Tag Archive | "Nelson Cruz"

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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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Jones starting in left field for All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

After learning late last week he would be in the American League starting lineup, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones will play left field in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

On Monday, Kansas City manager Ned Yost revealed his lineup, which included the 29-year-old Jones batting sixth in left field. After Royals outfielder Alex Gordon suffered a groin injury last week, Jones was given the privilege of starting his third consecutive All-Star Game as he makes his fifth appearance overall.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout will lead off and play center while normal Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain will move to right field for the AL squad. Jones had started in center in each of the previous two All-Star Games with Trout playing left.

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will bat cleanup and serve as the designated hitter for the AL after hitting 21 home runs in his first season with the Seattle Mariners.

Of course, the Orioles will have a strong presence in Cincinnati with third baseman Manny Machado and relief pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day also chosen as All-Star reserves. The 23-year-old Machado was scheduled to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby despite heavy rain threatening the event.

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Fruitless use of resources costing Orioles dearly so far in 2015

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t about the three names who’ve been discussed over and over and over in assessing the Orioles’ offseason and disappointing start to the 2015 campaign.

Frankly, it’s not my place to say the organization should have invested more than $34 million in those three players for the 2015 season, which doesn’t include the $102.75 million that departing trio will command from their new clubs in future years. At the same time, I won’t applaud the Orioles for showing the restraint to allow them to walk away, either, when it was clear what value they provided to the 2014 club.

What we do know is it would have been naive to expect the franchise to increase its payroll by tens of millions of dollars, meaning executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had difficult decisions to make. In fact, lost in the handwringing over a disappointing offseason is that the payroll is actually higher than it was a year ago.

And that’s where we come to the real problem plaguing manager Buck Showalter’s club as it continues to hover below the .500 mark in early June. For all of the discussion about who the Orioles didn’t keep, not enough attention has been paid to the ones they did choose to retain who haven’t provided a return in 2015.

Because of the timing, we often forget the big-name free agent that the Orioles did retain when they re-signed J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million contract on the eve of the American League Championship Series last October. Injuries have limited the Gold Glove shortstop to just 23 games as he’s batted only .190 when he has been in the lineup.

Time will tell whether the Orioles made the right decision in extending the 32-year-old shortstop, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the biggest indictment of the offseason:

It’s the overwhelming portion of the $57.51 million paid to arbitration-eligible players this winter that looks like a sunk investment in early June. The Orioles invested just under $38 million in Chris Tillman ($4.32 million), Bud Norris ($8.8 million), Tommy Hunter ($4.65 million), Brian Matusz ($3.2 million), Steve Pearce ($3.7 million), Alejandro De Aza ($5 million), and the injured Matt Wieters ($8.3 million), and what exactly have they gotten in return?

Of course, that’s not to say the Orioles shouldn’t have tendered any of the aforementioned players as no one would have predicted Tillman or Norris struggling as dramatically as they have thus far and Pearce still looked like a huge bargain after leading the 2014 Orioles in on-base plus slugging percentage. There was cautious optimism that Wieters might be ready by Opening Day, but the club knew it was possible that he’d need a couple more months to rehab as has turned out to be the case.

But what about the others?

Designated for assignment last week, De Aza’s name was mentioned by many as a candidate to be non-tendered over the winter, but the Orioles were fooled into thinking what they saw last September and in the postseason was what they would get this year. His struggles over the last few years with the Chicago White Sox spelled out why he was available last August, but the organization forked over $5 million for him anyway.

It’s understandable that the Orioles didn’t want to invest a long-term contract in a relief pitcher, but was it wise to pay a total of $7.85 million to two middling relievers like Hunter and Matusz? Was it a good use of resources to tender Matusz and sign left-hander Wesley Wright for an additional $1.7 million?

Non-tendering De Aza and Matusz and passing on the Everth Cabrera signing — which has been another $2.4 million investment providing no return — would have created an additional $10.6 million to spend on other players if they’d kept the same payroll. Think of the possibilities of what could have been done with that money with just a hint of creativity.

The Orioles showed little interest this winter in outfielder Nori Aoki, who is essentially a present-day Nick Markakis clone and signed a one-year, $4 million contract with San Francisco that includes a $5.5 million option for 2016. He alone wouldn’t fix the current offense, but he’d sure look good hitting in the leadoff spot for Baltimore right now and hadn’t shown the same inconsistency of De Aza in Chicago the last couple years. A signing like that still would have left Duquette more money with which to work.

That’s only one simple example, of course.

