It’s not even May yet and we’re already talking about the trade deadline and who might go and who might stay.
THIS, is Birdland, 2009.
With Wednesday’s matinee loss to the Angels, the Birds have now dropped 11 of their last 14 games and any excitement from the club’s early 6-2 record has quickly dripped away.
I fully realize the club spent most of Winter ’08-09 saying – and proving, in their actions – “we’re not going to win anyway…” — but folks in these parts couldn’t help but get their blood pumping a little when the team raced out to that great start with series wins over New York, Tampa Bay and Texas.
The last two weeks, though, have seen a return to reality.
Worst of all? It’s going to get worse (again) before it gets better.
The team’s “issues” right now far outweigh any of the positives.
The #1 starter on the team has scuffled through his first five starts and doesn’t seem to have the same sharpness as he did a year ago. Of course, it could (emphasis on COULD) have something to do with that $120,000 pay cut they offered Jeremy Guthrie to get his spring off to a rousing start…or perhaps it’s fallout from the ill-timed World Baseball Classic in March…or, maybe Guthrie has just missed a pitch or two that changed the course of a couple of early season games. It might be a combination of all three. Whatever the case, Guthrie is no longer the rescue-squad leader of a year ago, when he was just about an automatic 7-inning eater when he took the mound.
If Guthrie doesn’t pitch well, the Orioles are in trouble. More trouble, I should say.
The club’s defense – thought to be a strong point at the outset of the season – has recently dipped into the “semi-liability” category and that, as much as anything else, is a reason why the club labored through a 3-6 homestand. Seven errors in those 9 games…several of which were routine-ish type plays — and gaffes by typically reliable Nick Markakis highlighted the recent fall in the American League East.
More than anything else, though, two issues continue to plague the team and will no doubt be season-long scabs if they’re not attended to soon.
The team can’t pitch very well.
And the bottom 3rd of the team’s lineup can’t hit.
With Guthrie off-key, the pressure mounts on the team’s other four starters to get the job done. Koji Uehara has been better more times than not, but he’s not a savior by any means. Once through the American League, we’ll have a better idea of Uehara’s long-term value, but he’s looking more and more like he’s going to be “just OK” instead of a world-beater. The O’s don’t need “just OK” though. They need better — and it doesn’t look like the trio of Hendrickson-Eaton-Bergesen will give them much. All three have enjoyed one very good start and not much else. Bergesen, two starts into his major league career, leans far too much on his low ’90′s fastball and offers little variety. Without a breaking ball in the major leagues – or at least a nasty “out pitch” – you’re not going to get very far. Hendrickson and Eaton are both on short-term leases but they still play vital roles while the club waits on the young-pitching-calvary.
The bullpen has either been great — or — terrible. Oddly enough, Danys Baez has probably been the team’s best thrower in relief. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground with those guys. They either come in trailing 7-1 in the 3rd and hold the opposition to 2 hits and 0 runs over the last 6 innings. Or, they enter the game protecting a 4-2 lead and can’t get anyone out for 25 minutes and cough up 4 runs in 2.1 innings to lose, 6-4.
The bullpen isn’t bad, per-se. They’re a stronger unit than the starters, for sure. But they’re not nearly reliable enough for a team that needs stability.
So, as May rolls around and teams start to fine tune their line-up and get serious, the O’s are likely going to settle not-so-comfortably in the basement of the American League East.
That leaves a couple of months for the club to start pondering their trade deadline nuggets. At this point, I’d say the only field players that are absolutely off-limits would be Markakis, Jones and Wieters. Even though they signed Roberts to a nice, new deal in January — and I’m the guy who has ALWAYS said Roberts has to be here — I’d approve a July deal that sends Roberts off to another team just to give him his chance to shine in a winning environment for once in his career.
Huff? Sure, I’d trade him. Scott? Yep. And almost none of the pitchers are off-limits, including Guthrie. In fact, if this promised calvary of young arms is as “slam dunk” as the team is telling the fans they are, I’d have a Jeremy Guthrie yard sale in July and make Guthrie the prime discount offering. I like Guthrie as a pitcher. But he’s expendable at this point. And think about this. Huff is a free agent at the end of ’09. Is he going to want to re-up here in Baltimore and lose 90 games again in 2010 and, perhaps, 2011? I say he won’t. So, with that in mind, the club needs to start thinking ahead for a first baseman with some pop in his bat. A July deadline deal for Huff or Guthrie might pry away some other team’s hot shot first base prospect or young major leaguer, like the Braves did in ’08 when they peddled Teixeira to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman.
I know it’s early, but it’s obvious by now that these pieces of the puzzle aren’t going to fit together for 162 games.
The team, at some point, will have to elevate some of their young minor leaguers to Baltimore just to keep THEM interested and to keep the fans interested.
In the meantime, the next 10 weeks will be nothing more than filler until mid-July rolls around and teams start thinking about the playoffs and who they can steal from the lower-rung franchises.
In the case of the Orioles, perhaps they should be proactive, not reactive. Make a deal NOW, like the Indians did a year ago with Sabathia and the Brewers. See if anyone wants Guthrie or Huff now. Fleece someone for a first base prospect, a third base prospect or a left fielder who can actually field and produce a batting average higher than his weight.
I know “we’re not going to win anyway” but it sure hurts to see the team be this bad, this early.
Let’s get something out of it, if nothing else.
And when the team starts looking like they really are trying to win, I hope the fans go back to the ballpark. Until then, I suspect folks are going to stay away in droves.