After 13 straight losing seasons in Baltimore, the four most recent coming under General Manager Andy MacPhail, he finally felt it was time to put his initial “blueprint for success” into motion.
MacPhail is entering the final year of his contract and has stated that he will not seek an extension before the deal expires, and it is not certain if he even has plans on being in Baltimore past 2011.
The decision to not comment on his expiring contract is not surprising as he consistently refuses to comment on pending talks the club is involved in, whether it be about trades or free agency.
However, the 2011 offseason for the Orioles did not get off on the right note and caused some of the more patient and loyal fans to wonder if and when MacPhail would pull the trigger on the free agent market.
The initial cause for concern came when free agent Victor Martinez, MacPhail’s main target, decided to take less money and bolted off to Detroit. Unfortunately for them, the Orioles are now quite familiar with players questioning the team's direction and taking less money for a more certain chance of winning.
Although MacPhail tried to argue that the team was not willing to pay the amount of money to entertain Mark Teixeira or Matt Holliday, it was evident that Baltimore had a major chip on its shoulder in the free agent market when the hometown kid (Teixeira) joked about wearing a Yankees hat to Orioles games as a kid.
With the 2010 offseason almost in the rear-view mirror of most fans and critics, MacPhail finally budged and put his plan in motion.
MacPhail jumped the gun and pulled off one of the biggest offseason moves in recent years by trading for free swinging power third basemen Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks, which sent the right-handed pitcher David Hernandez to the Diamondbacks in return.
For almost six years Baltimore was unable to attain a slugger to pose a threat in the power heavy AL East. The trade-off for power of course comes at a price for struggling teams; Baltimore will have to deal with Reynolds’ high strikeout rate and stubbornness about his stance and swing.
In 2008, Reynolds broke onto the scene with 27 homers, but struck out 204 times, a new record which broke again the following year by striking out 223 times. However, the trade off was 44 home runs for the Diamondbacks.
2010 was a year to forget for Reynolds, the third baseman hit below the Mendoza line, sporting a .198/.323/.433 line with 32 home runs and 211 strikeouts.
The initial reaction to the Reynolds’ trade was mixed; many questioned whether or not Reynolds' power would outweigh the high strikeout numbers and low batting average.
However, others wanted to wait and see whether a change of scenery, or even the mentoring of Buck Showalter, might be able to make this a profitable deal for the O’s.
The Reynolds trade not only brought Baltimore its first solid third baseman since Melvin Mora, but it also allows Josh Bell to return to the minors and work on his swing at Triple-A Norfolk.
Bell had very little success after jumping from Norfolk to the Orioles starting lineup mid-season hitting.214/.224/.302 with three home runs.
With third base secure for the Orioles, MacPhail continued his search for a more balanced shortstop.
Baltimore was able to make a trade for J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins.
The 29-year old became known around the baseball world in 2007 after hitting .277/.323/.463 with 27 home runs and 80 RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hardy has missed 96 games the past two years due to injuries and is still working to regain his stroke and remain healthy.
With the left side of their infield under wraps, Baltimore still had to fill a glaring void at first base, which was the main focus going into the 2011 season.
The 2010 season was an offensive nightmare for the Orioles, particularly at first base. A platoon of Garret Atkins, Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott collectively hit .226/. 289/. 336 with 10 home runs.
After bringing in Garrett Atkins with the hope of helping the once-consistent first baseman find his stroke failed, the Orioles finished 2010 knowing that they needed to find a first baseman that they could rely on.
With Victor Martinez off the board and free agent Adam Dunn posing too much of a liability defensively, Baltimore turned its attention towards Derrek Lee, a defensively sound veteran, offering the longtime Chicago Cubs first baseman a one-year, $7.25 million deal.
Derrek Lee hit .287/ .384/. 465 with three home runs in 39 game for the Braves compared to 16 with the Cubs. Lee, the longtime Florida Marlin and Chicago Cubs first baseman, was traded last year to the Atlanta Braves from the Cubs mid season.
It should also be noted that Lee is only two years removed from hitting 35 home runs. Although the chances of Lee eclipsing the 30 home run plateau again are slim, he still provides Baltimore with a solid upgrade at first.
Baltimore’s lineup was starting to balance itself out and MacPhail shifted gears towards the bullpen, trying to solidify a unit that's struggled throughout the entirety of Baltimore’s 13 straight losing seasons.
