With roughly two months to go in the 2014 Regular Season, BSL Colleagues Patrick Dougherty, Jeff Long, and Chris Stoner trade some thoughts on the Baltimore Orioles.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1) We are days away from the Non-Waiver Deadline; what are you hoping to see the O’s achieve?
Dougherty: The Orioles are on something of a tear right now, going 6-4 on a very difficult trip out west that could have easily been a 7-3 or 8-2 stand. Frankly, they’re one of the teams that nobody wants to play right now. To keep it that way for another two months and beyond, I’d love to see a starting pitcher added, but only if he’s a 1 or more likely a 2. This team doesn’t need any more 3-5s to hopefully punch above their weight; if they’re going to make a move, I want it to be a splash.
Long: Obviously improving the roster is a priority, though it’s not clear that we could achieve that through trades. I think there are some names out there that the O’s have been linked to like Kennedy or Suzuki, but I really don’t think they are difference makers for the club. Honestly, with the way the club is playing right now the only upgrade that might need to be made is adding a relief arm to supplement Britton and O’Day late in games.
Stoner: My mantra in June was that the players that were currently on the roster would determine through their play what the O’s should do at the Non-Waiver Deadline. I think those players have done enough to expect their Front-Office to help augment what exists.
The O’s could use a LHH LF, improvement at 2nd, another reliever (though that could be addressed internally with the ‘6th’ starter going to the ‘pen), and a starter better than what you have.
Baltimore is 10th overall in runs scored due to being one of the premier slugging teams, and in-spite of their on-base % limitations. I’d love to see Altuve pried from Houston. My sense is the Astros would prefer his contract and known production vs. a package of something like Rodriguez and Schoop.
Showalter and Duquette were both quoted several times in the past Month as stating they would prefer to not have their Pitching Staff have to build-up a relationship with another Catcher. That stance was softened by Duquette this past week. Suzuki has defensive limitations, but is having a career year with the bat. For ’14, he would make the lineup deeper.
The Rockies LF Corey Dickerson intrigues me. I don’t have a great sense of what Colorado could expect in-return for him. If he was realistically obtainable, he seems like an ideal option for the O’s to pursue.
If you can not improve the rotation, I’m comfortable going with what exists. My definition of improving the rotation, would be adding a SP that you would want starting Games 1-3 in a Playoff Series. Kansas City’s ‘Big Game’ James Shields fits that definition for me. His peripherals show he is more of a good pitcher than an ACE; but in my opinion the O’s odds of advancing in a Playoff series would be increased with him part of the rotation.
2) One of the existing threads on the BSL Board asks, “What move could Duquette realistically make, which would upset you?” How would you answer that?
Dougherty: There isn’t one specific move that would upset me. I’d be upset if DD got fleeced, which doesn’t really seem to happen. Trading away anyone that might be worthwhile for the next few years for, like, K-Rod might do it.
Long: I think for me it’s moving any of the “big 3” prospects. To me, Gausman, Bundy, and Harvey are all guys with top of the rotation potential, something the O’s haven’t had since Mike Mussina wore orange and black. I honestly don’t see any big names out there that would be worth moving any of those guys for, especially given the fact that the O’s will need to save money as guys like Davis, Wieters, and Hardy become free agents.
Stoner: I could see moving 2 of 3 out of Gausman, Bundy, and Harvey if you were talking about getting Sale, Stanton, or Darvish back in return. I don’t think any of those three players will be wearing Orange & Black in a few days. Right now it is hard for me to envision a scenario I consider plausible where I would support the trade of any of those three.
3) Showalter indicated to the local Beat Writers that ‘Interesting’ changes could be coming to the rotation in the near-term. The most logical explanations for that phrasing are a 6 man rotation, or potentially going with tandem starters. How would you feel about the O’s operating under either scenario?
Dougherty: Their starters aren’t good enough to go with 6 (which would likely deplete the bullpen, since Buck wants a handful of bench bats ready to go) and they’re not bad enough to double up in starts. As of right now, they’re pitching pretty well, so I guess if I had to pick, it’d be 6 starters. I might also read into those interesting changes as the wacky rotation manipulation Buck is implementing for matchups and/or the announcement of a time machine that allows us to swap 2014 Ubaldo Jimenez for 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez.
Long: I’m really not a fan of either direction there, but the Orioles are in a serious conundrum when it comes to their rotation. They’ve got a couple of guys that I have a lot of faith in (Tillman & Gausman) with 4 other guys who don’t instill a ton of confidence. That said, everyone in the rotation is pitching well right now, so a 6-man rotation would be the lesser of two evils in my opinion.
