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Baltimore Orioles 2013 Season Preview

March 26, 2013 in Orioles Season Preview

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

The Orioles are coming off a remarkable 2012 where they surprised all of baseball by winning the wildcard game and going to the divisional series.  Now the question is what will they do in 2013?

Many expected the O's to make moves in the offseason that could help move them into being American League Championship contenders, but they stayed very quiet.  Baltimore brings back mostly the same team that everyone was in love with in September, so what do we expect at Camden Yards?

Lineup:

Most of the O's lineup was set months ago based on their younger talent locking down key spots.  But it is most likely a veteran who hopes to lead at the top of the lineup once again.  Brian Roberts feels he is back to being the same guy who was a double machine and a top lead off guy.  Even if Roberts isn't that guy this season, if he is 85% that guy it could be a huge lift at the top.  Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth filled in well in the leadoff spot but the O's hope Roberts can once again be the guy.  If Roberts fails or can't stay healthy, the team has a solid option in Ryan Flaherty as well.

How effective will Brian  Roberts be this season?

How effective will Brian Roberts be this season?

Markakis should go back to his regular second spot behind Roberts.  Markakis has had some injury issues this spring so hopefully he is ready to go after also missing the playoff run last season.  I figure Markakis has to be motivated after watching his teammates’ run after his freak injury.

Adam Jones should follow and once again play like the MVP candidate he was last season.  I don't see any issues with Jones.  Matt Wieters should be in the cleanup spot and this is where I think the O's can make huge strides.  Everyone has been waiting for Wieters to take off and this could be the season for him to put up monster numbers.  The Orioles should have locked him up already because I think he is about to go off in 2013.

The rest of the lineup could change around however Buck decides.  But it looks like Chris Davis will be at first after a season of moving around multiple spots including pitching.  I didn't see Mark Reynolds leaving as a loss.  I bet he hits .200 this season in Cleveland.  But thanks for those couple weeks against the Yanks.

Manny Machado comes into his first full season at third and should increase his power numbers from last year.  I don't think it’s too early to expect big things from the Machado Man.  JJ Hardy returns at short after rumors of possibly being moved in the offseason.  Hardy hit for a low average last season and it would be huge if he could get that back to what he did in 2011.

Left field looks to be a situation with Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth and to see who gets hot and wins the majority of playing time.  Both could DH along with Wilson Betemit who is back.  The Orioles have had huge springs from both Connor Jackson and Steve Pierce as both try to make the 25 man roster back to Bmore.

I do like the lineup even though it's very much the same as last season.  But don't forget, the O's won last season and a lot of these guys we know can improve.  I think the lack of movement towards a big hitter in the middle was Duquette and Showalter feeling the right guy just wasn't there.  I could see them adding the right guy during the season or waiting for next winter.

The team is young and can be patient and also flexible.   The O's can add a corner infielder or outfielder anytime the way they are currently composed.  Machado could make the move to short as expected and Davis to DH or the outfield.  More and more I like the way the lineup shapes up.

Starting Staff:

A week away and for once the Orioles look to have a 5 man staff close to taking shape.  Four spots look to be almost locked up and the fifth could be quickly.  Baltimore came into camp with their best depth in years by having young guys returning like Steve Johnson and bringing in a vet like Jair Jurrgens.  But it looks like both of those guys won't crack the O's rotation.  Jason Hammel to no one’s surprise will lead the staff.  Hammel was a steal in 2012 and now if he can stay healthy should be put up another solid year.

How will Hammel handle being the O's #1 starter?

How will Hammel handle being the O's #1 starter?

Hammel is followed by Wei-Yin Chen who was the O's most complete starter last season.  The O's hope that Chen can add to his innings, as he went longer than any season in Japan.

The Orioles biggest surprise last season was Miguel Gonzalez and he should be in the third spot,  Gonzalez came through big for the O's and looks to become a legit top of the rotation guy now.

We’re a week away and the odds on guy to go fourth is Chris Tillman.  Tillman shined once he got his chance last season.  He was a prized prospect who seemed to be going nowhere until last season.  Two other guys who found themselves in the same situation were Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, both fell out of favor as starters and were bounced.  Now both look to be the final battle for the 5th spot.  If Matusz loses he could go back to the spot where he shined down the stretch, in the pen. So I figure Arrieta wins this one.

All in all it’s not the Blue Jays or Nationals via names or stats but the Orioles have some depth to work with.  It is a must that they get more innings from their starters and not have to move guys around all season like in 2012.

Injuries and consistency will determine where this staff goes.  Just like with the lineup there still could be a move in the future to get that true number one type pitcher.  I wouldn't count against it if the Orioles are in contention once again.

Bullpen Staff:

Going into this season most would feel this is the area of the ball club that they are most confident in if it isn't the manager.  The pen looks to be loaded for the Orioles.  Jim Johnson once again handles the closer role like last season, where he had a huge season.  Johnson has the numbers but Darren O'Day may have been the O's best guy in the bullpen.

Johnson was a key to O's success in 2012. Can he repeat performance in 2013?

Johnson was a key to O's success in 2012. Can he repeat performance in 2013?

