2011 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Last Five Years:

2010:  66 – 96 (Last in AL East)
2009:  64 – 98
2008:  68 – 93
2007:  69 – 93
2006:  70 – 92

The Orioles haven’t had a winning record since 1997, when the roster included Rafael Palmeiro, Robbie Alomar, Cal Ripken, and Brady Anderson, with Harold Baines and Eric Davis on the bench.  The rotation was Mussina, Erickson, Jimmy Key, and Scott Kamieniecki.  Randy Myers was the closer and Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez, and Arthur Rhodes were in the bullpen.  Oh, and Jeffrey Maier got in the way…

Runs Scored: 613 (13th in the AL, 100 runs better than Seattle, but well below average)
Runs Allowed: 785 (13th in the AL, 60 runs better than the Royals, but well below average)

2010 in Review:

A lot was made out of the hiring of Buck Showalter, and the early results were admittedly stunning.

The Dave Trembley managed Orioles were picked by many to finish last or fourth in the AL and didn’t disappoint.  The young arms didn’t get started, and the bats never came around.  Baltimore started 5 – 18, won just 10 in May, and went 9 – 17 in June.  By then, Trembley had been relieved of his job and Juan Samuel was given the interim job.  Things didn’t get any better, as the Orioles went 8 – 19 in July.  With a record of 32 – 73 (!), having just been swept by the Royals, the Orioles were pacing for just 49 wins – an historically bad total – so Buck Showalter was brought in to add organization and teaching to the Orioles.  The Orioles had a winning record in August and September (and October, 3 – 1).  This 34 – 23 stretch was NOT built, like the White Sox, Minnesota, and Detroit win streaks, by beating up on the lower level teams in the AL or a run of games against the NL Central, but rather against the AL East and other good teams like Texas, Chicago, Anaheim, and Detroit.

The roster moved around mostly because young players were shuttled in and out, but the Orioles had tried bringing in Miguel Tejada, and then sent him packing to San Diego before the trading deadline.  The other minor deal the Orioles did was to trade Will (Suitcase) Ohman to the Marlins for fringe rotation starter Rick Vanden Hurk.

Starters:

Jeremy Guthrie had a pretty solid year – 3.83 ERA, 209.1 innings, doesn’t walk people but served up a few homers.  His strikeout rate is a bit low, which is disconcerting, but not yet problematic.  Behind him was the disappointing import Kevin Millwood.  Millwood went 4 – 16 with a 5.10 ERA, mostly because he gave up 30 homers.  He actually struck out more guys than Guthrie with decent control, but you can’t give up 30 dingers without absorbing losses…  The third starter, Brian Matusz, showed promise finishing 10 – 12 with even better K/9 rates, and a better than league average run rate.  Brad Bergesen made 28 starts and was a young Kevin Millwood – lots of homers, without the good K rate.  The fifth slot was shared by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman.  Arrieta is a prospect but had nearly as many walks as strikeouts, which isn’t very good, and Tillman is a 22-year-old prospect who had very similar numbers to Arrieta – actually finishing with the same number of walks to strikeouts.  Arrieta and Tillman had replaced David Hernandez, who was lousy in the rotation but decent as a reliever.

Looking forward to 2011, the only change is the dismissal of Millwood, and the possible addition of Justin Duchscherer as a fifth starter option.  Duchscherer lost 2009 to surgery on his left elbow, battled depression, and came back in 2010 only to miss most of that season to have surgery on his left hip.  What would help the rotation most would be to keep the ball in the park, and for the middle defense to get stronger…  And, it would be nice to have a true ACE at the top of the rotation, which would slot Guthrie, Matusz, and Bergesen one spot down the chain.

