participate in the international market. The farm system is quietly improving, but the shortage of impactful starting pitching has hindered the major league club for years and crushed it in 2017.

No one will forget the surprising 2012 team, the 2014 AL East champions and Delmon Young’s double, or the wild-card appearance two years ago, but the Orioles are now an unimpressive 113-124 since the 2016 All-Star break and only four games above .500 over the last three seasons. After years of proving naysayers wrong and outperforming projection models, that old mojo feels like it’s on life support at best with the futures of so many key individuals in doubt.

The 2018 club will grind it out to the best of its ability, using the doubts and criticism as fuel for competitive fire. The group will once again be led by Showalter in the dugout and Jones on the field, the two most important individuals in this decade of Orioles baseball. Both will say and do the right things, but they deserve better in what could be their final year in Baltimore.

A last-place team from a year ago begins spring training after treading water all winter, neither making one last big run with the current core nor taking meaningful steps to start building for future success.

The current Orioles, the future Orioles, and those fans typically excited for spring deserve better.

At least some semblance of a direction would be nice.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in a little over a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It bears repeating how problematic it is having a general manager whose contract expires in less than a year navigating one of the more pivotal offseasons in club history. The lack of evidence of any direction or long-term thinking from ownership is maddening.

2. That hasn’t been helped by the overall inactivity of the market as MLB Network reported only 31 of 166 free agents had signed deals entering Monday. That sounds fishy, regardless of whether you believe it’s collusion or the effect of the luxury tax and next year’s free-agent class being better.

3. No one’s suggesting the Orioles should just give Manny Machado away, but this is what happens when you punt on the future for so long. This current process should have started from the moment they knew a long-term deal very likely wasn’t in the stars.

4. Speaking of long-term deals, signing Jonathan Schoop to one should be a top priority right now, but you wonder if watching the organization’s handling of his close friend leaves him more inclined to wait for free agency after 2019.

5. Kevin Gausman changing his jersey number to honor the late Roy Halladay is a touching gesture, and the Orioles hope the 27-year-old builds off his 3.41 ERA in the second half of 2017. Home runs remained an issue, but his strikeout and walk rates improved markedly after the All-Star break.

6. Part of that improvement should be credited to Caleb Joseph as pitchers posted a 4.23 ERA throwing to him compared to a 5.60 mark with the departed Welington Castillo. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the staff has usually fared better when Joseph has caught over the last several years.

7. Chris Davis was worth minus-0.2 wins above replacement in 2017, according to Baseball Reference. He’ll only be 32 and can still turn things around, but the seven-year, $161 million deal he signed two years ago is looking more disastrous than many feared it could be at the time.

8. Looking at 2017 batting average on balls in play and remembering the league average is just below .300, Machado is a no-brainer pick to rebound after a career-worst .265 mark. On the flip side, Trey Mancini’s .352 clip makes him a candidate for some regression in his second full season.

9. The club has high hopes for Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, but the former’s 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings and .263 opposing BABIP are worrisome for projecting future success. Castro’s 5.2 per nine strikeout rate and .231 BABIP should also temper expectations about a possible move to the rotation.

10. Hunter Harvey is a bright spot for an organization still lacking pitching prospects, but you hope the Orioles aren’t so desperate for starting pitching that they potentially compromise the 23-year-old’s health and development. Unlike Dylan Bundy two years ago, Harvey has minor-league options remaining.

11. You’ll hear plenty about Nestor Cortes and other Rule 5 picks over the next few months, but this annual exercise that’s put numerous strains on the roster has netted a total of 1.7 WAR during the Dan Duquette era, according to Baseball Reference. Way too much effort for minimal value.

12. Maybe they’ll prove us wrong in the coming weeks, but the Orioles’ approach to this offseason with a slew of expiring contracts after 2018 feels like a basketball team running a Four Corners offense while trailing by 10 points. Where’s the urgency?

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Orioles appear to finally be facing reality with Machado

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles have finally concluded they’re drawing dead.

There’s little sense in going for a straight or a flush if the other players at the poker table are already holding a full house, and that’s what the American League East is once again looking like after some leaner years — relatively speaking — for its two behemoths.

Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette were to sign a pair of accomplished starting pitchers such as Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn this offseason, that may not be enough to seriously challenge the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Of course, there are no indications owner Peter Angelos is willing to make such steep financial commitments anyway after the disastrous Ubaldo Jimenez contract finally came off the books at the end of last season.

All the talk about the Orioles making a final run with their group of pending free agents sounds nice, but aggressively spending is the only realistic way to make that happen now and that’s just not in this organization’s DNA despite some success in recent years. Trading a part or two in an already-barren farm system for a mediocre-at-best starter and signing minor-league free agents are not realistic means to the end as the last few years have proven.

That brings us to Manny Machado, one of the best players in baseball who’s less than a year away from becoming a free agent. The rumors and reports are rampant this week about the Orioles finally being willing to part with their All-Star third baseman, who apparently now wants to play shortstop with J.J. Hardy no longer in the picture. What that would mean for Tim Beckham is anyone’s guess.

Of course, the Orioles have known for years that Machado was scheduled to hit the open market at the end of 2018, but Duquette confirmed to reporters Tuesday that they haven’t engaged in contract talks in a long time. That truth reflects the organization’s lack of any long-term vision, a reality reinforced by ownership entrusting a general manager entering the final year of his contract to manage this delicate situation in the first place.

Using hindsight, the optimal time to sign the 25-year-old likely would have been after the 2014 season when he underwent his second knee surgery in as many years. It would have been risky — and we know how the Orioles scrutinize medical records — and far from cheap, but the financial commitment to buy out the first few years of Machado’s free agency would have paled in comparison to what they would need to pay to keep him now.

But that’s ancient history as is the chance to have fetched a bigger return for him last winter or last July.

It’s better late than never if Angelos isn’t willing to extend Machado — a fair position considering the anticipated price and competition for his services next offseason — and is now open to him being dealt, but there’s no telling whether the Orioles will properly execute such a franchise-defining decision. And that’s what makes the developments at the winter meetings all the more unsettling.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles are seeking two young starting pitchers with controllable years, but how realistic is that in exchange for just one year of Machado? Even if that is doable, is Duquette looking for major-league-ready starters with limited potential in hopes of merely being competitive in 2018 or prospects a bit further away from the majors with much higher ceilings?

If you’re going to trade Machado, you should be seeking the best deal possible — pitching or positional talent — from any potential suitor and shouldn’t be doing it with any major regard for the present. If your goal is being competitive next season, you wouldn’t be trading your best player in the first place. If that means you then look to trade other pending free agents such as Zach Britton, Brad Brach, or even Adam Jones, so be it.

You can’t play it both ways, no matter what you try to tell fans or the media.

But Duquette’s own status complicates that since he’s no more invested in the organization beyond next season than Machado is at the moment. The Orioles finishing in last place again in 2018 wouldn’t exactly bode well for his résumé if this is his own finale in Baltimore.

The Orioles engaging in trade talks doesn’t mean a deal will be completed this week — remember we’re talking about Angelos here — but it is a hopeful sign that they won’t allow one of the most talented players in club history to simply walk away for an inconsequential draft pick next fall. The idea of parting with a special talent like Machado really hurts, but Baltimore can improve its long-term outlook by accepting the strong likelihood that the current group’s window has closed and trading assets unlikely to be here for the next competitive window.

Even if you like your hand, folding it with eyes toward the future sometimes proves to be the best move.

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