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Twelve Orioles thoughts after first 20 games of 2019 season

Posted on 19 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles off to an 8-12 start after their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles entered Friday with the majors’ third-worst run differential — defending World Series champion Boston was shockingly second worst — but a 3-4 trip left them a respectable 7-6 road record. The 2018 club had 19 away wins all season. A roster overmatched on paper nightly has played with good energy.

2. Credit Baltimore for getting off the mat to win in extra innings Thursday, but that doesn’t wipe away the bullpen squandering a 5-2 lead with five outs to go. Orioles relievers have allowed seven more homers than any other team in baseball. Who can you really trust out there?

3. The top answer could be John Means if he doesn’t settle into the rotation. The lefty will fill a hybrid role for the time being with Alex Cobb returning, but a 1.72 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings have made him fun to watch in whatever capacity he’s pitched.

4. I’m glad to no longer be tracking a historic hitless streak for Chris Davis, but we’re a long way from suggesting he’s made meaningful improvement. I will note his average exit velocity (91.1 mph) is the best it’s been since 2015, but we’re talking about a very small sample size.

5. An 0-for-5 Thursday dropped Cedric Mullins to an .089 batting average. Patience is warranted and he’s defended well in center, but you wonder how hard a healthy Austin Hays — who’s just beginning a hitting progression after recovering from the thumb injury — might have been knocking at the door.

6. The Orioles own only two starts of six innings or more so far this season. It’s fair mentioning the handful of times they’ve used someone who wasn’t fully stretched out as a starter, but that still doesn’t say much for veterans like Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy.

7. Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino have combined to hit barely above the Mendoza line, but the catchers have thrown out eight of 13 runners attempting to steal this season. I would like to see Severino receive a few more opportunities since he’s five years younger.

8. Trey Mancini has been far and away Baltimore’s best hitter, but Dwight Smith Jr. has been the biggest surprise so far as he’s shown some power with a .474 slugging percentage and gone 9-for-24 with four extra-base hits against lefties. He has a nice swing.

9. After a slow start at Triple-A Norfolk, Ryan Mountcastle has homered in three of his last four games and has received all but two of his starts in the field at first base. His development is the most relevant baseball-related factor in the Davis saga at this point.

10. In his first three starts for Single-A Delmarva, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez has pitched to a 0.54 ERA and struck out 28 batters in 16 2/3 innings. I suppose that’s not too shabby for the 2018 first-round pick.

11. Brian Roberts has been impressive as a color analyst on MASN, especially considering his limited experience in the role. He clearly does his homework and presents those insights in an entertaining way. I’d like to hear more of him on broadcasts.

12. This FanGraphs article offered a look at Brandon Hyde, his daily routine, and how he interacts with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It’s also a reminder the infrastructure of baseball operations is far from complete as the manager notes the current size of the front office and analytics department.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on struggling pitching staff

Posted on 12 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles having lost seven of eight before embarking on their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Davis’ record hitless streak is national news, but allowing 37 home runs in 13 games borders on the unthinkable. No other team entered Friday surrendering more than 26. The major league record for a season is 258 allowed by Cincinnati in 2016; Baltimore’s current pace is 461.

2. Watching Dylan Bundy strike out five — four on sliders — and not allow a hit the first time through the order before giving up four home runs Thursday makes you wonder if he’s better suited to relieve. It could help an average fastball velocity that’s down to 90.8 miles per hour.

3. Miguel Castro has never missed as many bats as you’d expect despite a mid-90s fastball and a slider that’s often shown good movement, but he’s been a mess so far. After posting a solid 3.77 ERA the previous two years, Castro should have been ready to graduate rather than regress.

4. There was never a guarantee Richard Bleier would be ready for the start of 2019 following last June’s lat surgery, so sending him to the injured list with shoulder tendinitis is the responsible move. He and that sinker that sparked a 1.97 ERA the last three seasons clearly weren’t right.

5. Brandon Hyde expressed optimism about Alex Cobb’s back issue not lingering beyond the 10-day minimum, but even a rebuilding club still needs starters to eat innings and provide stability. Especially with a contract that will be difficult to move, Cobb needs to be a big part of that.

