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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their fourth straight game in a 2-0 final over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was nothing fancy about his outing with a fastball maxing out around 90 miles per hour, but Jayson Aquino fetched the desired results by allowing two earned runs over six innings for his first major league win. He limited hard contact and made good pitches when he needed to.

2. Steven Wright appeared to be on his way to avenging his nightmare outing against the Orioles last week before completely losing the feel of his knuckler in the fourth. One of the good stories in the American League from a year ago is currently a mess for the Red Sox.

3. Wright will have nightmares about Trey Mancini, who now has two home runs in three at-bats against the right-hander. Mancini continues to dazzle and tied the major league record for home runs in his first 17 career games with eight.

4. The only real blemish on Aquino’s night was a hanging slider thrown to Jackie Bradley Jr. for a long two-run homer in the third. That was the first ball hit onto Eutaw Street this season and the 89th in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

5. Aquino’s best moment of the night was his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez and strand two runners in the top of the fifth. The rookie needed that shutdown frame after his offense gave him four runs in the previous half-inning.

6. Orioles pitchers have now allowed only three runs over their last 42 innings and have registered quality starts in eight of the last nine games. That’s not too shabby with Chris Tillman and Zach Britton currently on the disabled list.

7. Darren O’Day needed only one pitch to register the save, but Mychal Givens did the heavy lifting in the bullpen. He retired the top six hitters in the Boston lineup over two perfect innings. Lefties are also just 1-for-9 against him so far in 2017.

8. I understood Boston’s displeasure over Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia on Friday — the All-Star third baseman has to wear his reputation stemming from the bat-throwing incident in 2014 — but it was nice to see no retaliation. Hopefully that continues moving forward.

9. The Orioles are now eight games over .500 less than three weeks into the season. It’s only April, but stacking more wins now means a lighter burden down the stretch. A strong first half last year carried them to the playoffs despite mediocre play after the All-Star break.

10. Adam Jones stole his second base of the season to match his total from 2016. It only took him 16 games to do it this time around.

11. Regardless of the number of opposing lefty starters and Buck Showalter pointing to his lack of familiarity with knuckleballers — no hitters see them regularly — Hyun Soo Kim should be getting more at-bats and certainly shouldn’t be losing so many to Craig Gentry, who’s hitting .167.

12. The results weren’t pretty, but Chris Tillman told Showalter it was the “best he’s felt” in a rehab outing for Double-A Bowie against Harrisburg on Saturday. The recent performance of the starting rotation should ease some temptation to rush him back before he’s ready.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-4 win over Toronto

Posted on 16 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning an 11-4 blowout over Toronto on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What else can be said about Trey Mancini as he homered twice and tied a major league record for home runs in his first 12 games with seven? Buck Showalter has a good problem with Mancini, Seth Smith, and Hyun Soo Kim available for only two lineup spots.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to be superb so far in 2017 as he pitched six shutout innings to earn the win and lower his season ERA to 1.86. He’s allowed one earned run in 13 innings against the Blue Jays this month.

3. I still hold my breath seeing Bundy throw so many sliders given his history with the pitch, but there’s no disputing that being a game-changing pitch for his repertoire. It was a big reason why he struck out six and recorded 15 swinging strikes.

4. Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning after allowing a leadoff double and a bunt single. Instead of conceding early damage, the right-hander struck out Jose Bautista with a slider and got Kendrys Morales to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

5. Craig Gentry went 3-for-5 and hit his first major league homer since 2013, quieting legitimate concerns about his ability at the plate. He shouldn’t be in the leadoff spot, but that was a strong performance from the veteran outfielder.

6. His homer wasn’t exactly a bomb, but Manny Machado needed that after seeing his average drop to .154 before his opposite-field homer off the foul pole in the eighth. I can’t imagine too many are concerned about the All-Star third baseman though.

7. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Gentry and Machado homered using one of Mancini’s bats, but that’s still a heck of a post-game story. Whatever works, right?