Stoner: I would be fine with the O’s incorporating a 6 man rotation for a couple of turns through the rotation. I would think that could benefit Chen, Gonzalez, and Gausman. (OTOH, I could see Tillman being uncomfortable with an extra day.) Overall though, at some point the O’s will have to make a decision of who stays in the rotation, and who goes to the bullpen. Jeff’s short piece on Jimenez to the bullpen last week, made me more optimistic on that as a possibility.
4) Showalter took over as Orioles Manager July 29th, 2010 (with the O’s sporting a crisp 32-73 record). How do you currently view the Baltimore skipper 4 years in?
Dougherty: Buck did a great job steadying what was, at the time, an unevenly sinking ship and seems to have instilled the virtues of fundamental baseball and contributing when you’re not an everyday player. I get the impression that the guys on this team not only want to win, but feel like they can always run with the big dogs. I get the sense that that sentiment wasn’t always around this clubhouse or even the fans in Baltimore. I get a headache every time Buck does something suboptimal (read: anti-sabermetrics) and traditionally baseball, like bullpen mismanagement or trading in too many outs for a tying or close-the-gap run, especially on the road. But these are relatively small qualms and could be far worse. As far as I know, we haven’t seen the Buck that was pushed out of so many other cities, and I think that’s to his credit in recognizing that he needed to change.
Long: Buck has truly impressed as he’s gotten the team focusing on the right things and performing on the field. Obviously it’s relatively difficult to separate Buck’s performance from the front office’s efforts, but I think he and Dan Duquette do a great job of extracting value from roster spots 20-30, which is vital for a team with postseason aspirations. My only qualm with Buck, beyond his reliance on bunting and IBBs, is his management of the bullpen. Other that that he’s proved to be a solid tactician and excellent motivator. Any concerns about Buck’s strict ways of managing the clubhouse have been thrown out the window as the O’s keep things light and fun while maintaining a winning atmosphere.
Stoner: When Showalter was hired I thought he could help. I respected him as a ‘Baseball Mind.’ What I worried about was the perception I had, that he was a Drill Sgt. who would quickly wear out his welcome. What we’ve seen is a guy that has learned from his previous spots, and is in full-command of his profession. There is lots of debate in the Saber community of how much impact a Manager has. That is based on questions of influence on the tactical decisions a Manager makes. There are other aspects of being a Manager that I think have to be considered. The ability to communicate to the team, and the Press. Maintaining a calming-influence, setting a standard of expectations. Establishing a strong working relationship with the Front-Office, making sure goals are aligned. I like things that can be quantified. I don’t know that Showalter’s impact can be measured as such. Ultimately I think he is a large part of why the O’s are poised for their 3rd consecutive winning-season, and could possibly factor in October.
5) Organization wide – what story should be receiving more attention than it currently is?
Dougherty: At least recently, I’d probably say Miguel Gonzalez. It wasn’t that long ago that I said he should be moved to the bullpen because Norris was doing so well, but that’s changed. He’s pitched to a 1.82 ERA in his last four outings (in July, basically) and gone at least 6 innings in each, going to 8 innings twice. It probably won’t last since, uh, he’s not Clayton Kershaw, but the guy that started the year as the lowest man on the totem pole and the first pick for bullpen relegation should be celebrated while he mows down some decent offenses: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle (three of which are below 20 in the season rankings of runs scored but have been playing pretty well lately). These were all also 1- and 2-run games, so it’s not like he was pitching in low-leverage situations. In 2012, I trusted Gonzalez on the mound against the Yankees based mostly on emotion and results in a small sample against New York and he totally delivered. I want to trust him that way again.
Long: To me it’s Caleb Joseph’s defense. The guys has been the most valuable catcher on the roster since Wieters went down with injury despite hitting .197/.273/.311 (62 wRC+) on the season. He’s been worth about half a win so far this season through 44 games, but that figure is more like 1 WAR if you add in pitch framing, something that Joseph is among the best in MLB at. Pitch framing is quickly becoming one of the most valuable skills a catcher can possess, and Joseph has proven to be excellent at it. If framing isn’t your thing then don’t forget that Joseph makes awesome defensive plays like this one.
Stoner: As the 2014 season was beginning, there were lots of rankings (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN’s Keith Law, FanGraphs, MLB.com, etc.) of the Orioles system as a whole. It was acknowledged across all-sources that the O’s system was top-heavy; but the strength at the top was good enough for overall rankings in the upper-third. When the rankings come out next year, Bundy and Harvey (if still part of the system) will continue to carry the system at the top. Beyond them, the organization is pretty thin to me. You look at the Top 15-20 guys, and I don’t see a lot to be excited about. Obviously the latest Amateur Draft will only help so much. There has to be a larger commitment to obtaining International talent. Especially International talent not impacted by the International Spending Pools. Cuban OF Rusney Castillo would be a start.
