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Five questions pondering Hardy, Rice, Alvarez, Ravens franchise value

Posted on 24 July 2015 by Luke Jones

On Fridays, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Orioles be concerned about the remainder of J.J. Hardy’s contract? Baltimore’s announcement of a three-year, $40 million extension with the veteran shortstop on the eve of last fall’s American League Championship Series seemed like good news at the time, but it was fair to wonder if it was a sound investment in a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30 and wrapping up a season plagued by back issues that zapped his power. Hardy entered Friday’s game with a .345 slugging percentage, which would be the lowest of his career after he hit only nine homers and slugged .372 last season. To be fair, Hardy is hitting .263 with four homers and a .401 slugging percentage since June 9, but his lack of power is just one of many reasons the Orioles have struggled with offensive consistency all season and he’s still owed a total of $26.5 million in the next two seasons.

2. Is it just me or is it obvious why Ray Rice hasn’t gotten another shot in the NFL? The question really isn’t whether the former Ravens running back should get a second chance, but the fact that Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson have survived their own off-field transgressions would lead you to believe the 28-year-old is in line for an opportunity. Many — including myself — have discussed Rice’s poor 2013 season and his workload dating back to college as factors supporting the idea that his career might be decline, but it comes down to one factor and one factor alone — the surveillance video of him striking his wife being on display for the world at any moment. Photos and words describing an incident are heinous, but many have sadly become desensitized to those mediums. The video and its public release changed everything, however, as NFL owners have been unwilling to budge on Rice to this point.

3. Is it just me or is it difficult to explain the Orioles’ dramatic struggles on the road? There are a slew of reasons why the 2015 season has been disappointing, but one of the biggest mysteries is why the Orioles have been so poor away from Camden Yards. Baltimore’s 19-30 road record entering the weekend series at Tampa Bay was the worst in the American League while a 27-18 home mark is in line with the success of the last few years. Few would have predicted the Orioles repeating their excellent 46-35 road record from 2014, but even a record in the neighborhood of .500 away from home would have them within striking distance of the Yankees. Alas, a mark of a good club is being able to hold its own on the road and Buck Showalter hasn’t seen that from the Orioles in 2015. Plain and simple, you can’t expect to contend when you play like a 100-loss team on the road.

4. Is it just me or is it time to take a look at Dariel Alvarez and Christian Walker in Baltimore? Instead of more discussion about a crowded outfield of underwhelming veterans, the Orioles should be making room for the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder, who has 13 homers for Triple-A Norfolk and has rebounded nicely after hitting .238 over the first two months of his 2015 campaign. It remains to be seen whether Alvarez profiles as anything more than a reserve outfielder in the majors, but his rifle throwing arm and power are skills worth evaluating while the Orioles continue to receive so little from their current options. It could also be time to take a look at Walker instead of continuing to run Chris Parmelee out to first base and while contemplating a trade of Chris Davis. The 24-year-old got off to a terrible start, but Walker has heated up over the summer and has four homers in his last 10 games.

5. Is it just me or is it difficult to believe the Ravens are entering their 20th season? As the great John Eisenberg penned earlier this week, seeing Forbes magazine rank the Ravens as the 24th most valuable sports franchise in the world was a pleasant reminder of how far the city has come in football perception. It was just two decades ago that Baltimore kids only dreamed of having an NFL team while their parents and grandparents shared stories of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, and Bert Jones. Not only have the Ravens been profitable, but they’ve been a model of consistency on the field with two Super Bowl titles, four AFC championship game appearances, four division titles, and 10 playoff appearances in the last 15 years. While many opine that NFL owners didn’t support the city’s bid for an expansion team in the 1990s because the package was so attractive to owners pondering relocation, the current franchise value only reiterates how wrong the league was in not giving the ball to Baltimore over other cities.

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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pearce

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Orioles send Pearce to DL to make room for Gausman

Posted on 22 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles placed Steve Pearce on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday to make room for starting pitcher Kevin Gausman in the second game of a three-game set against the New York Yankees.

Pearce is dealing with a left oblique strain and hadn’t played since Saturday’s win in Detroit. He will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam before rejoining the Orioles in St. Petersburg for their weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays. He would be eligible to be activated from the DL as early as Aug. 3.