8. After collecting only two hits and struggling to make solid contact over his first 19 at-bats of 2017, J.J. Hardy is 7-for-16 over his last four games and doubled twice on Sunday. He isn’t the power hitter he used to be, but throwing dirt on him was premature.

9. Seeing Adam Jones crash into the center-field wall in the eighth inning of an 11-1 game was the last thing Showalter and the Orioles wanted to see. Fortunately, he appeared to be OK and has the off-day to rest up.

10. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for Toronto, J.A. Happ left the game with left elbow soreness in the fifth inning after fellow starter Aaron Sanchez was placed on the 10-day disabled list hours earlier. The Blue Jays have to be begging for a mulligan.

11. Zach Britton told reporters in Toronto that his left forearm strain is closer to his wrist than his elbow, but anyone invested in the Orioles will be holding their breath until the All-Star closer is back on the mound and looking like himself.

12. Yes, the Blue Jays have the worst record in the majors at 2-10, but the Orioles should be feeling good about themselves after continuing their division rival’s misery and taking three of four games at Rogers Centre, a place where they’ve struggled historically.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying to beat the New York Yankees in a 5-4 final to win their fourth straight to start the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The home run is their calling card, but the Orioles used some unlikely small ball to win Saturday’s game as Mark Trumbo stole second base off Dellin Betances before Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI single on the next pitch. Go figure.

2. It hasn’t always looked easy, but the Orioles bullpen delivered 4 1/3 shutout innings to add to their season total of 16 2/3 scoreless frames over the first four games. Buck Showalter has taken advantage of two off-days to use Zach Britton and Brad Brach in every contest.

3. After being called out on a borderline third strike with the bases loaded in the fifth, Kim showed impressive poise in his encounter with Betances to work a full count before picking up his third hit of the night to give Baltimore the lead.

4. Trumbo also had a great at-bat against Betances as he stayed back on his slow breaking ball to line an RBI single into left after being late on his mid-90s fastball on the previous pitch. You don’t see that success often against the Yankees reliever.

5. His teammates picked him up, but Kevin Gausman having command problems for the second straight start is a little disconcerting since he’s rarely had issues with walks in the past. He couldn’t locate his fastball and has walked seven in his first 10 innings of work.

6. There was debate over Gausman’s balk that plated the third New York run, but you’d really prefer his focus to be on retiring Starlin Castro with two outs in the fifth inning instead of worrying about catcher Austin Romine running at third base.

7. It was a bummer seeing young Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez leave the game with a right biceps injury. He’s going to the disabled list, but you hope it’s nothing serious for such a talented young player.

8. J.J. Hardy left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and is just 1-for-13 with an infield single to begin the season. It’s obviously early, but you’d like to see him hitting the ball with more authority on the heels of the back problem that disrupted his spring.

9. He made up for it with an RBI single and a walk later in the game, but Welington Castillo had a rough second inning as he failed to get a tag down on Aaron Hicks at the plate and committed a throwing error on a stolen base attempt. He then struck out in the bottom half of the frame.

10. The Orioles had their share of poor at-bats in Saturday’s contest, but Yankees shortstop Ronald Torreyes swinging at the first pitch to pop out to end the top of the eighth after Brach had issued back-to-back walks was cringeworthy.

11. His baserunning has never been a strength, but Manny Machado stole second base prior to Castillo’s RBI single in the fourth. This came after he didn’t steal any last year and stole 20 in 2015. After stealing only 19 bases last year, the Orioles had two on Saturday.

12. I’ll never get tired of seeing the alternate orange jerseys for Saturday games. It’s one of the best looks in all of baseball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping the New York Yankees in a 6-5 final to improve to 3-0 on the infant season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seth Smith picked the opportune time to hit his first home run as an Oriole, not only getting in the tying run from third base with less than two outs but giving his club the lead in the seventh inning.

2. I had to laugh at the Orioles still cashing in via the long ball after J.J. Hardy had bunted Jonathan Schoop to third base before Smith came to the plate. Who needs small ball anyway?