As the season went on, Everyday O'Day got more confidence as well as the confidence of his manager.  Pedro Strop was great early and exciting to watch, then struggled and was rarely used.  But then the WBC happened and he became a star for the Dominican.  Being on a stage like pitching for the Dominican in the WBC has to be a game changer for Strop.  If Johnson struggles, Strop could be an insurance plan for Showalter.

Tommy Hunter finds his way on this team in the pen and not as a starter.  He can be used in different situations and should be valuable.  Luis Ayala gave the Orioles a strong 2012 but now finds himself being shopped due to the crowded talented bullpen.  As for the lefties, even though he wants to start Brian Matusz could end up a dominant left handed reliever and keep his promising career.  Troy Patton spent most of 2012 as the only lefty down in the pen, now he has some help.

The bullpen looks to be as good as there is in the game.  Add to that a manager who knows what to do with a strong pen and this should once again be a strength.  Overflow from the starter competition also adds to depth in case of any injury losses.  The O's pen is in a good place.

X-Factor:

What makes the Orioles a good team?  Easy.  It is Buck.  I say this all the time but Buck Showalter is a winner and thank god that he took the job when this organization was down.  He is why I have confidence in this team versus the rest of the tough AL East.

Way Too Early Prediction:

I don't think last season was a fluke after watching the whole 168 or so games they played.  Worst case scenario is that the starters are a disaster due to injuries or guys not taking the next step up.  I am confident this team will be able to hit and I am sure the bullpen will be solid again even if they are a bit overworked.  And I think Duquette and Showalter will add talent if the right move is out there, they are not in this for it to be a 10-year plan.

Last season they went a remarkable 93-69.  Boston should be better after last season’s train wreck.  The Yankees are having all kinds of problems.  Tampa once again should be right there in the mix with what they will bring.  And Toronto is a true wild card, huge talent upgrade but a new yet old manager and the uncertainty if it all comes together.

My call is they tie at 95-67 with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Both teams make the playoffs.

 

 

Five Orioles Players That Can Break Out This Season

February 27, 2013 in Baltimore Orioles Offseason

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

Here are five Orioles players that could have a breakout season in 2013. Do you agree?

1. Manny Machado:

Is Manny  Machado poised to have a breakout season in 2013?

Is Manny Machado poised to have a breakout season in 2013?

I think Manny is the most obvious choice as many believe it’s not "if" he will become a superstar but when. Could it be this season?  That is a lot to ask, but he could be on his way.  The telling tale will be his power numbers.  Although he showed some signs in his short season in 2012, the power numbers were not consistent.  Once Machado is able to show that, you could be looking at an Evan Longoria type for many years in Birdland.

2. Matt Wieters:

It is hard to list a 2 time All Star and Gold Glover as a potential breakout guy, but Wieters should be on this list.  So far Wieters has made more of an impression as maybe baseball's best defensive catcher more than his bat.  But if Wieters can raise his batting average and drive in more runs he can become as good as any catcher out there.  Wieters came to Baltimore with very high expectations and has been a bright spot but everyone feels there is more to come.  Also, getting another year to work with this pitching staff should be a huge bonus for the starters.

3. Tommy Hunter:

Yes, Big Game Tommy Hunter makes my list because I think he could be a huge factor this season out of the bullpen.  Hunter could become a dominant setup man for the O's making their bullpen potentially the best in the American League.  Moving Hunter to the bullpen along with possibly Brian Matusz should make the O's solid from the 7th on all season.  Matusz may still end up the 5th starter but if he doesn't the additions of Hunter and Matusz should add to a strong O's pen.

4. Chris Tillman:

After a few far from consistent seasons Tillman rolled to an impressive 9-3 and sub three ERA last season.  Tillman will be looking to show that is no fluke as he tries to lockdown a starting spot for 2013.  Tillman came to the Orioles as the big pitching piece in the Eric Bedard trade and just as O's fans were starting to give up on him he showed what the organization had hoped for.  Now it is time to show he can stay at this level and be a reliable starter.  I am not calling him out as a 17 game winner but if Tillman can get close to 15 building off last season this team should be in good shape.

5. Nolan Reimold:

The Orioles failed to add a major bat in the off season and after last season’s lack of playoff scoring Buck is going to be looking for more offense from what he has already has.  Reimold is someone who could change the fate of this ball club.  He started out real strong last season before suffering a season ending injury but now is back.  Reimold and Nate McLouth must bring some offense to this lineup from left field that also still had questions at DH.  The O's could make a move in the spring or by mid-season to add some punch but if they are going to be successful early on Reimold must hit like he started 2012.

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Five Reasons the O's Decided to Stay Pat This Season

February 19, 2013 in Baltimore Orioles Offseason

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

For those who panicked day by day as Dan Duquette watched free agents sign with other teams and held back from trading the O's young talent, here are some reasons why they may have stood pat.

1- I think the Baltimore Orioles organization is banking on a couple of their younger guys in the lineup to become huge stars.