6. Many expected Mychal Givens to be the closer, but Hyde said he “wants to use Mike when the game’s on the line,” whether that’s the ninth inning or sooner. It’s a refreshing stance, especially for a club without the options to have a paint-by-numbers bullpen like Buck Showalter enjoyed.

7. Even having pitched his first two games as an “opener” and being on a schedule, Nate Karns showed diminished velocity in each of his outings before going to the IL with forearm tightness. You hope for the best, but his injury history is why he was available for $800,000.

8. Paul Fry has been the Orioles’ best reliever so far with a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings and the highest game-entering leverage index on the team, an indication of the kind of game situations in which Hyde has used the lefty. He was a nice find by Dan Duquette.

9. Despite the apparent Houston influence from Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal that has Andrew Cashner throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs, his swinging-strike percentage has decreased from last year. The veteran just isn’t missing bats, which makes it much more challenging to succeed.

10. John Means pitched into some bad luck in his first start, but he’s been a pleasant surprise early, especially with a changeup that’s fetched 18 swinging strikes out of the 73 times he’s thrown it. Hyde wants to give him more starting opportunities.

11. The Dan Straily signing made sense for a club eyeing rotation stability and a possible trade chip, but he’s allowed 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring was disrupted by Miami releasing him, but he probably needs to lean more on his changeup to be successful.

12. If the intention behind optioning Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk after a poor spring was to make him succeed at that level after he originally went from Double A to the majors, recalling him after just two appearances for the Tides didn’t seem to make much sense.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series win over Yankees

Posted on 31 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles recording back-to-back wins over the New York Yankees to register their first series victory of the season and move over .500 for the first time since Opening Day last year, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Expectations should never change one series into a new season for any club, but the young Orioles responded admirably after Opening Day when so many were piling on over a pretty run-of-the-mill 7-2 loss. The overreaction certainly shifted to the Bronx by Sunday night.

2. After throwing 182 pitches and walking six in Saturday’s 5-3 win, Baltimore walked eight and hurled a whopping 226 pitches on Sunday. The Orioles threw more in a game only once all last season, which was a 15-inning win at Atlanta (248). Win or lose, that’s just crazy.

3. The surprise of Sunday’s win was John Means, who picked up Dylan Bundy by allowing only one run over 3 1/3 innings to earn his first major league win. Twelve of an impressive 17 swinging strikes came on his changeup, which Jim Palmer labeled “exceptional” during the MASN broadcast.

4. Four of his first five hits were of the infield variety before Trey Mancini clobbered one 419 feet with an exit velocity of 110.8 miles per hour for a homer on Sunday. For someone who experienced some tough luck last year, a fast start was good to see.

5. Brandon Hyde was very liberal with his use of Mychal Givens, who threw a career-high 49 pitches in the finale after 16 on Saturday. The new manager did express some regret in his post-game remarks, which was good to hear. That was still a major stretch, especially in late March.

6. Dwight Smith Jr. took advantage of his three early starts by going 5-for-11 just three weeks after being acquired from Toronto for international bonus slots. The 26-year-old is an example of someone with a golden opportunity to stick in the majors on a rebuilding club right now.

7. Nate Karns being deployed as an opener turned out to be more of a straight bullpen game with him going through the entire order once, but I like the break from convention. No one could have predicted Mike Wright nailing down the first save of the season, right?

8. A career .572 on-base plus slugging percentage isn’t the reason why the 30-year-old Jesus Sucre has played seven major league seasons, but his three RBIs were the difference on Saturday. Go figure.

9. Richard Bleier struggled in his first action since his season-ending lat injury sustained last June, allowing two earned runs and retiring only one batter on Saturday. He didn’t allow his second run last season until May 11. Patience is in order for the crafty lefty.

10. His command definitely needs to improve, but Jimmy Yacabonis has stuff that should play well in a relief role with a mid-90s fastball and a slider with great bite. I could see him in an opener role at some point this season.

11. Cedric Mullins not playing against the first two left-handed starters certainly reflects his pronounced struggles from the right side going back multiple levels in the minors. I’d still like to see him receive more chances before declaring him a platoon outfielder, however.

12. Many will mock the Orioles’ clubhouse celebrations at Yankee Stadium, but these players heard all winter and spring how bad they’re going to be this season and beyond. Let them enjoy the highs when they come. The weekend was fun without having to read more into it.

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Nine questions on the 2019 Orioles entering the season

Posted on 27 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With a new season upon us, here are nine questions on the rebuilding Orioles entering the 2019 campaign:

Will the Orioles be even worse than last year?

Their 115 losses last season set a club record and were the fourth most in the majors since 1900, but the Orioles now begin 2019 without Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach, who all began 2018 with the organization and made meaningful contributions to previous playoff runs. Of the four other clubs to lose 115 games in a season since 1900, all won at least 11 more games the following year and only the 1962 Mets suffered triple-digit losses again. In other words, the probability of the Orioles plummeting to the same level of ineptitude remains low with many projection models forecasting somewhere between 98 and 105 losses. Still, looking at that Opening Day roster reminds you of those early scenes in Major League, doesn’t it?

How will manager Brandon Hyde handle his first season?

The former Chicago Cubs bench coach received positive reviews in his first spring camp for creating an upbeat and efficient working environment, but now the games count and the dark shadow of losing lingers. No one expects Hyde to be a miracle worker with a club that wasn’t constructed with any intention to contend, but how he handles a young clubhouse and how hard players compete on a nightly basis will reflect on his managing acumen more so than the AL East standings. The 45-year-old knew what he was getting into when he accepted this job in December and understands the organization’s focus on the big picture, but the reality of a long season is upon him. No matter how ugly it might get, the Orioles still have to show up and play the games.

Who will begin — or continue to — establish himself as a piece for the long run?

The late-spring demotions of catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays, and lefty reliever Tanner Scott took much of the air out of this balloon for fans desperate to at least watch interesting prospects in what’s expected to be a losing season, but Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins certainly stand out on a 25-man roster consisting mostly of fringe placeholders and veterans likely to be long gone before Baltimore’s next competitive window opens. With so many changes over the last year, we forget Mancini has just two full seasons under his belt as he tries to find more consistency after a rough first half in 2018. Meanwhile, Mullins opens 2019 as the starting center fielder, but Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have shared the potential they see in Hays as an eventual center fielder, which should serve as motivation for the incumbent. There are fair questions about his throwing arm and ability to hit from the right side, but the switch-hitting Mullins will have his opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player this season. Though not exactly prospects, Miguel Castro, David Hess, and Jimmy Yacabonis are under-the-radar pitchers who could benefit from the analytical advances introduced by the new regime.

Which veterans will play well enough to become trade chips?

The reward for guys like Jonathan Villar, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Mark Trumbo having good seasons is a likely ticket out of Baltimore as Elias aims to add more talent in the farm system. That’s just reality in the early stages of a rebuild, regardless of how much an organization might say it values veteran leadership. The cases of Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be more interesting to monitor as they’re both under club control through 2021 and would carry more trade value than the aforementioned names if they can rebound from their underwhelming 2018 performance levels. Some might add Alex Cobb to the list of potential trade chips, but the 31-year-old would have to pitch exceptionally well for another club to be willing to commit to the additional $29 million he’s owed beyond 2019.

What will happen with Chris Davis?

We’re all aware of the historic nightmare that was last season for the 33-year-old first baseman, but where does the new Orioles regime go from here with a player who is still owed $92 million over the next four seasons and will be collecting deferred money long after that? Davis fared a little better late in the spring, but he still batted .189 with 19 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It will be interesting to see where Hyde uses him in the batting order – Davis batted third or fourth for much of the spring before dropping to sixth in Monday’s finale – or how long he sticks with him as a starter if he looks like the same guy from last year. Everyone hopes a new front office and coaching staff can salvage some semblance of value, but the Angelos brothers will be the ones to make the ultimate call on Davis’ status if he’s no better this year. It’s one thing to talk about Davis as a sunk cost on a losing club, but Mancini has already been pushed to left field and a strong 2019 from Mountcastle — who worked extensively at first base this spring — will have him knocking on the major-league door. You don’t want Davis blocking other young players ready for the majors.

How will the Rule 5 picks fare?