3. Despite striking out three times, Manny Machado hit the three-run shot off the hard-throwing Luis Severino with two outs in the fifth that shrunk a four-run deficit and breathed life into a lineup that hadn’t done much to that point.

4. Friday marked the 18th time in his Orioles tenure that Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five or more earned runs in an outing. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty for the veteran starter in his season debut as Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez hit homers off his ineffective splitter.

5. It’s apparent that Buck Showalter still isn’t keen on giving Hyun Soo Kim opportunities against left-handed pitching as Joey Rickard hit for him in the sixth against southpaw reliever Tommy Layne. Kim is still looking for his first hit of 2017.

6. Darren O’Day made his 2017 debut in the sixth inning, marking just the sixth time since the start of 2013 that the reliever has appeared in a game before the seventh. There’s some impressive depth in that Baltimore bullpen.

7. Walks were an issue in O’Day’s injury-plagued 2016 campaign, and he issued two in his 1 1/3 innings of work. It’s fair to note, however,  that the right-hander hadn’t pitched in a while after a bout with the flu.

8. Collecting his first major league win, Donnie Hart gave up a hit to the lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury in his season debut after lefties went 5-for-38 against him last year. It was good to see the lefty specialist retire the right-handed Starlin Castro to end the top of the seventh.

9. Brad Brach was sensational in the eighth, striking out Chase Headley, Aaron Judge, and Pete Kozma on just 11 pitches. That was the All-Star version of Brach that we saw in the first half of 2016.

10. The Orioles didn’t want to see Zach Britton roll his right ankle on a Gary Sanchez comebacker in the ninth, but that was easily his best performance of his first three outings. Showalter seemed to think his All-Star closer was OK after the game.

11. Britton may have converted his 51st consecutive save dating back to the end of 2015, but Chris Davis deserves an assist by picking low throws from Britton and Machado for the final two outs in a one-run win.

12. You had to feel for fans braving a cold and windy night with a less-than-stellar version of Jimenez on the mound. That’s not a pleasant combination, but the Orioles provided the desired result for the home crowd in the end.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Opening Day win over Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping Toronto in a 3-2 final on Opening Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Asked Sunday whether he was concerned that he hadn’t hit a home run in the Grapefruit League, Mark Trumbo cited how he didn’t hit any in the spring of 2013 before hitting 34 in the regular season. I’d say he further proved his point on Monday.

2. It takes a lot for Manny Machado to surprise me with anything he does in the field at this point, but his diving stop and throw to get Toronto’s Devon Travis — who has good speed — reminded us how lucky we are to watch him work at the hot corner.

3. Despite showing great fastball velocity, Kevin Gausman struggled with his command and walked four hitters over 5 1/3 innings, but he made good pitches in key spots to give his club a chance to win. He walked more than three in a start just once all last season.

4. The Orioles are now 7-0 in season openers under Buck Showalter. Yes, it’s only game and they even had a good Opening Day record during their 14 straight years of losing, but his clubs have clearly tried to set an early tone during his tenure.

5. Hyun Soo Kim would have been my choice to lead off against right-handed starters to begin the season, but it’s tough to take too much issue with Seth Smith and his .344 career on-base percentage in the top spot for now.

6. After being left in the bullpen in last year’s American League wild-card game loss in Toronto, Zach Britton pitched two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in a tie game. Baseball’s funny.

7. How important is home-field advantage to the Orioles, who are 241-162 at Camden Yards since the start of 2012? “This is one of those places where you never feel good when they get the last at-bat,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They’re probably the top power-hitting team in the game.”

8. After left-handed bats posted a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage against Mychal Givens in 2016, the right-hander gave up an RBI double to the lefty-swinging Ezequiel Carrera in the sixth inning. He needs to continue to hone the use of his changeup to combat those struggles.

9. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but Chris Davis made several superb scoops at first base to save his fellow infielders over the course of Monday’s game. He doesn’t get enough credit for the dramatic improvement he’s made there since coming to Baltimore in 2011.

