The Orioles are hoping for a great Valentine's gift when pitchers and catchers report Saturday for the beginning of Spring Training.
The Orioles, whose pitching was horrendous in 2008, have 37 pitchers attending in hopes that some will rise above the rest to secure roster and rotation spots.
As Spring Training gets underway, it's time to look back at the Orioles' offseason.
Andy MacPhail signed Nick Markakis to a six-year, $66.1 million deal that will keep the RFer in Baltimore through 2014, with a mutual option for 2015. Markakis is a budding star, a great bat (top 10 in the AL in almost every offensive category), with a cannon arm. Locking him up long-term was a huge move.
The Orioles improved their pitching, which was the team's biggest weakness in 2008. The additions of Koji Uehara, Rich Hill, Mark Hendrickson, David Pauley, and John Parrish give the Orioles a slew of new options to turn to in 2009. Uehara and Hill are projected to be starters, while Hendrickson, Pauley, and Parrish will compete for the back end of the rotation and long-relief spots.
Baltimore bolstered its defense with the additions of Cesar Izturis (SS), Felix Pie (OF), and Ryan Freel (IF/OF). Infield utility player/left fielder Ty Wigginton was also added via free agency to provide additional depth, flexibility, and a right-handed bat.
The Orioles added stop-gap and high-potential players without hurting their future. They bought time for catcher Matt Wieters to spend in AAA Norfolk with the addition of Gregg Zaun, and the pitching additions allow for Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Troy Patton, and Chris Tillman to further develop in the minors. They only gave up Garett Olson, Ramon Hernandez, Randor Bierd, and a player to be named later during their trades this off-season.
The Orioles and Brian Roberts still have yet to sign a contract extension. The 2B, who has spent his entire career with the Orioles, said he does not want to negotiate during the season. Questions about whether or not he will return in 2010 and potential trades will be a distraction during the season.
Roberts is only one part of the questions looming about the future of the infield.
Roberts, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Ryan Freel will all be eligible for free agency after the end of the 2009 season. Mora does have a team option for 2010. Wigginton and Izturis are also going to be eligible for free agency after 2010. The Orioles did little to find future replacements for these players or locate potential trade partners over the offseason.
Several players on the Orioles roster are out of options, meaning they'll have to clear waivers to be sent down to the minors. This includes new additions David Pauley, Rich Hill, and Felix Pie, as well as Hayden Penn, Dennis Sarfate, and Scott Moore. John Parrish also has an opt-out clause, where he can leave the Orioles if he's not on the Major League roster by April.
Who is Going To Make the Rotation?
Aside from Jeremy Guthrie and likely Koji Uehara, the Orioles rotation is wide open. Rich Hill, now reunited with his old pitching coach, Rich Kranitz, is favored to win the third spot, but his control problems could interfere. If Hill can regain his control, he'll be in, but if not he might not even crack the 25-man roster.
David Pauley, Mark Hendrickson, Hayden Penn, Radhames Liz, John Parrish, Chris Waters, Matt Albers, and Chris Tillman will all be given a legitimate chance at the back end of the rotation.
Who is Going To Be Traded?
With the additions of Ryan Freel, Ty Wigginton, and Felix Pie, the future of many Orioles with the club is now in question. In particular, the infielders with expiring deals (Mora, Huff, Roberts) and outfielder/DH Luke Scott.
Mora has a no-trade clause, a team-option for 2010, and the least trade value, so it's likely he's going to stay in Baltimore.
Analysts have often criticized Scott's defensive ability in left, but metrics show that he was far from bad. His .990 fielding percentage was highest among AL LFers with at least 800 IP, and his 2.17 RF was second among the same group (behind Carl Crawford).
At least one of the group will be unloaded, but the Orioles will wait for an offer that matches their value (likely because of an injury to another team) before trading them. Danys Baez, George Sherill, and Hayden Penn will also be shopped around to other teams before the deadline.
Who is Going To Close?
With the return of Chris Ray from injury, All-Star George Sherill's closing position is now in question.
Sherill pitched well in the first half of 2008, earning a spot in the All-Star Game. He broke down during the second half of the season, though.
Both Ray and Sherill have upside, but lots of questions as well.
When Will Matt Wieters Play?
Matt Wieters is called one of the top prospects, if not the top prospect, in all of baseball. The catcher is expected to crack the MLB roster at some point this season, although not necessarily in a starting role.
He is expected to begin the season with the Orioles' AAA affiliate in Norfolk. Expect the Orioles to delay his promotion until at least a few weeks into the season in order to delay his free agency until 2015. A June call-up is not out of the question.
Andy MacPhail and the Orioles had a strong offseason. The club was improved for 2009, and they built for the future without hurting what they already have. Questions still remain, especially long-term about the future of the infield.
- Brian Roberts, 2B
- Adam Jones, CF
- Nick Markakis, RF
- Aubrey Huff, 1B
- Melvin Mora, 3B
- Luke Scott (RHP)/Ty Wigginton, DH
- Felix Pie, LF
- Gregg Zaun, C
- Cesar Izturis, SS
- IF/OF Ryan Freel
- IF/OF Ty Wigginton (RHP)/ OF Luke Scott (LHP)
- C Guillermo Quiroz
- RHP Jeremy Guthrie
- RHP Koji Uehara
- LHP Rich Hill
- RHP David Pauley
- LHP Chris Waters
- LHP George Sherill, Closer
- RHP Chris Ray, Set-up/Alternate Closer
- RHP Jim Johnson, 7th/8th Innings
- LHP Jamie Walker
- RHP Dennis Sarfate
- RHP Matt Albers
- LHP Mark Hendrickson, Long-relief
- RHP Hayden Penn, Long-relief
Manager Dave Trembley reportedly wants to use a 13-man pitching staff, which shrinks the bench to only three players. This could change during Spring Training, especially given that it doesn't allow for a real backup to SS Cesar Izturis (neither Freel or Wigginton are great at short). If a fourth bench spot is added, expect Chris Gomez to take it.
Freel will get time in both left and center field (in addition to his use as an infield utility player) through the season to provide time off and competition for Pie if he falters. Luke Scott should also see a few games in left.
While Hendrickson will begin the season as a reliever, I expect him to be in the rotation for at least part of the season (either to deal with injuries or lack of performance from a starter).
75 wins - 87 losses. 5th, AL East.