In a little over a Month (February 13th), Pitchers and Catchers will report for the Baltimore Orioles. Judging by the actions and comments of the Orioles leadership, major changes to the current composition of the roster seem unlikely.
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Earlier this week, Orioles Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette was the key-note speaker of a PressBox event. At the website Orioles Hangout (OH), one of their moderators was present and made notes of the comments provided by Duquette. You can read those comments here. Also this week, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter joined WBAL Radio to discuss a number of topics on the ‘Orioles Hot Stove Baseball‘ show with hosts Jim Hunter, and Roch Kubatko. You can find the audio of that interview here.
While paraphrasing both, the general theme articulated by both Duquette and Showalter is that there is a lot to like, based on what exists internally.
I happen to agree with that perspective, which is why I have found this Winter to be so frustrating. There is a good core of players that exist. A core of players who can be large components on a Championship caliber team. However, there is not enough, and there are obvious limitations with the roster.
You don’t have to be overly invested in the team to see the issues. Last year the Orioles won 85 games. They were built with a lot of slugging power, and good defense. They were also mediocre in getting on-base, and had issues with their pitching staff. For the O’s, their 2013 season ended September 29th. What have the O’s done since that point to improve the team?
David Lough? I liked the addition. He appears to be a strong defensive player, and it loos like he can match McLouth’s offensive production at a cheaper price. He’s also under longer-term team control. A quality move, but not a move which can be described as having improved the roster.
Ryan Webb? This is another move I liked. He looks to be another guy who can help a roster, and I think the ‘Jim Johnson light’ comparisons seem apt. Of course though, the O’s traded Johnson. Even if Webb is the 100% equal to Johnson, that is a move which more of a neutral wash, vs. anything which can be described as improvement.
To be fair to the O’s, they would say that not all improvements for 2014 have to occur in the 2013 off-season. They would point to their mid-season 2013 acquisition of Bud Norris, and make the valid argument that they now get a full year of Norris’ services. While I am a fan of Norris – and pointed to him as a potential target months before the O’s traded for him – he’s a back of the rotation starter. He can help a roster, but having him for a full-season does not bridge the gap between the 85 wins the O’s had 2013 and the 92 wins that were needed for a Wild Card birth, or the 97 wins Boston obtained to win the AL East. In-fact, many people believe that ideally Norris would be best utilized out of the bullpen.
They would also point to Wei-Yin Chen missing roughly a 1/3 of the 2013 season, and state that having Chen back for an entire year would help stabilize the rotation. Which is fine, but if you are going to make that point, it has to be noted that the O’s positional core largely stayed healthy last year. Chen might again provide the 192.2 innings he gave the O’s in 2012, but you are just as likely to lose someone else of significance for some time.
So again, where have the O’s improved? If the improvement is coming solely based on what exists internally, regression has to be factored as well. Is Chris Davis going to be back at his 2013 level of production? Is he going to be back at his 2012 level? Somewhere in-between?
Payroll is not the end-all, be-all. The Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland A’s have shown you can build consistent winners with a lower payroll with proper Scouting, Player Development, and sound decision making from the helms of their Baseball Operations Department. Both of those organizations would love to have the financial wherewithal that Duquette has at his disposal – even if many of us believe Duquette should have more. However, this particular Orioles roster was only going to be legitimately improved via external addition. We’ve made the point numerous times, and we will continue to do so. Without even discussing MASN, or any other revenue source for the Orioles; they (like every-other MLB team) is the beneficiary this Winter of $25M+ in additional National TV revenue. The O’s have failed to answer with any satisfaction why their $92M 2013 payroll could not be increased to $115M for 2014.
I went into the off-season dreaming about the O’s finding ways to add Jose Abreu, and Masahiro Tanaka. I loved the idea of adding high-ceiling difference-making talent, that would not cost the O’s a compensatory draft-pick.
When that dream burst, I turned my attention to the likes of Scott Kazmir, and Bartolo Colon. What I liked about Kazmir and Colon was that concerns that exists with both of them respectfully (Kazmir’s injury history, and Colon’s age); were reasons why I thought they were obtainable for the O’s. The contracts they eventually signed with the Oakland A’s, and New York Mets were directly in-line with the contracts I had suggested the Orioles offer. There would have been risk with either signing, but both would have had the potential to significantly improve the O’s prospects for contention in ’14.
What am I hoping for now?
Matt Garza would not cost a compensatory pick, and he would clearly improve the O’s rotation. However, the O’s have indicated that it is not just the salary prospects for Garza they do not like. They have additional concerns and Garza will not be targeted.
The compensatory issues of Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Kendrys Morales have eliminated each as options for the O’s, without even discussing the O’s reluctance to pay the rates necessary to obtain any player from that trio.
AJ Burnett? Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Coach Ray Searage believes Burnett is more likely to retire vs. pitch in ’14.
Guys like Jason Hammel, or Paul Maholm, or Brandon Arroyo are back-of-the-rotation starters. If any of that trio were acquired, you would not expect them to come in and lead the staff. You would be hoping to add depth to the team. I’ve wanted to see two starters added. If you did that, you could utilize either Gonzalez or Norris out of the bullpen, and target Gausman for AAA to begin the year. From the multiple interviews Duquette has given this Winter, it seems apparent to me he would like to add one starter. If the O’s woud like to add one starter – and they are choosing among guys likes Hammel, Maholm, and Arroyo – what is preventing them from getting something done with the guy they like best? Maybe the answer to that is that the O’s generally value each of them the same and waiting to see who they can get for the cheapest. While that is a reasonable perspective, it illustrates the point that these are guys are of similar ilk.
If a starter is not added, the O’s figure to go with either Kevin Gausman or Zach Britton as their 5th starter. Do I think either one could be successful? Sure. Both could provide the production of a league average 5th starter in ’14, and both have the upside to be better than that. Relying on either one isn’t ideal in my eyes if you are attempting to contend. Britton being out of options does mean a position for him should exist on the roster, but I’m not convinced that means he has to begin in the rotation. Patton’s suspension could actually help the O’s in that regard.
Similarly to discussions about the currently projected 5th starter, are discussions about DH. As of today, I believe the projected everyday DH is Nolan Reimold, with Henry Urrutia likely to find himself back at AAA. Are there things to like about that? Again, sure. I’ve always been a fan of Reimold’s abilities. In my opinion he has strong physical skills, hustles, and his on-base % skills could also aide the lineup. However, he is now 30 years old and you can not have any confidence in what you are going to get from him. Urrutia? I like him as depth. I think he is a better player than he showed to be in his limited Major League audition this past year. I agree with most that project his upside as a 4th OF / part-time DH. I think he needs more time at AAA, getting more ab’s against advanced professionals and improving vs. off-speed offerings. While I can like him as ‘depth’ and think he is likely better than he showed last year – you absolutely can not be in a position where you wind-up relying on him to perform – if you are attempting to contend.
There are plenty of other things to discuss about this roster, but the bottom-line for me is this. Duquette and Showalter like the roster? Good, there are reasons for them to like large portions of what exists. It is also good, because with one month remaining until the reporting of Pitchers and Catchers, the Orioles have done exactly nothing to improve the roster.