For much of the 2014 MLB offseason, the Baltimore Orioles were a dormant team, making the occasional depth move and leaving fans to wonder how the team intended to improve upon an 85-win season in 2013.
Then, when mid-February rolled around, all of that changed. Just a few days after agreeing to terms with Korean right-hander Suk-Min Yoon, the O's reached a mega-deal with starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez for four years, $50 million. Another few days, and another big signing, this time a bargain $8 million for one year of Nelson Cruz's bat.
The O's seemingly addressed all of their needs by adding a talented starting pitcher (Jimenez), and big bat to help the middle of their lineup (Cruz), and even rotation/bullpen depth (Yoon). Having signed late-inning reliever Ryan Webb back in December to help solidify the bullpen, the O's were done with their winter shopping spree.
However, the Orioles failed to address one major area of concern during the 2013-2014 offseason, that being their OBP numbers.
The O's were a very underwhelming team in terms of OBP during the 2013 season, posting a .313 number which placed them at 19th in baseball.
They've picked up right where they left off in 2014, posting a .311 number, "good" for 19th in baseball. That lowly OBP has contributed to a struggle to score runs, as the team has scored 167 run this season, which ranks 16th in the league. And in fact, prior to the two-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates that saw them score 17 runs, the O's ranked 23rd in both categories.
A team that was supposed to allow its pitching staff to rely on its high-powered offense has had trouble scoring many runs at all this season. The team has scored three runs or less in 12 of their last 23 games.
And while the O's finished fifth in baseball in runs scored in 2013, that can be attributed in large part to the team's ability to hit the long ball, as they lead all of baseball with 212 dingers last year. The team is even struggling in that department this season, hitting 36 homers which slots them at 19th in baseball.
An offense needs to do at least one of two things: Hit enough home runs to lead its team to a win, or have enough men reach base consistently to apply constant pressure and as a result score enough runs to win. The 2013 Orioles used the homer method and failed to reach the playoffs while posting an 85-77 record.
With some help in the OBP department an obvious team need, the O's front office didn't do a whole lot last winter to focus upon improving that area. And that's not meant to bash the front office, as they did make many moves to attempt to improve the team and show a commitment to winning. But like last season, OBP is still a problem area for the Birds, and it's not something that's just going to magically improve itself on a team full of hackers and consistent strikeout victims.
On the flip side, it's not as if there were a ton of great free-agent options to help the O's in that regard, as many of the best OBP guys were also guys who cost much more than the O's could afford, such as Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo.
Second-tier free agents presented a much more realistic option for the O's, with guys such as Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales and Cruz highlighting that pack of players. McCann wasn't going to happen as the O's had no need for a catcher at the time, and Beltran priced himself out of the O's interest.
In retrospect, Cruz has turned out to be the best of the group through the quarter mark of the season as he leads the team in homers and RBI. Morales could still end up being an option for the team, as they've maintained dialogue with the first baseman/DH, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Naturally, the biggest concerns for the team are asking price as well as where to play him as the team is set at both first base and DH. However, if the team can fit his career .333 OBP into their plans, it would likely be worth the trouble.
Obviously, it's harder to build a successful MLB team than any baseball junkie with access to the internet (me) or obsessive follower of his or her favorite team (you) realizes, and that's why neither of us are being paid to do so right now. For the O's to improve upon their team OBP, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette will likely need to get very creative and shrewd in adding the right pieces, much more creative than I could ever be.
One thing I do know for sure, though: The team needs to get better at getting men on base. The more men that reach base, the better the likelihood of the team scoring. And so far in 2014, the O's need all the help they can get when it comes to scoring runs.