First and foremost is Manny Machado.  I think they are pretty confident Machado will quickly start to breakout sooner than later.  It is asking a lot of someone his age but I think they believe he could be a monster in the lineup as soon as this season.  I also think that Matt Wieters will become more of an offensive force than he has.  Wieters' run production has gone up every year and this year would be a good time to get to that 90-100 RBI range.  And even though Adam Jones has established himself has one of the better outfielders in the American League, there is still room to grow and become a true MVP candidate.  Buck will put a lot on these three players and they should help compose a formidable lineup.

2- Even though the O's didn't add a left fielder or first baseman their biggest question mark may be at second base.

Chris Davis, Nate McLouth and the returning Nolan Reimold should be able to handle the first two but what about second?  Robert Andino is gone, but guess who is back and ready to play?  Brian Roberts.  It is going to be asking a lot to get the Brian Roberts of old but if Roberts can give them close to that it would be an upgrade.  The O's didn't get a whole lot from second in 2012 so it will be interesting to see what Roberts can bring this spring.   If it is a failure it will once again be a revolving door at second until 2014 when Roberts' big contract is off the books and players like Robinson Cano and an abundance of starters could reach free agency.   Next season looks to be a better situation to spend and that could be the O's main play.

3- Unlike seasons of the past, the Orioles come into 2013 with a good idea who will be in their five man staff.

Going into the season Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez should be locks.  It has been very rare that the Orioles have been in a situation like this.  Although all four of these guys need to show consistency season to season based on what they got last season and in the playoffs Baltimore has to feel much better than years past.  Losing Joe Saunders hurt but it’s not devastating.  The Orioles also have a nice battle for the fifth spot between Jair Jurrjens, Zach Britton and possibly Dylan Bundy.  The Orioles staff doesn't have that big time number one but should be able to stand up to the Yankees and Red Sox.  On paper, Toronto and Tampa look to have an edge on the Orioles though.  Once again, there are some question marks but this starting staff looks a lot better than ones of the past.

4- The Baltimore Orioles could have a lights out type bullpen this season.

Jim Johnson is Jim Johnson and should once again save many games.  But it is what else they now have which could make it special.  Darren O'Day may have been the best pitcher in the bullpen especially down the stretch and in the playoffs.  Pedro Strop struggled for a bit but his arm is electric and could bounce back to the pitcher he was most of the season.  The O's depended a lot and maybe too much on these three for most of 2013 but now they could have two huge additions full time in the pen.  Both Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter made excellent transitions to the pen late in the season and now Buck should have them out there all season.  Both probably want to be starters but I think they could find huge roles in the pen.

5- Maybe the one key factor why the Orioles have stood pat since last season’s wild card birth is who they have as manager.

I think Buck Showalter really likes what he has in Baltimore and didn't see any moves out there worth taking at this point.  Buck now has another year to work with these guys and it can only be positive.  Orioles’ fans have to feel confident that Showalter can match up with anyone in the American League right now, and so does Orioles management as they awarded Buck with a deserving extension.  The players seem to love to play for him so effort should not be a worry in 2013.

That being said it is not out of the realm that the Orioles still don't make a major move during the spring or before August depending on how the season goes.  But I think they see who could be out there next off season and determine it is best to wait.

 

 

Baltimore Orioles Offseason Blueprint: Part 2- Hitters

November 16, 2012 in Baltimore Orioles Offseason

Part 1/ Part 2

 

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The Orioles are pretty set at a number of positions in the line-up. Matt Wieters, catcher; Manny Machado, third base;J.J. Hardy, shortstop; Adam Jones, centerfield; Nick Markakis, RF and Chris Davis, DH/1B. That leaves the Orioles in need of a second baseman and a 1B/DH (whatever position Chris Davis doesn't play). It also puts them in need of a left fielder in case Nolan Reimold can return and be effective from his injury. Given Reimold's injury concern the Orioles should look to make four signings for position guys to ensure a solid line-up and the depth necessary in case some key injuries occur again. Given the big money given to the pitchers, the Orioles should look for one key bat, and then find three lower cost (but effective) options.

Targets:

1B/OF Nick Swisher:

The Orioles do need to make one "splash" free agent signing among position players and that should be Nick Swisher. Swisher can play either first base or a corner outfield spot, and would give the Orioles the "pop" they are losing by letting Mark Reynolds leave. Though Swisher can't match Reynolds raw power, he's a far better overall hitter, and has averaged 26 home runs and 34 doubles in his last four seasons while with the Yankees. His on base percentage these last four years has ranged from .359-.374 (Markakis led the Orioles with a .363 mark). Swisher's slugging percentage has ranged from .449-.511 over that time, only Jones and Markakis were over the .450 mark last year. Though not a defensive star Swisher more than holds his own both at a corner outfield spot or first base. It's not a deep market for corner infielders or outfielders so Swisher will have some attention, Swisher will probably look for a contender given his history of being on playoff teams. At just 32 years of age a 3 or 3 year plus an option type of deal would make sense.

