Christopher Reina. 1st April, 2010 - 2:08 pm
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The Orioles won just 64 games in 2009, but Pythagorean had them at 69. They were absolutely beat up by the AL's best teams with a 2-16 record against Boston, 5-13 against the Yankees and 2-8 against the Angels.
Peter Angelos' franchise is coming out of their 12th consecutive losing season after being a playoff team in 1996 and 1997.
2009 Opsera Finish: 30th
What Happened In The Winter
The Orioles didn't make any huge splashes the way intended after 2008 when they pursued Mark Teixeira, but they did add payroll in the form of several veterans.
Baltimore signed a familiar face in Miguel Tejada to a one-year, $6M contract to play third base in replacement of Melvin Mora.
They also signed Garrett Atkins to a one-year deal worth $4.5M to play the other infield corner.
Improving their pitching staff with a couple of veterans, Baltimore made a trade for Kevin Millwood, sending Chris Ray and Ben Snyder to the Rangers. Lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez was signed to a two-year, $12M deal to be their closer.
The 2009-10 offseason didn't have any game-changers the way the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada deals did in the past, but they will advance the chains to borrow a football term. The motivation for signing these veterans is more about ending the culture of losing in Baltimore since 2010 is more about transitioning into a contender than all of a sudden going from worst to first.
Orioles Offensive Preview
The Orioles were ranked 9th in the AL in OPS in 2009 with a mark of .747 and that should inch forward in 2010 with the continued development of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis, as well as the additions of Tejada and Atkins.
The Baltimore offense going into the future will largely be dependent on how Wieters develops as a hitter. In September, Wieters had a .936 OPS to cap a season in which he hit .288/.340/.412 in 385 plate appearances. Like Joe Mauer, Wieters is a former top overall prospect in the game and his minor league numbers suggest he is more than capable of at least 85% of the $184M man's production someday, something the Orioles will gladly take.
While Wieters will bat further down the lineup, the meat of the Orioles' lineup features the potent outfield trio of Jones, Markakis and Reimold. They are playing 2010 at 24, 26 and 26 respectively and all three will likely have an OPS over .800. in 2010.
Jones jumped from .711 OPS to .792 with his numbers improving across the board and reducing his strikeouts. Jones began the season as an MVP candidate with a 1.062 OPS in April and .960 in May, but his production tailed off and he ended up shitting it down in September because of an ankle injury.
Markakis' OPS fell to .801 in 2009 from his .897 mark in 2008 when his OBP was over .400. He struggled against southpaws, hitting .262/.305/.376 (.682). I expect a full bounce back season for the former 7th overall pick.
Reimold made his MLB debut in 2009 and posted an .831 OPS and 15 homers in 411 plate appearances. He can clearly rake and should be good for 25 homers and an OPS over .850 if he continues to have a promising OBP.
Brian Roberts is the veteran carryover after they elected not to deal him after the 2008 season. He has consistently been one of the better offensive second basemen in baseball with an OPS over .800 in each of the past three seasons.
Tejada hasn't had an OPS over .800 since 2006, but he rebounded from a horrible 2008 with Houston when he hit for an OPS of .729 to hit .313/.340/.455 (.795) in 2009. Tejada was clearly a better hitter at home when he was with the Astros and he has lost much of his power, but he has always hit well at Camden Yards and should have an OPS anywhere between .775 and .825 in 2010 depending on his health. It will be interesting to see if Josh Bell gets some at bats during 2010 as he looks like a very promising third baseman of the future, whom they received from the Dodgers in last year's George Sherill trade.
Atkins will move over from third base to first and the O's are counting on him being the hitter he was in 2006 or 2007 to be more realistic, rather than the hitter who dipped from an OPS of .780 in 2008 to .650 in 2009. Terry Crowley is optimistic that he can fix Atkins swing and get him back to being a productive MLB hitter.
The underrated late bloomer Luke Scott will get the majority of the DH at bats. He had an .828 OPS with 25 homers in 2009, which was a slight improvement from his 2008 numbers.