The Orioles will enter a season with three Rule 5 picks on the roster for a second straight year as reliever Pedro Araujo has a couple more weeks to go to fulfill his requirement in the majors and new Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson both made the team. It appears Martin will begin the year as the starting shortstop despite a difficult finish to spring training while Jackson was used in a super utility role this spring. A rebuilding club desperate for more talent is smart to carry promising Rule 5 picks, but let’s hope the practice brings more value than it did for Dan Duquette. For all the roster headaches and shorthanded situations the Orioles endured carrying Rule 5 players while trying to contend from 2012-18, those players netted a total of 1.1 wins above replacement in their time with the organization.

When will more interesting prospects be arriving in Baltimore?

Aside from Sisco and Scott, Hays appeared to be the next prospect on the cusp of the majors before spraining his thumb over the weekend. Beyond that trio, many fans will follow how Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle fare at Triple-A Norfolk with hopes of them making their major league debut later this season. Of course, how Elias handled Sisco, Scott, and Hays – three prospects already having major league experience – should make everyone take pause about the development timeline for any prospects at this point. The Orioles are prioritizing player development over attempts to squeeze out a couple more wins at the major league level or to appease fans hoping to watch more exciting young players. That said, other names acquired in last year’s deadline deals – many of whom already made cameos in Baltimore — appear likely to show up at some point this season. Lefty Keegan Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, and 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer, acquired in the Manny Machado trade, are two starting pitchers to monitor in the high minor leagues.

How much innovation and experimentation will we see from a club with nothing to lose?

Entering a season with expectations lower than they’ve been at any point in the history of the franchise, the rebuilding Orioles should embrace the opportunity to innovate and experiment, making it refreshing to hear Hyde reveal plans to use an opener in the second game of the season against the New York Yankees. Why not dive even deeper into infield and outfield positioning and explore new ideas for pitch sequencing, bullpen usage, and batting orders? Why lose with conventional practices when you can at least explore some new ideas and theories contenders might be afraid to try? Perhaps the Orioles even discover an edge or two that might help in the future when they’re ready to contend again. Much of this work with technology and analytics will remain behind the scenes, of course, but any new ideas making their way to the field will be interesting.

What will attendance look like at Camden Yards?

Asked to give his pitch for why fans should still come to the ballpark this season, Elias offered the following on Tuesday:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to try to cobble together a one-year-wonder .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work out right and then we spend a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way that we need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. These guys are going to be hustling, playing hard. There are going to be ‘tools’ as we say in the scouting world — big talent out there — that we can watch. And we’re in a wonderful baseball environment here in Camden Yards and here in the Inner Harbor. You come appreciate the sport and see some good baseball and watch this team grow.”

While I agree with those sentiments, expecting fans to pay major-league prices to watch a rebuilding team is a lot to ask, especially with attendance having already fallen annually since 2014 when the club was coming off a 96-win season and still in the midst of its competitive window. The Orioles ranked 26th in the majors in average attendance (20,053 per game) last year despite there being some hope of contending entering 2018. To be clear, no one should be crying the blues for an organization that’s cut its payroll in half over the last 18 months, but an empty Camden Yards hurts nearby businesses and seasonal stadium workers. The “Kids Cheer Free” initiative is a positive step that will be continued this year, but more ticket deals, promotions, and imagination are required if the Orioles hope to draw people to watch an inferior on-field product.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts with Grapefruit League action underway

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Grapefruit League action beginning over the weekend, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The early reviews of the culture being created by Brandon Hyde have been very positive. That probably won’t mean much in the standings this season, but it will matter for players continuing to buy into the process and to play hard as losses likely mount.

2. Top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz is unlikely to break camp with the Orioles, but his two-run home run in the first spring game was a glimpse of the power the organization believes is still ascending. General manager Mike Elias offered a glowing review on Saturday.

3. It’s no secret the Houston Astros emphasized slider usage with much success, a philosophy that figures to be applied in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, and Jimmy Yacabonis are a few pitchers to watch in this regard.

4. Alcides Escobar has been Baltimore’s most notable signing — even on a minor-league deal — despite registering a .593 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.7 wins above replacement last season. Rule 5 pick Richie Martin is still preferable if he at least proves he can play quality major league defense.

5. I’m excited to watch Cedric Mullins in his first full major league season, but he’s produced no better than a .662 OPS against left-handed pitching at any level of his professional career. That did come at Triple-A Norfolk last year, so you hope the development of his right-handed swing continues.

