A week or so into the Orioles 2010 season – marred by a pair of 3-game drubbings at home by Toronto and Tampa Bay – I was already baseball’d out.
48 hours into Ravens camp and I’m already “injury’d out”.
So rather than write what everyone else is writing – “everything’s going to be just fine” or “the sky is falling, we might not win 6 games” – about the Ravens, I’ll go back to the well one more time and offer a few observations about our orange feathered friends.
With the debut of Buck Showalter as manager on Tuesday, I figured it’s time to take a good look at the remaining two months of the season and list some of the things that REALLY matter between now and the end of September.
As we know, the 2010 baseball season in Baltimore is over. But the 2011 season is sort-of starting right now, for several players have “something to prove” in the final 60 days of the campaign. I’m not talking about how Adam Jones finishes the season (he’s going to be on the team next season and start in center field) or how Matt Wieters finishes (he’s the catcher here…period) or whether or not Brian Roberts ends his season next week or finishes the year playing regularly (he’s going to be the 2nd baseman on opening day next year).
I’m talking about the unknown. These are the things we don’t know…and things that matter over the last two months as it pertains to the start of 2011.
1. Who’s the closer? I’m not saying this because Alfredo Simon coughed up the game last night, but I don’t think he’s the closer of the future for the Orioles. You know what you get with him. A guy who usually puts at least one runner on base in a close-out situation, if not more. Some nights, he escapes, some nights, he doesn’t. I’d like to see the club use David Hernandez in the closer role and give him a legitimate shot at either earning the job heading into 2011 or throwing it up for grabs. He, like Simon, is prone to the occasional walk, but I think he has better command of his fastball than Simon and, to me, he’s just more dependable. I think the club has some “live arms” in the bullpen. Let’s use the last two months to figure out which one is best suited to close in 2011. And before you say it…no, it’s NOT Mike Gonzalez.
2. Can Luke Scott play first base? In a short sample of work (21 games over two season), Scott has been adequate at first base, with three errors in all. With each game, he seems a bit more comfortable to me. Here’s what I DO know: Luke can’t play left field. Here’s what I DON’T know: Can he play first base on a regular basis (meaning, 120 games) and still be productive at the plate and field the position well enough to justify earning the status of “starting first baseman”? I’d use the last 55 or so games to really figure that out and if Scott handles the situation decently, I’d be willing to look at him as the incumbent first baseman next year. That is, unless we go out and buy a big free-agent first-baseman/quality hitter in the winter. Never mind, you already know the answer to that. Let’s see what Luke can do.
3. What’s the Pie factor? Since the All-Star break, Felix Pie has become Felix Pie again, hitting roughly .190 and striking out more times than Clinton got monthly visits from Monica. At times, Pie looks like a project worth keeping around. Despite his recent struggles, he’s become more selective at the plate and his power potential looks better than it did a year ago. But he’s still not done enough to warrant earning a full-time role in the outfield, no matter what happens with Nolan Reimold in the minor leagues. If I’m the Orioles, I think long and hard about Carl Crawford regardless of what Pie does between now and the end of the season (and if that means shipping out Reimold in a deal for something of quality, I’d think about that, too). But in the meantime – not knowing what Crawford will do and assuming the Orioles won’t pay him, anyway – I’d go ahead and keep playing Felix every night in left field and use the last 55 games to figure out whether or not he’s the man in 2011. It would be nice if he could stay healthy for longer than 6 weeks, too. We’ll have to see about that.
4. Can the Bell ring? I don’t have much to go on, granted, but I’m not “feelin’ it” with Josh Bell so far. He’s a wild, free-swinger at the plate and I don’t see the natural athleticism in the field at 3rd base. That said…he’s in the January of his major league career and he needs time to show if he can do it or not. With Tejada gone, it’s obvious that the Orioles are going to go with Bell throughout the remainder of the season. But I hope they’re not just playing him to play him. I hope they’re evaluating him as well. If he doesn’t show enough quality in the field, there might be a need for some off-season shopping to bring in someone at the hot corner. And no, I don’t mean Miguel Tejada Visit #3. I mean a real 3rd baseman. If Bell is decent in the field and shows improvement at the plate, he’ll be the starter in 2011. I’m not feelin’ it yet, but I’m willing to give him more time.
5. Izzy worth one more year? Face the facts, we’re an organization that doesn’t spend a lot of money on players, so ANY opening that requires a check to someone – particularly a big one – might be met with a patchwork effort. That’s how Cesar Izturis got here in the first place…MacPhail didn’t want to spend real money on a high-profile shortstop. Anyway, two years later, Izturis is again a free agent and the Orioles will enter the off-season without someone to play that position in 2011. This “Izturis debate” would be moot if we had someone in the wings waiting to come up and take the gig. We don’t have that player. So…in his two years here, has Izturis done enough to warrant a new deal? Maybe. I’d use the last two months to really look at him, study the numbers and decide if it’s worth bringing him back for ONE more year (assuming he’ll take a one-year deal) and use that money to try and lure Crawford to Baltimore in the off-season. I know Izturis isn’t a great player. But he’s a dependable defensive player and an occasionally adequate offensive contributor. He’s been more involved in rallies and wins this year than you’re willing to give him credit for, I can assure you of that. I’m not saying DEFINITELY bring him back. I’m saying it might be worth CONSIDERING bringing him back and I’d use the last 55 games to give him a quiet audition. One more thing about the benefit of having Izturis around: When you fill out the lineup card, SOMEONE has to bat 9th.