CL Jorge Julio
Much of the criticism of the New York Yankees falls to the all-too-easy line that they can spend their way out of any jam. While possibly true, the Yankees, led by Brian Cashman and Stick Michael, built this modern Yankee dynasty around many of the sabermetric principles that we credit to Oakland and Boston. What happens if a team spends a lot of money without a guiding principle? Ladies and gentlemen, the 2004 Baltimore Orioles.
While the Orioles’ two-headed GM touts psychological profiling, a technique already in use in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Queens, I’ve yet to see a good explanation of what the plan is for this team. Peter Angelos’ money went out in mass quantities, bringing in three top-level free agents in Tejada, Lopez, and Ponson. The Orioles are still trying to figure out how they didn’t get Vladimir Guerrero, a player they were convinced was coming to Camden.
So, with no discernible plan and playing in the toughest division in baseball, can this team at least stay healthy? Over the past three seasons, the medhead numbers have not been kind to the Orioles. In addition to questions surrounding the death of Steve Bechler, the Orioles medical staff has had a difficult time with injuries. Injuries to players like Segui, B.J. Surhoff, Chris Richard, and Omar Daal leave them in the bottom quartile in most measures. Once again, the top three teams in the AL East trump the Orioles, and Tampa Bay is fast becoming a medhead team, led by their top-notch staff.
Jerry Hairston will be pressed right away by Brian Roberts. After missing most of last season with a serious foot injury, Hairston rushed back and seemed to have continued problems upon his return in September. Hairston isn’t so talented that he can play hurt and help his team, but his yellow status is helped by the fact that the Orioles have an equal talent ready to step in immediately.
At DH/1B, the Orioles also have great depth. Rafael Palmeiro has always been quite durable during the later stages of his career, but his yellow light is mostly on age and the likelihood that he plays more in the field than in previous seasons. With Jack Cust behind him, the replacement is more fragile that the starter. Also available is David Segui, but we all know the Segui is the baseball Agrippa.
Melvin Mora gets his yellow based not on his hand injury of last season, but his inability to stay both healthy and productive at the same time. Most of his gains last year look flukish compared with his overall stats, which will make it difficult to tell if he’s merely regressing to the mean or dealing with injuries.
Javier Lopez came back with one of the great catching seasons of all time in 2003, just in time to cash in as a free agent. He’s always had a reputation as the anti-Damian Miller, a catcher that no one wants to throw to. With his contract, he’ll be asked to catch nearly every day and to handle a relatively young staff with guys like Eric DuBose and Adam Loewen coming up fast. If Lopez maintains his commitment to diet and Tsatsouline-style flexibility training, he could repeat, but history and age say otherwise.
In the rotation, there are a couple yellows, but none that have significant concern behind them. Matt Riley should have no trouble with his rebuilt elbow, but he’s never gone over 150 innings in his career and figures to be in the rotation from Day 1. Kurt Ainsworth comes off a scapula fracture that has only one comp–Jarrod Washburn. Call it a cautionary yellow since one success isn’t something to base the hopes of a team on.
Omar Daal is not only trade bait, but his various musculotendonous problems will likely push him out of the rotation in favor of one of the younger pitchers. He’s on the cusp of a red light, and an early spring training quad injury certainly doesn’t help. Prodigal ace Sidney Ponson also has open questions coming into 2004. He has a history of shoulder problems and, once again, has shown up for camp more than 20 pounds overweight.
The Orioles are certainly a better team on the field than last season, but in relative terms, they may have lost ground to every other team in the division. Lee Mazzilli may be in charge now, but it might take a Frank Pembleton to find more wins in the Inner Harbor.