6. Branden Kline struck out the side to earn Sunday’s save. The Frederick native missed two full seasons due to elbow surgeries, but he posted a 1.80 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Bowie last year and features a mid-90s fastball and plus slider. Keep an eye on him.

7. Aside from Diaz, it’s been a rough start to the spring for two others acquired in the Manny Machado trade as starting pitching prospect Dean Kremer recovers from an oblique injury and hard-throwing reliever Zach Pop showed substantially diminished velocity on Saturday, which is always concerning.

8. Chris Davis striking out in his first two spring at-bats wouldn’t be noteworthy if he weren’t coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history from an everyday player. As it stands, every trip to the plate will be under a microscope. I’m curious to see his adjustments.

9. I’ll miss the retiring Joe Angel, but more Ben McDonald on Orioles broadcasts would be a great development. He has an engaging personality and was very enlightening discussing spin rate and other pitching-related topics during Saturday’s broadcast.

10. MASN is televising seven Orioles spring games. NESN shows 18 Boston games, YES has 12 Yankees games, and the Rays are televised 11 times. Rogers is televising two Toronto games from Florida and carrying the opponent’s feed for eight others. The Pirates are televised 10 times and the Phillies 16.

11. Machado going to the National League West was probably the best-case scenario for the Orioles, but anyone mocking him for signing with San Diego — I would too for $300 million — is overlooking a loaded farm system. The Padres could be very interesting in the not-too-distant future.

12. One of the more vivid memories of my early childhood was chanting “Edd-ie! Edd-ie!” at Memorial Stadium. Orioles legend and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray turned 63 on Sunday. Where have the years gone?

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Waiting the hardest part in earliest stages of Orioles’ rebuild

Posted on 17 January 2019 by Luke Jones

FanFest is a week away and pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota in less than a month with the Orioles’ biggest offseason player acquisitions to date being Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson.

That’s not all that unusual if you recall the snail’s pace at which former head baseball man Dan Duquette proceeded over the last several offseasons, frequently waiting until February — even March — to sign a veteran free agent or two at a market-friendly rate.

But we know this winter is different. Very different. It needs to be when you’re coming off a franchise-record 115-loss season and your major league roster — and in many ways, the entire organization — was reduced to rubble last year. The possibility remains for a veteran signing or two before Opening Day, but mostly with the thought of flipping that player this summer for more prospects to continue building for the future.

Realistically, the Orioles couldn’t have done any better than hiring Mike Elias as general manager and Sig Mejdal to lead their analytics department after the two were integral parts in building the Houston Astros into World Series champions. New field manager Brandon Hyde — the former bench coach of Joe Maddon in Chicago — made a good first impression at his introductory press conference last month and possesses the kind of versatile baseball background most front offices prefer these days.

Their arrival creates reason for hope and a legitimate belief that better days are ahead — just not in 2019. As the 36-year-old Elias has already said more than once, this process has no shortcuts or a fast-forward button to when the Orioles will be competitive again. Probability and history may tell us the Orioles are unlikely to match their .290 winning percentage from a year ago, but avoiding 100 losses would likely qualify as a minor miracle when you examine the current 40-man roster.

No, the coming season in the American League East isn’t going to be fun. The new regime is essentially still surveying the wreckage, and waiting will be the hardest part as the Orioles work from the ground up.

The present is about building infrastructure for amateur and international scouting, analytics, and player development with gains unlikely to be noticeable for some time. Elias is still more than four months away from making his first amateur pick for the Orioles. As it relates to players already in the organization, the new regime is seeking those individuals possessing the proper talent as well as a growth mindset, a trait discussed at length in Ben Reiter’s “Astroball.”

In the same way future All-Stars Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer — all part of the Houston organization before the arrival of current general manager Jeff Luhnow — accepted recommendations from Mejdal’s “Nerd Cave” to make improvements early in their careers, the likes of Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, and Trey Mancini as well as countless minor leaguers already in the system will be exposed to new data and methods that weren’t previously available. What players do with that information can help distinguish viable assets from the many placeholders we’ll be watching over these next few seasons.