Bullpen:

Alfredo Simon failed as the closer, ceding the job to Koji Uehara.  Uehara is a good late inning option, finishing with 55 Ks and just 5 walks in 43 innings.  Will Ohman was tolerable, Matt Albers wasn’t, and Mike Gonzalez – a good reliever – couldn’t stay healthy.  Mark Hendrickson may have played himself out of baseball, and Jason Berken may have played his way into an eighth inning role.  On the whole, though, the bullpen was lacking an ace as well.  Berken or Uehara could BECOME an ace, but until then, the Orioles brought in Kevin Gregg to be the closer for at least four months…  (He seems to run out of gas in August, and I can’t explain that since he’s a reliever, but he’s got John Franco disease.)  Gregg can be much better than Alfredo Simon, and if Mike Gonzalez can pitch 50 innings, there is hope that the bullpen can be ten to fifteen runs better than in 2010.

Catching:

Matt Wieters is a good young catcher.  I don’t know if he will be the next Joe Mauer, but he can be 80% of Joe Mauer and that’s not half bad.  Defensively, he’s pretty solid with a strong arm.  Offensively, he wasn’t all that great, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he jumped from the 11 – 55 – .249 numbers of 2010 to 17 – 75 – .280 in 2011.  I saw him in the minors and he’s BIG – 6′ 5″ and 225, and there is something about him that is impressive.  Let’s hope he takes that step forward.  Jake Fox and Craig Tatum are backups.  Fox can hit some – but doesn’t have a defensive position (why can’t he just DH?) and Tatum hit singles and catches the ball, but didn’t throw out any base stealers in 2010.  Okay, two.

Infield:

Most of last year’s infield is gone.  Instead of Ty Wiggington playing everywhere (and well) – usually at first base, Brian Roberts at second, Cesar Izturis at short, and Miguel Tejada at third, you have a much different, and potentially stronger offensive lineup.

Look, Tejada played third very well but his offense is slipping (as you would expect), and he was traded to San Diego.  Izturis fell off both offensively and defensively, and Brian Roberts couldn’t stay healthy, forcing Julio Lugo or Robert Andino into more regular roles.  Garrett Atkins was given a shot and, as I mentioned, shouldn’t have been given that shot.  On the whole, though, the infield in 2010 was WEAK.

Looking at 2011, you have Mark Reynolds, the basher who arrives from Arizona with a need to get his batting average back over .230 and cut his strikeouts down to under, say, 200.  STILL, even hitting .198, his power and walks make him an above average hitter and his defense is surprisingly strong.  J.J. Hardy comes over from Minnesota for prospects and immediately upgrades the offense and actually did a better job than Izturis in the field in 2010.  (I like Hardy as a late round fantasy pick – coming off a left wrist injury, his power should return – especially here.)  Izturis remains as a utility infielder along with Robert Andino.  Brian Roberts should be the DH because his body is breaking down and his defense has never been really good.  But, if he played 130 games at second, he might score 100 runs and few guys can do that.  Covering first base is newcomer Derrek Lee.  I’m not a huge fan of this – he’s getting old, his back doesn’t allow him to get to ground balls anymore, and he’s coming off of right thumb surgery – and I’d rather have kept Wigginton.  Luke Scott is his short term backup…  Still, there is a really good chance that the defense will be no worse than last year and the offense could jump up 60 – 80 runs better than last year.

Outfield:

Two positions remain capably covered, with Adam Jones being one of the most productive centerfielders in the AL, and Nick Markakis playing a reliable if not insanely productive right field.  Markakis could have a breakout season, but he sure hits fewer homers than he used to.  It would be nice if he accidentally tagged 25 homers, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  Luke Scott plays left, with Felix Pie getting at bats and logging late defensive innings.  It’s not a horrible platoon, really.  The fifth outfielder, Nolan Reimold, is better than his injury riddled numbers in 2011.

DH:

Luke Scott gets at bats here, as does Jake Fox, but in 2011, the Orioles have added Vlad Guerrero.  Guerrero had a decent first half in 2010, but faded badly down the stretch.  Oddly, the Orioles have a lot of candidates to play here and if they wanted someone on the Rangers, I’d gladly take Michael Young to play second and move Roberts to DH before I’d have given a deal to Guerrero.  Vlad got a one-year deal, though, so hopefully it will pay off.

