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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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Orioles continue leaving their fans twisting in wind

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles should probably be thanking the Ravens.

The latter’s embarrassing loss to Cincinnati to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years has kept most fan disenchantment in Baltimore squarely on Steve Bisciotti’s franchise over the last two weeks. Perhaps the Orioles should even take a page out of Buffalo’s book and ship 20 cases of crab cakes to the Bengals to show their gratitude.

Anything to keep the spotlight away from an organization showing no evidence of a plan or a direction despite spring training only being a month away. We’re also two weeks from FanFest, that event designed to spark enthusiasm for the upcoming season and — more importantly — drive ticket sales.

Good luck with that.

Yes, it’s very fair to note the frigid temperature of the “hot stove” this offseason, which hasn’t helped an Orioles club that’s never moved swiftly in the Dan Duquette era and has rarely shown the necessary urgency during most of Peter Angelos’ reign as owner. At the same time, the Orioles are also coming off their first losing season and last-place finish since 2011 and still have three-fifths of their starting rotation to fill. Unlike some recent winters, they don’t have the luxury of pointing to the previous year being competitive as an excuse for not needing to move all that quickly or to do all that much to try to be in contention.

Suggesting bullpen arms or Rule 5 picks could be real candidates to start isn’t a solution; it insults your fans’ intelligence if you’re claiming to want to be competitive.

What is the direction?

Where is the urgency?

Are the Orioles making a final run with the current group, rebuilding, or just doing nothing?

Amidst recent reports of the club being interested in veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner — a sign you’d interpret as at least trying to be somewhat competitive, right? — former Oriole Miguel Gonzalez agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million deal to rejoin the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. It’s the latest development making fans shake their heads and ask questions.

To be very clear, neither Gonzalez nor Cashner is anything more than a mediocre piece to help fill out the back of a starting rotation, and these guys aren’t moving the meter in any meaningful way. However, a cheap one-year deal for Gonzalez sounds like a better investment for a team trying to make at least a halfhearted attempt to be competitive for one more season than potentially giving Cashner more money and additional years as some project he’ll command. Despite Cashner’s shiny 3.40 ERA in 2017, his peripheral numbers — a career-low 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a .267 opposing batting average on balls in play — suggest some real regression is ahead. He could be Yovani Gallardo all over again.

If Dan Duquette’s claims earlier in the offseason about the club still wanting to be competitive in 2018 are true, what exactly is the organization waiting for?

If the Orioles aren’t trying to win in 2018, that’s fine. Short of a massive bump in payroll to go sign a couple of high-impact starting pitchers, I’ve already stated my belief that they’re drawing dead in a loaded American League East anyway. Even with a major increase in spending, it’s extremely difficult seeing a realistic path to a division title for this club.

If the plan is to rebuild, then get to it. And, oh yeah, it might be to the organization’s benefit to communicate some semblance of that vision to the many fans doubting there is one. Just use “youth movement” in place of “rebuild” and start pulling the trigger on some deals to inject some talent for the future. That’s better than continuing to do nothing and talking in circles at FanFest two weeks from now. That strategy isn’t selling tickets and creates even more frustration for a fan base already disappointed about the prospects of Manny Machado departing at some point in the next 10 months.

Perhaps the Orioles haven’t truly found a reasonable package in exchange for one year of Machado — notice I said reasonable and not miraculous — but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing trades for other expiring commodities in the meantime such as Brad Brach. If they’ve thrown in the towel on 2018, keeping Brach to be the closer simply because Zach Britton is hurt is nothing short of foolish.

It’s all one big shoulder shrug.

The 33-year-old Gonzalez signing on the cheap elsewhere is hardly a real issue, but it’s the latest bullet point that makes you ask what the heck the Orioles are trying to do this offseason.

I’m not sure even they know.