Wanting the 24-year-old Gausman to receive regular work over the All-Star break, the Orioles optioned the right-hander to Triple-A Norfolk on July 7. He made two starts for the Tides, allowing two earned runs and nine hits while striking out 11 and walking four in 11 innings of work.

With the disappointing Bud Norris now in the bullpen, Gausman is expected to receive an extended opportunity in the Baltimore rotation to begin the second half.

The 32-year-old Pearce has been unable to duplicate the magic of his 2014 campaign in which he posted a .293 average with 21 home runs and a club-high .930 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has hit a disappointing .227 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 193 plate appearances, but his numbers have remained solid against left-handed pitching with a .270 average and .747 OPS against southpaws.

Since June 1, Pearce is hitting .292 with a .779 OPS in 69 plate appearances.

Much speculation about the Orioles’ roster move to create space for Gausman centered around the struggling Chris Parmelee and the seldom-used Nolan Reimold, who are both out of minor-league options. Since homering three times in his first two games for the Orioles last month, Parmelee is hitting .192 with one homer and a .568 OPS in 81 plate appearances while serving as the primary first baseman against right-handed pitching.

Reimold is hitting just .235 with a .728 OPS in 57 plate appearances.

In other roster-related news, the Orioles officially released left-handed reliever Wesley Wright after he was designated for assignment last week.

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upton

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Orioles with little to offer at upcoming trade deadline

Posted on 20 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The trade deadline is in sight and the names reportedly being linked to the Orioles are enticing.

San Diego outfielder Justin Upton.

Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati.

Even the mighty Cole Hamels in Philadelphia.

Despite being just 46-45 less than two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Orioles remain in the thick of the American League East race and trail the first-place New York Yankees by just four games entering a three-game set in the Bronx on Tuesday. Any of the aforementioned names would certainly help a club lacking corner outfield talent and needing better starting pitching than it received over the first four months of the season.

But the sound of snapping fingers should bring the Orioles back to reality.

After an offseason in which veterans Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency and the Orioles completely whiffed in their plan to replace them, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette now faces the task of trying to improve a corner outfield situation that’s largely been a wasteland in 2015. But he’ll keep coming back to the same problem while engaging in discussions with other clubs about potential trade targets between now and July 31.

What exactly do the Orioles have to offer in return?

Opposing clubs will immediately bring up Kevin Gausman’s name, but are the Orioles in a position to trade the 24-year-old away when there are already questions about the starting rotation now and for the long haul with Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris set to become free agents?

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has often been targeted by opposing clubs, but the 23-year-old is too valuable as part of a core group that will be expected to lead the way with the likes of Matt Wieters and Chris Davis possibly — if not likely — departing as free agents following the season.

What about Dylan Bundy?

The 22-year-old right-hander remains shut down with a right shoulder issue and is unlikely to pitch again this year. On top of that, he’s out of minor-league options next year and would need to remain on any club’s 25-man roster despite having thrown all of 167 innings in the minor leagues. His value has never been lower, but he’s still young enough that it wouldn’t make sense to move him unless another club is willing to buy high despite these concerns.

Hunter Harvey drew plenty of interest at the deadline last year, but the 20-year-old pitcher is in the midst of a throwing progression and is an injury risk with a right flexor mass strain — an injury that sometimes leads to Tommy John surgery — until he proves otherwise. Again, not exactly a situation that screams for other teams to buy high on him.

There’s a substantial drop-off in upside after these currently-injured names.

That’s not to say the likes of outfielder Dariel Alvarez, catcher Chance Sisco, and pitchers Zach Davies, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson wouldn’t offer some appeal to other clubs, but it’s difficult envisioning any of them headlining a trade for an impact outfielder or pitcher. And with so many pending free agents this winter, the Orioles need to be careful selling off the few pieces they currently have in their farm system for rental players or veterans with limited ceilings, the only commodities they’re likely to be able to afford at the deadline.

It’s certainly nice to hear the Orioles are interested in a high-impact outfielder — and pending free agent — like Upton or a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter like Johnny Cueto, but those options just don’t seem realistic unless the Orioles are willing to trade Gausman or Schoop — or both.

Perhaps Duquette will find a poor man’s Andrew Miller — hopefully for a price far less than an Eduardo Rodriguez this time around — or a spark plug reminiscent of Nate McLouth in 2012, but the reported interest in high-profile names feels hollow if the Orioles are going to be honest with themselves.