But short-term gains with major league players not far from free agency such as Bundy, Givens, and Jonathan Villar are likely to result in more trades for more prospects, an exhausting proposition for fans already enduring the 2018 fire sale. It remains to be seen whether even Mancini or projected starting center fielder Cedric Mullins — players much further away from free agency — will still be in Baltimore by the time the Orioles are contending again.

For the most part, we’ll be watching too many players who don’t belong in the majors in 2019 and the year or two after that. Even the arrival of talented prospects will be calculated as the organization cannot rush the development of Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, D.L. Hall, and others — and won’t want to start their service clocks anyway — just because there’s no one better at the major league level.

If that leads to more losses, well, that’s not the worst thing for the future. It will be Hyde’s job to make sure the major league club plays hard on a nightly basis, of course, but we know the organization’s end game here. The Orioles aren’t wasting resources trying to assemble a team that still wouldn’t be close to being competitive this coming season. Manny Machado spending 3 1/2 months on last year’s club should remind us that Baltimore is years away from being “one player away.”

Picking first in three consecutive drafts brought the Astros All-Star infielders Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, though the latter came by way of the Brady Aiken pick. A similar scenario playing out for the Orioles wouldn’t be easy, but it’s all about keeping faith in the process — and waiting. If you need a deeper perspective on the new regime, reading a copy of “Astroball” wouldn’t hurt.

To say next week’s FanFest will be a tough sell is an understatement. There are only so many Billy Joel concerts and bobblehead giveaways and ticket promotions to try to mask what will be a ton of losing in the foreseeable future, but those kinds of things will be needed more than ever. Marketing a club with an over-under win total of 59 to a fan base that wasn’t exactly showing up in droves when the Orioles were still competitive a couple years ago will be the most difficult job in the entire organization.

The Orioles will try to sell a promising future, but the wait to get there won’t be easy.

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Orioles non-tender Joseph, Beckham at deadline

Posted on 30 November 2018 by Luke Jones

New Orioles general manager Mike Elias made his first significant major league roster decisions Friday by not offering contracts to catcher Caleb Joseph and infielder Tim Beckham.

All other players on the 40-man roster were tendered contracts for next season, a list that included the arbitration-eligible trio of starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, reliever Mychal Givens, and infielder Jonathan Villar.

Joseph and Beckham now become free agents allowed to sign with any of the 30 major league clubs.

A fan favorite and a member of the organization since being selected in the seventh round of the 2008 amateur draft, Joseph was one of the final holdovers from Baltimore’s last two playoff clubs in 2014 and 2016. The 32-year-old’s strength was his defense, routinely ranking in the top six or seven in the American League in pitch-framing metrics and accumulating 38 defensive runs saved from 2014-17. However, his defense slipped substantially last season, making him expendable as he batted only .219 with three home runs, 17 runs batted in, and a .575 on-base plus slugging percentage in 280 plate appearances.

Joseph was projected to make roughly $1.7 million in arbitration. The expected free-agent departures of Joseph and five-time All-Star center fielder Adam Jones leave first baseman Chris Davis as the only remaining member of the 2014 AL East champion Orioles.

Beckham, 28, was acquired from Tampa Bay at the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline and provided an immediate spark, batting .394 with 18 extra-base hits in his first month with the club. However, injuries and struggles at the plate and in the field plagued Beckham in 2018 as he batted only .230 with 12 homers and a .661 OPS in 402 plate appearances while making 19 errors split between third base and shortstop. He missed two months of action after undergoing core muscle surgery in late April.

The first overall pick of the 2008 amateur draft, Beckham was projected to make $4.3 million in arbitration, which made him an expensive option as a utility player on a rebuilding team.

Bundy is projected to make $3 million, Givens $2 million, and Villar $4.4 million in arbitration.

On Friday, the Orioles also parted ways with farm director Brian Graham, who had been serving as interim general manager after the departure of former executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette in early October and before Elias’ arrival. Director of scouting Gary Rajsich was also relieved of his duties earlier this week.

Those departures add to an extensive list of positions Elias needs to fill as he continues to search for Baltimore’s next manager to replace Buck Showalter, whose contract wasn’t renewed after the Orioles’ historically-poor 47-115 season.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on record-setting 2018 club

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 Orioles officially having suffered the most losses in 65 seasons in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. “Inconsistent” is a euphemism frequently used to describe a player or team that’s bad. There’s nothing inconsistent about a club that’s won three or more in a row just three times all season. The 2018 Orioles are as consistent as any team I’ve ever seen.