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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 closer Britton suffers torn Achilles tendon

Posted on 20 December 2017 by WNST Staff

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Orioles select three pitchers in this year’s Rule 5 draft

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Luke Jones

While the baseball world waits to learn the fate of All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles’ version of Christmas came Thursday with the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette selected three pitchers: left-hander Nestor Cortes and right-hander Jose Mesa from the New York Yankees organization and right-hander Pedro Araujo from the Chicago Cubs organization. All three have been placed on the 40-man roster and must remain on the 25-man club throughout the 2018 season to remain with the organization.

Cortes, 23, went 7-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 104 2/3 innings this past season with most of that time split between Double-A Trenton (52 innings) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (48 1/3 innings). He averaged 9.0 strikeouts and 2.8 walks despite not possessing overwhelming stuff.

Duquette told reporters in Florida that Cortes could compete for a spot in the major league rotation that currently sports only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Mesa, 24, is the son of former Orioles pitcher and All-Star closer Jose Mesa and split the 2017 seaosn between Trenton and Single-A Tampa. The right-hander posted a combined 1.93 ERA and struck out 101 batters while walking 32 in 84 innings.

The 24-year-old Araujo finished the 2017 campaign with a 1.76 ERA in 66 2/3 innings split between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. He averaged 11.7 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings.

The Orioles must also begin the 2018 season with former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander on the 25-man roster after the outfielder missed most of last season with an elbow injury. They are now set to take four Rule 5 picks to spring training in Sarasota.

Baltimore did not lose any prospects in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft as only 15 other players were selected by the other 29 clubs.

Since Duquette took over in the fall of 2011, the Orioles have made at least one Rule 5 selection every year, but those picks have combined for only 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. The organization has often expressed its affinity for this outlet, but the minimal value that’s come to fruition has been accompanied by roster crunches that have frequently hamstrung contending clubs over multiple seasons.

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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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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series split with Detroit

Posted on 06 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning two straight to salvage a four-game split with Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A series split is an underwhelming result on the heels of the five-game winning streak, but the Orioles bouncing back from Friday’s brutal defeat with two victories was encouraging. A 7-3 West Coast trip would sure make you start thinking differently about their wild-card chances.

2. Manny Machado had a five-RBI game Sunday and is hitting .352 since the All-Star break. With an improved approach and better luck, he’s raised his average from .215 on July 6 to .257 a month later. He’s so dangerous when he isn’t trying to pull the ball exclusively.

3. Despite allowing 12 batters to reach over 5 2/3 innings, Ubaldo Jimenez was serviceable and made big pitches when necessary to protect a sizable lead. That’s three straight respectable outings for the maddening right-hander.

4. The optics were cringeworthy, but the Orioles received competitive starts from Wade Miley and Jimenez over the final two games of the series. Yes, the bar is very low for both, but Buck Showalter’s club has a chance when they’re able to turn in results like that.

5. Tim Beckham continues to be a spark plug as he’s gone 14-for-24 with seven extra-base hits in six games with Baltimore. J.J. Hardy has deep respect within the organization, but Beckham would have to fall off a cliff — perhaps literally — to justify the former returning to the starting role.

6. Beckham hit the 10,000th regular-season home run in club history Saturday and the 2,505th for the Orioles in 26 seasons at Camden Yards. They hit only 2,490 long balls over 38 seasons at Memorial Stadium. Yes, the current park is a homer haven, but the game has sure changed.

7. Jonathan Schoop tied his career high with his 25th home run of the season Sunday, matching his total from 2016 in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances. He continues to amaze in a breakout 2017.

8. The bullpen let him down, but Kevin Gausman pitched another gem on Friday and has posted a 0.65 ERA over his last 27 2/3 innings since his disastrous July 14 start to begin the second half. This is the pitcher we saw over the final two months of 2016.

9. Caleb Joseph caught all four of those Gausman starts and the staff ERA is 4.12 when he catches compared to 5.75 with Welington Castillo this season. The improvement with the bat stands out, but his work behind the plate is why the playing time is virtually even since the break.