Duquette and the organization are trying to make up for what they failed to do last winter.

And they have very little to offer in order to do it, making it far more likely that the Orioles will need to count on what they already have rather than any hope of finding a real difference-maker.

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machado

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Pondering next Orioles roster move, Machado, Tillman

Posted on 19 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With Kevin Gausman set to make Wednesday’s start against the New York Yankees, the Orioles will be faced with their latest decision to make room on the 25-man roster.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Detroit that it is likely to be a position player since a seven-man bullpen that now includes Bud Norris is without a pitcher holding a minor-league option. Even if the Orioles could option a reliever, you can only go with a short bullpen so long in this modern age of baseball.

So, who will be the next position player to go?

Much of the discussion from when the organization parted ways with Delmon Young earlier this month still applies now, but the continuing struggles of first baseman Chris Parmelee appear to have landed him in a vulnerable position. Since homering three times and going 5-for-9 in his first two games with the Orioles, Parmelee was hitting just .183 with a .216 on-base percentage and a .338 slugging percentage in 74 plate appearances entering Sunday’s game.

Parmelee started two of the three games against Detroit over the weekend, but the fact that Showalter has lowered him to ninth in the order speaks volumes about how much the 27-year-old has struggled. Meanwhile, Steve Pearce — who has platooned with Parmelee at first base — is hitting .292 with a respectable .779 on-base plus slugging percentage since June 1.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see outfielder Nolan Reimold designated for assignment as he’s hitting just .224 and is not playing much, but Parmelee is clearly in more danger than he was the last time the Orioles needed to part ways with a position player.

Machado continues rolling

Can we put to rest any concerns about the aftermath of Manny Machado participating in the Home Run Derby?

The 23-year-old hit his 20th home run of the season on Saturday night, becoming the youngest Orioles player to hit his 20th of a season since Cal Ripken did it just a few days after his 23rd birthday in August 1983. In his first two games after the All-Star break, Machado went 3-for-6 with a homer, a double, and four walks.

Facing All-Star lefty David Price in the third inning of a scoreless game, Machado hammered a slider an estimated 434 feet down the left-field line, an impressive display of power against one of the finest pitchers in all of baseball. For those wondering what Machado can aim for in terms of Orioles players age 23 or younger, Boog Powell holds the highest single-season homer total with 39 in 1964.

Eclipsing the big first baseman would be difficult, but Machado appears to have a solid chance to hit more home runs this year than he did in his first three seasons combined (33). As frustrating as the 2015 season has been at times for the Orioles, watching the young third baseman blossom into a superstar has been a blast.

Tillman’s masterpiece

How good was Chris Tillman on Saturday night?

After allowing a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler and walking No. 3 hitter Victor Martinez in the bottom of the first, the tall right-hander retired 23 hitters in a row in what was arguably the best start of his major league career. His eight strikeouts were a season high as he masterfully used his high fastball to help induce 18 swinging strikes from Tigers hitters.

Tillman’s game score of 87 was not only tied for the 24th best in the majors this season, but it was the highest of his career, even surpassing his shutout in Kansas City last May. Saturday’s win also marked his sixth career outing in which he allowed no more than one hit.

The 27-year-old lowered his season ERA to 4.96 with his eight shutout innings. His ERA against non-Toronto clubs is now 3.14, illustrating how skewed his numbers are by a horrendous 15.00 ERA in four starts against the powerful Blue Jays. It’s not an excuse for pitching so poorly against a division rival, but any remaining talk about Tillman potentially losing his spot in the rotation should cease when you acknowledge how good he’s been against everyone else.

 

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Orioles fail to sign second-round pick Hughes

Posted on 17 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles failed to come to terms with 2015 second-round pick Jonathan Hughes before Friday’s signing deadline.

The right-handed pitcher was the 68th overall pick out of Flowery Branch (Ga.) High, but he will instead attend college at Georgia Tech. As compensation for not coming to terms with Hughes, Baltimore will receive the 69th selection in the 2016 amateur draft.

At 6-foot-2 and 184 pounds, Hughes possesses a fastball that sits in the low 90s along with a slider, curve, and changeup, a repertoire that made him an attractive prospect to the Orioles. The slot in which he was drafted carried a bonus-pool value of $907,000.

