Last offseason, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the more active teams in baseball, trading away stars Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada for 10 players in return. This led to a 68-93 season; however, much more was shown.
During the 2008 season, six out of the 10 players received in the deals contributed to the pro squad, helping to shape what seems to be a bright future for the O's.
Now, let's fast-forward to this offseason. Currently, there are two major topics for the squad before heading into Spring Training: 1) Signing a big-market free agent; 2) Signing the rising stars that have already contributed to the franchise (Markakis, Roberts, Jones, Guthrie).
Let's start with the first topic. Every Oriole fan knows about the up-and-coming Matt Wieters, largely considered to be an "elite" prospect at the catcher's position. He is also expected to fill a hole in the lineup, possibly batting anywhere from four to six in the batting order. Now here's the key: who will be hitting in the No. 4 spot?
Some say the newly resurged Aubrey Huff, who undoubtedly had one of his best seasons of his career, hitting .304 with 32 homers and 108 RBI. I say no to this idea. Sure, Huff is an above-average hitter, yet I don't believe that he is the No. 4 hitter that the O's are looking for. So who are they looking for?
Many fans will say the same name: Mark Teixeira. I will not disagree with the fans here, but he will undoubtedly come at a price. He is expecting a large contract, and he has Scott Boras as his agent, two things that the O's don't like to see. So should the O's look somewhere else?
A few more names that may begin to pop up as the Winter Meetings begin are Cleveland Indians' first baseman Ryan Garko, Rangers' third baseman Hank Blalock, or maybe even a trade involving Brewers' first baseman Prince Fielder (Fielder would come at a high asking-price, making him an unlikely candidate for the Orioles).
Let's evaluate these names for a second. Ryan Garko hit .273 with 14 home runs and 90 RBI last season, not bad numbers. However, I believe that the O's want a bit more power in the cleanup spot, plus Garko would have to be traded for, losing some potential prospects in the process.
Hank Blalock may be the hidden answer. Hank hit .287, with 12 homers and 38 RBI in only 258 at-bats. Sure, Blalock is also considered an "injury-prone player," but I believe that a move from the "hot corner" over to first base might just be the change he needs to stay healthy for an entire season. I guess only time will tell what the O's will do to fill this hole in the order.
Now let's take a quick glance at the rotation. We all know about Jeremie Guthrie, but who is behind him? Daniel Cabrera? Garrett Olson? Radhames Liz? One more priority that the O's may need to fill is to find a front-end starter to lead the rotation. This answer may lie in Toronto pitcher A.J. Burnett.
Burnett has reportedly told Oriole players that he would like to play for Baltimore, aiding to his interest. But again, the question of his durability still lingers. Burnett went 18-10 last season with a 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts, something that I would love to see pitching every five days for my club. We'll see how the O's front office approaches this as the Winter Meetings begin.
Now let's move to the second topic: Signing the rising stars. Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, both drafted by the O's, have been keys to the Orioles success, not only through batting, but through defense and speed as well. These are the reasons why these two players should be extended as soon as possible.
The last thing that I want to see as a fan is Markakis or Roberts getting dealt or angry due to contract problems. Brian Roberts should at least receive a three to five-year deal, with Markakis receiving a deal anywhere from five to 10 years.
Other people have inquired about signing Adam Jones, the now 23-year-old center fielder who is expected to be an All-Star caliber player in the future. I say this: How do you believe that Nick would feel if a player who has played on the squad for one season gets a contract extension before he was even considered?
I just can't see the Orioles' front office even thinking about it, but with Peter Angelos running the show, I guess we'll never know.
My final take is this: Sign Guthrie, to a three-plus-year deal, Markakis, and Roberts. Simple.
Now, let's take a peek at next year's draft. Brian Matusz was the prize of last year's draft, being picked No. 4 overall. Baltimore is expected to have another high pick this year, their first selection coming at No. 5. Whom should the O's choose?