10. Sending Chris Tillman to the bullpen wasn’t an easy conversation, but the Orioles had no other choice. It will be interesting to see how often he pitches and how a relief role will impact his nightmarish 8.10 ERA in 66 2/3 innings.

11. With his fifth-inning blast Saturday, Adam Jones reached the 20-homer mark for the seventh straight season, a streak that ranks third in Orioles history behind only Cal Ripken (10) and Eddie Murray (nine). He won’t be a Hall of Famer, but few have been more important over this club’s history.

12. Thanks to Justin Upton’s grand slam off the typically-superb Mychal Givens, the Orioles suffered their ninth straight Friday loss with a few of those occurring in gut-wrenching fashion. Maybe it’s time to retire the Friday “O’s” cap that’s an inferior look to the regular home and away caps anyway.

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By not selling, Orioles continue course toward 2019 cliff

Posted on 31 July 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Monday’s trade deadline came and went with the Orioles taking no detour from their path toward that 2019 cliff.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette offered few specifics about any potential deals that were on the table for two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton or 2016 All-Star setup man Brad Brach. He did allude to Britton’s market being depressed because of his two-month absence for a left forearm strain in the first half and referenced the lucrative returns that the New York Yankees received for relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at last year’s deadline.

“He’s one of the top relievers in the American League,” Duquette said. “There’s a steep price paid for the relievers that were traded last year, and that really wasn’t the market this year.”

Make no mistake, the Orioles were smart to aim high and not trade Britton if they couldn’t find a fair offer, especially with him being under club control through next season. He wasn’t just a rental for a contending club, but you’d certainly hope they plan to deal the talented — and increasingly expensive — closer this winter and not wait until a year from now when his hypothetical value would be considerably lower.

Keeping the likes of Britton, Brach, and third baseman Manny Machado for now isn’t necessarily the end of the world that many are making it out to be, but the Orioles remain on that ominous path when those three as well as veteran center fielder Adam Jones become free agents at the end of next season. You can’t help but feel that the longer they wait to deal such valuable pieces, the longer it will be until their next competitive window opens.

And just because the Orioles can still trade any of those individuals at some point over the next year doesn’t mean they will, which is an even scarier proposition.

Duquette talked at length about the organization not giving up on 2017, a notion that left many rolling their eyes as Baltimore entered Monday tied for the fifth-worst record in the American League. The acquisitions of veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — who’s only under contract through the end of the season — and 27-year-old infielder Tim Beckham are hardly the moves of a club that considers itself a serious contender.

At least Beckham, the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, is under control through the 2020 season and has developed into a useful major league piece after years of underwhelming results. The Hellickson deal reeks of pointlessness as even he admitted surprise when the fourth-place Orioles acquired him from Philadelphia late Friday night.

No, Duquette didn’t trade away the organization’s high-end minor-league pieces for a long-shot chance at a playoff berth, but middling activity such as these two deals once again left us wondering about the Orioles’ overall direction. Beckham could be the club’s starting shortstop for the next few years, but he’s not someone you’d point to as a difference maker, either.

“I still like this team. I like this team for this year; I like this team for next year,” said Duquette, whose contract expires at the end of next season. “You’ve seen fits and spurts of this team playing very, very good baseball. The consistency will come when we get a consistent, stable rotation.”

Duquette chuckled when asked how his and manager Buck Showalter’s contract status as well as the age of owner Peter Angelos — who turned 88 on July 4 — might impact the club’s overall plans, but those uncertain futures are even more problematic than what to do with the likes of Machado and Britton. It makes little sense to have a lame-duck general manager begin a rebuilding process, and he has little incentive to want to start such an arduous task without assurance of being able to see it through.

Angelos should have already decided what the future holds for Duquette and shouldn’t continue with him in charge if he isn’t going to be the architect after next season.

Instead, it appears to be all about the present, whether not selling at the deadline or continuing to move international signing bonus slots.

