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Orioles, Britton hoping he can avoid trip to disabled list

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:15 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Despite using crutches to walk around the clubhouse on Sunday, Orioles closer Zach Britton told reporters he doesn’t expect to go on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle.

The 2015 All-Star selection was injured trying to field a bunt in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Britton had to leave the game and was limping as he walked to the dugout with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, but his prognosis hadn’t changed since initially being labeled as “day-to-day” a night earlier.

“Not much swelling. I think he’ll be a pitcher shortly — hopefully,” said manager Buck Showalter, who later revealed after Sunday’s game that Britton would undergo a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday. “It’s the left one. I actually kind of like that a little better than the right one. I’d rather have that one as opposed to the landing foot, but it was more like he kind of jammed the capsule in there a little bit as opposed to turning it. The lack of swelling kind of reiterated what Richie thought it was looking at the tape.”

It remains to be seen whom Showalter might use as his closer in Britton’s absence, and he was predictably tight-lipped about it when asked by reporters.

As the Orioles prepared to conclude a four-game set with Chicago, Showalter acknowledged there were a “couple” relief pitchers he wouldn’t use on Sunday, adding more intrigue to the possibility of a save situation. Having pitched in three of the last four games and throwing 35 pitches over the last two nights, primary setup man Darren O’Day was likely to be unavailable on Sunday. Givens also pitched in two of the first three games of the series and tossed a combined 50 pitches in those outings, leaving his status for the series finale in question.

The Orioles will be off on Monday, which will give Britton another day to recover and Showalter an opportunity to better set up his bullpen for a three-game series with the New York Yankees.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 20th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman was terrific as he turned in his deepest outing of the year with 6 2/3 shutout innings and struck out nine to match his career high. The right-hander only allowed four baserunners as Rays hitters consistently struggled to make contact with eight of his nine strikeouts coming on swings. The biggest moment of his night came in the fourth inning when he struck out Chris Dickerson on a 95 mph fastball with runners on second and third and one out and then got Desmond Jennings to fly out to retire the side. Tillman hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career, but his velocity is up so far this season and it was good to see him reach back for a little extra against Dickerson in such a big spot. He also effectively used his slider and curveball to miss bats as the night progressed. If not for the fact that he had a rested bullpen, manager Buck Showalter could have gone a little deeper with Tillman, who struck out four of the last six batters he faced and threw 101 pitches.

2ndJoey Rickard brought a sigh of relief to the Orioles dugout when he smacked a three-run shot into the left-field seats off Matt Moore with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Orioles had scored only one run in their previous 30 innings before the Rule 5 pick hit his second home run of the season. It would prove to be all the Orioles would need and the rest of the lineup took that literally as Tampa Ray retired 13 in a row after Rickard’s blast. The clutch hit snapped a 2-for-22 slump for the young outfielder.

3rdBrad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning despite a two-out walk and has now allowed only one run in his 13 1/3 innings to begin the 2016 season. The right-hander entered Wednesday holding left-handed hitters to a .158 average before retiring all three lefties he faced in the inning. That’s as good as any lefty specialist many clubs would typically use in such a situation.

Home — In addition to making a sliding catch in the third inning, Nolan Reimold worked a four-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on in the fifth to begin the rally that culminated with Rickard’s home run. … Pitching for the first time since April 21, Darren O’Day retired Steven Souza Jr. for the final out of the seventh and has yet to be scored upon through his first nine appearances of 2016. … Adam Jones went 0-for-4 and is now hitting .196 on the season. … Chris Davis was also hitless, but he was robbed of an extra-base hit in the fourth when Souza made a tremendous diving catch on the warning track in right-center. … Beginning a stretch of 17 of their next 20 games at home on Thursday night, the Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill to open a four-game set against lefty John Danks and the Chicago White Sox.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Toronto

Posted on 22 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 14th game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado went 2-for-5 and actually saw his batting average fall a smidgen from .4074 to .4067, illustrating how incredible his start has been. The All-Star third baseman put the Orioles on the board with an RBI single in the first and blooped a double down the right-field line to plate the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning. His 14-game hitting streak has matched a career high set in 2013 and has made him only the third player in Orioles history to hit safely in the first 14 games of a season, joining Brian Roberts (2005) and Eddie Murray (1982). Machado entered Thursday with the most hits in the AL and was tied for the major league lead with Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. It has to be terrifying for the rest of the AL to wonder if the 23-year-old might be even better than he was last year.

