Posted on 31 July 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones
With the non-waiver trade deadline less than 24 hours away, the Orioles were engaged in discussions Thursday night trying to acquire corner outfield help in their push for their third playoff appearance in four years.
A source confirmed that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was attempting to acquire Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra. It is believed that the Orioles are offering right-handed pitching prospect Zach Davies, but it could take additional pitching such as Double-A Bowie right-hander Parker Bridwell to complete a deal.
Multiple outlets reported that the Orioles are also discussing a potential fit for Philadelphia outfielder Ben Revere. Entering Thursday, Revere was hitting .298 with a .335 on-base percentage and 24 stolen bases and would potentially serve as a leadoff hitter.
It’s no secret that the Orioles have lacked sufficient ammunition in their farm system to make a serious run at more notable outfielders such as Justin Upton and Carlos Gomez.
The left-handed Parra is having a career season at the plate with a .326 average, nine home runs, 24 doubles, and an .884 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday’s action. However, he carries just a .737 career OPS, suggesting there could be some distinct regression to the norm over his final two months of play.
Previously with the Arizona Diamondbacks before being traded to Milwaukee last July, the 28-year-old is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Parra is making $6.24 million in 2015, meaning any club acquiring his services would be on the hook for just over $2 million without any cash considerations in a trade.
Revere is under club control through the 2017 season.
Posted on 20 July 2015 by Luke Jones
The trade deadline is in sight and the names reportedly being linked to the Orioles are enticing.
San Diego outfielder Justin Upton.
Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez.
Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati.
Even the mighty Cole Hamels in Philadelphia.
Despite being just 46-45 less than two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Orioles remain in the thick of the American League East race and trail the first-place New York Yankees by just four games entering a three-game set in the Bronx on Tuesday. Any of the aforementioned names would certainly help a club lacking corner outfield talent and needing better starting pitching than it received over the first four months of the season.
But the sound of snapping fingers should bring the Orioles back to reality.
After an offseason in which veterans Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency and the Orioles completely whiffed in their plan to replace them, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette now faces the task of trying to improve a corner outfield situation that’s largely been a wasteland in 2015. But he’ll keep coming back to the same problem while engaging in discussions with other clubs about potential trade targets between now and July 31.
What exactly do the Orioles have to offer in return?
Opposing clubs will immediately bring up Kevin Gausman’s name, but are the Orioles in a position to trade the 24-year-old away when there are already questions about the starting rotation now and for the long haul with Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris set to become free agents?
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has often been targeted by opposing clubs, but the 23-year-old is too valuable as part of a core group that will be expected to lead the way with the likes of Matt Wieters and Chris Davis possibly — if not likely — departing as free agents following the season.
What about Dylan Bundy?
The 22-year-old right-hander remains shut down with a right shoulder issue and is unlikely to pitch again this year. On top of that, he’s out of minor-league options next year and would need to remain on any club’s 25-man roster despite having thrown all of 167 innings in the minor leagues. His value has never been lower, but he’s still young enough that it wouldn’t make sense to move him unless another club is willing to buy high despite these concerns.
Hunter Harvey drew plenty of interest at the deadline last year, but the 20-year-old pitcher is in the midst of a throwing progression and is an injury risk with a right flexor mass strain — an injury that sometimes leads to Tommy John surgery — until he proves otherwise. Again, not exactly a situation that screams for other teams to buy high on him.
There’s a substantial drop-off in upside after these currently-injured names.
That’s not to say the likes of outfielder Dariel Alvarez, catcher Chance Sisco, and pitchers Zach Davies, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson wouldn’t offer some appeal to other clubs, but it’s difficult envisioning any of them headlining a trade for an impact outfielder or pitcher. And with so many pending free agents this winter, the Orioles need to be careful selling off the few pieces they currently have in their farm system for rental players or veterans with limited ceilings, the only commodities they’re likely to be able to afford at the deadline.
It’s certainly nice to hear the Orioles are interested in a high-impact outfielder — and pending free agent — like Upton or a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter like Johnny Cueto, but those options just don’t seem realistic unless the Orioles are willing to trade Gausman or Schoop — or both.
Perhaps Duquette will find a poor man’s Andrew Miller — hopefully for a price far less than an Eduardo Rodriguez this time around — or a spark plug reminiscent of Nate McLouth in 2012, but the reported interest in high-profile names feels hollow if the Orioles are going to be honest with themselves.
Duquette and the organization are trying to make up for what they failed to do last winter.
And they have very little to offer in order to do it, making it far more likely that the Orioles will need to count on what they already have rather than any hope of finding a real difference-maker.
Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — No longer able to endure a well-documented roster crunch, the Orioles designated outfielder Delmon Young for assignment prior to Wednesday’s game against Texas.
Baltimore needed a fresh arm in the bullpen and recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson to take Young’s spot on the 25-man roster. With the recent promotions of Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold, the 29-year-old Young’s playing time had dwindled with just 17 plate appearances since June 13.
“They’re all difficult,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about the decision to part ways with the veteran. “We wrestle with these decisions and hash them out and go back and forth, and we try to develop more options for the team to keep all the players in the organization. We couldn’t come up with a solution to this roster move because we didn’t have the flexibility on our roster that we’ve had in the past.”
Young provided arguably the most exciting moment in the history of Orioles Park at Camden Yards last fall with a three-run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series, sparking his club to a 7-6 victory and eventual sweep of the Detroit Tigers. However, the outfielder struggled with more extensive playing time this season, hitting .270 with just two home runs and a .628 on-base plus slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances.
With the Orioles employing a number of outfielders serving in part-time roles, Young didn’t offer as much versatility with declining power and limited defensive ability. The emergence of Jimmy Paredes this season has taken away a large number of at-bats at the designated hitter spot that the Orioles projected Young to receive at the beginning of the season.
The roster pains aren’t over for the Orioles as they must make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to make Thursday’s start and second baseman Jonathan Schoop will finish his rehab assignment over the next few days. Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Nolan Reimold will go on paternity leave next week, which would temporarily open a a roster spot.
“There’s not a right decision there. Nobody is trying to present it as such,” said Showalter of Young’s departure. “We’ve got good quality people, and you reach a point where you can’t keep them all. Unfortunately, we’re probably not done. It tugs at your chest.”
After being signed to a minor-league deal two offseasons ago, Young thrived in a part-time role in 2014, hitting .302 with seven homers and a .779 OPS. The first overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft was Baltimore’s best pinch hitter, going 10-for-20 in the regular season before delivering his pinch-hit two-bagger off Detroit right-hander Joakim Soria in the ALDS.
The offseason departure of slugger Nelson Cruz figured to create more opportunities for Young, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal over the winter to remain with the Orioles.
Duquette will now have 10 days to try to work out a trade for Young, a realistic chore considering he was able to deal Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox last month. Duquette told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game that he had already engaged in trade discussions with other clubs about Young but hadn’t gotten close to making a deal prior to Wednesday’s designation.
“Delmon is a qualified major league hitter,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a [landing] spot for him in a few days.”
Many fans will remember Young fondly for his heroics last October, but he isn’t the first Oriole to be let go shortly after a pinnacle playoff moment. Outfielder Tito Landrum hit the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 1983 AL Championship Series before being traded the following spring.
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Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones
Despite Milwaukee relief pitcher Will Smith seeing his eight-game suspension reduced earlier in the day, Orioles left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz saw his ban upheld by Major League Baseball on Friday.
Matusz began serving his eight-game suspension for having a foreign substances on his right forearm in a May 23 game in Miami. His appeal hearing took place in Houston on Wednesday with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter in attendance.
He will be eligible to return on June 14 in a game against the New York Yankees.
The Orioles will now play a player down on their 25-man roster as Matusz sits for the next eight games. Showalter told reporters in Cleveland that the lefty pitcher will likely go to Sarasota to stay in shape over the next week.
To say the least, it’s curious that Smith saw his suspension reduced to six games while Matusz still received eight games from MLB. Showalter had expressed optimism earlier in the week that his pitcher’s discipline would be lessened.
In 18 1/3 innings in 2015, Matusz has posted a 1-2 record with a 3.44 ERA, but he has walked 11 batters compared to 14 strikeouts. The southpaw has allowed four of eight inherited runners to score this season.
The Orioles promoted relief pitcher Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Norfolk to give themselves another left-hander in the bullpen.
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Posted on 02 June 2015 by Luke Jones
This isn’t about the three names who’ve been discussed over and over and over in assessing the Orioles’ offseason and disappointing start to the 2015 campaign.
Frankly, it’s not my place to say the organization should have invested more than $34 million in those three players for the 2015 season, which doesn’t include the $102.75 million that departing trio will command from their new clubs in future years. At the same time, I won’t applaud the Orioles for showing the restraint to allow them to walk away, either, when it was clear what value they provided to the 2014 club.
What we do know is it would have been naive to expect the franchise to increase its payroll by tens of millions of dollars, meaning executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had difficult decisions to make. In fact, lost in the handwringing over a disappointing offseason is that the payroll is actually higher than it was a year ago.
