Can the Orioles Compete in 2008?
Yes. They can compete with the Pirates and Giants for the worst record in baseball.
This team is truly sad, and at one point the Baltimore Sun suggested that Steve Trachsel might be the team's opening day starter.
The pitching staff, thankfully led by Jeremy Guthrie and not Trachsel, is far and away the worst in baseball.
I like nominal ace Guthrie as fourth in the rotation (don't get fooled by his first half numbers, look at his second half and minor league track record) and Daniel Cabrera as a fifth starter.
Sadly, that's the best we've got in Baltimore this year.
The offense does have some bright spots: Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are potential All-Stars, and Adam Jones and Ramon Hernandez could put up above-average numbers.
Luke Scott isn't horrible. However, the rest of the lineup—including Kevin Millar, Luis Hernandez, Melvin Mora (it pains me to lump him in here), and Aubrey Huff—is replacement level or worse.
Combine the worst pitching in baseball with a slightly below average offense and throw them in the toughest division in baseball (in my opinion), and you get the worst record in baseball.
Who's on His Way out of Town?
The only current regulars I expect to see on this team in 2010 (the next time the Orioles have any shot at the playoffs) are Markakis and Jones. Anyone else with trade value needs to pack their bags and get moving.
This group of expendable Orioles is led by Roberts—the only guy on this list with real trade value. I'd be shocked if he's the team's second baseman in 2009.
It looks like McPhail is playing the same game with Roberts that he did with Bedard. He realizes he's going to move him, but thinks he can squeeze a bit more out of the Cubs.
I wouldn't be shocked if Ramon Hernandez is dealt as well. He certainly won't be here in 2010 (aloha Matt Wieters), and if he can stay healthy he should have some value to a contender.
George Sherrill is another guy who might be dealt at some point. Of course that's assuming he appreciates in value as the closer.
The management sees Chris Ray as the long-term guy, and if we can oversell Sherrill it wouldn't be a bad move.
Are the Orioles Finally on the Right Track?
Yes. You can accuse me of drinking the McPhail Kool-Aid, but the Orioles have finally realized that no matter how many Danys Baez and David Segui-esque free agents they bring in, this team is rotten to the core.
Two goals should guide the Orioles this year. The first is to maximize the development of their young players. This includes giving Major League at-bats to players like Scott Moore and Mike Castanzo.
The second goal is to trade away anyone who won't be a part of the next Orioles' playoff run (2010 and beyond).
One slightly worrying sign is the minor tiff that developed between management and Markakis over his 2008 salary.
While it makes sense that the Orioles don't want to set a precedent for overpaying young players who have no say in their salary, it is unwise to get the cornerstone of the franchise sore over a few hundred grand.
Hopefully at the end of the season, the Orioles will sign Markakis to a long-term deal that buys out his first two years of free agency at below market value (in exchange for "overpaying" for him now) a la Troy Tulowitzki, Grady Sizemore, and David Wright.
The Good News
I don't want to end on a down note, so, one promising sign.
The Orioles didn't sign Kyle Lohse.
Understand that this isn't an indictment of Lohse. He's a bargain at $4.25 million, but the fact that the Orioles didn't make him an offer is a strong indicator that they finally get it.
There is no difference between the 58-win Lohse-less Orioles and the 60 wins they might get with him. Put the $4.25 million into signing bonuses for next year's draft class and pray for better days.