2008 MLB Preview: Baltimore Orioles

JJ SSenior Writer IMarch 13, 2008

Manager: Dave Trembley

Arrivals: SP Matt Albers, SP Lance Cormier, OF Adam Jones, P Troy Patton, OF Chris Roberson, RP Dennis Sarfarte, OF Luke Scott, RP George Sherrill, SP Steve Trachsel

Departures: SP Erik Bedard, RP Rob Bell, OF Corey Patterson, SS Miguel Tejada, SP Jaret Wright, RP Victor Zambrano

Offseason grade: C+

Starting rotation

The way things are shaping up, Baltimore will have a starting rotation of Jeremy Guthrie, Adam Loewen, Daniel Cabrera, Garrett Olson, and Steve Trachsel.

Things are tough when you trade your ace, aren't they?

Guthrie was a pleasant surprise last year, going 6-5 with a 3.44 ERA over 26 starts for the Orioles. 

After never having a real opportunity to pitch in Cleveland, Guthrie came to Baltimore and threw the ball extremely well in his first full season at the MLB level. He'll be one of the few bright spots in Baltimore's rotation this year, but it remains to be seen if he can be counted on to be the ace of the staff.

Loewen wasn't terrible in his first six starts of 2007, going 2-0 with a 3.56 ERA. However, Loewen had elbow surgery in May and missed the rest of the season.

In 2006, Loewen started a mediocre 19 games with Baltimore, going 6-6 with a 4.95 ERA. 

He'll be just 24 in April and is too young to close the book on, but he has struggled throughout this year's spring training. Barring an injury, Loewen will open the season in Baltimore's rotation, but he shouldn't be counted on to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Every year, I wonder if it's going to finally be the one in which Cabrera harnesses his talent and pitches like the ace he theoretically could be. The 6'9", 270-lb. Cabrera has some of the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the American League, but he's a perfect example of somebody who just doesn't know how to pitch.

Cabrera went a dismal 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA last year, walking 108 batters in 204.1 innings, an average of about one walk per every 1.2 innings pitched. Over a six-inning start, that's an average of about four walks. 

A guy like Cabrera just needs to consistently throw strikes. His stuff will take care of him for the most part, but if he's consistently falling behind in the count, it doesn't matter how good his stuff is, he's going to get lit up.

Honestly, Cabrera probably won't ever be the ace, strikeout-machine pitcher that he was billed as back in 2004. Another poor performance out of Cabrera is what Baltimore should expect this year.

Olson was a mid-season callup for Baltimore last year and struggled, going 1-3 with a 7.79 ERA over seven starts.

Olson was basically thrown right into the fire at age 24 and, like a lot of young pitchers, had trouble finding the strike zone, walking 28 over 32.1 innings. 

His successful track record in the minors indicates that he could be a solid pitcher if he gets his command under control. However, he's probably another year of taking his lumps away from being a good pitcher for the Orioles.

Trachsel was brought back as a non-roster invitee after going 6-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 25 starts with Baltimore before being dealt to the Cubs in August. 

He's more of a stopgap for a year until Troy Patton, who was supposed to be the No. 4 starter, comes back in 2009 following season-ending labrum surgery. 

In a pinch, Brian Burres or Matt Albers could start, but both of them had horrendous seasons as starting pitchers with Baltimore and Houston, respectively, in 2007.

There are a lot of if's with this pitching staff. There's definitely some youth in Guthrie, Loewen, and Olson, but not much to get excited about in 2008.

Starting rotation grade: D


George Sherrill was a nice pickup from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade and should be Baltimore's closer for this season.

Sherrill threw 45.2 innings with a 2.36 ERA in Seattle last year and has been billed as a future closer for most of his career.  

Remember Chris Ray? In the last two years, he saved 49 games for Baltimore, but went down with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery after pitching in 43 games in 2007.

Ray won't be back until after the All-Star break at the earliest, but Sherrill is probably the better option to close anyway. Ray could be useful as a setup man if he comes back fully healthy.

Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford are a pretty good lefty/righty tandem to pitch in the 7th and 8th innings. 

Walker threw 61.1 innings with a 3.23 ERA last year, justifying his three-year, $12 million contract he signed with Baltimore after the 2006 season.

Bradford threw 64.2 innings of his own with a 3.34 ERA last year, getting outs with his ridiculous submarine motion.

Someone needs to keep Danys Baez away from Camden Yards for the sake of this bullpen. Baez was atrocious last year, throwing 50.1 innings with a whopping 6.44 ERA.

Only in Baltimore could he keep his job, I guess.

Dennis Sarfate has struggled over his last two minor league seasons but has had success in limited time at the MLB level, throwing 16.2 innings with Milwaukee over the last two years, posting a 2.70 ERA over those two seasons. 

Dave Trembley shouldn't count on Sarfate until he proves he can pitch over an extended stint in the majors, because, judging by his minor-league track record (career minor league ERA of 3.67, 2007 ERA at AAA Nashville was 4.52), he might not be able to.