2ndChris Tillman looked a lot like the pitcher who posted a 11.72 ERA against the Blue Jays in 2015 in the first inning, throwing 38 pitches while allowing two runs, two hits, two walks, and a hit by pitch. However, the right-hander mixed his curveball and slider effectively as the night progressed and he managed to register his first quality start of the season by not allowing a run over his next five innings of work. Toronto squared up a few balls hit directly at fielders over the course of the night, but Thursday turned out to be a vintage performance from Tillman in which he started slowly before regrouping to turn in a solid six-inning outing. That’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted against a very dangerous lineup.

3rdJoey Rickard only saw his legend grow on Thursday when he literally lined a ball through Toronto third baseman Josh Donald’s glove, a feat on par with Roy Hobbs tearing the cover off the ball in “The Natural.” In all seriousness, it was another impressive game for the rookie left fielder as he also stole the first base of his major league career before scoring on Machado’s single in the first. Rickard started the game-winning rally in the eighth inning with a single to center before advancing to second on a passed ball and aggressively scoring on Machado’s bloop double. It was a 3-for-5 night for Rickard, who is now hitting .350 and has hit safely in 13 of 14 games this season.

HomeDarren O’Day may have walked nemesis Jose Bautista on four pitches, but he turned in a masterful eighth inning against the heart of the Blue Jays order by striking out Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki. … Chris Davis registered four walks, a new career high, and currently has a .397 on-base percentage despite a .208 batting average. … Zach Britton recorded his 77th career save, moving past Randy Myers for sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list. … Dylan Bundy recorded the first strikeout of his major league career as he pitched on consecutive nights for the first time this season. … The Orioles are now 3-0 in games in which they’ve failed to hit a home run after going 11-39 in that department last year. … Matt Wieters was ejected for only the second time in his career after he was called out on a check-swing attempt by home plate umpire Dan Bellino, who drew the ire of both teams for an inconsistent strike zone throughout the game. … The Orioles begin a six-game road trip on Friday by sending Yovani Gallardo to the hill in Kansas City where he’ll be opposed by Royals right-hander Chris Young.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the third game of the 2016 season.

1stUbaldo Jimenez didn’t look like he would complete seven strong innings early on, but he induced a 1-4-3 double play from Trevor Plouffe to escape a jam in the third inning and turned his outing around from there. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight over that stretch. Minnesota hitters were on his fastball early, but Jimenez mixed in his secondary pitches more effectively the second and third times through the order and his split-finger fastball was particularly sharp. Known for his occasional control issues, Jimenez didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine and scattering eight hits. His outing not only allowed the Orioles to remain within striking distance, but he saved a bullpen that had worked 11 innings over the first two games of the series.

2ndManny Machado was moved out of the leadoff spot for the Orioles on Thursday, but he still served as the catalyst for a lineup that was scuffling against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes for much of the evening. His home run to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth reminded the rest of the order that a 2-0 deficit was far from insurmountable and the Orioles responded with three more runs over the next couple innings to surge ahead. The first-pitch homer came after Machado was locked in during his previous at-bat, a nine-pitch battle in the fourth that resulted in a line-drive single.

3rd Darren O’Day did have a two-run lead and has proven to be more than capable of handling the closer duties in the past, but he was very impressive in striking out the side to complete the 4-2 victory. The right-hander was also making his third appearance in four days, a heavy workload for this early stage of the season. O’Day recorded six strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the series.