Down on the Farm:

Most of what can play is already with the big club, leaving the top end of the minors system for Baltimore a bit thin.  The best players on the Norfolk Tides (AAA) were pitchers Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, who are pretty decent prospects, and catcher Brandon Snyder, who doesn’t have a place to play so long as Matt Wieters is still around.

Joel Guzman is still around, hitting 33 homers at AA Bowie.  A few years ago, Guzman was considered a propsect at SS because he was mobile and had power.  He’s still got power, but he’s older and heavier (and taller) and now he’s trying to make it back to the bigs but he might have to do it as a third baseman.  God bless him…  Ryan Adams was taken #2 five years ago, and looked like an almost prospect at Bowie – but mid-range power hitting .298 isn’t going to make it much past a cup of coffee.  Joe Mahoney seems to be making progress, hitting for more power and higher averages as he works through the minors.  He’ll likely start in Bowie, though, and for a first baseman mid-range power isn’t a total asset.

Speaking of first basemen with mid-range power… Tyler Townsend, taken in the third round in 2009, looks like a Gaby Sanchez-type hitter in A+ Frederick.  If he takes a step forward in 2011, look for him to make the squad in late 2013.  Former #2 pick, Mychal Givens is returning from a thumb injury, it will be interesting to see what the shortstop can do if he can just play a full season at  Delmarva or A+ Frederick.

Forecasting 2011:

The Orioles made a lot of bold changes to the roster, most of which will bolster the offense.  I mean, this is a pretty good lineup:  Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Scott, Reynolds, Vlad, Lee, Wieters and Hardy.  This team could easily jump from 613 runs scored to 725 or even 740 runs.  It could also struggle for three months if Vlad and Lee can’t get on track and finish at around 675.  I like the idea, however, that 700 runs is very possible.  The team isn’t GREAT defensively as long as Roberts and Hardy are your double-play combination, but the problem in 2010 was homers allowed more than anything else.

The pitching will hold steady in the rotation, but the bullpen could be marginally better.  Facing Boston, Tampa, New York, and Toronto, it’s hard to look great with your pitching staff.  That being said, I don’t know if the Yankees and Tampa will score more than 800 runs in 2011, and that will help lower the Baltimore defensive numbers.  It’s VERY possible that the AL East may have five teams at or above .500 at some point in the season.  Baltimore isn’t going to win 85 games, but they have a very good shot at 80 wins.  Realistically, I see them as a 79 – 83 team, getting the fans excited about the Orioles future.

I also see them having some big holes to fill in 2012 – first base, second base, closer, and ace – that will require the farm to turn out a future star or the ownership to make a REALLY bold move rather than fetch a bunch of veterans as short gap changes.

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Holiday Cheer in Hot Stove Deals…

A belated Merry Christmas from Mighty Casey Baseball – Casey himself got a new mitt amongst a number of other Bakugan and football related gifts.  Looking forward to getting Casey outside and fielding grounders and catching flies (we do that before batting practice).

Short on time this week, I’ll just fly through the list of deals that completed or appear to be close to done this past week.  After the new year, the focus will be on assembling the 2009 data and comparing it with the trends of the last five seasons to see if we can make heads or tails out of what is happening, eventually turning our attention to the teams and players we’ll be watching (or selecting in fantasy drafts) in 2010.

And, at some point we’ll mix in a few other more free-formed baseball articles – whether of a historical nature or whatever time will allow.  For those of you who visit, I’d love to know what you WANT to read – that way I know I am providing a service and not just getting typing practice…

The Rich Get Richer…

The Yankees acquire Javier Vasquez from the Braves for Melky Cabrera – and a couple of other prospects swap homes, too.  In reality, the rich spend more.  Vasquez pitched for the Yankees in 2004, he’s durable if nothing else, and will be the best fourth starter on any team since the Braves had Kevin Millwood following the big three of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.  Cabrera is okay – a league average hitter moving from an okay hitting park to one that doesn’t help anybody much.  Vasquez moves back to a park that isn’t going to help him much – he serves up a lot of fly balls and in NYC, that only works if you pitch for the Mets.

