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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

Part 1Part 2

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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