September 18, 2009
Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 75-87, fifth place
Hey, at least they caught the guys who stole Cal's number from outside Camden Yards.
Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take
What went wrong: Nothing that a little division realignment couldn't fix. The Orioles' front office knew that this would be a year of growth for the team's wave of young talent, but the monsters in the AL East in Boston and New York don't really allow for that kind of thing; Baltimore was swallowed up. Along the way, however, the Orioles introduced their stars of the future-catcher Matt Wieters and pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman-to the big leagues. "We're very satisfied with the progress" of that trio, club president Andy MacPhail wrote in an e-mail.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Orioles have some solid building blocks with their pitching, with Wieters, second baseman Brian Roberts, and outfielder Nick Markakis. But as the Indians of 2007 and the Rays and Brewers of 2008 will testify, the window of opportunity for a team with a mid-level budget opens and closes faster than it used to; the Orioles probably need to be in position to make their move in 2011 or 2012. Their immediate challenge will be to find corner fielders who can lengthen their lineup-and in the big picture, they will need a frontline shortstop. Ownership's position has been all along that once the Orioles have a core of talented young players in place, Baltimore will spend for free agents.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
Another year, another losing record, and another fifth-place finish. Our early expectation was that the Orioles' lineup would rock the American League by finishing second in runs scored, while their patchwork pitching staff would get rocked, finishing next to last. The pitching lived down to our expecations; their 775 runs allowed is dead last in the American League, although the Indians (769) have a chance to catch them. The lineup, though, most definitely did not rock. The only hitter we could call a pleasant surprise was Nolan Reimold, who forced his way up by hitting .394 in Norfolk. Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Ty Wigginton were big disappointments, but none so much as the eagerly-awaited Wieters. The catcher produced some of the best minor league numbers in recent memory, including his first two months in Triple-A this year, but upon his big-league debut, he didn't show much in the way of big-league power.-Clay Davenport, Baseball Prospectus
Key Stat: 86
So far, that's the number of starts the Orioles have given to pitchers who, prior to this year, had never pitched in the major leagues. Japanese import Koji Uehara (12 starts, 4.05 ERA) was the only one of these neophytes who was actually expected to play a major role this year. When veteran retreads like Adam Eaton, Rich Hill, and Mark Hendrickson combined for 28 starts and a 7.60 ERA, the Birds had little choice but to accelerate the timetable on their young pitching prospects. There were growing pains aplenty, as Jason Berken lost 11 straight decisions while David Hernandez struggled to keep baseballs inside the park, but Brad Bergesen emerged as the team's best starter while plum prospects Tillman and Matusz made solid auditions for 2010.-Clay Davenport, Baseball Prospectus
Trades: The Orioles are in a bind. Nobody has a better pile of pitching prospects, but because the group has been given so much notoriety, they can't make a deal for the middle-of-the-order bat they need without a team naming one of those untouchables as the price in return. So the void at first base, where they produced an AL-worst 13 home runs through September 16? Don't expect Adrian Gonzalez to fill it. With a tight window, expect the Orioles to at least check the market on free agents Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. A dark horse: How about bringing Carlos Delgado back to the AL for DH/1B duty. Another name that fits: Hank Blalock.
Free Agency: When your entire franchise rests on the talented arms of a bunch of kids, it could help to find a steadying influence. The Orioles could A) go for a cheaper veteran like a Jon Garland, or B) make a splash and take some pressure off the kids with John Lackey. Anything to make sure Bergesen, Matusz, and Tillman don't become Isringhausen, Wilson, and Pulsipher.
Who 2 Watch 4: Josh Bell, 3B
The big prize coming over from the Dodgers in the George Sherrill deal, Josh Bell took tremendous steps forward in nearly every aspect of his game in 2009, thanks in part to a much-improved approach. He tapped more into his power, including nine home runs in 114 at-bats with Double-A Bowie, and morphed from a solid defender to a plus at the hot corner. It would be risky to throw him right into the big leagues at this point, but he's a better solution than picking up the 2010 option of unproductive incumbent Melvin Mora.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
The Bottom Line
The Orioles are going to get out from under a bunch of bad contracts that expire this year (Jay Gibbons, Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Mora), and they've got the makings of a dirt-cheap pitching rotation that should be a lot better than this year's. That should mean they'll have money to spend on offense. The outfield is well set, but apart from Roberts at second their infield is full of holes. A quality shortstop ought to be first on their wish list (the minor league cupboard is completely bare there), and some corner mashers would be nice too; but this being the Orioles, expect them to settle for a second- or third-tier veteran trying to postpone retirement. The best trade they could pull off would be one that gets them into the Central Division, and away from the Yankees and Red Sox.-Clay Davenport, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .