Baltimore Orioles: Grading Team Offseason Moves so Far
Only die-hard Baltimore Orioles fans might be aware that the O's front office has been very busy this offseason, and their 40-man roster looks different than many might have imagined at this point in the winter.
All offseason, sports writers have been speculating what moves general manager Dan Duquette will be making to improve the Black and Orange in order to compete in one of the toughest divisions in the majors.
First base has been a major topic of conversation in the absence of Mark Reynolds after he signed with the Cleveland Indians in December. The starting rotation is always a question mark for the Birds and this offseason is no different. They need a proven veteran presence that can lead and teach the young hurlers.
However, none of this has really been accomplished. Although, the Orioles have added other personnel.
Duquette and the front office has changed the look of the roster with eight new additions, but I don’t think they’ve added the type of players they need in order to bring a competitive team to Baltimore next season.
If I were to grade this offseason’s moves thus far, it would not be very favorable for Duquette. I would give them a "C" at best. Although, the O's have made moves and added depth in some positions
(infield---not including first base---and outfield), they have failed to add where help is really necessary.
1. Starting Rotation
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Last season, the Birds used 12 different starting pitchers and ranked 21st in the majors in rotation ERA. In the AL, they ranked ninth out of the 14 teams. That’s not how you build a winning ballclub.
Collectively, the Orioles’ hurlers posted a 61-58 record with a 4.42 ERA. In 937.2 innings of work, they surrendered 460 earned runs on 946 base hits, including 136 home runs allowed and a .261 opponent batting average.
They need to go out and get an experienced starting pitcher who can lead the young talent and teach them how to pitch in tough situations. Of course---as everyone is aware---they missed the opportunity to lure Zach Greinke as he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They did not put up much of a fight, but I’m sure his sights were not set on the Black and Orange when he could land a much bigger contract with L.A.
Currently, RHP Kyle Lohse is a free agent and reportedly denied an offer from the Cardinals to return next season. Although he still can sign with St. Louis if they come to terms on an agreement, he is free to explore his options. I think he could be a possibility to help improve the starting rotation. They should at least entertain the idea of pursuing the 34-year-old who posted a 16-3 record last season.
As of the end of December, both the Orioles and Mariners are in the hunt for Tigers’ Rick Porcello. In three seasons, the 24-year-old sports a 48-42 record with a 4.55 ERA. Last season, he posted a 10-12 record with a 4.59 ERA and struggled to stay in the starting rotation due to injury.
He should be healthy come next year, and I think he would be a great addition towards the top of the rotation. Porcello is young and has experience pitching on a winning team. Not to mention, he followed one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball---Justin Verlander.
These are just three of the top offseason starting pitchers who have been on the trading block. Anibal Sanchez---who re-signed with the Tigers---almost accepted a deal with the Cubs earlier this offseason.
It seems as if the Orioles’ front office did not really place top priority in finding an experienced starting pitcher this offseason. I’ve read that they are in search of another reliever to bolster their already very strong bullpen. I don’t understand that because they have one of the best bullpens in the league.
But, I don’t make the big bucks to make these calls.
2. New Additions to the Rotation
Brad White/Getty Images
At the beginning of December, the Orioles added an arm to their already very crowded starting rotation. In the annual Rule 5 draft, the Birds chose former Indians LHP T.J. McFarland with the 23rd overall pick.
Last season, he posted a strong 16-8 record with a 4.03 ERA in 27 combined starts between Double-A and Triple-A for the Indians. With Triple-A Columbus, he struggled a bit after going 8-6 with a 4.82 ERA.
He has never pitched in the major leagues, and I don’t understand the reasoning behind signing him. The Birds have an abundance of left-handed starters (Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Wei-Yin Chen and Joe Saunders---if the Birds end up re-signing him).
Other than McFarland, the only other starting pitcher from a different team added to the 40-man roster is lefthander Michael Belfiore, who is ranked as the 14th top prospect in the Orioles organization.
In 28 games out of the bullpen last season, Belfiore posted an impressive 2.85 ERA in Triple-A Norfolk.
Again, another left-handed pitcher added to the Orioles roster.
The last addition to the Birds’ rotation this offseason has been RHP Zach Clark (who was added at the end of October). The 29-year-old Delaware native has been in the organization for seven seasons.
Last year, he posted a 15-7 record with a 2.79 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) in both Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. In his career with the Birds, he sports a 49-44 record with 3.68 ERA in 171 games (116 starts).
All three of these hurlers have no experience at the major league level and I’m not sure why they have placed such a focus on adding young starting pitchers. They have enough members of the rotation, but it would be nice to add a veteran presence.