As much as critics have labeled it a “cheap” offseason for the Orioles, it was an unimaginative one more than anything else. Even if the departures of Nelson Cruz, Markakis, and Miller were unavoidable from a financial standpoint, the Orioles still had plenty of resources to tinker and try to improve the club while continuing to remind everyone that Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis would be rejoining what remained of a playoff roster.

Instead, the Orioles lost significant pieces and paid too much of the money they did have to role players to fill in the cracks. To borrow a line from “Jurassic Park” uttered by Dr. Ian Malcolm, the Orioles were “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should” pay all of their arbitration-eligible players.

Fans can only wonder how much the flirtation between Duquette and the Toronto Blue Jays might have contributed to an inactive offseason in which the most significant additions were Travis Snider, Wright, and Cabrera.

Meanwhile, the Orioles continue to wait and hope for the players in which they did invest this winter to finally provide a positive return.

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Cruz on return to Camden Yards: “You have to move on”

Posted on 19 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago at this time, former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz was just a couple weeks away from making his return visit to Arlington where he’d spent the previous eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.

His return to Baltimore may not be accompanied by as many memories, but the current Seattle Mariners outfielder hit 40 home runs last year to help the Orioles win the American League East title for the first time since 1997. The 34-year-old has picked up in Seattle where he left off last year, leading the major leagues with 15 homers in 157 plate appearances after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in early December.

What kind of reaction was he expecting from Orioles fans?

“Love, hopefully, until I do something to piss them off,” said Cruz, flashing a big smile while talking to reporters in the visitor dugout at Camden Yards. “But hopefully love.”

Cruz holds no ill will toward the Orioles, who were unwilling to offer the veteran free agent a fourth year for a player who will turn 38 midway through the 2018 season. Though still possessing plenty of power in ranking sixth in the majors with 44 homers, the Orioles have missed Cruz’s bat in the heart of the order as they have used a collection of corner outfielders with very little success through the first 35 games of the season.

Meanwhile, the Mariners haven’t taken advantage of Cruz’s .340 average, 15 homers, and 30 RBIs thus far, stumbling to a 17-20 record with few others producing in their lineup and their pitching not performing at its 2014 level.

Asked if he thinks he and Nick Markakis would be making a difference for the 16-19 Orioles, Cruz kept his former team’s struggles in perspective, recalling that last year’s club didn’t take off until the summer months.

“Last year around this time, we kind of struggled as a team and we found a way to get it done,” Cruz said. “It’s early, and they still have a pretty good team this year. [Matt] Wieters is probably the only piece they need right now besides [not having] Nick and myself. They still have a pretty good team.”

In his first game against the Rangers last year, Cruz hit a three-run homer to help the Orioles to an 8-3 win over Texas on June 3. Baltimore can only hope that the slugger cools off this week after punishing pitchers through the first six weeks of 2015.

Attending Manny Machado’s charity bowling event since both teams had Monday off, Cruz had an early start getting reacquainted with former teammates, but he planned to use his experience returning to Texas last year to help deal with any emotions he might feel being back in Charm City.

“It was weird like it’s going to be [here],” Cruz said. “Maybe the first at-bat is going to be different, but after that, it’s part of another game. You have to move on.”

NOTES: Starting pitcher Bud Norris (bronchitis) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for Norris to return to the Orioles rotation if “all things are equal when he’s ready to come back.” … Wieters (right elbow) will join the Orioles in Miami for their weekend series against the Marlins and is expected to finally begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie next Tuesday. The three-time All-Star catcher is eligible to be activated from the 60-day DL as early as June 4. … Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder) threw 25 times from 60 feet on Tuesday and will throw from 90 feet on Thursday. He is currently scheduled to throw living batting practice in Miami on Saturday. … Infielder Everth Cabrera (left foot) is continuing his rehab assignment with Norfolk and is eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Friday. He is out of minor-league options.

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — New Orioles outfielder Travis Snider may be the leading candidate to replace veteran Nick Markakis in right field, but he isn’t taking anything for granted this spring.

Playing parts of seven seasons without ever recording as many as 360 plate appearances in a single campaign, the 27-year-old can’t dwell on the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore after the free-agent departures of Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz. Call it a force of habit for a former first-round pick who’s seen more disappointment than success in his major league career with numerous minor-league demotions and nagging injuries.

