When the 2011 baseball season began back in April, there were plenty of reasons to be intrigued with this current Baltimore Orioles ball club.
Their young pitchers appeared ready to establish themselves, their trades last offseason looked like they would bolster their lineup, and their signings of stop-gap veterans Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee added even more excitement.
This all came after a very strong end of the season where Baltimore went 34-23 after the addition of Buck Showalter as manager.
After a solid start to the season, the Orioles stand 20 games below .500, and almost everything that could have gone wrong has.
Their young pitching has been horrible, and the additions of Guerrero and Lee have not paid off, although the latter was traded to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
There is still hope, however, for the Orioles to not only contend a few years down the road, but perhaps even sooner.
Here are the seven moves that the Orioles need to make in order to do so.
Soon-to-be Free Agent Prince Fielder would add the big bat that the Orioles have been missing.
Signing Prince Fielder will be a priority for a handful of teams this upcoming offseason, but Baltimore absolutely needs to find a way to get Fielder under contract.
In years past, the Orioles have made a run at various top free agents, most recently with Mark Teixeira prior to the 2009 season. Teixeira grew up outside of Baltimore, and the Orioles and their fans had been expecting Teixeira to wear the orange and black for years. But after a weak contract offer by Baltimore, much less than what the Yankees had offered him, "Tex" went to the nemesis New York Yankees, an investment that has already paid off for the ball club.
This has been the case for the Orioles time and time again: making a half-hearted run at a top free agent, and then not being able to sign their man. For once, the Orioles need to make it happen, for their batting lineup and for their fans.
Prince Fielder needs to be starting at first base next season on Baltimore's opening day.
While Fielder may not be as good as Mark Teixeira (Tex is a much better fielder and a more consistent hitter), he brings a legit top-tier bat into the lineup, something the Orioles have been lacking since Miguel Tejada's first run in an Orioles uniform.
For those into more advance stats, you can expect a WAR of over 4.0 out of Fielder year-in and year-out. Prince is going to get overpaid, and the Orioles are going to have to be aggressive, but signing Fielder would go a long way to improve the declining attendance at Camden Yards.
Adam Jones is the face of the franchise right now, and needs to be locked up long-term.
Believe or not, the Orioles are pretty much set when it comes to their position players.
With the likes of Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and others locked up for multiple years, there are only a few moves that need to be made to their positional talent.
We already touched upon one in first baseman Prince Fielder, but almost as important is to lock up Adam Jones long term. The Orioles centerfielder has been a fan favorite for his pure talent, and Jones has turned that talent into production in his 2011 season thus far.
Jones will only get better: Offensively he needs to be more disciplined at the plate and increase his walk rate, and needs to improve his consistency defensively.
Jones is already producing at a near-All-Star level, however, and is a guy you want to build your outfield around. Letting Jones test free agency would almost surely mean he will leave for another team, as the Orioles have simply never been big spenders in the past.
Newly acquired Tommy Hunter may give some hope to the Orioles rotation.
As noted earlier, the Orioles young pitching created a great amount of excitement heading into the 2011 season.
Brian Matusz, specifically, was pegged to be the ace. Zach Britton, their top prospect, was not expected to be called up until mid-season, for contractual reasons, but due to lack of depth, the Orioles called him up early. Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman were supposed to fill out the rotation.
With the exception of Arrieta, who has been mediocre at best, all of the young pitching has flopped for one reason or another. Matusz has injury problems that have destroyed his season so far. Tillman lost the speed on his fastball and Bergesen has been ineffective. Britton, who started the season great, has been hit hard for the past couple of months and needs to bounce back.
The talent is still there, however. The likes of Britton and Matusz are still potentially strong enough to anchor a rotation. They just need more time, and the Orioles have to continue to develop them.
On Sunday, the Orioles shipped reliever Koji Uehara in return for first baseman Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter. Hunter is a great pitching prospect who will immediately enter the Orioles rotation and hopefully give the rotation some hope.
Jim Johnson has filthy stuff and untapped potential.
Continuing with the rotation, current setup man Jim Johnson needs to move into the starting rotation.
Though that seems to be in the plans, it has yet to happen. Johnson simply has too much untapped potential.
The 28-year-old right-hander has filthy stuff, and while Johnson is a fantastic reliever, he can be more effective in the rotation.
Switching a pitcher's role can be of great risk.
We've seen the likes of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain switch between the rotation and the bullpen with virtually no success for the Yankees. Both were top prospects who have wasted away.
The reward for Johnson in the rotation is much too high for the Orioles to ignore, however. This is a franchise that is on its way to 14th-straight losing season, and Johnson has All-Star talent. He may only be able to go five or so innings each game at first, but the Orioles have a great opportunity here.
Jonathan Papelbon is one of the many top relievers available after this season.
With reliever Koji Uehara recently traded away, and Jim Johnson likely for the rotation, the Orioles are going to have to replace their two best relievers. The erratic Kevin Gregg is currently the closer, though he is not the most consistent pitcher in the world.
With great talent out there in this upcoming offseason, the Orioles need to break the bank yet again on a closer. Kerry Wood, Jose Valverde and Ryan Madson are a few that come to mind.
A strong bullpen can go a long way to improving the pitching as a whole, and creates stability for the team. Signing a proven veteran to anchor the back end of the bullpen, and to build the rest of the 'pen through some minor leaguers within the system would be an effective way to pick up some extra wins here and there. Easier said than done, however.
The offensively gifted Mark Reynolds is not-so-gifted defensively.
God bless Mark Reynolds. For an effective hitter, he takes a lot of heat for his low batting averages and his high strikeout rates. These hardly matter, however. Reynolds has an extremely-high walk ratio and gets on base at a high rate. Reynolds is currently the team's best power hitter and their best on-base guy at the same time.
With that said, Reynolds is a horrible fielder. All of the defensive metrics, new and old, indicate that this is a guy who needs a new position: 21 errors and a UZR of minus-37 just does not cut it.
Baltimore has two options with Reynolds: Put him at first base or make him the designated hitter. DH would be more likely, as the Orioles need to sign Prince Fielder (as previously noted), and newly acquired first baseman Chris Davis needs to get his playing time.
While that leaves an opening at third base, the Orioles still do have the raw Josh Bell in their minor league system, and he still deserves a chance. There is also the possibility of letting utility man Robert Andino make some starts at third.
Moving Reynolds to DH would increase his value greatly, as his defense would no longer be an issue, and he can solely work on his hitting. Yes, we'll still hear about how much he strikes out, but at least we won't hear about his errors.
Guerrero may be a future Hall of Famer, but he is no longer half the hitter that he once was.
Baltimore went out and signed DH Vladimir Guerrero and first baseman Derrek Lee last offseason, adding two veteran presences to the clubhouse. Neither panned out, however, and Lee has been traded to Pittsburgh for a minor prospect. The Orioles need to be better at selecting their stop gaps.
Vladimir may be a future Hall of Famer, but the Orioles had to have known what they were getting out of him: a guy whose numbers were inflated by an overly strong first half of the 2010 season and one of the best ballparks (Texas' Arlington) in all of baseball.
Camden Yards is not the hitters park that people make it out to be. It generally ranks near the middle of the pack with hitting numbers, and logically the ball does not carry there unless it is extremely humid.
Baltimore is below sea-level, which is the exact opposite of hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado. Guerrero's waning talent and low walk rates should not be getting playing time in the middle of that lineup.
Derrek Lee just simply did not work out. A solid defensive player, Lee has had injury problems in the past and is also well past his prime, but still has been a solid hitter in recent years.
GM Andy MacPhail has been successful at building from within, but he needs to make better decisions with the veterans that he signs.