10. Kudos to the home crowd for giving former Oriole Steve Pearce a nice ovation during pre-game introductions. Pearce had three hits against his old club, but that reception meant a lot to him and was much deserved.

11. Playing in his first Opening Day, Trey Mancini came off the bench to single off lefty Aaron Loup in the 10th and is 5-for-11 with three homers against southpaws in his brief career. He becomes an intriguing piece for the future if he can play a respectable right field.

12. File this one in the #FashionTweets department, but the Orioles debuted their new matte batting helmets, which better replicate the look of their caps and don’t have the glossy look.

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2017 Orioles preview: Manny Machado

Posted on 01 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

3B Manny Machado

Opening Day age: 24

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

2016 stats: .294/.343/.533, 37 HR, 96 RBI, 105 R, 0 SB, 696 PA

Why to be impressed: Machado cemented his status as one of the top players in baseball, finishing in the top five in AL MVP voting for the second straight season and winning his first Most Valuable Oriole award. He set career highs in home runs, batting average, extra-base hits, runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage to go with a .309 batting average on balls in play, suggesting little extra luck was involved.

Why to be concerned: His walk rate dipped from a career-best 9.8 percent in 2015 to an underwhelming 6.9 percent, which largely explains the decrease in on-base percentage. Machado saw his homer rate go up after the All-Star break while his extra-base hit rate dipped and he finished with a .306 OBP in the second half, numbers suggesting he became too aggressive and homer happy in his approach at the plate.

2017 outlook: Machado’s second-half decline — which still produced a .798 on-base plus slugging percentage — is indicative of how difficult it is to sustain such immense success rather than a red flag moving forward. The 24-year-old is at his best and hits plenty of home runs when looking to work the count and hit line drives, an approach he figures to recapture for another MVP-caliber season.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .292/.350/.518, 34 HR, 102 RBI, 97 R, 4 SB, 680 PA

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Orioles looking to rebound against left-handed pitching

Posted on 20 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles offense was nothing short of maddening in 2016.

The second-best lineup in the American League prior to the All-Star break at 5.08 runs per game and holding an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, Baltimore was a different story in the second half. Over their final 75 games, the Orioles ranked 14th of 15 AL clubs in runs scored at 4.03 per contest and 13th in the AL with a .713 OPS.

A major part of that decline was an inability to hit left-handed pitching as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in OPS (.692) against southpaws. That’s not exactly what you want to hear with AL East favorite Boston adding All-Star lefty Chris Sale to a rotation that already includes David Price and Drew Pomeranz and could also feature young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.

Two Orioles hitters who struggled against lefties in 2016 — Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold — are no longer with the organization, but the club’s struggles can’t be blamed solely on them. Of course, Reimold’s regular starts in place of Hyun Soo Kim — who was hitless in 22 sporadic plate appearances against southpaws — are difficult to defend since the 33-year-old owned an anemic .565 OPS facing pitchers throwing from the left side.

Including the key offseason additions of catcher Welington Castillo and outfielder Seth Smith, below is a look at how Orioles regulars fared against left-handed pitching in 2016 and in recent seasons. It’s important to remember that a hitter rarely has more than 180 plate appearances against lefties in a given year, so we’re dealing with a relatively small sample, making it useful to look at production over multiple seasons.

2016 vs. LHP 2015 vs. LHP 2014 vs. LHP Career vs. LHP
Chris Davis .712 .799 .677 .737
Jonathan Schoop .688 .573 .529 .607
J.J. Hardy .782 .494 .621 .764
Manny Machado .919 .763 .642 .784
Adam Jones .580 .754 1.003 .729
Mark Trumbo .608 .856 .796 .787
Seth Smith .476 .571 .744 .594
Welington Castillo .868 .790 .855 .840

Of their two notable pickups, Castillo should be a welcome asset against left-handed pitching while Smith is clearly a platoon player who’s proven over 558 career plate appearances in the majors that he won’t produce enough to warrant regular playing time against southpaws. Manager Buck Showalter will likely express the belief publicly that Smith can handle himself against lefties much like he did with Pedro Alvarez last year, but the numbers simply don’t support that notion to be true.

