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September 12, 2011
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether 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 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
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
Worst-case scenario: 60-102
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.