HomeJoey Rickard continued his storybook start to the 2016 season with his first major league homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Rule 5 pick received a curtain call for his efforts as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly. … Jonathan Schoop knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center. … Dylan Bundy made his first major league appearance since Sept. 25, 2012 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning after he had warmed up at several other times during the series. … Caleb Joseph threw out two runners attempting to steal, one of them being Danny Santana right before Joe Mauer homered off Jimenez in the first inning. … After throwing only 22 pitches because of a rain delay on Opening Day, Chris Tillman returns to the hill on Friday where he’ll be opposed by Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer to begin a three-game set.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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2016 Orioles preview: Darren O’Day

Posted on 16 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo

RP Darren O’Day

Age: 33

Contract status: Under contract through the 2019 season

2015 stats: 6-2, 6 saves, 1.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.3 K/IP, 1.9 BB/IP, 5 HR, 65 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: The 2015 All-Star selection posted career bests in ERA, strikeout rate, and walk rate last year and has pitched 62 or more innings in each of his four seasons in Baltimore. Making it more impressive was the fact that opponents posted a .278 batting average on balls in play, which is higher than his .256 career mark and indicates his career year came without the benefit of much luck.

Why to be concerned: It’s remarkable that O’Day set a career high in strikeouts at age 32, so one would reasonably expect his strikeout rate to regress closer to the 9.2 per nine innings he averaged from 2012-2014. The Orioles made a four-year, $31 million commitment to O’Day, but he’s approaching his mid-30s and manager Buck Showalter may need to monitor his workload a bit more moving forward.

2016 outlook: Every year you wonder if O’Day can continue to be so dominant and he only managed to get better in his contract season that resulted in a big payday this winter. It would be a lot to ask the right-hander to be as superb as he was in 2015, but there’s little reason to think he won’t continue to be the backbone of the Baltimore bullpen like he has been for the last four years.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 5-3, 5 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.6 K/IP, 2.3 BB/IP, 6 HR, 64 innings

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Pot-committed Orioles may need to push chips in on Gallardo

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have pushed plenty of chips to the center of the poker table this winter.

A seven-year commitment to first baseman Chris Davis worth $161 million, the richest contract in franchise history.

Making All-Star relief pitcher Darren O’Day one of the highest-paid setup men in the majors.

Paying just under $25 million for the services of three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and designated hitter Mark Trumbo for the 2016 season.

In other words, the Orioles are what the poker world labels as “pot-committed” with a projected payroll now north of $130 million. But there’s still a problem with that spending.

They’re currently no better than they were a season ago when they finished 81-81. In fact, they’re worse on paper after the free-agent departure of starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and his 3.72 ERA over the last four seasons.

It’s reasonable to expect Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to rebound — at least somewhat — from last year’s difficulties, but that doesn’t mean a return to their exceptional performances of 2014, either. Kevin Gausman could be ready to take off at age 25 and the Orioles may see more good Ubaldo Jimenez than the bad Jimenez in 2016, but that would still be too much hoping and not enough improving.

After turning their nose up to the cost of starting pitching all winter, the Orioles find few viable options remaining. The likes of David Price or Zack Greinke were never realistic, but second- and third-tier options such as Scott Kazmir (three years, $48 million) or even Doug Fister (one year, $7 million) were still available to slot into a thin rotation.

That finally brings us to Yovani Gallardo, the man linked to the Orioles throughout the offseason and probably the best option remaining on the market. Soon to be 30, the veteran right-hander is far from a sure bet despite a career-best 3.42 ERA in 2015 and a 3.66 lifetime mark in the majors.

Signing him would require the Orioles to forfeit the 14th overall selection of the 2016 draft after Texas made him a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. That is an understandable deterrent for an organization in need of restocking its farm system, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said several times this offseason that the Orioles would prefer not to forfeit the pick.

Despite a strong ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent that would figure to be perfect for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a strong infield defense, Gallardo has seen his average fastball velocity dip from 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 with the Rangers last season. His strikeout rate has declined in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings in 2015 after averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six major league seasons.

Those numbers make a long-term commitment to Gallardo a risky one, but he’s still a much better option than the newly-acquired Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, or Tyler Wilson, who are more scratch-off lottery tickets than good starting candidates for a club already lacking dynamic talent in its first four starter spots. Even if you’re not keen on the Orioles giving Gallardo a long-term contract, he would instantly move to the top half of the rotation and slide the aforementioned names into more appropriate roles as relievers or depth at the Triple-A level.