2. I’d like to think somewhere the 1988 Orioles cracked open skunked beers to celebrate on Tuesday night. Move over, Jay Tibbs and Pete Stanicek.

3. Some say the Orioles could be worse next year, but I doubt it. Ten teams have lost 110 or more in a season since 1900. The Orioles will become the 11th, but the probability of losing that many again is ridiculously small. That said, avoiding triple-digit losses will be difficult.

4. I’m glad common sense prevailed with Adam Jones playing the final six games of the homestand. The few still coming to games know they’re likely watching Jones’ final days as an Oriole and have responded with appropriate ovations. Non-prospect outfielders shouldn’t be starting over him, especially at home.

5. Caleb Joseph’s comments about the state of the Orioles had to be cathartic for both him and fans, but it’d sure be nice to hear something — anything — from ownership along these lines, even if worded more delicately. What about the status of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter? Hello?

6. Dylan Bundy has alleviated some concerns with his last two starts, but a 5.37 ERA in late September says all you need to know about how his last three months have gone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be much more than a league-average starter at this point.

7. Since raising his average to .180 on Sept. 5, Chris Davis has one hit in his last 30 plate appearances. He is batting .171 and owns a .548 on-base plus slugging percentage. I hope there’s a better plan than hoping for the best when he arrives in Sarasota next February.

8. With Hunter Harvey shut down again, it’s probably time for the organization to write him out of their long-term vision. That’s not to say you give up on him, but the 2013 first-round pick has only 63 2/3 professional innings to his name since his health problems began in 2014.

9. Nearly two months later, I still believe the Orioles sold too low on Jonathan Schoop and especially Kevin Gausman. Wouldn’t those two have been attractive trade chips for a new general manager to use this offseason to start remaking the roster with his own vision?

10. We’re still months away, but I can’t imagine how the organization is going to sell the 2019 team at FanFest this winter. The Orioles at least had the likes of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis to hype when they were bad a decade ago.

11. If nothing else is accomplished this winter, can the Orioles and MASN at least start offering in-market streaming of games next season? They’re begging fans under the age of 30 to turn their backs on them by continuing this antiquated policy. It’s not 2005 anymore.

12. Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the Orioles clinching the AL East title. It’s a reminder of how much can change in four years, but this organization will need to make far better decisions in the next four years than it did these last four to get back on top.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering second half of August

Posted on 15 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles wrapping a 1-5 homestand and one loss away from falling 50 games below .500, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The quest to outrun club history isn’t looking promising. The Orioles must go 27-14 the rest of the way just to avoid 100 losses and would need a 20-21 finish to have fewer losses than the 1988 club. At least they appear safe from the 1962 Mets and 2003 Tigers?

2. Dylan Bundy’s regression has made a miserable season in the win-loss department that much worse. He’s allowed five or more earned runs in five of his last seven outings and owns an 8.33 ERA since the start of July. His stuff and command look mediocre and the results even worse.

3. Cedric Mullins needs more time to get comfortable roaming major league ballparks and his arm remains a question, but I like the energy he brings to the plate and teammates and coaches have been impressed with his poise.

4. Adam Jones didn’t have much to say Tuesday when asked about his early impressions of playing right field beyond there being “less running” for him. It’ll be interesting to see what his market looks like this winter, but easing his defensive burden should only help his bat.

5. Trey Mancini was one of several young players to struggle in the first half of the season, but he entered Wednesday sporting a .303/.344/.517 slash line with five home runs and 13 runs batted in since the All-Star break. His surge has been encouraging to see.

6. Paul Fry wasn’t exactly on anyone’s radar after being acquired from Seattle early last season, but the 26-year-old lefty has a solid 3.15 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 20 major league innings. He might be the Orioles’ best reliever at this point, which I know isn’t saying much.

7. One of the questions entering the winter will be whether Tim Beckham is tendered a contract. The 28-year-old is under club control through 2020, but he’s making $3.35 million this year and will be in line for another raise in arbitration. His defense at shortstop isn’t cutting it.