Trumbo and Jones stood out as substantial deviations from their career numbers a year ago. It’s remarkable to think that Trumbo had such impressive production in his first season with Baltimore while also posting a career-low OPS against left-handed pitching. The slugger made some mechanical changes to his swing with Seattle that preceded his debut season with the Orioles, so perhaps that impacted his approach against lefties. History still suggests that he’ll bounce back against lefty pitching to a meaningful degree.

Jones has been more successful against right-handed pitchers than lefties throughout his career, but 2016 was extreme compared to his typical numbers. The 31-year-old has shown some decline offensively over the last few seasons, but it’d be surprising to see him struggle to that extreme level against lefties again in 2017.

Machado and Schoop had different levels of success in 2016, but both young players continued to trend upward against lefties, which could be a product of getting more familiar facing the skilled lefties who tend to be so rare in the minors. We know the 24-year-old Machado has already reached superstar status, but the 25-year-old Schoop has shown meaningful improvement against lefties since his rookie year, a positive sign for his ability to improve further as a hitter.

Hardy was one of the Orioles’ few success stories against lefties last season, but you’d have to think the 34-year-old will struggle to duplicate what he did in 2016 being another year older and already dealing with back concerns this spring. His lack of production against lefties in 2014 and 2015 suggest last year was more of the aberration at this advanced stage of his career.

The wild cards in this department for 2017 will be Kim and reserve outfielder Joey Rickard. It’s a shame that Kim didn’t receive more opportunities against lefties — especially when his primary platoon partner was so unproductive — as last spring should have taught us not to judge his overall ability on a small sample of at-bats. With Smith already destined to be part of a platoon, Kim being able to effectively handle himself against southpaws would go a long way in maintaining more game-to-game roster flexibility. The need for two corner outfield platoons would allow opposing managers to potentially wreak havoc with bullpen matchups late in games.

The Orioles would like Rickard to back up a strong .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties last year with further proof that he can produce as part of a platoon with either Kim or Smith. If he doesn’t, Trumbo will likely see more time in the outfield, which hurts his overall value.

A simple look at these numbers suggests that it’s hardly unreasonable for the Orioles to make improvement against lefties this season without dramatic changes to their lineup. Baltimore won’t lead the league by any means, but the arrival of Castillo, Jones and Trumbo performing closer to career norms, and the improvement of a young hitter or two would put the Orioles in much better position to compete against lefties.

And that’s all they probably need when they’re seeing lefty starters only 25 percent to 33 percent of the time in a given season.

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Back spasms sideline Hardy for start of spring training

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after revealing starting pitcher Chris Tillman won’t be ready for Opening Day, the Orioles are dealing with another injury concern at the start of spring training.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been experiencing lower back spasms that will keep him out of baseball-related activities for the remainder of the month. Hardy has managed back spasms at different points during his tenure with Baltimore — including most of the 2014 season — but he has been dealing with this latest bout since late January.

Hardy has undergone a magnetic imaging exam and other testing to make sure there isn’t a structural problem with his back, but manager Buck Showalter told reporters that he had already planned to take it slow with the 34-year-old to begin the spring. The three-time Gold Glove winner is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract and has dealt with a variety of ailments in recent seasons. He bounced back nicely from a brutal 2015 campaign last year when he batted .269 with nine home runs, 29 doubles, and a .716 on-base plus slugging percentage despite missing more than six weeks with a fracture in his foot.

Hardy’s absence opens the door for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to take more reps at shortstop. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to play that position for the Dominican Republic in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

Should Hardy’s back problems linger longer than expected, Showalter would be looking at the likes of utility man Ryan Flaherty and non-roster invitees Robert Andino and Johnny Giavotella to potentially fill in at shortstop or third base — depending on where Showalter would use Machado.