Losing the 14th overall pick would be disappointing, but the Orioles would still hold five selections in the first 100 spots. An increased financial commitment to international talent — something the organization should be making anyway — could also offset that sacrifice.

At the start of the offseason, Gallardo would have been far from the top choice, but the Orioles are now less than two weeks away from spring training and haven’t replaced their best starter from a year ago when their rotation finished 14th in the American League in ERA. Beggars can’t be choosers when you’re in need of starting pitching at this late stage of the winter.

Gallardo’s addition wouldn’t guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but it would be foolish to spend as much as the Orioles have this winter without seriously addressing a rotation that was the biggest reason for their downfall in 2015. There’s no sense in playing a high-stakes hand of poker if you’re just going to muck your cards after committing more than $200 million earlier this offseason.

If you’re going to do it, go all the way.

The Orioles’ spending says they’re in win-now mode — especially with both Manny Machado and Adam Jones hitting free agency after the 2018 season — but their starting rotation suggests otherwise. There isn’t enough depth, and there certainly isn’t enough quality depth.

Signing Gallardo comes with risk and sacrifice, but he could help a neglected rotation compete in 2016.

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Davis deal creates window Orioles can’t squander

Posted on 16 January 2016 by Luke Jones

After years of clamoring for owner Peter Angelos to spend big money, Orioles fans finally got their wish on Saturday with first baseman Chris Davis agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal.

Even with the $42 million deferred without interest through 2037 easing the short-term burden, the contract nearly doubled the $85.5 million deal awarded to Adam Jones in 2012, which had been the richest in franchise history. No, Davis wasn’t cheap as many have criticized the length and money in the deal, especially with the apparent lack of competitors vying for his services. There’s little disputing the likelihood of the last few years of the deal not being pretty, but that’s the drawback of signing most marquee free agents in baseball.

In the end, the Orioles kept the most prolific home-run hitter in the majors over the last four seasons, and that’s something fans can rightfully celebrate, especially after watching the trio of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller depart via free agency last offseason.

But what does this mean for 2016 and beyond? After all, you better be looking at the big picture when you’ve committed to paying an individual a total of $161 million through his 51st birthday.

No one can say the Orioles haven’t spent big money this offseason after giving a four-year, $31 million contract to a non-closer reliever — even if it is 2015 All-Star selection Darren O’Day — and now making a nine-figure investment in Davis. The problem is that paying incumbents more money doesn’t magically make them better players, nor can you expect them to be.

These are the types of moves a club makes when it’s going “all in” to try to win a championship, which is why fans can hope there’s more to come. There needs to be more, quite frankly.

Already with a franchise-record payroll — which also includes one-year deals of $15.8 million and $9.15 million for Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo, respectively — the roster isn’t terribly different from where it stood at the end of 2015 with an 81-81 record. Swapping out starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and outfielder Gerardo Parra for Trumbo and Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim all but covers it.

The Orioles have the makings of a powerful lineup with a good infield defense and an excellent bullpen for 2016, but what about the starting pitching?

Bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez and a breakthrough campaign by the young Kevin Gausman would go a long way in making up for the departure of Chen, but you’d still likely be looking at no more than an average starting rotation with a total question mark in the No. 5 spot. You can’t lose your top starter in a rotation that ranked 14th in the American League a year ago and expect to contend without doing something beyond crossing your fingers.

And Baltimore remains too vulnerable at the corner outfield spots — offensively and defensively — the same flaw that helped sink their fortunes a year ago.

The Orioles have spent plenty, but they have too many holes to be a serious pennant contender as presently constructed. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette doesn’t need to take the payroll to ridiculous lengths, mind you, but he needs a starting pitcher and another corner outfielder of some quality.

The organization needs to be all in — not just two-thirds of the way.

Spending long-term money on Davis and O’Day makes little sense if the Orioles aren’t going to do what it takes to try to get over the hump while making improvements to the farm system over the next three years. That’s how long the window figures to stay open with the current core before Manny Machado and Adam Jones are scheduled to hit free agency at the end of 2018.