“I don’t worry about what happened last year and who you guys say I’m replacing,” Snider said in an interview with WNST.net. “I came here to play when they tell me to play and where they tell me to play. For me, the focus remains on the day to day of getting better and when they put my name in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

Fair or not, the pressure is on Snider to perform as he represents the Orioles’ most significant addition of the offseason. The beginning of his career doesn’t remotely stack up to Markakis’ nine-year run in Baltimore, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider’s .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014 — Markakis’ was .729 — is a sign of a once-heralded prospect finally figuring it out at the major league level.

Snider’s numbers spiked in the second half of 2014 as he hit .288 with nine home runs, 24 runs batted in, and an .880 OPS to help lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a wild-card berth. The numbers reflected the kind of prospect Snider once was in posting a .968 OPS in 835 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.

Even if his offense remains a question as a .246 lifetime hitter according to William Hill Sports, the Orioles already like what they’ve seen from Snider defensively as he will potentially replace a two-time Gold Glove winner in right field. The left-handed thrower was viewed as a good defender in Pittsburgh and was frequently used as a defensive replacement when not in the starting lineup.

“I don’t care who you are, you always have these preconceived ideas and visual and then you actually see it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I watched Travis Snider run two balls down in right field during [batting practice]. You take something out of everything.”

After five disappointing years with Toronto in which he could never live up to his potential as the 14th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Snider was traded to Pittsburgh midway through the 2012 season. His improvement at the plate hardly came overnight — the left-handed hitter batted just .215 in 2013 — but he credits the winning culture in Pittsburgh over the last two years for changing his mindset, which led to his own improvement in 2014.

After being acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Vault, Snider believes playing for a club that has advanced to the postseason in two of the last three years and is coming off its first division title in 17 years is the perfect environment to pick up where he left off in his final year with the Pirates.

“I’ve been able to take some steps forward in my career and the way I approach each day by remaining focused on each day and not worrying about stat lines or box scores and those types of things,” Snider said. “As a young player, I got caught up worrying too much about myself. Being part of a winning culture, it made it easy to buy in and knowing that you’re playing for each other and the pressure is taken off of your personal accolades and put onto the team and what you have to do each night to get the win. It makes baseball a whole lot more fun when you play that way.”

With Snider and the impending signing of infielder Everth Cabrera the only notable position players added to the mix this winter, the Orioles will likely need a breakout performance from an unheralded name similar to what they received from Steve Pearce a year ago to give themselves the best chance to make it back to the postseason. A former Pirate himself, Pearce rose from anonymity at age 31 last year to hit 21 home runs and post a .930 OPS and is now being counted on to fill a regular role this season.

It’s the perfect example to which a player like Snider can aspire after years of failing to live up to expectations as one of the best prospects in the game.

“Steve Pearce was one of the best stories in baseball last year, and that was one of the first things that I told him,” Snider said. “Understanding that this game and this business doesn’t always go the way that we plan, the guys that are able to overcome that adversity and make the most of those opportunities [succeed]. It was a lot of fun for me to watch him do what he did last year.

“We all get humbled at some point in this game. Opportunities come and opportunities go, but understanding where that focus remains and to see guys go out there and do what he did last year, that’s pretty cool.”

The opportunity will be there for Snider this season, but it will be up to him to take advantage.

 

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Hardy thankful for health, long-term stability going into 2015

Posted on 02 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With the departures of Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller, it’s easy to forget the one who didn’t get away from the Orioles this winter.

On the eve of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension to remain in Baltimore where he’s won three Gold Gloves and been one of the best offensive players at his position in the majors. The 32-year-old acknowledged Saturday that he was relieved not having to go through what his former teammates experienced this offseason before signing elsewhere.

“It’s nice to know that I’m going to be here for a few more years,” said Hardy, whose three-year, $21 million signed in 2011 expired at the end of the 2014 campaign. “It’s just nice having it over with. It really wasn’t a great or fun process to do it, but once it was done, I’m happy it’s over with.”

The biggest question for Hardy will now be how well he bounces back from a down year offensively in which he hit only nine home runs — his lowest total since 2010 — and posted a .372 slugging percentage. Much of Hardy’s lack of power has been attributed to a lingering back injury that initially surfaced during the first week of the regular season.

The 2013 All-Star selection missed a week of action in early April and managed the injury for much of the season before it again flared up in September. Magnetic resonance imaging exams revealed no structural damage at either point, but Hardy received a cortisone shot to help with the pain as the Orioles narrowed in on the American League East title in mid-September.

Back issues are always concerning — especially for a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30 — but Hardy took advantage of the offseason to rest and put in the necessary work in hopes of avoiding problems this coming season. After posting a .436 OPS with no homers in the month of September, the veteran batted .240 with one home run and three runs batted in in 25 postseason at-bats.