2B/UTL Jeff Keppinger:

Jeff Keppinger isn't what you'd call an ideal second base fix. He's not that good defensively and he's neither a speed or power guy. What he is though is one of the better options in a very shallow market, due mainly to his high contact rate and ability to get on base (at least relative to his position). He's not going to hit many doubles or home runs, but he's a career .288 hitter with a .337 OBP, and twice in the last three years has been over .350 OBP. The fact that he put up his best numbers with the Rays last season also looks favorably, showing that he can handle AL East pitching (though it's worth noting he didn't face the Rays tough pitching). Keppinger can hold his own versus righties, but really excels versus lefties He's a career .333 hitter with an OPS of .864 versus southpaws. Though that seems to lack some value given that it's the short side of the platoon split, it has more value to the Orioles than some other teams. Of the 20 starting pitchers on the four other AL East teams, between 8-10 of them could be lefties (Red Sox: Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Blue Jays: Ricky Romero, Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ {maybe}, Rays: David Price, Matt Moore, Yankees: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte) including many of their top pitchers. Having some guys who can really unload on lefties could help even up some of these match-ups the Orioles will face this year. Keppinger is ideally suited for more of a super utility role, but the Orioles 2nd base options are limited. He should be passable this year defensively, and give them an offensive upgrade. He's likely not going to be too expensive and should be had for something in the range of 2 years $6 million (total).

OF Juan Pierre:

As mentioned earlier the Orioles can't count on Nolan Reimold to be the answer (or healthy) for left field. The Orioles probably can't afford one of the bigger name outfield options, mainly since they are almost all over valued as centerfielders (something the Orioles don't need). Others will get overpaid due to their name or a fluke season. The Orioles should instead go for someone like Juan Pierre. Pierre is no longer an every day player or a centerfielder (though he could play it in a pinch), and he lacks the power production for a corner spot. For the Orioles though that could be okay as they will have plenty of power from other positions, and need guys on base and speed. Those are two areas where Pierre can help out in. He's a very talented base stealer, and can be a solid lead-off option for a least a part time role. Over the last four years he's had an on base percentage over .340 three times, and would be a solid option to lead-off for the Orioles or perhaps bat 9th to help turnover the line-up. Now Pierre should only be considered part of the puzzle in left field, and barring injury shouldn't be expected to have more than 400 plate appearances. He's not a great defensive player, despite good range, due to his arm, but he shouldn't hurt the Orioles either. While he'll get a raise from his $800K contract last year, he'll probably max out at $2.5 million, which is a fairly good deal for the Orioles, given the boost he brings to both the speed and on base departments.

LF/DH Jonny Gomes:

Gomes may be listed as an outfielder, but really he'd be signed as a DH, as you'd rather see Davis or Swisher in the outfield over him. Gomes is really just a part time player, and honestly should really only be used against lefties. The Oakland Athletics finally figured that out and it paid off for them in a big way. Gomes finally saw more plate appearances (196) versus lefties, than righties (137). Gomes had a .974 OPS versus lefties compared to a .715 OPS versus righties. What's even more impressive is Gomes played his home games at the Oakland Coliseum one of the least hitter friendly parks in baseball. Playing at Camden Yards he could see even greater success versus southpaws (and in general). He's a must start everytime a left-handed starter is on the mound, and a great pinch hit option if a team wants to bring in a lefty. Given his role as a part-time player and his lack of defense, Gomes likely won't have a big market, and the Orioles should be able to sign him for under $3 million.

Conclusion:

Though by in large they aren't major offensive upgrades, these four players combine to give the Orioles a major offensive boost. They all should help boost the Orioles on base percentage, an area where Baltimore struggled mightily last year. Swisher and Gomes will also give a boost to the Orioles slugging percentage making the line-up far more potent. Pierre offers some much needed speed to the line-up. There's some concern about the lack of defensive improvement , but with few options out there at 2B, and most left field options too expensive, the offensive gains outweigh not getting better defenders.

As for the question about the over saturation of bats, it really shouldn't be an issue. Injuries are bound to occur. Add in off days and playing the match-ups and there should be plenty at bats for everyone. Good teams have strong benches, and the Orioles shouldn't be an exception. Adding both Pierre and Gomes at a cost less than many starting corner outfielders. Though the Orioles offense still might not be elite, these four moves would make them pretty romidable.

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Baltimore Orioles Offseason Blueprint: Part 1-Pitching

November 16, 2012 in Baltimore Orioles Offseason

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The Baltimore Orioles are coming off their best season since the 90's, and are facing an AL East that has it's two juggernauts retooling, as both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are seeing age and contracts catch up to them. While neither should be considered out of the hunt, both are weaker than they've been in the last decade. Now the Orioles other two division opponents aren't to be forgotten. The Rays despite their small payroll are incredibly dangerous with their deep rotation and farm system. The Toronto Blue Jays, just made a mega deal landing them two very good starters and an All-star shortstop without giving up much in immediate talent. Toronto and Tampa both have some key players returning from injuries, and present a real threat for the Orioles chances of winning 90+ games. The Orioles need a strong offseason if they hope take the East or make it back to the playoffs as a wild card. This is my blueprint and reasoning for the moves they should make.  .