Short of having a payroll more closely resembling the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees, you wouldn’t think the Orioles will have a great chance of keeping both Machado and Jones, so they need to be willing to spend a little more in the meantime while finding and developing young talent.

It’s up to ownership and management to determine whether the Davis signing means that they’ve merely kept a big-time power hitter and popular player on an OK club or that they are going to give themselves a good chance to win a championship. What amounts to a $42 million interest-free loan from Davis should provide the flexibility to do some more this offseason and over the next couple winters.

At the end of the day, putting yourself in position to try to win the World Series is what matters.

Re-signing Davis was a big step, but only if more is done to get there.

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Orioles reportedly agree to four-year deal with O’Day

Posted on 06 December 2015 by Luke Jones

After watching him serve as the backbone of the bullpen over the last four years, the Orioles couldn’t afford to let Darren O’Day get away.

According to CBS Sports, Baltimore has agreed to a four-year, $31 million contract with the right-handed relief pitcher. The race for the 33-year-old’s services was believed to be down to Baltimore and Washington, but the Orioles’ willingness to offer a fourth year and his familiarity with the organization appeared to be the difference. O’Day’s wife, Elizabeth Prann, is also a TV reporter based out of Washington, further reinforcing his preference to remain in the area.

However, O’Day himself made it clear on Sunday afternoon that the deal has not been finalized as he still needs to take a physical, something that isn’t always a formality given the Orioles’ history with free agents.

O’Day has been the leader of a bullpen that’s been a major factor in the Orioles’ resurgence over the last four seasons. Averaging just over 68 appearances per year since his first season in Baltimore in 2012, O’Day has pitched to a 1.92 ERA and 0.939 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 263 innings with the Orioles.

Manager Buck Showalter has received much credit for his handling of O’Day with the right-hander appearing in 68 games in three straight seasons and pitching no more than 68 2/3 innings. Though his age creates some cause for concern, O’Day has steadily decreased his ERA every season since joining the Orioles and has improved his strikeout rate in each of the last two years.

A four-year contract for a non-closer reliever is a rarity, but O’Day has been worth 9.7 wins above replacement over the last four seasons, which helps to justify a long-term investment. He has also been considered one of the strongest leaders in a clubhouse that lost veterans Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz last season.

Named to his first All-Star team in 2015, O’Day posted a career-best 1.52 ERA and averaged an impressive 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 65 1/3 innings this past season. The submariner also collected a career-high six saves, four coming while filling in for an ailing Zach Britton in September.

While questions about the starting rotation, first base, and the outfield remain, the Orioles have now solidified a superb bullpen that features O’Day, Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens.

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Facing many changes, Orioles can only wonder what’s next

Posted on 05 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis hit two home runs, Matt Wieters drove in two runs, and Darren O’Day pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Orioles’ 9-4 win over the New York Yankees on the final day of the 2015 season.

A day earlier, Wei-Yin Chen pitched six solid innings to earn the win.

For their four biggest free agents, the weekend served as a final reminder of just how important they’ve been to the club’s turnaround as the Orioles finished their fourth consecutive non-losing season on Sunday, something they hadn’t done in three decades. Of course, 81 wins in 2015 were disappointing after 96 victories and an American League East title a year ago, but even a .500 standard felt unreachable just five years ago when Buck Showalter first arrived.

Now, it’s considered a failure.

“Every time there’s the first hint of fall in the air, I want people to think about playoff baseball and the World Series,” said Showalter, who managed Sunday’s game after his mother passed away on Saturday. “That’s why we get up in the morning, that’s why you go to spring training, that’s why you do the things we’re going to do between now and next February. We’re not giving in.

“It’s not good enough though. It’s not good enough. [A record of] 81-81 ain’t good enough. We’re trying to win. We want to be the last team standing, the last city standing. Our city deserves that.”

By now, no one should doubt Showalter leading the way in the dugout, but even the most optimistic fans are questioning the future after the Orioles posted the best record in the AL over the last four seasons with a .543 winning percentage. With so many pending free agents and the Orioles’ offseason track record, many doubt whether 81 wins will even be a reasonable goal for the 2016 club without ownership making significant financial commitments.

