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Baltimore Orioles: 4 Players Who Won't Be Back on Team in 2014

Alexander Van ReesContributor IIIFebruary 5, 2013

Baltimore Orioles: 4 Players Who Won't Be Back on Team in 2014

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    Spring Training is right around the corner, and within a couple of weeks pitchers and catchers will be reporting to their respective teams to begin workouts as the 2013 season will soon be underway.

    Although the season has not yet begun, it’s not too early to begin thinking about who will be leaving the team at the end of this season.

    Here is a list of the current Orioles whose contracts expire at the end of the 2013 season.  The major names are: Brian Roberts, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, Nate McLouth, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Jair Jurrjens (one-year contract), Luis Ayala, Nolan Reimold and Troy Patton among others.

    It seems like a long list and some very important and influential names are included, so the front office will have a lot of work to do in order to re-sign some of these key, prominent players.

    There is no doubt that the Birds will not be able to come to terms with all of these players; that’s not a reasonable assumption. Of course they will be losing players come the end of the season, but Dan Duquette and his front office have the tough task of deciding who they want to keep and who they can win without if they let them go.

    Personally, I think there are players on this list who the Orioles cannot spare to lose. They are finally playing well as a team and it seems as if they are building a strong core of players, but if they are going to continue to grow and become a contender in the cutthroat AL East, there are some players they need to re-sign for years to come.

    Check out my list of the possible four players the Orioles might be losing at the end of the 2013 season.

1. Nate McLouth

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    Last season, after the devastating news of Roberts not being healthy enough to return to action on a regular basis for the first time since 2009, the Birds were without a leadoff hitter. Plus, earlier in the year they had lost left fielder Nolan Reimold to a neck injury.

    Right fielder Nick Markakis stepped up and took over the role as leadoff hitter and was excelling out of the first spot in the order until he broke his thumb on a C.C. Sabathia pitch in early September.

    Luckily for the Birds, they had acquired former Brave and Pirate Nate McLouth back in August, and although he struggled mightily early on in the 2012 season with Pittsburgh, he turned his season around with his move to Baltimore.

    The 31-year-old switch hitter was batting just .140 (8-for-57) over the first two months of the year. The Missouri native collected only four base hits in both April and May; not to mention the fact that he failed to launch a single home run and only drove in two RBI.

    There’s no doubt that McLouth was going through one of his worst hitting spells of his career and he needed a change of scenery. Well, with his move to Baltimore his swing was rejuvenated and he became a completely different hitter.

    He returned to his early form with the Pirates and Braves when he smashed 26 home runs and 20 bombs respectively in 2008 and 2009; he was a jump-starter at the top of the lineup and just a refreshing new look in the order. He was a new face opponents were not ready for in the AL.

    In September McLouth helped lead the team to the playoffs by batting .298, smashing five home runs and driving in nine RBI. He finished batting .241 on the year with seven home runs and 20 RBI.

    Although those numbers are not staggering, after his struggles at the beginning of the year, the fact that he was able to finish with seven long balls and an average of almost .250 was very impressive.

    His contract was up at the end of the 2012 season and his fate was in the Birds’ front office. There’s no doubt that he jolted the offense and lead the team as they finished strong and advanced to the playoffs.

    That was enough for the Birds to offer him a one-year, two million dollar contract for 2013. Although they re-signed him for one year and it’s too early to tell for sure, I do not think the front office will offer McLouth another contract at the end of the season.

    Reimold is the Orioles future left fielder, and has been in the plans over the last couple of seasons. He should be healthy this year, and as long as he stays healthy I think they will go with Reimold for the future, as he is young and has great potential.

    However, this season will tell who stays and who goes. Who knows? They could keep both, or deal both. Only this season will tell what happens.

2. Brian Roberts

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    Unfortunately, I think Roberts’ career is coming to a close. The 35-year-old, who has spent his entire career with the Birds, has not played an entire season since ’09 and over the last three years the North Carolina native has only appeared in 115 games (24% of the games); he used to be the everyday second baseman and was the flagship of the Birds over the previous eight years or so.

