Previewing the AL East: Baltimore Orioles
After finishing with their best record since 1997 in 2012, the 2013 Baltimore Orioles failed to make the playoffs, finishing twelve games back of the Boston Red Sox. The clubs 85-77 record wasn't terrible, don't get me wrong, but this team can't expect to compete in the AL East with anything less than 90 wins.
Much of the controvery surrounding the O's this offseason involved the team's conflict with RHP Grant Balfour and OF Tylver Colvin's physicals. In Balfour's instance, Baltimore's doctors apparently noticed something that other doctors throughout the league didn't, and he ultimately landed elsewhere in the division with the Rays.
The Orioles also made one of the more surprising trades this winter when they dealt RHP Jim Johnson to Oakland for 2B Jemile Weeks. This was clearly a salary dump for the O's, but they all they got in return was a second baseman who has hit just .219 since bursting onto the scene his rookie year.
Some of the team's notable transactions this offseason:
- Signed RHP Ubaldo Jimenez for 4 years, $50MM
- Agreed to sign Suk-Min Yoon for 3 years, $5.575MM
- Signed RHP Ryan Webb for 2 years, $4.5MM
- Acquired 2B Jemile Weeks from OAK
- Acquired RF David Lough from KC
The O's just recently invested the money saved from Jim Johnson, and more, into the signings of RHP's Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-Min Yoon. The team despirately needed an ace, but I think Jimenez represents more of a jump by the team to try to win in the small window they have before Matt Weiters and Chris Davis depart via free agency rather than the ace they've been looking for at the top of their rotation.
Who knows, maybe Jimenez can be the pitcher he was during the second half of last season for a full season in 2014? It's doubtful, but mechanics have always been the issue for the right-hander, and if Mickey Callaway helped Jimenez fix this, this could be a more realistic expectation.
The other right-hander the Orioles signed, Suk-Min Yoon, doesn't nearly have the upside as his other international counterparts, Darvish and Tanaka. This is evidenced by the small guarantee of $5.575MM he received, though he might still be a solid addition to the bullpen/back end of the starting rotation. The team could still add DH/1B Kendrys Morales or RF/DH Nelson Cruz, but let's take a look at how the lineup figures to look come opening day as it stands right now...
w/ 2013 statistics
1. RF Nick Markakis (.271AVG, 10HR's, 59RBI's)
2. 3B Manny Machado (.283AVG, 14HR's, 71RBI's)
3. 1B Chris Davis (.286AVG, 53HR's, 138RBI's)
4. CF Adam Jones (.285AVG, 33HR's, 108RBI's)
5. C Matt Weiters (.235AVG, 22HR's, 79RBI's)
6. SS JJ Hardy (.263AVG, 25HR's, 76RBI's)
7. DH Delmon Young (.260AVG, 11HR's, 38RBI's)
8. LF David Lough (.286AVG, 5HR's, 33RBI's)
9. 2B Jemile Weeks (1-9 in 8 GP w/ OAK)
The Orioles have arguably one of the best lineups in the league 1-6. Manny Machado is the game's best rising star right now, behind Mike Trout of course, and Adam Jones has been one of the game's more consistent producers over the last couple seasons. Jones seems to be a sure bet for a .280 AVG, 30+ HR's, and at least 90 RBI's in 2014 (he had 108 RBI's in 2013.)
Chris Davis shocked the world with a 53-homer campaign, setting a new single-season franchise record for the Orioles, and will enter the 2014 season having just turned 28 years old. This guy is just entering his prime, and coming off a year that made him one of only 26 players all-time to hit at least 53 home runs in a single-season, but can he repeat last season's gaudy numbers?
The only problem with the Orioles lineup is with slots 7-9. None of the guys projected to man the DH, LF and 2B positions packs much of a punch with their bats, and the Orioles will need these guys to perform, or replace them with guys that will, in order to compete. Let's take a look at how the team's pitching figures to look for the upcoming season...
Projected Pitching Rotation:
w/ 2013 statistics
SP RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (13-9, 3.30ERA)
SP RHP Chris Tillman (16-7, 3.71ERA)
SP LHP Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 4.07ERA)
SP RHP Bud Norris (10-12, 4.18ERA)
SP RHP Miguel Gonzalez (11-8, 3.78ERA)
CP RHP Tommy Hunter (4 saves, 2.81ERA)
Ubaldo Jimenez seemingly slots in as the Orioles's ace for 2014, but the team still lacks a true #1. Jimenez has shown he's capable of filling those shoes, but he's looked like a #3 more than a #1 throughout his career.
Looking at the rest of the rotation, Chris Tillman took strides forward in 2013, and Wei-Yen Chen was tremendous in the first half last season, but the team needs Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez to follow suit. Norris, in particular, has been basically a league-average pitcher throughout his career and might not be anything more than a #5 starter for the O's.
The bullpen might not be much better than the rotation, either, especially since Tommy Hunter is slated to be the team's closer right now. LHP Brian Matusz and RHP Darren O'Day are capable of getting out left-handed and right-handed hitters, respectively, but Buck Showalter is going to need a lot of assistance from RHP Ryan Webb in order to make this look like a playoff-caliber bullpen.
The 2014 Baltimore Orioles have plenty of solid players on their roster, some superstars, in fact, but I'm not sold on the idea that this team can overcome the competition it will face in the AL East. This is just one of those ball clubs with plenty of "good" players and not enough premier talent to get over the hump.
I think that a fourth place finish in the division is the most we can expect out of this team this season. There's a lot to prove, and Buck Showalter definitely has a lot of work ahead of him, but I also wouldn't be shocked to see the O's in the middle of the race down the stretch.
2014 PECOTA Projection: 75-87 (last in the AL East)