Needs:2 Starting Pitchers

The Orioles are set in the bullpen, but need to make some serious upgrades both on offense and in the rotation. Though many don't consider the rotation that much of an issue due to the presences of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta, and Dylan Bundy, that is extremely short-sided. Though Hammel and Chen were both very good last year, and are well deserving of spots they aren't on par with top pitchers in baseball, putting additional pressure on the other three spots to be effective. Also, Hammel has never pitched more than 177 innings in a season and is in the final year of team control. As for the rest of the names mentioned, conventional wisdom is that both Gonzalez and Tillman did enough to earn a spot in the rotation, and the 5th spot can be filled by one of the other names or a moderate free agent signing. Miguel  Gonzalez no doubt was impressive last year, but he's a 28 year old journeyman starter, who was solid (not great despite the record) for 15 starts last year. He's never pitched more than 145 innings in any season (and that is a combination of minors and majors), and you are now expecting him to be an integral member of a playoff rotation, capable of 180+ innings and 32+ starts. As for Tillman, he's looked the best he's been, but the Orioles have been teased by his promise before, and it's bitten them. Guys like Matusz and Britton have a ton of promise as well, but it's unclear if it will ever come through. While a guy like Bundy has untold potential, rushing him could be a recipe for disaster. The other guys are really nothing more than filler and stopgaps. It would be one thing to go into a season with this group of pitchers if you were a rebuilding team hoping for 75 or more wins, but to pin your playoff hopes on this rotation would be irresponsible. That is why the Orioles need not just one, but two good starters.

Don't believe it? Well consider these numbers. The Orioles finished 21st in the league in quality starts, and while their team ERA was middle of the pack their bullpen had a lot to do with that. Among starting pitchers the Orioles finished tied for 13th with 61 wins, while 13th doesn't seem that bad it was the lowest among all 10 playoff teams. They ranked 15th worst in losses among their starters, again worst among all playoff teams. They also had the fewest innings pitched by their starters among playoff teams. The Orioles starters were tied for the 4th highest home runs per 9 innings, and while being in the AL East and playing at Camden Yards will impact that, it's a number that has to go down. Their starters ERA is 10th worst in baseball and not surprisingly the highest among playoff teams. There are plenty of additional stats that put the Orioles starters at the bottom of the pile among playoff teams (and sometimes in general as well), leaving the simple fact that their starting pitching is well below par. Yes the Orioles bullpen was able to make up for it, but that can't be relied upon to occur every time. The Orioles due to their propensity for extra inning games, pitched the highest number of innings in baseball 1,483 last season, and despite finishing 20th in starter innings, their starters still accounted for 63% of all the innings. Fixing the starting rotation is an absolute must.

Targets:

(Though there are some trade targets the Orioles weaker farm system keeps them from likely going that route)

SP Anibal Sanchez:

Sanchez might not wow you with his win totals, but his peripheral numbers indicated that he's exactly what the Orioles are looking for. He's had a sub 4.00 ERA each of the last three years (and in fact any year where he's made more than 10 starts), and even looking at his 12 AL starts with the Tigers his ERA was 3.75. Each of the last three seasons he's pitched either 195 or 196 innings, showing nice durability. His walk rate would have been lower than any of the Orioles starters that started at least 15 games. His ground ball percentage and Home run rate would have only been behind Hammel in terms of effectiveness. Sanchez also picked up some playoff experience this past year and posted a 1.77 ERA and sub 1.0 WHIP in his 20.1 innings for the Tigers this fall. Sanchez at 29 years old (age for the start of next season) is one of the few sub-30 quality pitchers out there and could be someone the Orioles build with the next few years. Now he will cost some money and years, but he's someone the Orioles need to open up their checkbook for if they are serious about a repeat playoff appearance. They could be looking at a 4 year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million a year, but it is worth it for Baltimore.

Edwin Jackson:

Jackson is in many ways a lot like Anibal Sanchez, though is perhaps underrated. Jackson came up as a top pitching prospect for the Dodgers and has flashed brilliance at times, but he's not near consistent enough to think that he can turn the corner. He has been remarkably consistent, despite pitching six different teams in the last five years. Since 2008 Jackson has never pitched less than 183 innings, and has gone over the 200 inning mark twice, Of those five years he has two seasons with sub 4.00 ERA's, including 2009 where he pitched in Detroit and 2011 where he pitched most of the year with the White Sox. His peripherals fluctuate some as well, but he's shown an ability to be a solid ground ball pitcher (47.3% last year), and in both 2010 and 2011 had a home run rate below 1 per 9 innings pitched. Those two stats are a must to succeed in Baltimore and the AL East. While his playoff performance hasn't been stellar he's been a part of contending teams each of the last 5 years (for at least part of the year). He's by no means an ace, but he's a far better durable and consistent option than most of the guys the Orioles would look to trot out there next year. Jackson will be just 29 next season, and actually could be undervalued by the market. It wouldn't be shocking to see him average closer to $10 million a year for no more than 3 years.

Conclusion:

Sanchez and Jackson are by no means the only quality starters available, but unless the Orioles break the bank for Zack Grienke, they will be hard pressed to find pitchers that suit their needs as much. Sanchez and Jackson are both young (in terms of free agents), durable starters who are relatively strong in the areas where the Orioles need the most help. Ground ball pitchers who aren't as homer prone, and who don't walk as many batters are the best way to get by without having a pure ace.  A rotation of Hammel, Chen, Sanchez, and Jackson all but ensures the Orioles of the starting pitching talent of a real playoff team. If their bullpen, and offense repeat their performance (or come close), the Orioles should be able to get 90+ wins again. Yes it may lead to some tough decisions among the rest of the Orioles pitchers, but that is the mark of a quality team, and could give them some depth to trade from for future assets.