    As of now, with the Andino trade the second base position is questionable. Roberts will most likely be the everyday starter if he is healthy (and that is obviously a huge question mark). But, who knows how well he will do in his return and for how long will he will be back in the lineup?

    Otherwise, Ryan Flaherty, who picked up more than one-third of his at-bats as a second baseman last season, and the newly-acquired Alexi Casilla will battle it out for the starting position.

    Roberts holds Orioles records for most doubles by a switch-hitter (56 in ’09) and he exploded for 16 home runs in ’09 and a career-high 18 back in 2005. In his career, he’s delivered 50 or more doubles on three separate occasions and he’s proved to be one of the best leadoff hitters over the last decade.

    However, like I previously mentioned, he has been riddled with injuries over the last three years and he’s spent most of his time on the DL and rehabbing. Roberts was the rock of the Orioles during their darkest hours (most of the 2000’s unfortunately), and he has never experienced postseason play.

    Unfortunately, I do not think he will be a member of the Orioles for very much longer. After the his tremendous ’09 season, he signed a $40 million dollar, four year deal through 2013.

    There are so many question marks and concerns surrounding the switch-hitting second baseman, I’m not sure if the Birds are going to offer him a deal following this season. The Birds are headed in a younger, more sustainable direction.

    I think Casilla is going to be a great addition to the team and he is only 28 years old, so he will be around for a while I suspect.  Perhaps not in an Orioles uniform, but that’s a possibility.

    However, there is no way to tell whether or not Roberts will return and be the same player he was four years ago. I think this might be the last season we see him in an Orioles uniform.

3. J.J. Hardy

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    Although the 30-year-old shortstop is signed through 2014, I’m not sure he will be around come next year.  There have been trade rumors over the last month or so concerning J.J. Hardy but who knows what will happen after this season?

    In his first season with the Orioles, the former Brewer and Twin posted career highs in home runs with 30 and slugging percentage at .491 and he tied his career best with 80 RBI. Not to mention he only played in 129 games in 2011, which averages out to be a home run every 4.3 games.

    His previous high in home runs came back in 2007 when he crushed 26 and then the following year he repeated with 24 jacks, but he never reached the 30 home run plateau.

    The Orioles were not expecting 30 home runs out of their shortstop, maybe 25 at best. Hardy finished with a .269 clip, and maybe they were hoping for a better batting average, but with that many home runs he could afford to hit at a bit lower clip.

    Last season Hardy struggled to reproduce the numbers he posted in his first season with the Birds. The Arizona native finished the season with 22 home runs, 68 RBI and batted just .238 in 158 games on the year. He played in 29 more contests last season than in his first year with the Birds, and he hit eight less home runs, drove in 12 fewer RBI and batted 31 points lower.

    Maybe it was the pressure of coming off of his best season in the majors and trying to repeat his success with his new team. Regardless, the Birds still performed well enough to make it to the playoffs and contend against the Yankees.

    I think the most disappointing aspect of his offensive production last season was his batting average. Showalter can live with 22 home runs and 68 RBI out of his shortstop. Of course, he would like Hardy to find his stroke again and go on a home run barrage. But like I mentioned before, they were expecting 25 home runs. However, after posting 30 in his first season, he set the bar high.

    His batting average of .238 is something that needs to be improved and was one of the lowest on the team. He is a career .259 hitter and there’s no question he has struggled with his average throughout his time in the majors.

    Overall, Hardy has been a very nice surprise for the Birds and teams have definitely noticed. He is one of the top shortstops, both batting-wise and defensively. He won the AL Gold Glove award at shortstop last year and only committed six errors the entire season.

    Although I do not want the Birds to trade him, with the rumors this off season, I think he might be on the move either by the All-Star break or by the start of the 2014 year.

4. Brian Matusz

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    I have always been a big proponent for Brian Matusz because I think he has great potential and he has been around the organization his entire career. He has definitely pitched well in some parts of his career, but more than that, he has struggled with consistency and control over the last couple of seasons.