Hughes is the highest Orioles draft pick to go unsigned since pitcher Wade Townsend in 2004, but the organization was able to sign 35 of their 41 selections in the 2015 draft.

In other news, the Orioles have signed veteran left-handers Dana Eveland and Andy Oliver to minor-league deals. The 31-year-old Eveland spent part of the 2012 season in Baltimore, pitching to a 4.73 ERA in 32 1/3 innings.

 

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paredes

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

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norris

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Standing at 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have faced their share of disappointments as they look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

Though just four games behind the first-place New York Yankees and sporting the fifth-best run differential (plus-39) in the league, the Orioles and their fans could certainly point to the uncertain future of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and a disappointing offseason as the biggest factors contributing to an underwhelming first half. It’s easy to point to the decisions not to re-sign any of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but the problems have run deeper than that.

On Wednesday, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was designated for assignment, becoming the fifth veteran — joining Ryan Webb, Alejandro De Aza, Everth Cabrera, and Delmon Young — scheduled to make at least $1.6 million this year to be designated since the start of the season. Not only did the Orioles fail to keep their top free agents, but they spent a lot of money poorly elsewhere.

Below are my five biggest individual disappointments of the first half of the season:

Dishonorable mention: Everth Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Travis Snider

5. Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young

It’s appropriate to lump these two together after they were both designated for assignment in the first half of the season. At the beginning of the year, manager Buck Showalter envisioned De Aza as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while Young was expected to handle a larger role after the free-agent departures of Cruz and Markakis in the outfield.

Instead, De Aza hit just .214 with a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage and further saw his playing time diminish due to lapses on the bases and in the field. After being traded to Boston in early June, De Aza has provided a spark for the last-place Red Sox with a .323 average, making Orioles fans wonder where that production was earlier in the season.

Young’s .270 average may not have looked bad on the surface, but he offered little else as he homered only twice and posted an anemic .628 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Because of a crowded outfield situation and his limited versatility, Young was designated and eventually released last week.

While neither De Aza nor Young were necessarily projected to be everyday players, both were obvious disappointments after the Orioles committed to paying them a combined $7.25 million to contribute in 2015.

4. J.J. Hardy

It’s often forgotten that Hardy was the one big-name free agent the Orioles were able to keep last fall with a three-year, $40 million extension, making the first half of his 2015 season that much more frustrating after other veterans departed.

A left shoulder injury cost Hardy more than a month, but he hasn’t been able to gain his bearings at the plate beyond a few clutch hits here and there. His defensive ability remains a clear strength, but Hardy’s .226 average and .584 OPS must improve in the second half as the Orioles try to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

The fact that Hardy hit only nine homers last year while dealing with a lingering back issue was concerning enough, but a second straight season of diminished power (five homers in 225 plate appearances) creates doubt whether the 32-year-old will ever again approach the power numbers he posted in his first three years in Baltimore. Even if that’s the case, the Orioles need more offensive production in terms of average and at least a few more doubles from the veteran infielder.

You never want to discredit Hardy’s value in the field, but he’d be the first to tell you much more is needed with the bat.

3. Steve Pearce

Even his biggest supporters wouldn’t have predicted Pearce to duplicate his magical 2014 campaign in which he hit 21 homers, posted a team-leading .930 OPS, and was worth 5.9 wins above replacement, but the numbers were so strong that you could reasonably hope the journeyman had finally established himself as a solid everyday player.

That hasn’t been the case as Pearce hit .176 in his first 74 at-bats of 2015 and has largely been relegated to part-time duties against left-handed pitching. An .812 OPS since May 16 shows that Pearce has done a better job over the last two months, but most of that has come against left-handed pitching as he’s hitting just .207 against right-handers and .228 overall this year.

In addition to not matching the same power he found a year ago, Pearce’s walk rate has dropped considerably, a part of his game that was solid even before the 2014 season. What has likely saved the 32-year-old’s roster spot has been his versatility as he’s able to play four or five different positions, including second base for the first time earlier this season.

It will be interesting to see if Showalter will give Pearce more opportunities against right-handed pitching with Chris Parmelee struggling immensely of late, but it’s difficult foreseeing a return to the success from a year ago as Pearce is scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the season.