 

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Baltimore Orioles: 2012 Season in Review

October 15, 2012 in MLB

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

Congrats are due to the 2012 Baltimore Orioles team led by Buck Showalter.  Although the season ended earlier than we all hoped, no one could have thought this team was playoff material last spring.  Talk about the disaster that Peter Angelos has been quieted, as his choices of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette clearly paid off big time this season and hopes that the franchise can maintain its winning ways for the next few years.  So where does it leave us for 2013?

Up top Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter and his staff will be back.  It doesn't look like we have a 1997 Davey Johnson situation coming.  Both Buck and Bob Melvin deserve the manager of the year award and if Melvin does win, it won't matter because all of Baltimore has already shown its appreciation for what Showalter has quickly managed.  Once again thanks to Bobby Valentine for not having interest in the O's.  So what will Buck have to work with in 2013?  Probably not much change it looks like.

The Orioles are a team full of players that they have either resigned or have players under their control.  The three most notable free agents will be Mark Reynolds Nate McLouth and Joe Saunders.  Reynolds thrived defensively at first once Manny Machado took over at third.  But is his high strikeout output worth picking up and $11 million option?  Especially with Chris Davis in the same lineup.  The team should have money to work with but I would probably look to negotiate a better deal with Reynolds first.  If that doesn't work, one person I would look at is the Nationals Adam LaRoche.  The O's probably saw enough of Nick Swisher's struggles last week to pass on him also.  I love what Reynolds did with the love and with the bat in the beginning of September but there is a legit chance his numbers could even drop in 2013.

With Nick Markakis returning from injury and assuming Chris Davis is your DH, I think the only two spots open are second base and left field.  Second base should be open and I think this is where the O's can try to add someone who can hit at the top of the order.  There is not much there when it comes to free agency so maybe the trade route but is there anyone there who can be an upgrade from Andino or Flaherty?  I can't see Brian Roberts back as a starter, although this isn't the NFL, so guaranteed contracts will most likely give him a chance to compete in the spring.

As for left field, unless someone jumps on McLouth's great series and pays him, I figure he will look to be back with the O's.  With Nolan Reimold due back also they should have a solid battle for left field.  Either way, it helps with depth.  My guess is that they stay out of the Josh Hamilton battle although he wouldn't have to worry about Brian Matusz if he came here.

As for pitching, for once it looks to be positive.  Starting backwards the bullpen should stay intact and can only get better if Matusz and Tommy Hunter are willing to stay there.  All the mainstays of 2012 are arbitration eligible such as Johnson, Strop, and Everyday O'Day.

When it comes to the starters, for once they will go into the season with more than just promise.  I think Joe Saunders and the Orioles will look to stay together first of all.  Gold mines Chen and Gonzalez have to go into spring training looking like they are in the top 5.  Jason Hammel is a lock of course to be in the rotation and barring any knee setbacks Duquette could look to working on an extension with him.

Chris Tillman was exceptional in his return to the big league club and hopefully Zach Britton can do the same.  And could we see Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausmann with the club also?  For once this team does have arms and could use a couple to add a stronger clear number one type starter like Josh Johnson.  Every winter top starters are moved and I think the O's will be talking.

All in all, the jokes about when pitchers and catchers report for Orioles are no longer.  There will be a clear excitement going into 2013 and if the team can maintain its core and even add a couple parts it should look to be a contender again with the Old Yankees and the continually changing Rays.  Great season and looking forward to many more.

 

Best of 3 Game Series in New York for O's to Advance to ALCS

October 10, 2012 in MLB

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

Well it comes down to a best of 3 game series at Yankee Stadium for the new "Why Not" Baltimore Orioles.  So far the series has not disappointed, as the Orioles have surprised no one playing the Yankees tough like did during the regular season.  But can the O's take two of three in New York and advance?

Can Oriole Magic continue?

As the Yankees are debating moving down Alex Rodriguez, the Orioles continue to just prepare as normal.  Wednesday night Miguel Gonzalez takes the mound versus the Yankees.  I have been a strong supporter in my blogs and see no reason to change.  All Gonzalez does is go out and give the Orioles a chance to win with quality starts.  He gets them into a chance to work their bullpen and close out opponents.  And now with the added arm of Brian Matusz and the quick bounceback of Jim Johnson, the O's bullpen has to be confident.

As for the offense, more runs will be needed in NYC to win two games.  But you have to think that the home runs will come back.  Making the call Nate McClouth opens game 3 with a bomb which would be huge to quiet down the Yankee crowd.  I can see Baltimore going off early on Kuroda after gaining confidence taking down playoff legend Andy Petitte Monday night.