“It happened so early last year that it was just a constant battle to get my core strong enough to where I didn’t feel it,” Hardy said. “I felt like maybe two months out of the year I actually felt normal. The rest of the time was a grind. I’ve been able to strengthen my core pretty good this offseason with my workouts. Hopefully, that holds up.”

The Orioles will certainly hope for more from Hardy offensively than a year ago, but his biggest value lies with his defense as he’s collected three consecutive Gold Glove awards, becoming the second shortstop in club history to win three in a row. The late Mark Belanger won six straight from 1973 through 1978.

 

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Outfield situation remains uncertain for Orioles

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Though months remain until the Orioles report for spring training in Sarasota, this week has brought unrest and concern when it comes to the club’s outfield situation for 2015.

The free-agent departure of slugger Nelson Cruz might have been expected, but his 40 home runs and 108 runs batted in must be replaced as the Orioles try to repeat as American League East champions. The potential exit of Nick Markakis hits closer to home, however, for fans who’ve watched the right fielder play for the better part of a decade.

The sides appeared close to a long-term extension less than a month ago, but talks have cooled since with the Orioles reportedly thinking twice about committing to the 31-year-old for four years. Meanwhile, Atlanta, Toronto, and San Francisco have shown interest in his services with the Braves being of particular interest because of his roots in the state of Georgia where he also owns a home in addition to his residence in Monkton.

Multiple reports have stated that Markakis met with members of the Braves organization in Baltimore on Monday.

His critics will point to his declining numbers over the last few years and a failure for Markakis to live up to the terms of his just-expired contract, but the Orioles would be challenged in finding a replacement at the top of the order and in right field. Losing both Cruz and Markakis would understandably create unrest for Orioles fans with Christmas just a few weeks away and limited alternatives on the open market.

Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter had been linked to the Orioles as a short-term option, but the 39-year-old agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million with the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night. It was an opportunity for Hunter to return to the place where he started his career, and there were no indications that any discussions with Baltimore had progressed beyond a preliminary stage.

According to USA Today, the Orioles have shown “strong interest” in outfielder Michael Morse, who spent the conclusion of the 2013 season in Baltimore. Morse played with the San Francisco Giants this past year, hitting .279 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 131 games. The 32-year-old also hit a home run in the National League Championship Series and drove in four runs in the World Series.

Baltimore traded outfielder Xavier Avery to Seattle two years ago to pick up Morse, but he went only 3-for-29 while dealing with a wrist injury.

 

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Nelson Cruz agrees to four-year deal with Seattle

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will not be returning to Baltimore after agreeing to a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

As first reported by the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, the 34-year-old will receive a total of $57 million after spending a season with the Orioles that was described as a “platform” year by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Baltimore had hoped to retain Cruz’s services after he led the majors in home runs, but the organization was unwilling to offer more than a three-year deal as Cruz was initially seeking a five-year commitment.

The good news is that the Orioles will receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round after making Cruz a $15.3 million qualifying offer last month, but they will need to replace production that resulted in the veteran receiving the Most Valuable Oriole award last season. The organization signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract last spring after interest in the outfielder was lukewarm because of his connection to the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent 50-game suspension.

The Orioles may prove wise not making a lucrative commitment to a player who will turn 35 next July and is coming off a career year, but finding a productive bat to replace his work at the designated hitter spot and in left field won’t be easy. They’ve reportedly shown interest in outfielder Torii Hunter, but it’s believed the 39-year-old would have to accept a one-year deal.

Another option that’s reportedly been discussed is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who has battled injuries in recent years and is still owed more than $107 million over the remaining five years of an eight-year, $160 million contract inked before the 2012 season. Of course, the Orioles would demand that the Dodgers take right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and his bloated contract off their hands in any potential trade, but it’s difficult envisioning the organization assuming such a deal without further financial assistance accompanying the 30-year-old outfielder.

Kemp hit .287 with 25 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, the first season in which he played more than 106 games since 2011.

Perhaps the easiest way for the Orioles to make up for Cruz’s production in 2015 would be a bounce-back season from first baseman Chris Davis as well as the respective returns of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but counting on Davis isn’t easy after he hit just .196 and saw his home run total drop from 53 in 2013 to just 26 in a nightmare 2014 that ended with him being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use.

In 678 plate appearances for the Orioles in 2014, Cruz hit .271 with 40 home runs, 108 RBIs, and an .859 OPS.

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