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September 12, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Baltimore Orioles

by Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we look at the Baltimore Orioles. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.

Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of hope:
Three position players established themselves as the foundation of a better team. Matt Wieters displayed exceptional defense while becoming more of an offensive presence than he had been in his first two seasons. J.J. Hardy not only stayed healthy but found the power stroke he had left in the pocket of his last Brewers uniform and was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him on Chesapeake Bay until 2014. Adam Jones, still just 25 years old, had his third straight season of offensive growth. Building strength up the middle is one of the best ways to become competitive; the corner pieces should be easier to find, at least in theory.

Signs of disaster: The Buck Showalter Autumn of 2010 did not turn into the Showalter Spring of 2011. What seemed like a promising young starting rotation disintegrated right from the outset. Brian Matusz was emblematic. Having guided the team to a 10-1 record in his last 11 starts of 2010 and posting a 2.18 ERA along the way, he opened 2011 on the disabled list and was relentlessly hammered when he returned. Matusz wasn't any better after a demotion to the minors, ultimately failing to make a single quality start in 10 tries before Showalter pulled him from the rotation for his own safety. Other than Zach Britton and reliever Jim Johnson, no major league pitcher still in the organization made a strong case to be part of next year's staff. The best of the rest was probably Jake Arrieta, who missed much of the second half due to surgery for bone spurs in his elbow. Overall, the staff was last in the majors in ERA. As for the offense, its prowess with the home run was blunted by its finishing second to last in the league in walks.

Signs you can ignore: Britton's 4.33 ERA doesn't scream dominance, but he's a ground-ball pitcher performing in front of the worst defense in the league. In all of baseball, only the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs allowed a higher batting average on balls in play than the Orioles. When Showalter arrived in 2010, the O's went from last to first in defensive efficiency, but they were back at the bottom this year. A big part of the problem was third baseman Mark Reynolds, who was mercifully shifted over to first base after the Derrek Lee trade. The Orioles still need to find stability at the hot corner (neither Josh Bell, Robert Andino nor Chris Davis is an heir to Brooks Robinson) as well as at second base, where Brian Roberts' concussion has put his career in doubt. If they can give their young pitchers the defensive support they deserve, they can recapture some of the magic of last September. Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The Baltimore Orioles are prepared for the resignation of team president Andy MacPhail and should hire former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes to replace him as the head of baseball operations. Byrnes grew up in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area and understands the marketplace. And, despite some failed trades and some poorly assembled bullpens, he deserves a lot of the credit for the Diamondbacks team that will soon clinch the National League West title. With Byrnes at the helm in '08, the D-backs also spent a franchise-best 136 days in first place before relinquishing it in early September, and in 2007 his club went 90-72.

Byrnes is intelligent and understands all aspects of new- and old-school evaluating and roster structuring. He was the runner-up for the Mets job last year when New York hired Sandy Alderson. He also has the experience of working in a big market and the winning culture of the American League East. Byrnes was the assistant GM of the Red Sox under Theo Epstein during a time when the Red Sox never won fewer than 95 games and won a World Series in 2004. He played a role in the drafting of current Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and continuing to build homegrown talent is crucial in Baltimore.

After hiring Byrnes, the Orioles then need to delve into free agency like they did during the brief Pat Gillick years and make the highest bid for Prince Fielder. Baltimore has been reluctant to make the highest offer in years and dollars for recent free agents—two things that Scott Boras, Fielder's agent, would surely want—but Fielder would be the perfect sign for the Orioles with his power and personality.

Baltimore could also upgrade the starting rotation with Edwin Jackson as it finds ways to straighten out Brian Matusz and Zach Britton. Dylan Bundy, their first-round pick this year, figures to play a large role in the future, but he is at least a couple of years away in his development. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 82-80

The O's 2011 plan to be successful, or at least get above .500, necessitated two or three of their young starting pitchers taking a huge step forward. Most of their young starters had terrible seasons and have at least slightly worse outlooks for 2012. Wieters and Jones are both players in their early prime years who retain some significant upside, and ZiPS gives them odds of joining the elite players at their position (top 20 percent of starters) at 28 and 32 percent, respectively.