Are the Orioles committed to keeping the band together for a final run in 2018? If so, they’ll need to do a ton of heavy lifting to revive a starting rotation that’s been an utter disaster this season, and a veteran like Hellickson isn’t going to cut it. While they’re at it, the offense hasn’t been very good in 2017, either.

Will the Orioles start showing any regard for what happens beyond 2018 or stubbornly continue marching forward with a club that doesn’t appear to be good enough anymore?

Important questions, but no clear direction in sight.

Other than that cliff ahead.

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Schoop turning heads as Orioles’ lone All-Star representative

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — While getting on the American League team bus on Monday, Jonathan Schoop sounded like the young rookie that Nelson Cruz had mentored and remembered so fondly in their brief time together.

“We were joking around and he said, ‘I’m going to follow you around everywhere because I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz, a five-time All-Star selection who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle after playing for the Orioles in 2014. “He’s like a son for me. Age makes a difference. Now he has experience. He learned; he wants to learn. He’s always asking questions to get better.

“He’s finally got everything together.”

The quip signified how far the second baseman has come from playing in the shadow of several high-profile teammates over his first few seasons to being the lone Orioles representative at this year’s All-Star game. And while the exclusion of his teammates is viewed by many as a reflection of how difficult the last two months have been for the struggling Orioles, Schoop isn’t just a token inclusion from a club closer to the cellar than first place.

Tied for the team lead in home runs (18) and leading the Orioles in runs batted in (54), Schoop is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His 1.9 wins above replacement lead all Orioles players while his .370 weighted on-base average — a stat holding significant prominence in the sabermetric community — is second behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve among qualified AL second basemen in 2017.

Schoop hitting for power isn’t surprising as we’ve watched him get stronger every season, but his improved plate discipline has turned heads and led to more consistency at the plate. His 19 walks in 352 plate appearances remain well below the league average, but he’s just two shy of the 21 he piled up in 647 trips to the dish in 2016.

It’s the product of a more confident and selective approach as he’s swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.

“I trust myself more and know that I can do it,” Schoop said. “I work every day and trust what the scouting report [says]. You know what [pitchers] are trying to do. You just have to achieve it and make sure you get the right pitch to hit. That’s part of my game that’s grown up a little bit more. I’m more patient and more selective.

“It’s not necessarily the walks, but just patience. Get the pitch to hit. Don’t chase too many pitches. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch. It’s tough. They’re good. They get paid to strike you out and get you out.”

The 25-year-old has plenty of support this week from both family and teammates — former and current. Manny Machado has opened up his home to his close friend and will attend All-Star festivities as Schoop hopes to have a strong showing in honor of the Miami native who didn’t receive an All-Star invitation in a down season.

Schoop is representing more than just the Orioles and his family this week. He is the fourth Curacao native to appear in an All-Star Game, something in which he takes great pride after playing for the Netherlands in each of the last two editions of the World Baseball Classic. This year’s Midsummer Classic is the first with multiple selections hailing from the Dutch Caribbean island as Schoop is joined by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the National League side.

“He’s come a long way,” said Jansen, a two-time All-Star selection who played with Schoop’s older brother. “He was always very talented, one of the most talented guys I ever saw play in Curacao growing up. Now he’s put it all together. He’s going to be a superstar. We could have seen this coming.”

Having stepped out from the shadow of Machado and other former Orioles All-Star selections in previous years, Schoop is finally making the baseball world take notice.

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Which Oriole(s?) should receive 2017 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles haven’t been in this position in some time.

Having sent no fewer than three representatives to each of the last five All-Star Games, Baltimore has struggled to remain relevant in the American League with a number of past selections either injured or performing below career norms. No, the Orioles haven’t reverted all the way to a time when they once sent journeyman Ty Wigginton as their required All-Star selection in 2010, but identifying a clear-cut candidate to represent the club in Miami on July 11 is a complicated task.