Who knows, these three starters might not even make the opening day roster, but I think the front office needs to spend more time pining for an experienced hurler to lead the rotation.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Orioles fans are well aware of the ongoing Brian Roberts saga. Over the last three seasons, the 35-year-old North Carolina native has only appeared in 115 games (24 percent). He used to be the everyday second baseman and was the flagship of the Birds over the last eight seasons or so.
With the Robert Andino trade, second base is questionable. Roberts will most likely be the everyday starter if he is healthy (and that is obviously a huge question mark).
Flaherty hit .216 with six home runs and 19 RBI in 153 at-bats, but he was never used consistently.
This acquisition one move that I like so far. The Birds picked up Casilla from the Minnesota Twins. Casilla is not the best hitter on the team (he hit .241 last year with a .282 on-base percentage), but he is a speed demon on the bases, which is something the Orioles lacked last season. In 22 attempts, Casilla swiped 21 bases.
Who knows how Roberts will perform next season after missing the majority of the previous three. Unlike the other acquisitions thus far in the offseason, I’m almost positive Casilla will make the opening day roster.
4. Infielders Continued
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Jonathan Schoop is the Orioles’ third overall prospect in the organization, and will be with the team at some point within the next couple of seasons.
The 21-year-old infielder batted .245 in 124 games for Double-A Bowie last season. Schoop played in the Arizona Fall League. He jacked a couple of home runs and drove in 10 RBI while batting .270 in 21 games.
The Birds also acquired third baseman Danny Valencia from the Red Sox. After leading the majors in 2011 with 154 games and finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, he really struggled to find his way last season.
He played in just 34 games with the Twins in 2012 and batted a dismal .198. Although he struggled mightily last season, he is a .316 hitter against left-handed pitching in his short career, which might have been one of the reasons why the Birds acquired him.
However, Manny Machado will be the starting third baseman next season, so Valencia will most likely begin the year as the starting third baseman for the Norfolk Tides.
The last of the newly-acquired infielders is Yamaico Navarro, who the Birds picked up from the Pirates. In his six-year minor league career, the 25-year-old is a career .279 hitter. In 29 games last season, he hit just .160, and will most likely begin the year in the minors.
There really is no room on the left side of the infield, so I don’t see any of these acquisitions making the 25-man roster for opening day.
As for the outfield, with the re-signing of Nate McLouth in left field, the star Adam Jones manning center and the rock Nick Markakis in right, the Orioles have a very solid outfield. Not to mention, Nolan Reimold will be used as a platoon player.
However, they have made a couple of moves to add players to their bench.
The Birds acquired Trayvon Robinson in the Andino trade. The 25-year-old outfielder hit .265 with Triple-A Tacoma. In his eight-year minor league career, he is a .281 hitter.
However, with the Mariners over the last two seasons (90 games), he’s compiled a just .215 batting average.
He will most likely be competing for a slim shot at the fourth spot in the outfield. Last season, Reimold was supposed to be the left fielder, but due to a neck injury, he missed a majority of the season. With McLouth coming on strong and earning his spot in left, Reimold will now be competing for the fourth spot as well.
Another new acquisition for the outfielder is L.J. Hoes, and some Orioles fans already know his name since he spent time with both Bowie and Norfolk last year. Combined, he hit .287 with five home runs and 54 RBI.
It seems as if he is the likely choice over Robinson, but we will have to see how Spring Training plays out.
Honestly, I think Reimold will most likely win the job. He was coming on strong last season (hitting .313 with five home runs and 10 RBI in 16 games) before his injury and he’s been around longer than both Robinson and Hoes.
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
The first priority for the Orioles is to find a strong, powerful first baseman. So far this winter, they have not been able to land a home run-hitter to replace Reynolds.
Last season, the O's first baseman production ranked 21st in the major leagues and ninth in the AL, and Reynolds spent the majority of the season at first base. He produced some of the lowest power numbers in his career, and struggled in his second season with the Birds.
As a team, the Birds’ first basemen hit a collective .246 with 29 home runs and only 80 RBI. Washington led the majors with 40 home runs and 118 RBI, while Detroit led the majors with a .312 batting clip.
Hopefully, they will find a power-hitting first baseman. I believe Billy Butler is still a free agent and has not re-signed with the Royals; however, that is most likely going to happen. There are not many first basemen in the free agent market, and I do not see the Orioles trading for a veteran.
The one area the Birds do not need to focus on heavily (and have not) is their bullpen. It was the third-best in the AL last year and most of their key hurlers (Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton) are all returning next season. They might go out and try to add another dominant late-inning reliever, but I think finding a first baseman is more important at this point.
They have not done a very good job this offseason, and I expect them to make a couple more moves before the end of the winter. There is no doubt they cannot compete with the rest of the AL East without adding a power-hitter (and an experienced starter would be nice).
Follow me on twitter: @Alex_VanRees