As for game 4, I don't want to get too far ahead but Buck has to decide to go back to Joe Saunders or start Chris Tillman.  I think it obviously depends on game 3's result.  Win and go with Tillman and have Saunders for a potential game 5.  Lose and I think he goes with the vet Saunders then uses Tillman and a possibility pitcher committee in game 5.  Either way we have to have confidence in our bullpen and with these games being tight it is a huge plus.

Get Your Baltimore Orioles Playoff Tickets

In the end, Orioles magic continues as the Orioles win the next two in NY and close out the Yankees.  I just have a good feeling about this team and that the Yankees are yesterday's news.

Point-Counterpoint: Beltway Baseball Playoff Chances

September 28, 2012 in MLB

By Staff Writer John Manuel & Steve Shoup:

JOHN – POINT:

With the major league playoffs a week away we look at our two local teams roads ahead assuming the Orioles win one of the AL wildcards which they currently lead.  With the Nationals at last looking at one home advantage series, do they have the easier road ahead?  Must start basic though, where do you see the O's and Nats placing after game 162?

STEVE – COUNTERPOINT:

I see the Nationals being able to hold onto not only the division, but first place in the National League playoffs. They do close out with a tougher schedule than the Reds, but I think it is time we start giving the Nationals the benefit of the doubt.

As for the Orioles I think it will go down to the final game, but the Yankees will probably edge them out for the division by a game. Baltimore will still be post season bound as they will have the top wild card spot, forcing the Oakland A's to travel across country for a one game play in game. The A's have played the Orioles well this season, but you have to like the O's chances at home with the A's going across country and playing in Camden Yards which favors the Orioles bats, over the A's arms.

JOHN:

I think the Reds edge the Nats for best record.  As for the Orioles, I also do not see them winning the AL East now but making the playoffs as the wildcard.  I don't fear the A's as much as the Angels running the table the next week and overtaking Oakland.  Then making it a tougher matchup for Baltimore.

But saying the O's join the Nats in the division series, how do you see both teams starting staffs shaping up?  Even without Strasburg, the Nats have to look in much better shape than the Orioles.

STEVE:

Absolutely, even without Strasburg a pitching rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson will be among the best in the postseason. I don't even know who the Orioles would throw, Chen would get one spot, probably Joe Saunders another because he's a veteran, but if Jason Hammel isn't ready, then it would be either Miguel Gonzalez or Chris Tillman. The Orioles do have one thing on their side though, and that is the "Orioles Magic".

I know the Nationals have survived a myriad of injuries, but the Orioles seem to be the team with something special on their side. Their ability to be so dominant in extra inning and one-run games goes well beyond their bullpen. This team wasn't expected to be this successful, they currently have the 7th best record in all of baseball (and 3 teams are just up 1 game on them), despite a negative 11 run differential. That is insane, every team with at least 80 wins has at least a plus 50 run differential, yet the Orioles are negative 11. There has to be some magic for a team to overcome that.

JOHN:

Two weeks ago I would have had Chen to be the main starter in an Orioles playoff run but now not so much.  His recent struggles most likely due to the increased innings work over his Japan career may have dropped him in Buck's eyes.  I would lean to Saunders as the #1 going in as a veteran pitcher who should be able to get you into a bullpen vs. bullpen situation which the Orioles would like to be in.  Then I go Dylan Bundy, I am joking.  I would go Chris Tillman.  When you speak of Orioles magic I think Tillman fits that being all he has done is win games since his return from AAA.  As for #3, it may come down to who is in better shape between Chen and Gonzalez.  I have confidence in both to pitch strong if they are strong and in condition to pitch.

As for the Nationals, there isn't must to say on this since they have it all set up right with Gio, Jordan and Edwin.  Even without Strasburg, it is a formidable threesome, especially knowing Jackson has been there.  The good news for both teams come playoff time is that both teams have strong bullpens that can match up with opponents in either league.  Do you agree or have any concerns when it comes to the late innings?

STEVE:

That’s a scary thought of using Joe Saunders as your number 1, but you might be right that he's the best option. Tillman is a guy who has surprised me all year, and I wouldn't be shocked if he continues to do so in the postseason (man that Bedard trade keeps paying off). The Orioles bullpen doesn't really scare me, in fact they seem to relish close games (usually in extra innings) and do their best work then.

The Nationals pen does scare me a little though as Drew Storen has had some issues this year, and Tyler Clippard hasn't been "lights out". Sure against some weaker teams they can close the door effectively, but I worry about the exposure to better line-ups in the postseason. I think the Nationals need to give their pen some more breathing room than the Orioles if they want to move on to the NLCS.

JOHN:

You can't go 5 minutes of Nats talk on the radio without hearing what’s wrong with Tyler Clippard.  Hopefully once it gets to the postseason he flips the switch and is lights out as the setup guy to Storen.  If Atlanta would just give them a break and lose a couple, they could clinch and get Clippard some rest before next weekend.

As for the Orioles pen, Pedro Strop has kinda turned into their version of Clippard but hopefully he turns it around.  Johnson, O'Day and the returning Patton look to be in their best form and Luis Ayala has had some struggles when he isn't busy catching home runs in his hat but I think in the playoffs he could be effective.  As for the lineups, I think the Nationals are pretty set with who will be where but the Orioles will have some decisions especially without Markakis.  It looks like Thome is back and would be on any playoff roster so decisions will need to be made like having Chris Davis and his home run potential in right field versus righties and lefties.