And that’s where we come to the real problem plaguing manager Buck Showalter’s club as it continues to hover below the .500 mark in early June. For all of the discussion about who the Orioles didn’t keep, not enough attention has been paid to the ones they did choose to retain who haven’t provided a return in 2015.
Because of the timing, we often forget the big-name free agent that the Orioles did retain when they re-signed J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million contract on the eve of the American League Championship Series last October. Injuries have limited the Gold Glove shortstop to just 23 games as he’s batted only .190 when he has been in the lineup.
Time will tell whether the Orioles made the right decision in extending the 32-year-old shortstop, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the biggest indictment of the offseason:
It’s the overwhelming portion of the $57.51 million paid to arbitration-eligible players this winter that looks like a sunk investment in early June. The Orioles invested just under $38 million in Chris Tillman ($4.32 million), Bud Norris ($8.8 million), Tommy Hunter ($4.65 million), Brian Matusz ($3.2 million), Steve Pearce ($3.7 million), Alejandro De Aza ($5 million), and the injured Matt Wieters ($8.3 million), and what exactly have they gotten in return?
Of course, that’s not to say the Orioles shouldn’t have tendered any of the aforementioned players as no one would have predicted Tillman or Norris struggling as dramatically as they have thus far and Pearce still looked like a huge bargain after leading the 2014 Orioles in on-base plus slugging percentage. There was cautious optimism that Wieters might be ready by Opening Day, but the club knew it was possible that he’d need a couple more months to rehab as has turned out to be the case.
But what about the others?
Designated for assignment last week, De Aza’s name was mentioned by many as a candidate to be non-tendered over the winter, but the Orioles were fooled into thinking what they saw last September and in the postseason was what they would get this year. His struggles over the last few years with the Chicago White Sox spelled out why he was available last August, but the organization forked over $5 million for him anyway.
It’s understandable that the Orioles didn’t want to invest a long-term contract in a relief pitcher, but was it wise to pay a total of $7.85 million to two middling relievers like Hunter and Matusz? Was it a good use of resources to tender Matusz and sign left-hander Wesley Wright for an additional $1.7 million?
Non-tendering De Aza and Matusz and passing on the Everth Cabrera signing — which has been another $2.4 million investment providing no return — would have created an additional $10.6 million to spend on other players if they’d kept the same payroll. Think of the possibilities of what could have been done with that money with just a hint of creativity.
The Orioles showed little interest this winter in outfielder Nori Aoki, who is essentially a present-day Nick Markakis clone and signed a one-year, $4 million contract with San Francisco that includes a $5.5 million option for 2016. He alone wouldn’t fix the current offense, but he’d sure look good hitting in the leadoff spot for Baltimore right now and hadn’t shown the same inconsistency of De Aza in Chicago the last couple years. A signing like that still would have left Duquette more money with which to work.
That’s only one simple example, of course.
As much as critics have labeled it a “cheap” offseason for the Orioles, it was an unimaginative one more than anything else. Even if the departures of Nelson Cruz, Markakis, and Miller were unavoidable from a financial standpoint, the Orioles still had plenty of resources to tinker and try to improve the club while continuing to remind everyone that Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis would be rejoining what remained of a playoff roster.
Instead, the Orioles lost significant pieces and paid too much of the money they did have to role players to fill in the cracks. To borrow a line from “Jurassic Park” uttered by Dr. Ian Malcolm, the Orioles were “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should” pay all of their arbitration-eligible players.
Fans can only wonder how much the flirtation between Duquette and the Toronto Blue Jays might have contributed to an inactive offseason in which the most significant additions were Travis Snider, Wright, and Cabrera.
Meanwhile, the Orioles continue to wait and hope for the players in which they did invest this winter to finally provide a positive return.
Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones
Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.
The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.
For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.
Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.
* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.
One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.
It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.
I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.
* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.
What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.
Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.
* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.
While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.
You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.
* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.
More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.
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Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones
With the Orioles needing to finalize their 25-man roster for the start of the 2015 season by Sunday, two more outcomes became evident on Friday afternoon.
According to The Sun, right-handed relief pitcher Ryan Webb has passed through waivers, which will likely lead to his departure from the organization. Meanwhile, the red-hot Jimmy Paredes is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his lower back while lifting weights earlier this week.
Out of minor-league options and owed $2.75 million, Webb cannot be sent to Triple-A Norfolk without his consent and is still guaranteed his salary if he refuses to go to the minors. This means the Orioles will likely need to decide to either make room for him on the 25-man roster or to part ways with the 29-year-old while still paying him his money.