2. Chris Tillman

Predicting a down season for Tillman after he posted no worse than a 3.71 ERA in three straight seasons might not have been out of the question, but a 5.40 ERA and 3.8 walks per nine innings are numbers that would have landed him in the minors if not for the fact that he’s out of options.

The 27-year-old has been better since a nightmarish start in Toronto last month that elevated his ERA to 6.22, but his struggles are a major reason why the Orioles currently rank 10th in the AL with a 4.20 starter ERA. If you eliminate his 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, Tillman owns a very solid 3.48 mark against the rest of the league, but you can’t dismiss that part of the picture when Toronto is one of the clubs the Orioles are competing with in a tight division race.

His strikeout numbers are fairly similar to the last few seasons, but his walk rate is his highest since 2010 and the lack of fastball command has gotten him in trouble too often in 2015. Opponents have sported a .331 batting average on balls in play against Tillman, indicating he’s run into bad luck that’s made him pay even more for the control issues.

You hope the worst is behind Tillman as he pitched too well from 2012-2014 to continue languishing in the second half, but the Orioles wouldn’t figure to have much of a chance to be playing in October if the tall right-hander doesn’t start resembling the guy who had back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014.

1. Bud Norris

A look at his track record told you Norris was unlikely to win 15 games or match the 3.65 ERA he posted a year ago, but few have had a more dreadful season entering free agency in recent memory than Norris, who was demoted to the bullpen before the All-Star break.

Sporting a 6.86 ERA and being paid $8.8 million this season, Norris has been helpless against left-handed hitters who have posted a 1.005 OPS and hit nine homers against him, prompting opposing managers to stack their lineups with lefties in his starts. The changeup that worked so well against lefty hitters last year hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015, leaving Norris much too reliant on his fastball and slider.

With Kevin Gausman stepping into the rotation, Norris has the stuff to profile as a decent reliever, but the move now leaves Showalter without the “swinging-door” bullpen spot he likes to have to summon a fresh arm from the minors when necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Norris will get another chance in the rotation unless someone else falters or is injured, but he’ll need to be able to pitch effectively out of the bullpen to keep his roster spot as he is out of options. Duquette will undoubtedly try to find a trade partner, but Norris would be difficult to give away at this point with a high salary attached to him.

Very few would have expected Norris to be Baltimore’s best starter in 2015, but the most disastrous season of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the Orioles.

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Orioles designate lefty reliever Wright for assignment

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With his minor-league rehab assignment coming to an end, Orioles left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was activated from the 60-day disabled list and designated for assignment.

Signed to a $1.7 million contract in December, Wright made just two appearances for Baltimore in the first week of the season before being placed on the DL with a left trapezius strain on April 11. The 30-year-old allowed one run in just 1 2/3 innings.

Pitching with diminished velocity, Wright posted a 7.71 ERA in 11 2/3 rehab innings for Triple-A Norfolk. Even after he agreed to extend his rehab assignment, the Orioles simply couldn’t find room in the bullpen for a left-hander not pitching effectively.

The Orioles could be in the market for a top-shelf reliever at the trade deadline to ease the workload on All-Star pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day, but Wright did not fit that profile, making him expendable in a bullpen ranking third in the American League with a 2.90 ERA at the All-Star break.

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Machado falls in first round of Home Run Derby

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado performed admirably, but it was another 23-year-old who got the best of him at the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Orioles third baseman hit an impressive 12 home runs in the first round before Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson — who is more than two months older than Machado — clubbed 13 with a minute remaining in the new timed format to advance to the second round. Pederson went on to finish second in the competition, falling to hometown favorite Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds in the championship round at the Great American Ballpark.

Making his second trip to the All-Star Game and first appearance in the derby, Machado’s long distance was a 469-foot blast and his average home run distance was 431 feet. His first-round total was the fourth highest of any competitior, but he did not advance in the new head-to-head tournament.

Upon using his timeout in the first round, Machado was greeted by teammate Adam Jones in the home plate area with a sports drink and a plate of tortilla chips with a container of the young infielder’s special salsa. Always a character, Jones later presented the winner Frazier with a WWE championship belt at the end of the evening.

Already with a career-high 19 homers at the All-Star break, Machado has a good chance to surpass his total of 33 bombs from his first three major league seasons combined.

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