Among the prospects, the Braves get Michael Dunn – a project who seems to be turning the corner despite his wildness.  He strikes out a lot of batters and has been more successful since switching from a starter’s role to the bullpen.  However, Dunn does walk a lot of guys, so he’ll be a long reliever until he figures that out – and he may never do that.  The Braves also got Arodys Vizcaino, an 18 year old who could be a long term prospect having had some success at low A Staten Island last year.  The Braves gave up reliever Boone Logan, a former White Sox arm who is used like a lefty one-out guy but doesn’t get people out.  He’ll learn to love the bus rides in AAA for the Yankees.  [FoxSports]

The Braves are giving Troy Glaus a one-year deal to play first base and spell Chipper Jones at third, I guess.  Glaus missed most of 2009, has been up and down with injuries but was productive with Toronto when healthy – not too bad with the Cards in 2008 either.  Here’s what I can tell you…  We’re not sure what he’ll hit.  If he’s healthy, he might get to .260 with 25 homers and 85 RBI, which wouldn’t be horrible.  As a defender, he’s below average (his last three seasons were -3, -11, and -3 in range, costing his team between 3 and 12 runs per season)  – and he’s moving to a new position where he’ll be out of sorts.  [SI]

And, Nick Johnson returns to the Yankees – one year, $5.5 million with an option – to be the DH and get on base, which is what Johnson does as well as anybody.  Let’s hope for NYC, he stays healthy.  [SI]

The Angels signed reliever Fernando Rodney, formerly of Detroit, to a two year deal worth $11 million, which seems like a lot of money for a setup guy who might get a few saves.  [SI]

Washington Adding Talent…

The Nationals are trying to add some legitimate talent to the roster via free agency.  First, the team signed Jason Marquis to a two-year deal.  Marquis is worth 180 innings, but most of the good innings occur before August 1.  (The Nationals need to win games then, too.)  Marquis will get $15 million. [MLB]

And, Washington added reliever Matt Capps to the back end of the bullpen.  Capps would take over the closer role once held by Mike MacDougal.  [ESPN]

In a lesser reported deal, the Nationals signed Eddie Guardado to a minor league deal, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make this roster for 2010.   Guardado will likely pitch in his 950th game this year (18th season if he makes the roster)… [SI]

Seattle Still Dealing…

The Mariners sent Brandon Morrow – a struggling #1 draft pick who has been all over the map in terms of performance – to Toronto for reliever Brandon League.  Morrow will be a starter for Toronto and I’ll be rooting for him – but admittedly nervous.  Morrow tends to walk guys and leaves the ball up – and that’s a problem in Toronto.  League is one of those guys with great numbers – strong strikeout and walk data, a lot of grounders, and will be moving to a team that might be able to help him a bit more.  I’d like it better if Beltre were manning the hot corner, but you never know…  Toronto also gave up minor leaguer Johermyn Chavez, a free swinging outfielder who is just 20 and starting to find himself as a minor league hitter.  [SI]

Other Signings…

Darren Oliver returns to Texas, one year $3.5 million with an option for 2011 – but Oliver, who started as a Ranger a LONG time ago, will likely retire a Ranger at some point…  [SI]

Coco Crisp needed surgery on both shoulders after an injury riddled 2009 in Kansas City, but the A’s signed him anyway – $5.25 million and an option for 2011.  It’s a risky deal – one that really surprised me.  [ESPN]

The Royals, missing outfielders who hit barely .220 with deceptive speed, signed Brian Anderson.  [ESPN]

Oakland is also taking a chance on former closer Justin Duchscherer; one year – guarantees and incentives – pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Veneszuela’s answer to Mike Hamption, Kelvim Escobar, signed a one-year deal with the Mets worth $1.25 million.  He’ll be used as a reliever and has a bonus program tied to his performance there.  [ESPN]

I like this deal, but don’t expect his stats to hold up with the move – Arizona signed reliever Bobby Howry to a one-year deal. [ESPN]

Volquez Leaves Early and Everybody Strains a Groin

That didn’t last long…  Edinson Volquez makes his return for the Reds and lasts one inning – leaving with numbness in his pinky and ring fingers of his throwing hand.  An evaluation is forthcoming.