Below is a list from one to 35 of the top players in the 2009 draft according to draftinfo.wordpress.com:
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State
2. Dustin Ackley, 1b/OF, North Carolina
3. Grant Green, SS, USC
4. Donovan Tate, OF, Cartersville HS, Georgia
5. Alex White, RHP, North Carolina
6. Aaron Crow, RHP, Fort Worth Cats (Independent Leagues)
7. Matt Purke, LHP, Klein HS, Texas
8. Kyle Gibson, RHP, Missouri
9. Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee
10. Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Veijo, California
11. Jacob Turner, RHP, Westminister Christian Academy, Missouri
12. Andy Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State
13. Robbie Shields, SS, Florida Southern
14. Tanner Scheppers, RHP, St. Louis Saints (Independent Leagues)
15. Ryan Jackson, SS, Miami
16. Mychal Givens, SS/RHP, Plant HS, Fla
17. Matt Davidson, INF, Yucaipa High School, Los Angeles, California
18. Max Stassi, Catcher, Yuba City High School, Yuba City, California
19. Chris Jenkins, RHP, Westfield HS
20. Brian Goodwin, OF, Rocky Mount HS, Rocky Mount, NC
21. Daniel Webb, RHP, Okalossa-Walton Community College
22. Alex Wilson, RHP, Texas A&M
23. Zach Wheeler, RHP, East Paulding HS, Dallas, Georgia
24. Scott Bittle, RHP, Ole Miss
25. Austin Maddox, Catcher, Eagle’s View Academy, Jacksonville, Florida
26. Bobby Borchering, 3B/1B, Bishop Verot HS, Alva, Florida
27. Chad Thompson, RHP, El Toro HS, Trabuco Canyon, California
28. Luke Bailey, Catcher, Troup HS, Cartersville HS
29. Chris Dominguez, 3B/1B, Louisville
30. Deven Marrero, SS, American Heritage High School, Plantation, Florida
31. Michael Zunino, Catcher, Mariner Cape HS, Coral, Florida
32. Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt
33. Ryan Lockwood, OF, South Florida
34. Steve Fischback, RHP, Cal Poly
35. Blake Smith, RHP/OF, California
From this list, my best bet would be either Aaron Crow or Grant Green. Crow, a right-handed pitcher, was drafted by the Nationals last season; however, he was never signed, throwing him right back into the draft pool for '09. He features a mid-90s fastball, a good sinker, a "devastating" slider, and a good changeup. He is said to have a mechanics problem, though, but if he pans out, he is expected to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
As all O's fans know, the shortstop position is a must-need. This is where Grant Green may come into play. Here is how draftinfo.wordpress.com describes him: "Green has exploded the last year, especially this summer in the Cape Cod League. He has an above average arm with good accuracy and above average range as well. At the plate is where he thrives. He handles the bat very well and his discipline is sensational. He has above average power right now, but that will probably increase as he develops."
A power hitting SS may be the exact thing that the O's need to fill that gaping hole on the left side of the diamond.
Ok, so we have seen the free agents and the draft, but now let's look at something new: the Orioles' two top prospects. Let's begin with Matt Wieters.
In his first full season in the minors (between Single-A and Double-A), Wieters hit .355 with 27 homers and 91 RBI. Not too shabby for a prospect getting his first taste of pro ball. Hopefully, Matt will be in the competition for the starting catcher's job on the O's during Spring Training, because his bat should provide a boost for what has been known as a relatively weak lineup. Honestly, I believe that Wieters will start off in Triple-A, unless he greatly impresses the O's coaching staff.
Now, to Brian Matusz. As said earlier, Matusz was the No. 4 overall pick in last year's draft, and there is a solid reason why. Matusz is said to have a "wicked" curveball, even though he does not have full control of his pitches just yet. Some scouts believe that Brian could end up being a front-of-the-rotation guy, maybe even taking a speedy route to the pros (like David Price in Tampa Bay).
I expect Matusz to begin in Single-A and gradually make his way to the pros sometime either late this season or early next year.
Ok folks, I believe that just about covers everything for the upcoming offseason. If you have any questions, you can post it on my Bulletin Board or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.