Hardy does have a $14 million option for the 2018 season that reportedly vests if he collects 600 plate appearances, but the Orioles can buy it out for $2 million if he doesn’t reach that threshold. Since having 644 plate appearances over 159 games in 2013, Hardy has recorded no more than 569 in any of the last three seasons.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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After long process, Trumbo ends up exactly where he wanted to be

Posted on 27 January 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free agency didn’t play out exactly how Mark Trumbo envisioned, but the slugger ended up where he wanted to be all along.

A week after signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract to remain with the Orioles, Trumbo expressed happiness in being able to stay where he found a comfort zone in 2016 after being traded three times in a two-year period. The 31-year-old knows Oriole Park at Camden Yards suits him well after enjoying a career season and helping Baltimore to its third postseason appearance of the last five years.

“I always held out a lot of hope that there would be an opportunity here down the road, which is fortunately what ended up happening,” Trumbo said. “If there were competitive offers on the table — even if this one had been a little bit lower — this was my first choice.”

Of course, it was a surprise to Trumbo that no other competitive offers truly materialized. Projected by many to receive upwards of $60 million on a four- or five-year deal, he found a cooler-than-expected market for his services despite hitting a career-high 47 home runs to lead the majors.

The story played out much like the previous winter with first baseman Chris Davis, who envisioned a $200 million contract before finally agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal that included $42 million deferred. Trumbo wasn’t the only free-agent slugger to sign for less than anticipated this winter as he even cited other hitters — such as Mike Napoli — who still remain on the market.

There were plenty of highs and lows in the negotiations with the Orioles while few other clubs even remained in the mix. Trumbo said there were a few other offers that had some appeal early in the offseason, but others were easy to forgo as he hoped to work something out with Baltimore.

“You kind of go into it thinking you might have a ton of suitors,” said Trumbo, whose value was depressed since another clubs would have needed to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. “You lead the league in home runs [and think], ‘Who’s not interested in that?’ And then you realize that there aren’t that many vacancies at times for what you do, especially this year.”

Despite Trumbo’s impressive ability to hit home runs, his defensive limitations and lack of ideal plate discipline likely kept other suitors away. His career .303 on-base percentage isn’t ideal while defensive metrics and most observers perceive him to be a liability as an outfielder, diminishing his appeal to any National League clubs who didn’t have an opening at his best defensive position — first base.

With the offseason acquisition of veteran outfielder Seth Smith from the Seattle Mariners — who played with Trumbo in 2015 — the Orioles are likely to use Trumbo primarily as a designated hitter against right-handed starters. However, Smith’s struggles against southpaw pitching could prompt manager Buck Showalter to use Trumbo in right field against lefty starters.

He could also make an occasional start at first to spell Davis, who was a finalist for the 2016 American League Gold Glove. Trumbo said he hasn’t been told how he’d be used in 2017 and described his outfield defense as “adequate” after he made 95 starts in right field a year ago.

“I definitely don’t think I’m a liability out there,” said Trumbo, who acknowledged the widespread criticism of his outfield defense. “If Buck chooses to put me out there, I’m going to do everything I can to play a good right field, left field, wherever needed on the defensive side. But if I end up DH-ing most of the time, that would be great, too.”

With the financial part of the decision finally behind him, Trumbo expressed his content over being able to remain in a clubhouse in which he fit well last year. His dependable and cerebral approach to the game was praised by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who said he received a text of approval from All-Star third baseman Manny Machado after the news of the signing broke.

In his first season with the club, Trumbo quickly earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. Those same teammates were mentioned repeatedly as a big reason why the slugger was so glad to be staying.

“I beat that to death, but it really is true,” Trumbo said. “I think the way I was welcomed coming into spring training last year. As a new player, which I was trying to tell Seth Smith recently, you’re going to love it here. They just know how to make you feel comfortable right away. That, in turn, allows you to go out and play your best baseball.”

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