Worst-case scenario: 60-102
With the Orioles looking like they will have the worst pitching staff in baseball unless they spend big on the free-agent market this offseason, adding in some bad luck could easily result in Baltimore once again fighting to avoid a 100-loss season. ZiPS pegs Baltimore's chances of possessing not even one league average or better starting pitcher at 33 percent, a frighteningly high number. While the Orioles quietly had a league-average offense this year, the depth is wafer-thin, leaving the team with a substantial downside. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
With rumors swirling that Andy MacPhail will step down, a potential new general manager for the Orioles will step into a difficult situation to say the least. Not only is the big league team the worst in the American League East by a wide margin, but so is the strength of the minor league system. After 2010 first-round pick Manny Machado, a young shortstop who had an outstanding full-season debut in 2010, there's not a position prospect in the system to get excited about, and while 2011 first-rounder Dylan Bundy oozes potential, the overall strength of the pitching isn't much better. There are no quick fixes in Baltimore, and any sort of turnaround is going to take a long, long time. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richie

Bowden thinks the Orioles should give up draft choices to sign uber-expensive free agents? I think I can stop reading his portion of these articles.

Sep 12, 2011 09:04 AM
rating: 4
 
flyingdutchman

I really love having Bowden's take included in these write-ups, since his opinions just make the BP analysis shine even more brightly. Fine, hire Byrnes, though his tenure with the DiamondBacks seems pretty overblown, given their terrible record under his watch and questionable drafts. But he's better than MacPhail and Bowden and many others so fine. But then to argue that the one thing the new regime should do is sign Prince Fielder sounds like madness. Or perhaps just a last half-hearted chuckle at the expense of an old cross-metropolitan rival.

Sep 12, 2011 09:08 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

Having just read his advice for the Cubs, I guess I'll apologize to Bowden for insulting him here. Although I do still think his Orioles advice is daft.

Sep 12, 2011 09:15 AM
rating: 1
 
JoeSky60

After reading Bowden's advice, in general, for these articles, I more clearly understand why he's an "ex"-general manager.

Sep 12, 2011 14:22 PM
rating: 2
 
StarkFist

Sign Fielder? Why? The O's already hits home runs in bunches. No, what this team needs to do is upgrade the defense. Shoddy defense is the reason why the young pitchers on this team are all struggling. Moving Reynolds to DH will help in that regard. Then give Davis a shot at an infield corner (I know, he has the rep as a quad A guy, but after they traded for him, they have to at least give him a chance at some playing time or write the deal off as a waste).

Anyway if this team wants to make a splash in the free agent market, Jose Reyes is a guy who has more to offer them then Fielder - on base ability (something they lack) and passable middle infield defense.

Sep 12, 2011 14:36 PM
rating: 1
 
jerrykenny

I'm having trouble seeing why high-priced free agents like Fielder and Reyes would consider signing on for a long rebuilding period with the Orioles. Surely, these guys will have multiple opportunities with clubs that are either contenders now or are one or two pieces away from being contenders.

Sep 13, 2011 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

Fixing the Orioles is actually pretty simple:

1) Find an owner willing to invest in the entire organization, not just fielding a league-average payroll stocked with middling free agents, complemented with a bare-bones development and scouting system.
2) Rebuild the player scouting, acqusition, and development system from the ground up.
3) Stockpile draft picks.
4) Hire an innovative GM.
5) Cross your fingers that this all falls into place by the time Machado, Bundy, Schoop, et al are ready to contribute in 2014 or so.

Simple, except for step one. Step one has been impossible for eons.

Sep 13, 2011 10:50 AM
rating: 1
 
evo34

"Matt Wieters displayed exceptional defense while becoming more of an offensive presence than he had been in his first two seasons. "

I.e., "he shed his inexplicable 'Top 50 Bust of All-Time' label by...well, continuing not to resemble a bust in any way, shape or form." Although, to be fair, most of his recent HRs were appeared to be aided by a mysteriously gusty tailwind that would seemingly crop up mid-swing.

Sep 15, 2011 01:27 AM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

Maybe, but considering offense and defense, he's a Top 5 young catcher, and definitely a guy you build around. Might be blasphemous to say, but as a GM I'd rather have Wieters today than Joe Mauer, considering the contract and health questions.

Sep 15, 2011 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
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