6) The AL East has been tight all season. Which AL East team poses the biggest threat to the O’s through the stretch run?
Dougherty: I’m going back on my quarter/midseason projections and groaning about the threat of the Tampa Bay Rays. If anyone was going to be the first team to ever make the playoffs after being 18 games under .500 (I think that’s the stat I saw), it was going to be the Tampa Bay Rays. Forget about the Price trade rumors; this team is on a mission to compete in October and the scariest part is that they really don’t need to add to the roster to do it, thanks to many good pitchers returning from the DL. They did worse than just tread water with some of their starters injured and it won’t even matter – this team is last year’s Dodgers, albeit less exciting, and will go on some crazy tear to compete for the division and probably win a wild card.
Long: This is tough because nearly every team in the AL East has had an up and down season. The Blue Jays appear to be stabilizing a bit, while the Yankees age might be catching up with them. The team I am terrified of is Tampa Bay though. I may have been the only BSL Analyst that didn’t pick the Rays to win the division, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize all the talent they have on their roster. Their rotation is excellent, and they have enough power in their lineup to win close games through the stretch run. The Rays might have the longest climb of any AL East team with at least some chance of making the playoffs, but they’re the most likely team to make a run at the division title in my opinion.
Stoner: As long as the Rays hold on to Price (and everything points to them doing just that), it’s Tampa Bay for me. It’s amazing that a team can lose a Matt Moore, and still have 5 starters of the quality of Price, Archer, Cobb, Odorizzi, and Hellickson. That offense is still mediocre / poor though. Maybe they get a lift if Wil Myers can get back, and performs over the last 6 weeks of the season. (Though he was not hitting much prior to his injury.)
I don’t believe in the Yankees, but think they did a great job with their recent acquisitions of Headley and McCarthy.
While the lineup has a lot of age, it’s the rotation which figures to be too much to overcome. Nova out for the year, Sabathia out for the year, Pineda still trying to get back (after missing the last 2 years), and Tanaka still feeling discomfort.
I was initially pretty definitive about the Rays, but maybe the Jays should be getting more love from me here. They are 6 over .500, they do have a strong and balanced offense. Marcus Stroman has helped the rotation. If Toronto could add one more significant SP, they might be in the hunt until the end.
7) If the season ended right now, the Orioles would be getting a few days of rest before suiting up to play the Detroit Tigers. How do you think this team would do against the Motor City Kitties (and then the Oakland A’s?) in a short series? Who are your picks for the World Series?
Dougherty: It’s exciting and refreshing to talk playoffs without even mentioning the
play-in Wild Card game. Detroit is very good, but they’re not the powerhouse they were just a few years ago. Verlander looks human, Sanchez and Porcello have been all peaks and valleys, and Miguel Cabrera looks like a very talented human instead of a supremely talented robot. The playoffs are always going to be a crap-shoot, but the O’s would definitely take Detroit to 5 games (notably better than the Yankees teams of recent years). I think they could take Oakland to 5 games too, but that’s less impressive in a 7-game series. My realistic/pessimistic World Series prediction is Oakland vs. LA Dodgers for what would be a pretty cool in-state rivalry game. My ideal World Series prediction is Baltimore vs. Washington.
Long: The Orioles would likely be the underdog in any postseason series, even one against a wild card play-in winner (which won’t happen) simply because they lack front end pitching and haven’t had the track record of success that the competition has, despite three consecutive winning seasons. To me there are two interesting facts about the postseason. #1 is that pitching wins the World Series. #2 is that scoring is always way down in October/November, so the playing field will be more even than one might expect.
So that said, I think I’d pick either the Tigers or A’s to win a series against the O’s simply because I’d trust Max Scherzer on the mound in game 5 versus Chris Tillman. Keep in mind though that in a short series anything can happen, and any advantage I give the Tigers or A’s would be more of a 52-48 kind of advantage as opposed to a 65-35 or something significant like that.
As for the World Series, I think it’ll end up being Oakland vs. the Dodgers. Both teams have the pitching, but I think Oakland’s unique roster construction will give them a leg up over other American League teams. The Dodgers will likely ride the backs of Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu to the fall classic.
Stoner: In a Series vs. Oakland, Detroit, or the LA Angels; I think the O’s would go in as the underdog. I do think they would have a punchers (sluggers) chance vs. anyone though. As mentioned, we are talking about short-series. The best team does not always win. You would not be asking the O’s to be better than those teams over 162 games, just a short-series. My current pick for the World Series is a rematch of ’88, with the A’s facing the LA Dodgers. That ’88 World Series being a prime example of a superior team falling in a short-series.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.