The general consensus is that the Orioles will survive without Wieters, who still hasn’t proven he can be an everyday catcher again after last year’s Tommy John surgery. For a fraction of the price, Caleb Joseph can provide respectable offense and better defense than Wieters at this stage of his career.

But replacing the other big-ticket free agents is a different story.

Davis just led the majors in home runs for the second time in three years and has clubbed 159 over his four full seasons in Baltimore. It’s the kind of power rarely seen in this pitching-rich era of baseball, but are the Orioles willing to offer a nine-figure contract to even sit down at the negotiating table with agent Scott Boras?

We know what history says until executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and owner Peter Angelos prove us wrong. If not, the Orioles will be allowing a major league home run champion to depart for a second consecutive winter.

Though far from an ace, Chen was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher in 2015 with a career-best 3.34 ERA. The 30-year-old lefty has never pitched 200 innings in a season and will likely command more money than he’s worth as a middle-of-the-rotation starter on the open market, but Baltimore lacks the pitching depth to replace him from within like the best organizations will often do. For a club that finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA and gave up 100 more runs than it did a year ago, replacing Chen will be much more difficult than letting him leave.

And then there’s O’Day, who was claimed off waivers after the 2011 season and has been the backbone of the Orioles’ biggest strength over the last four years. The right-hander just made 68 or more appearances for the fourth consecutive season and lowered his ERA each year. Rarely is it wise to spend significant money on relievers, but the 32-year-old has arguably been the best non-closer relief pitcher in the majors over the last four years. Baltimore has other young relievers such as Brad Brach and Mychal Givens who pitched well in 2015, but weakening the club’s biggest strength would be a dangerous proposition.

The Orioles will also need to make decisions on the likes of Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce, and Nolan Reimold as they try to fix the corner outfield spots that were a disaster in 2015. Parra disappointed after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline while Pearce and Reimold should only be viewed as reserves at most.

Reinforcements in the minors appear few and far between at this point as outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker barely garnered a look in September promotions. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson may eventually settle into bullpen roles, but neither are viable options to pencil into the 2016 starting rotation if the Orioles have visions of contending. Oft-injured pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is out of minor-league options next year, but to expect anything more than a bullpen role for him to begin 2016 would be foolish.

The harsh truth is that the aforementioned decisions all involve players who were already part of a .500 club. The goal is to be better than 81-81, right?

For example, even if the Orioles were to re-sign Davis, O’Day, and Parra, what do they do to improve their starting rotation and the other outfield spot flanking Adam Jones in center?

Improving from .500 in 2016 will also depend on at least a few incumbents bouncing back from underwhelming seasons. Starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were clear disappointments while the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman didn’t take the step forward you would have liked to see. Given the track records of the previous three seasons for Tillman and Gonzalez and the potential of Gausman, it’s probably reasonable to expect at least two of those three to be better in 2016 than they were this season.

But that still leaves an open rotation spot and doesn’t even consider the enigma that is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has two years remaining on his $50 million contract. To be serious about contending in 2016, the Orioles need to find another starter to at least slot into the top half of the rotation and should probably add another arm to compete for the No. 5 spot at the very least.

Easier said than done.

More improvement from within is always possible as the Orioles hope that shortstop J.J. Hardy can be better at the plate after playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season. Even a return to his 2014 production would be welcomed after Hardy was a liability at the plate with a career-worst .564 on-base plus slugging percentage this year.

Can Jonathan Schoop be even better have improving his OPS from .598 as a rookie to .788 this season?

Is there yet another level for the 23-year-old Manny Machado to climb after he already became one of the best players in baseball this year? It’d be unfair to expect that, but he’s certainly a special talent.

Many questions and few answers for the Orioles as they potentially say goodbye to a number of key contributors from the last four years while exploring ways to not only fill those voids but improve from an 81-81 record in 2015. And that’s not even taking into account the concerns surrounding the working relationship of Duquette and Showalter.

No, the Orioles reaching the .500 mark in Sunday’s finale wasn’t the end goal they had in mind.

But you wonder whether they can even reach that plateau next year with such an uncertain offseason ahead.

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