    The 25-year-old is a young, up and coming starting pitcher who got off to a rocky start at the beginning of the 2012 season. He, along with Hunter and Arrieta, were supposed to be the core of the Orioles starting rotation for years to come.

    In four outings in April he posted an 0-3 record with a 5.66 ERA. He allowed 13 earned runs over 20.2 innings pitched and really struggled with the walks. The southpaw issued 13 bases on balls and struck out just 14.

    He turned his season around for the time being in May. He posted a 4-2 record with a 4.33 ERA as he surrendered 17 earned runs over 35.1 innings in his six outings. He walked only nine opponents and struck out 29 in the second month of the season.

    Then his season took a turn for the worst (very similar to the end of the 2011 season).

    In June he posted a 6.20 ERA after going 1-4 in five starts and allowing 17 earned runs in 24.2 innings pitched. Again, he issued 13 walks and only struck out 17 that month. There seems to be a correlation between high walk percentages and an inflated ERA and loss record.

    Showalter only allowed the southpaw one start in July and he tossed four innings and surrendered four earned runs. He was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk for more than a month and really took that demotion to heart.

    When he returned, like Hunter, he was a new pitcher.

    In August, he made three relief appearances and allowed just one earned run on two base hits over 3.2 innings pitched (2.70 ERA) without allowing a walk and striking out five. In September, he was even more impressive. In 14 outings, he pitched 9.1 innings and surrendered just one earned run on three base hits. He issued only three free passes and racked up 14 strikeouts over that stretch.

    The Orioles had confidence that Matusz could pitch the way he did out of the bullpen; he just needed work in the minor leagues to regain his own confidence. Like Hunter and Arrieta, it’s not clear where he will start the 2013 season. That will be decided in Spring Training.

    However, with that being said, over his four year career the lefty sports a 22-33 record and a 5.36 ERA. He broke out towards the end of the 2010 season and finished that year with a 10-12 record and a 4.30 ERA.

    There is no doubt that Matusz is a good pitcher and has the ability to be a starting pitcher at the major league level. However, maybe his role is better out of the bullpen. His contract is up at the end of the 2013 season and I think whether he returns or not depends on how he performs this season.

    If he struggles throughout the majority of the year, I think the Birds might end up giving up on him and seeing what they can get in return.

Conclusion

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    Now that I’ve stated the players I think might not be returning to the team in 2014, there are also some players whose contracts are up but I think will come to terms with the Birds’ front office and return in 2014.

    First off, star closer Jim Johnson’s contract is up at the end of the year and the Orioles would be crazy to not re-sign the 6’5’ right-hander; he posted a 2.49 ERA last season and a league-leading 51 saves for the AL Wild Card champion Orioles.

    Although last year was his first year as the Orioles permanent closer, he’s been a strong relief pitcher over the last couple of seasons for the Birds. I’m sure the Orioles will re-sign him. No question.

    Last season, one of the top relievers in the very strong bullpen went relatively unnoticed and flew under the radar for most of the year. The eight-year veteran Luis Ayala pitched very well and posted a 2.64 ERA in 66 appearances.

    Throughout his entire career, the 35-year-old has always been very consistent and an important member of his respectable bullpen. He sports a career 3.35 ERA and he always finds a way to appear in as many games as possible.

    He is definitely a very important member of the Birds’ bullpen and I think they would be crazy not to re-sign him.

    Another key member of the 2012 Orioles and Gold Glove award winning catcher Matt Wieters’ contract will expire at the end of the 2013 season. However, like both Johnson and Ayala, I do not think there is a chance the Birds will let him get away.

    The 26-year-old South Carolina native is one of the best defensive catchers in the league and his power numbers continue to improve each season. Last year he set career highs in home runs (23) and RBI (83) and he still has a great deal of maturing and growing to do.

    It’s very difficult to predict the players who will be returning to the Orioles and who will not come to terms with a contract after the 2013 season. This article outlined the four Birds who I think might not be with the team following this year.

    Of course, only time will tell, but we have to get through this season first. Whether or not they will be with the team in 2014 also depends heavily on how they perform this season.

    Follow me on twitter: @Alex_VanRees

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