Brian Burres, Jim Hoey, Rocky Cherry, Jon Leicester, Matt Albers, and Radhames Liz will likely see some time at the MLB level, but none are good enough to hold down a permanent spot in the bullpen. Look for them to be rotated in and out from the MLB bullpen to AAA over the course of the season.

Baltimore's biggest weakness certainly isn't their bullpen.

That being said, outside of Sherrill, Walker, and Bradford, this bullpen isn't very impressive and doesn't have a whole lot of depth.

Bullpen grade: C+


Adam Jones will join Nick Markakis to give the Orioles a pretty formidable duo of young outfielders, that, if management doesn't ruin it (which, knowing Peter Angelos, he somehow will) should anchor Baltimore's lineup for years to come.

Markakis, 24, hit .330 with 23 home runs and 103 RBI in his second MLB season last year. He looks like an excellent No. 3 hitter that the Orioles can count on until Angelos forces the front office to unload him for prospects in three years.

Jones, who will be 23 in August, was the crown jewel of Seattle's farm system before getting moved in the Bedard trade. 

He was blocked by the outfield of Raul Ibanez/Ichiro/Jose Guillen and never got a chance to prove himself at the MLB level with the Mariners, but he'll get that chance with the Orioles. 

With AAA Tacoma in 2007, Jones had an OBP of .382 while hitting .314–excellent stats for a leadoff hitter.

While it's unfair to expect those stats to carry over to the big leagues, Jones still should give the Orioles a good hitter who puts up solid OBP until Angelos forces the front office to unload him for prospects in three years.  

Luke Scott, acquired from Houston in the Miguel Tejada trade, will occupy left field for the time being. Scott has only been in the majors for three years but will turn 30 in June and really doesn't look like a great long term option for the Orioles.

Scott hit just .255 in 2007 after flashing a lot of potential in 2006, when he hit .336 in 214 at-bats.

Over a full season, Scott might improve to around .270 with 20-25 home runs, but he's not going to come close to equaling Tejada's value, even in a Tejada down year.

What he can do, though, is not get paid a whole lot. And, for Angelos, isn't that what it's all about? 

It's almost an inevitablity that Brian Roberts will be dealt, likely sooner rather than later. Roberts is one of the better offensive second basemen in baseball, hitting .290 last year with an OBP of .377 and 50 stolen bases. 

Trading Roberts makes some sense, as he'll be 31 in October and likely doesn't fit into the Orioles' long-term plans (if those long-term plans even exist...yeesh). However, trading him to the Cubs for a group of mediocre prospects (as rumored) makes absolutely no sense. 

Baltimore should wait until July to trade him. By then, Roberts will have put up nice stats and some contender will need a second baseman. That's when Andy MacPhail can come in and gouge a team for a top prospect.

Unfortunately for the organization, they're too stupid (I'm looking at you, Peter) to realize this.  

Anyways, back to the players that probably will play for Baltimore this year.

Aubrey Huff should put up another decent season DH'ing and playing a few games in the outfield or at first base, but he's not the 30-homer, 100-RBI player he was with Tampa Bay a few years ago.

It looks like Melvin Mora is on the downswing of his career, as he's seen his batting average dip to .274 in both 2006 and 2007. He might have a few more seasons of .270 averages before he really starts to see a dropoff in production.

Ramon Hernandez and Kevin Millar are both aging .250 hitters who will hit 15-20 home runs and drive in 60-70 runs this year.

Don't let Luis Hernandez' .290 batting average over 69 at-bats last year fool you–he's not an offensive talent. Hernandez hasn't hit over .270 since single-A and has barely hit .250 in stops with AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. 

Keep an eye on Jones as the season progresses to see how he fares in his first full season in the majors. Baltimore is going to need him to have success if they want their lineup to go anywhere in the next few years.

Outside of Jones and Markakis, there isn't much to get excited about in this lineup.

Lineup grade: C-


Jay Gibbons and Jay Payton provide veteran bats off the bench for the Orioles–but that doesn't mean they're exactly good.

If they aren't traded, Gibbons and Payton should be mediocre pinch-hitters and spot starters.

Freddie Bynum can play all over the place and provides good speed and a decent bat off the bench.

Scott Moore can play the corner infield positions and is just 24, but his career .260 batting average in the minors shows that the Orioles are desperate.

Bench grade: D+

If you didn't notice, I'm not a big fan of Peter Angelos. Angelos took one of the best franchises in the game and ran it into the ground in the span of about 10 years.

In those ten years, the Orioles went from having 3,000,000 fans walk through the turnstiles of beautiful Camden Yards to about 1,000,000, most of them disheartened fans who just come to enjoy the park.

Baltimore is a great baseball town with very knowledgeable fans. Their fans know this: the Orioles won't go anywhere in the very competitive AL East until Angelos removes his head from his ass and leaves the baseball decisions up to the baseball minds.

Until then, have fun being in last place. 


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