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September 14, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Baltimore Orioles

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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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 of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Baltimore Orioles goodbye.

The overview

Early this season, the Orioles played four consecutive series against the Yankees and Red Sox; as a result, they were buried quickly and headed to their 13th straight losing season.

As center fielder Adam Jones says, though, the O's play and outlook shifted after Buck Showalter was hired as manager, with the players paying closer attention to details. Baltimore has played well, and Showalter says he has been impressed with the development of catcher Matt Wieters, the intensity of Nick Markakis and the play of others. Showalter also believes that the competitiveness of Brian Matusz could rub off on Baltimore's other pitchers. The Orioles have won 23 of their first 38 games under Showalter, and it's evident that he will have a major impact on the organization as plans are made.

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

The developments of Matusz and others have given the Orioles a modest beachhead in their effort to overrun the AL East monsters, but they still lack enough pitching and position prospects in the eyes of rival evaluators. "They just don't have a lot of depth," one AL evaluator said. "When you look at the Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees, it's like they have talent coming in waves. The Orioles aren't close to having that." The Orioles still have a gaping organizational hole at shortstop, which they hope they can fill with Manny Machado, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Guys such as Jones, Wieters, Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen—key youngsters who all appeared to be going backward this season --have performed well since Showalter arrived, providing optimism going into next year. The Orioles' defense is benefiting from the return of Brian Roberts and the departure of Miguel Tejada; the team's batting average on balls in play has improved from .313 before to .284 since.

What went wrong: The Orioles came out of the gate 2-16; it's nearly impossible to start that way in the AL East and have any drama left in the season aside from the eventual firing of your manager. They were 15-39 when manager Dave Trembley got the ax in early June. Roberts missed virtually the entire first half thanks to an abdominal strain and a herniated disc.

The key number: 5.61 to 3.12

Under Trembley and interim manager Juan Samuel, the Orioles' rotation ERA was 5.61; under Showalter, it has been 3.12 (and starters are averaging 6 1/3 innings per outing). Bergesen (2.62), Jeremy Guthrie (2.64), and Matusz (2.72) all have ERAs under 3.00 during Showalter's tenure, and Kevin Millwood (3.28) hasn't been far off.

What won't happen again: Recent Orioles squads have spent long stretches playing as though they had essentially quit on first-time major league managers such as Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo and Trembley once it became clear they wouldn't be the ones to change the culture of losing. Showalter has had enough success at the big league level and commands enough respect that he'll be able to give this team the necessary kick in the pants should it begin to drift, with enough support from management to back him up. He has more young talent at his disposal than any of those skippers had and hopefully should have fewer last-legs veterans hanging around to play out the string.—Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Possible targets: Although the Orioles say they've gotten what they wanted from Millwood, the league-leading total of earned runs he's given up at this writing aren't what they're referring to. No, that's his clubhouse presence; he's a guide for the young core. Look for GM Andy McPhail to take another shot at an innings-eater. One interesting option is Javier Vazquez, but he may look for an escape from the AL East. However, other names—such as Vicente Padilla, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, Doug Davis, Jake Westbrook or Rodrigo Lopez—could be options.

Keeper league: Given its home park, Camden Yards, Baltimore's scoring the third-fewest runs in baseball is startling. But don't expect the O's to start courting free-agent bats before they try to keep around their own. Leading homer man Luke Scott will be due a raise from the half-million dollars he earned this year, but the club might be able to get him cheaper than any other 30-homer bat. Same story with Ty Wigginton, who has tailed off but still has good pop for the $3.5 million he pocketed this season. The big question is whether the Orioles will try to ink Jones to a longer deal, perhaps in the four-year range. The bet here is they will.—Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider

Keep up with Rumor Central year-round here.

Organizational future

Known for their young pitching, the Orioles have more coming. Some scouts feel that left-hander Zach Britton could be the best of the bunch. A third-round pick in 2006 out of a Texas high school, the 22-year-old added a bit of velocity this year and now has the best sinker in the minor leagues. He's generally regarded as a No. 3 starter when he gets to Camden Yards, but his absolute ceiling could be a left-handed version of Brandon Webb.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay 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

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