When is nothing a news article?  When a Houston Chronicle writer blogs about the Chicago White Sox showing interest in Roy Oswalt – and then White Sox GM Ken Williams denies that rumor publicly.

The New York Yankees topped Cleveland, setting a new errorless string in the process at 18 games.  A team will make an error at a rate of about five errors every eight games – give or take.  Consider it a coin flip – so to have won that coin flip 18 straight times is pretty remarkable.  It’s also contributed to winning because unnecessary runs don’t show up on the scoreboard.

Ichiro tied his own Mariners record by hitting in his 25th straight game.  MLB.com listed the Mariners who cleared 20 games, and it’s pretty much Ichiro – a lot – with an odd Joey Cora or Richie Zisk tossed in for good measure.

The Cleveland Indians are sharing the injury bug as well as any team.  Rafael Betancourt has been placed on the DL with a strained groin (hope it’s his own), making it eight players on the DL right now.  (Victor Martinez was able to play tonight – so they got lucky there…)  Coming back is Tony Sipp.  Sipp was hurt a couple of years ago, but has those dominating strikeout numbers that makes you hope that he’ll bring the good stuff to the majors – like nearly 12Ks per nine in the minors.  He was crazy wild, though, in his first stint, so let’s hope he leaves that wildness back in Columbus (AAA).

Strained groins are the injury of choice.  The Mets placed Angel Pagan, who was called up because of injuries to every other Mets outfielder (kidding, sort of), on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.

I was watching the Marlins game when two Brewers outfielders left with potential injuries – Mike Cameron and Ryan Braun.  I’m guessing both are day-to-day.  By the way, as a Marlins fan, it was nice seeing Jorge Julio blow a lead for someone else this time…

On the Mend?  Houston’s Jose Valverde threw from a mound for the first time since going to the DL with a calf injury.  The fading Astros need Valverde back as soon as possible.  And, Seattle’s Kenji Johjima says his toe injury is way better than originally feared.  Ervin Santana heads to Salt Lake City for a rehab stint and the Angels are two weeks away from a healthy and solid rotation (one prays).

Anibal Sanchez is going to come off the DL and start for the Marlins on Tuesday.  His rehab start in Jupiter went well and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez hopes to get five good innings out of him.

And, Hiroki Kuroda, who hasn’t started since opening day, came off the DL to start for Los Angeles Monday night.  His return was well timed – the guy who replaced him, Eric Stults, just went to the DL himself.  Kuroda pitched well, but his Dodgers failed to win.

Not on the Mend?  The Yankees got some bad news today – both Xavier Nady’s and Jose Molina’s rehab efforts were curtailed with those nasty twinges…  In Molina’s case, he was catching when his injured quad acted up.  For Nady, it was an elbow that balked at throwing.

Justin Duchscherer’s elbow may be ready, but we’ll never know because he’s got a bad back.

Welcome to the show, Steven Jackson – the Pirates’ choice to replace Donald Veal.  Jackson was a 10th round pick of Arizona in 2004 out of Clemson and has hung around AAA for a few years now.  He has decent control, but not a great strikeout pitch.  Sent to the Yankees in the Randy Johnson deal, he started to show progress in 2008, but didn’t get a shot.  Eventually released, the Pirates grabbed him off the waiver wire a few weeks ago and he’s been okay.  Not a prospect, but he MIGHT eat a few innings for Pittsburgh.

If you are interested in reading more about Barry Bonds and how the Feds are going to appeal decisions that would disallow various testimony in the Bonds perjury trial, click here.