The latest All-Star voting update showed no Orioles even ranking in the top three at their respective positions — Welington Castillo ranks fourth among AL catchers and Manny Machado fifth among AL third basemen — making it clear that no player from Buck Showalter’s club will be elected as a starter. The All-Star voting concludes Thursday with the teams announced on Sunday night.

Below is a look at the Orioles’ most appealing All-Star candidates:

Who will be the Orioles' 2017 All-Star selection?

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2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 25-year-old is on pace to set new career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles, walks, and runs batted in. Entering Tuesday, Schoop ranks fourth in the AL in doubles and also leads the Orioles in hits, homers, RBIs, and total bases.
The case against: The AL is stacked at second base with MVP candidate Jose Altuve as well as former All-Star picks such as Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, and Dustin Pedroia having reputations working in their favor. Schoops’s defense drops him to third in wins above replacement among AL second basemen.
Outlook: Even a couple weeks ago, I didn’t like Schoop’s chances in such a crowded position group, but Altuve is the only clear choice ahead of him and the Orioles need a rep, giving him a pretty good chance.

OF/1B Trey Mancini
The case for: If it weren’t for Aaron Judge, Mancini would be receiving plenty of Rookie of the Year hype as he leads the Orioles in batting average, OBP, and slugging and ranks in the top seven among AL hitters with at least 220 plate appearances in average, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.
The case against: It’s difficult for most rookies to receive All-Star acclaim and it doesn’t help that Mancini has split time at first base and in the outfield as well as at designated hitter. He ranks just 15th in WAR among AL outfielders and, like Schoop, is competing with a deep talent pool in the outfield.
Outlook: AL manager Terry Francona could view Mancini as a bit of a wild card capable of playing more than one spot, but his chances appear totally dependent on whether Schoop gets the club’s bid.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: Look no further than the closer spot over the years for any so-so club needing an All-Star representative, and Brach ranks a respectable sixth in the AL in saves. He hasn’t come close to duplicating his amazing 2016 first half, but last year’s All-Star nod likely helps keep him on the radar.
The case against: Being 13-for-16 in save opportunities and a 2.43 ERA are numbers that hardly stand out when trying to put together an All-Star bullpen. Brach filling in as Baltimore’s closer may even hurt his case if we continue seeing more of a recent emphasis on taking a dominant setup man or two.
Outlook: Other than a rough patch from late April through mid-May, Brach has been very good with a club-best 0.87 walks and hits per inning pitched and has some history on his side to help his cause.

SP Dylan Bundy
The case for: Being Baltimore’s best starting pitcher is hardly a high bar, but Bundy is tied for second in the AL in quality starts and tied for fifth in innings, a surprising feat for a 24-year-old in his first full season as a starter. According to Baseball Reference, his value of 2.2 WAR leads all Orioles players.
The case against: Bundy’s 5.93 ERA in June has dropped him to 12th in the AL in that category among qualified pitchers. His 4.76 fielding independent pitching mark also reflects his underwhelming strikeout and home run rates compared to many of the top starting pitchers in the league.
Outlook: The right-hander looked like Baltimore’s most promising choice a month ago, but recent struggles and the Orioles’ desire to back off his workload around the break hurt his chances.

3B Manny Machado
The case for: The 24-year-old is a great case study in the debate over whether the All-Star Game should be a true showcase of the game’s brightest stars or a mere reward for having three good months. Machado’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked as he’s played third base better than anyone in the AL.
The case against: Entering Tuesday with a .228 average and a .299 OBP doesn’t help his cause while other third basemen such as Jose Ramirez and Miguel Sano have been far superior at the plate. His OPS ranks ninth among qualified AL third basemen, showing the overall quality of the position offensively.
Outlook: Little about his 2017 profile says he’s deserving, but he’s a Miami native and still celebrated as one of the game’s greatest stars, meaning I wouldn’t rule out his inclusion entirely.

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