Cesar Izturis is back as Baltimore's shortstop where he is mostly defense and anything they get from him offensively is an unexpected bonus.
Ty Wiggington will be Baltimore's super utility man and likely get over 400 plate appearances again in 2010. His OBP dropped to a career low of .314 in 2009, but that should improve back towards his career norms.
Defensively, Baltimore was fairly average though Jones, Markakis, Roberts and Reimold all struggled, even though Jones and Markakis have the skill set to be great with the glove if they can be more consistent.
Orioles Pitching Preview
Wieters is of course still an inexperience big league catcher and how he develops behind the plate will have a large impact on the development of Baltimore's pitching staff. With Wieters behind the plate in 2009, O's pitchers had a 5.03 ERA in 738.1 innings compared to 5.13 for Gregg Zaun and 5.57 for Chad Moeller.
Millwood is the veteran anchor, who they hope gives solid innings while also being a positive influence on the young arms of Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and eventually Jake Arrieta.
Millwood has always been inconsistent from season to season, so his 3.67 ERA in 2009 cannot be completely expected in 2010. According to Fielding Independent ERA, Millwood actually was better in 2008 with a 4.02 mark compared to 4.80 in 2009. Regardless, Millwood will eat innings and it will be interesting to see how he pitches at Camden Yards, a park he surprisingly only has logged only 36.1 career innings.
Jeremy Guthrie had a 5.04 ERA in 2009, which wasn't surprising given the flukish nature of his 2007 and 2008 success. Like Millwood, Guthrie is somewhat of a sacrificial veteran who the Orioles will lean on to take the mound inning after inning.
Now we get to the youngsters, who should eventually comprise a staff with enough depth to challenge the AL East monsters.
Southpaw Matusz has the highest potential and he's my pick to win the AL Rookie of the Year in 2010. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2008 Draft and had a 1.91 ERA and 9.6 K/9 rate in 113 minor league innings in 2009.
Bergesen gave the Orioles a 123.1 inning audition in 2009 with a 3.43 ERA, though just a 4.7 K/9 rate. His home/away splits were stark with a 2.68/4.56, which is surprising since Camden Yards favors hitters. He fared much better in June and July with ERAs of 2.23 and 2.72 before shutting it down after being hit by a line drive.
Tillman had a 5.40 ERA in 65 innings, as he was frequently prone to yielding the long ball (2.1 HR/9). Learning how to pitch at home will be a big issue, but he clearly has the stuff based on his minor league numbers to be a power strikeout pitcher in the MLB. He will begin the season, however, in Triple-A.
Just as Tillman has had great minor league success with struggles against MLB hitting, the same has been true for Hernandez. He had a 5.42 ERA in 101.1 2009 big league innings, but a 3.23 ERA and 12.2 K/9 rate in the minors. He has won the fifth starter job over Tillman.
Similar to the success Baltimore had in B.J. Ryan had as a southpaw closer, they are attempting to duplicate it with Gonzalez. He clearly won't be a closer for a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, but he should at least be steady enough to avoid too many demoralizing blown saves.
Supporting Gonzalez are Cla Meredith, Koji Uehara and lefty Mark Hendrickson. The Orioles could also give some innings to one or more of their top starter prospects, not unlike what the Yankees have done with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
The MLB is much better when Baltimore is competitive as they were in the late 90s when they were a bigger rival to the Yankees than the Red Sox. They don't have the financial resources to have a sustained run that Boston has experienced, but they have all of the necessary pieces in place and enough cash on hand to keep it together to displace Tampa Bay as the third AL East banana. Baltimore is a great baseball town, Camden Yards is still a magical place and the O's have too good of a history to not be relevant.
That won't realistically begin until 2011, but they should cruise to a fourth place finish, which would amount to at least a second place finish in just about any other division. The 81-win plateau is not beyond the realm of possibility, but I'll be more interested to see if the Orioles can finish the year at least a dozen games above .500 against teams other than the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.
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