Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Baltimore Orioles 2008 Preview: Drab This Year, With Prettier Plumage To Follow

2007: The year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

I suppose that team management had some sort of plan going into the 2007 season, and I'm sure that they thought it was a pretty good one. Whatever the plan was, it was more or less invisible to the rest of us, the team was about as well constructed as a Bizarro World interplanetary rocket, and the 69-93 season that resulted was less than optimal. Orioles GM Andy MacPhail engineered two major trades over the winter, receiving a potentially tremendous haul in the second one, and appears to have finally moved the franchise into the rebuilding direction it needs to go.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Playing in a home park that inflates offense by about 5%, the 2007 Orioles scored a below average 756 runs. Of the regulars, only Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada, and Brian Roberts were above average contributers compared to other regulars at their positions. Tejada was traded to the Astros over the winter and Roberts could soon join him in the NL Central if the Cubs put together the right package. Here's a quick and easy guide to roster construction: if your team gives 434 at bats to Jay Payton, your team isn't going to win a lot of games.

2B Brian Roberts (for the moment, anyway)
3B Melvin Mora
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
DH Aubrey Huff
LF Luke Scott
1B Kevin Millar (come on, Kevin Millar?)
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Luis Hernandez

Essentially, the lineup of the 2008 Orioles consists of two guys who are going to be really, really good (Markakis and Jones), one veteran who could be traded at any minute (Roberts), one veteran who they should deal as soon as possible for anything they can still get (Mora) and five guys who won't be part of the next good Orioles team. If Roberts stays around, the Orioles will probably score somewhere around 770 runs. If he departs, the best that the two good hitters left will be able to lift them to is around 740. That's not going to win anything.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Orioles hitters in 2007 were merely mediocre. Orioles pitching was just godawful. Eric Bedard pitched brilliantly for 182 innings, then got hurt, then got traded to Seattle. Jeremy Guthrie pitched surprisingly well after being a desperation addition to the rotation. Daniel Cabrera, expected to be the Drysdale to Bedard's Koufax, went 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA.

SP Jeremy Guthrie
SP Adam Loewen
SP Daniel Cabrera
SP Troy Patton
SP Garrett Olson

CL Dennis Sarfate
RP Chad Bradford
RP Jamie Walker

Looks like the staff of a 100 game loser to me. At least all of them are young, and have upsides; the days of Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano, and Jaret Wright are gone. None of them look like future #1 starter types, though. Bradford and Walker should be moved as soon as a contender expresses interest and offers a warm body as a replacement; bad teams like the Orioles need veteran setup men the way cats need drivers' licenses.

Witnesses for the defense

Defensively, the 2007 Orioles were mediocre at best. Markakis is an outstanding defender. No one else in the projected lineup can make that claim. There isn't much reason to expect the Orioles to be any better defensively in 2008.

Farm aid

Now for the good news. Help is on the way. The Orioles drafted well over the past couple of seasons and added a lot more to the farm system in the Tejada and Bedard trades. Adam Jones, who turns 23 in August, is ready to take over in center field right now. Some caution is advised: Jones is not completely polished defensively and has some work to do with strike zone judgement. That said, he should hit 25 or so homers this year and could well turn into a .310 hitter with 35+ homer power. Catcher Matt Wieters, drafted in the first round in 2007, could reach the majors by the end of this year. Within couple of years he may well be the best catcher in the game. Pitchers Chris Tillman, Chorye Spoone and Radhames Liz will be in the rotation by 2009, all three look like #2 or #3 starters. The number one guy could be lefthander Tony Butler, acquired along with Jones and Tillman in the Bedard trade, although he is at least two years from setting foot on the Camden Yards mound.

Watch out for that tree!

I don't see any candidates for a major falloff. Maybe Melvin Mora or Ramon Hernandez. Guys like Payton and Millar don't have an distance left to fall.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

About a week or so ago I told Bob that this was the worst franchise in MLB. The Bedard trade changed my mind...it's really the Pirates. The Orioles will be worth watching in 2008 only to see Markakis and Jones and will finish last in the AL East. And they'll be there again next year, too. Patience is a virtue, Orioles fan; your team will be back in the chase in 2011.

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