Asked about the matter on MASN Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would not expand on Webb’s future with the organization.
“Waivers are [supposed to be] confidential,” Duquette said. “Ryan Webb is still on our roster.”
Signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract two offseasons ago, Webb pitched to a 3.83 ERA last season before he became the odd man out when the Orioles acquired lefty reliever Andrew Miller in late July. Webb hasn’t helped his cause this spring by pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.
News of Paredes’ injury is disappointing after the switch-hitting infielder batted .364 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, and a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage this spring. With shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder David Lough also expected to begin the season on the DL, Paredes was expected to make the roster out of spring training.
The Paredes injury may open the door for outfielder Nolan Reimold to make the club after being a non-roster invitee. The 31-year-old has hit two home runs and posted a .928 OPS this spring.
Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones
It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what cannot go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.
There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.
You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.
If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.
You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.
With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2015:
1. Starting pitchers continue to outperform their metrics
It’s no secret that many statheads and projections haven’t liked the Orioles over the last three years and for good reason. They haven’t looked the part of other winners in the 21st century as they hit home runs but don’t get on base at a high rate and their pitching doesn’t rely on the strikeout, which is one of the most expensive commodities in the game.
But where the Orioles excelled in 2014 was a starting rotation that took advantage of an exceptional defense behind it. Starters didn’t strike many out (11th in the AL) and walked too many (fourth-most in the AL) — the intense struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez certainly skewed the latter ranking — but pitching coach Dave Wallace preaches to his pitchers to trust their defense, which they did with great success as the season progressed.
After the All-Star break, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 2.98 after a 4.09 mark in the season’s first half. Their starter strikeout numbers even improved from 6.5 to 7.4 per nine innings pitched.
Many are predicting a market correction for the Orioles pitching after they ranked third in the AL in ERA but only 11th in fielding independent pitching (FIP), which eliminates factors a pitcher can’t control such as his defense. The good news is Baltimore starters figure to once again have Gold Glove-caliber fielders behind them.
The starting pitching continuing to find success is the single-most important factor needed for the Orioles to not only preserve the bullpen for the later months but to contend for another playoff berth.
2. Manny Machado takes a (healthy) step forward
The questions about Wieters’ health will likely linger for much of the season, but the Orioles proved they could win without their All-Star catcher last season and Caleb Joseph has shown an ability to handle himself well from a defensive standpoint. Machado possesses the highest upside of any player in a lineup needing to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.
He’s already proven himself to be a Gold Glove defensive player, but his 68 extra-base hits in his first full season in the majors as a 20-year-old suggest the sky is the limit in terms of offensive potential. You have to chalk up 2014 as a lost year considering he was still working his way back from the first knee injury and went down again when he was finally hitting his stride at the plate in the second half.
Unlike Wieters, Machado’s health hasn’t been an issue all spring as he’s running better than ever with two healthy knees and has benefited from his first full spring since 2013. Yes, you have to hold your breath that health won’t again become a concern, but there have been no reservations so far.
Beyond staying in the lineup, Machado taking a step forward with the bat would go a long way in quelling any concerns about Baltimore’s offensive potential. He doesn’t need to put up MVP-caliber numbers, but many facets of his game hint that it’s possible in the future if he can stay healthy.
3. Steve Pearce proves he isn’t a one-year wonder
In watching Cruz and Markakis depart via free agency, the Orioles are clearly counting on the best story of the 2014 season to provide a productive sequel in his first full year as a regular. Many spent the winter trying to explain Pearce’s breakthrough at age 31, with explanations ranging from better health and finally receiving an extended opportunity to improved swing mechanics and an uncanny ability to hammer pitches up in the zone.
Expecting a repeat of his .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago would be asking too much, but his patience alone makes him a good candidate to once again be productive and help fill in the gaps left behind by Cruz and Markakis. His versatility in being able to play good defense at first base as well as at the corner outfield spots is extremely valuable for Showalter over the course of a season.
You should never look into spring training stats too much, but five homers and a .951 OPS in the Grapefruit League indicate the former journeyman isn’t resting on the laurels of 2014.
4. Chris Davis looks more like the hitter he was in 2012 and 2013 than last year
No one expects Davis to hit 53 homers like he did two seasons ago, but the Orioles need much more than the .196 average and .704 OPS he provided last season.
The question has been asked over and over about how Baltimore will replace Cruz’s 40 homers from a year ago, and the truth is that Cruz himself was highly unlikely to do that again in 2015. Still, the Orioles need to make up that production with Davis having the opportunity to contribute a great deal to that puzzle.