Does Matusz who has been solid make the playoff roster as a 2nd bullpen lefty?  Who is your 2nd baseman?  Looked like Quintanilla, then Andino, now its Flaherty.  I should have the opinion though let’s just get in then let Buck make those calls.

STEVE:

From the way it looks the Nationals are obviously in better shape in the standings but also when it comes to setting up their playoff roster.  Then again most pundits have to see the Nats as the team of the two who should go farther.  But the playoffs can change quickly as we have seen recently and maybe some of that "Orioles Magic" plays out.

O's Week in Review: O's Head to Boston After Mariners Sweep

September 21, 2012 in MLB

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

Every week I put up on a blog about two things.  One is that the Orioles keep winning and two is that the Orioles keep making smart rosters moves after losing players to injury.  The O's sweep of the Mariners gets them even closer to a playoff return with two weeks left in the regular season.  And now phenom pitcher Dylan Bundy is with the major league team and soon will make his major league debut.  This season has been a great story and a great show to watch.  

Trailing the Yankees by only 1 game and with a 4.5 game lead in the wildcard race, the Orioles find themselves in a great position coming down the stretch.  Now winners of 4 in a row the Orioles will head to Boston whose season they spoiled just a year ago.  But does Boston have the horses or the mental state to get some revenge on the O's?  Will Bobby V be able to motivate his team back from the dead?  Or is he even talking to them at this point?  The Orioles just need to go to Fenway and take care of business this weekend.

As for Dylan Bundy.  I like the move to add him to the roster.  Mainly because Duquette and Showalter have been right all season on the ridiculous amount of roster moves they have had to make all season.  With all the extra innings the team has played recently another capable arm in the bullpen can't hurt.  And maybe they catch lightning in a bottle much like Tampa did a couple seasons ago with David Price in their World Series run.  With the 7th, 8th, 9th inning situations set, Bundy could be used down the stretch just to face a batter or two and see major league hitters and game situations.  No one now can argue they brought up Manny Machado too soon so hopefully the issues of the past early callups are over.

With less the two weeks left I am pretty confident that the bullpen will continue its solid season.  Am I worried about the starting pitching or lineup?  A little, but that has been the story of the 2012 season.  Someone will get hot and help Adam Jones.  The O's will hit enough home runs to wins.  A new hero like Nate McLouth or Chris Davis will step when needed.  Guys like Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez or now Joe Saunders will give the team a chance to win late with that bullpen.  BUCKle up for the next two weeks, it is going to be exciting. 

 

O's Week in Review: Tied With Yankees With 20 Games Left

September 13, 2012 in MLB

By Staff Writer John Manuel:

There have been three constants recently with the Baltimore Orioles the past month.  One, they keep winning. Two, somebody will go down injured. And three, somebody else will step up.  Once again this was the case during the past week.

Following an intense hard fought series split versus the Yankees which saw them lose Nick Markakis, the Orioles have bounced back with two huge wins versus the Tampa Bay Rays.  Markakis thrived since Buck Showalter moved him up to the leadoff spot after his first injury return.  But when he was lost Saturday night, once again we thought not only the leadoff spot, but possible the playoffs could be gone as well.  So Buck moved up Nate McLouth, and Wednesday it paid off with a dramatic walk off hit to keep the O's tied with New York.

McClouth saved the game with his bat on Wednesday night.

How good is Buck Showalter?  Real freakin' good.  And it continues to show on a daily basis with moves like Markakis and McLouth to the leadoff spot.  Since it's the summer of Camden Yards statues, it wouldn't be a bad call to start a Buck one as soon as possible.  Showalter has made the right calls all season.  From spacing his starters, to the use of a spectacular bullpen, to once again the adjustments to top of the lineup.  He stuck with a guy like Mark Reynolds when everyone in Baltimore (including me) felt he had worn out his welcome.  Although Reynolds tear now has him reverted back to a slump, which hopefully he will soon get out of.  Showalter is a winner and he has been able to put the pieces Andy MacPhail and Dan Duquette gave him into winners also.

As for the magic of Wednesday's game which will probably best be known for the 9th inning defensive play of Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy.  That play could go down as the biggest of the season along with last Thursday's Adam Jones homer.  But the Machado/Hardy play and the McLouth game winner will overshadow what Miguel Gonzalez gave them.

Gonzalez battled for six innings and as he has pretty much done all season, gave the O's a chance to win.  Gonzalez was out of baseball much like the guy who helped bring him to Baltimore, Duquette.  It's funny how an exec like Duquette had such a tough time getting back to this level while his former team, the Red Sox, have been a disaster all season.

So here we go again.  Tied with the Yankees with twenty games to play.  Fortunately, the old Yankees seem to breaking down as well.  Derek Jeter turned an ankle last night and New York is hoping for the returns of Andy Petitte and Ivan Nova will spark a depleted starting staff.

But neither of those guys or the whole Yankees team should scare the O's.  And from what we have seen, Buck's club isn't worried about anyone and will continue to just go out and play.