8. As time passes, the less I like the Kevin Gausman deal. Seeing what Tampa Bay got for Chris Archer — who’s actually been fairly comparable statistically the last three years — confirms that. Average starters with two more years of control are valuable, but the Orioles were more interested in shedding salary.

9. Chance Sisco has a .217/.301/.337 slash line in 93 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Buck Showalter said recent reports about his defense have been positive, but the loss of confidence with the bat – his strength entering 2018 — is one of the season’s more undersold disappointments.

10. Many grouped Mullins and DJ Stewart together earlier this summer when discussing which prospects might be the next ones promoted, but the 2015 first-round outfielder is hitting .236 with 12 home runs, a .338 on-base percentage, and a .402 slugging percentage at Norfolk. That’s not exactly screaming for a promotion.

11. Austin Hays playing again for Double-A Bowie is encouraging and he’s had some decent games since returning, but I’d like to see the Orioles refrain from a September call-up. Let him finish out the Baysox season and then send him to the Arizona Fall League before starting fresh next spring.

12. The current version of the 2018 Orioles took the team photo Wednesday, prompting some giggles and press-box discussion. If Manny Machado and others no longer with the organization are ineligible, who is this year’s Most Valuable Oriole? I’d assume Jones wins, but maybe we just sit this year out?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at non-waiver trade deadline

Posted on 30 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline upon as and three pending free agents having already been dealt, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Adam Jones has earned the right to refuse any trade and decide what’s best for him and his family, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t owe the Orioles or fans anything after representing the organization and city with great pride for a decade. It’s that simple.

2. On the flip side, the Orioles aren’t obligated to re-sign Jones if they don’t feel he fits with a youth movement that does have several outfielders in the pipeline. The organization just needs to express that in a respectful way to a man who’s been so important to the franchise.

3. Any perceived tension between Jones and Dan Duquette isn’t necessary. Whatever middling prospect the Orioles might receive for Jones isn’t making or breaking the rebuild, and keeping the veteran outfielder for two more months isn’t going to ruin Cedric Mullins’ development. A bitter breakup would be a shame.

4. I do wonder if Jones might reconsider as the remainder of his $17.33 million salary makes him a good candidate to clear waivers for a trade in August. Passing on going to a contender is a missed opportunity from a baseball standpoint, but other factors are understandably important to him.

5. Understanding Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach should have been dealt months or even years ago, Duquette still received good value for rental commodities and has surprisingly done an effective job voicing the franchise’s new direction, but it would mean more if he were under contract beyond this season.

6. It’s a new day when the Orioles are the ones acquiring international signing bonus slots and the stated intentions are encouraging, but let’s see them sign Victor Victor Mesa and increase resources and international scouting in the coming months before offering too much praise. Organizational malpractice shouldn’t be easily forgiven.

7. Brach ultimately being nothing more than a salary dump should be a cautionary tale when the organization expresses reluctance in dealing Mychal Givens — or any other reliever for that matter. Of course, the 28-year-old’s 4.78 ERA doesn’t make him a sell-high candidate at the moment.

8. Jonathan Schoop is hitting .360 with nine home runs, seven doubles, and a 1.056 on-base plus slugging percentage in July, raising his average from .197 to .244. It would have been interesting to see what his trade value would have been if he’d started that hitting surge a month sooner.

9. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy both have underwhelming ERAs hovering around 4.50 this season, but the Orioles are absolutely right to have a high asking price for two young, controllable starting pitchers, even if they’ve mostly been league-average types so far in their careers.

10. Short of signing a contract extension, Schoop shouldn’t be reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February if the Orioles have truly learned their lesson and are serious about rebuilding the right way. Waiting until this offseason to trade him is fine, but it needs to be done then.

11. I don’t think it’s impossible for the likes of Danny Valencia, Mark Trumbo, and Andrew Cashner to be on the move in August, especially with some cash accompanying the latter two. I could see Cashner drawing some interest from a contender trying to shore up the back of its rotation.

12. With trade talk about to calm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Orioles play a little better the final two months as they’ll be adding youth. Of course, that’s an incredibly low bar as they need to go 31-25 just to avoid 100 losses. I said a little better.

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