The increased use of the shift isn’t going away, which won’t do any favors for his batting average moving forward, but Davis insists that the oblique injury he suffered last April hindered his power all season. The 29-year-old has talked about bunting on occasion to offset the shift, but his power returning to at least his 2012 level (33 homers and a .501 slugging percentage) is more valuable than obsessing too much over his batting average.
With free agency looming, will the real Davis emerge? The Orioles would benefit greatly if the guy from a couple years ago resurfaces.
5. Another diamond in the rough emerges this season
In 2012, it was Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth. Last year, Pearce and Joseph provided contributions that no one would have predicted.
If the Orioles are to return to the postseason for the third time in four years, they will inevitably need an individual or two to come out of nowhere to pay dividends. It’s the reason why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brings in so many minor-league free agents, journeymen, and players who make you say, “Who?” on a yearly basis.
Could it be former first-round pick Travis Snider building on a hot second half with Pittsburgh last year?
Is the returning Nolan Reimold finally going to stay healthy enough to contribute at some point this season?
Will Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia make the club and use his lively arm to become a better-than-expected contributor in the bullpen?
Does a strong finish to last season and a terrific spring carry over for Jimmy Paredes?
Or are we likely speculating about someone who isn’t yet with the organization?
It’s easy to laugh now at the aforementioned possibilities, but stranger things have already happened over the last few years.
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Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones
The Orioles have a problem with their starting rotation less than two weeks away from Opening Day.
It’s far from the worst dilemma as many clubs don’t have two or three quality arms, let alone enjoy the luxury of choosing among six starters for five spots. It’s a good problem to have quite frankly, even if you roll your eyes thinking about the possibility of Ubaldo Jimenez taking the ball every fifth day.
Fans and critics will understandably remain skeptical, but the steady improvement of Jimenez this spring has the veteran right-hander in position to be in the rotation to begin the season. After averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings last season, Jimenez has walked just one batter in his last three outings spanning 13 innings. A new windup and a quieter delivery have led to better results for the 31-year-old with a career 4.00 ERA in nine major league seasons.
The reality is that short of a disastrous spring, Jimenez — who’s owed more than $38 million over the next three years — was always likely to at least receive a chance in the rotation to start the year. Whether he remains in the rotation for long will be the question.
Assuming Jimenez doesn’t implode over his final couple spring outings — far from a given, of course — manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will have interesting decisions to make in how to proceed with the rest of the rotation.
The possibility of Duquette trading one of his starting pitchers has been discussed since the start of the offseason, but the chances of needing only five starters all season is extremely remote, making that a dicey plan of attack unless the return in the trade provides a major boost elsewhere.
Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are obviously safe and both have pitched well this spring.
Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman each have a remaining minor-league option and have been discussed as the two likeliest candidates to be the odd man out to make room for Jimenez, but neither has had a poor spring.
Gonzalez has posted a 4.26 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. The right-hander could be used in long relief, but you run the risk of him not being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation if he’s in the bullpen for too long.
The Orioles have handled Gausman differently than the other starters this spring as he comes off the biggest workload of his professional career a year ago. Brought along more slowly, Gausman has pitched primarily in minor-league spring games and has logged only three Grapefruit League innings. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Orioles envision the 24-year-old beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk despite the fact that he was one of the club’s best starters last season. It wouldn’t make sense to relegate Gausman to a bullpen role early in the year where he either wouldn’t pitch regularly or would be shortened up and used too frequently to safely return him to a starting role at some point later in the season.
Optioning Gonzalez or Gausman to the minors would give the Orioles more flexibility to potentially stash one of their two Rule 5 picks — Logan Verrett or Jason Garcia — in the bullpen, but it’s difficult to argue that being the best possible 25-man roster for a club trying to defend the American League East title.
Bud Norris might be the most interesting case of any of the Baltimore starting pitchers at the moment. The 30-year-old is out of options and is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he has dealt with back stiffness this spring while posting a 9.26 ERA, which includes nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.
It would be crass to draw a strong conclusion from such a small sample size, but Norris’ struggles might indicate his back is a bigger problem than he’s leading on. Either way, the Orioles need to see better results from the right-hander in his final outings before the start of the season or they may need to look at his health with more scrutiny. The bullpen would also be a possibility for Norris should his woes continue over the next couple weeks and into the regular season.
So, how should the Orioles proceed if we’re to assume Jimenez begins the season with a shot in the rotation?
It isn’t the worst problem to have, but there’s no easy answer for Showalter with the season rapidly approaching. And whatever decision he makes will come while holding his breath that Jimenez’s improvement isn’t just a brief aberration.
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