Baltimore signed closer Kevin Gregg to a two-year $10 million deal, including an option that could bring the deal towards the $16-20 million range, according to Jon Heyman of SI.
Gregg, 32, had great success in Toronto after a forgettable stint in Chicago had Cubs’ fans calling for his head. Gregg managed to post a 8.8 K/9 and a 3.52 ERA.
Given Gregg’s 37 saves in 2010, Gregg will more than likely be given the opportunity to compete for the closer spot in 2011—a role which Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez, and Jim Johnson were unable to harness last season.
In addition to bringing in Gregg, Baltimore decided to re-sign right-handed reliever Koji Uehara.
Uehara enjoyed the most success out of any pitcher from the bullpen with a 2.86 ERA through 44 innings, including 13 saves.
With the newly signed Gregg and Uehara, Baltimore had to fill one last spot in the starting rotation.
The Orioles got their man after completing a deal with Justin Duchscherer. The Orioles gave the former Oakland Athletic a one-year incentive laden $4.5 million deal. According to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, Duchscherer must start at-least 30 games to receive the full $4.5 MM
At 33-years-old, Duchscherer gives Baltimore another established arm at the front of their rotation, but with a low price tag comes the injury baggage like that of J.J. Hardy.
In Duchscherer's first year back since 2008, because of injuries and other issues, he managed to only pitch 28 innings with a 2.89 ERA.
Duchscherer has a career 3.13 ERA and has pitched out of both the rotation and the bullpen. Duchscherer has never pitched more than 22 games, so reaching his incentives might be a bit tough.
Piece by piece, Baltimore’s 2011 team was starting to come together and then things began to really spin when the rumors of a possible addition of Vladimir Guerrero became public.
In 2004, the Orioles were unable to lure the high-profile right fielder to Baltimore. Guerrero instead opted to take his game to Anaheim for less money and scoffed at the idea of playing in Baltimore.
With the news of a possible Guerrero signing, mixed reviews were expressed immediately. Some did not understand the need for Guerrero and thought that Baltimore had already done enough to strengthen their lineup, while others were still bitter about Guerrero after the 2004 free agent debacle.
Baltimore initially was reported to be offering Guerrero a one-year deal around $5 million, when word out of the Guerrero camp reported an $8 million “offer” from an un-named team.
Baltimore took the bait and MacPhail went ahead and matched the offer to get Guerrero six-years later than Baltimore had hoped.
Along with additions of Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee—Guerrero, 35, will anchor the middle of the lineup and secure Baltimore with its first power bat in over six years.
Although aging, Guerrero can still hold his own in the American League. He hit .300/ .345/ .496 with 29 home runs, 115 RBI in 2010 with the Rangers.
Almost polar opposites Vladimir Guerrero struck out only 60 times compared to Mark Reynolds’ 211 strikeouts in 2010.
Although, Guerrero does not bring the same praise that acquiring Prince Fielder might in 2012, the fact that Baltimore is willing to listen to its fans’ cry for a respectable lineup should not go unnoticed.
Baltimore was able to fill a void in their lineup without tying themselves down to multi-year contracts and will be able to re-allot the money from Guerrero and Lee’s contracts towards a Prince Fielder caliber bat in 2012.
Do all of these acquisitions spell out guaranteed success? Not necessarily.
Unfortunately you cannot always pinpoint a team’s future success from advanced statistics because of so many unforeseen variables such as pitching and injuries.
With that said it does seem unlikely that Baltimore will repeat last year’s slow start, or finish any worse than last season’s team.
Fortunately, the Orioles still have their new manager, Buck Showalter (who almost has an eerily similar look to Earl Weaver), who helped lead the Orioles through winning months of both August and September, and an overall record of 34-23.
The new acquisitions give Orioles fans justified hope that Baltimore will continue where they left off and build upon their success in 2010.
Baltimore’s success will also rely upon the fans. Attendance has dropped off in Baltimore over the years and finding a seat in Camden Yards is not as hard as it used to be back when Cal Ripken Jr. was still playing. It has only been the Red Sox and Yankees that have helped keep Baltimore’s overall attendance up.
Whether or not these moves were pushed by an anxious Andy MacPhail who is sitting on the last year of his contract, or he just finally felt the market was right, Baltimore and Peter Angelos (I never thought I would say this) should be commended.
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