After hiring Buck Showalter and ending the 2010 season on a roll, there was some actual excitement around the Orioles coming into 2011. Maybe the string of losing would finally come to an end (even if it was just 81-81)! Nope. The Buck Magic wore off, and it turned out that the Orioles were still the Orioles as they finished in a distant 5th place in the East and couldn’t get to even 70 wins.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Matt Wieters somewhat quietly established himself as one of the better catchers in baseball, upping his batting line to .262/.328/.450 with a career high 22 home runs, and winning a very well deserved Gold Glove for his work behind the plate. JJ Hardy showed some really unexpected power, hitting 30 home runs (a career high for him as well). Adam Jones joined the club, getting to 25 longballs for the first time. Top prospect Zach Britton was pushed into service earlier than originally planned, but held his own in the AL East and was probably the team’s best pitcher.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Pretty much everything else. There were injuries (Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta), lack of development of the young pitchers (the O’s had a major league worst 4.92 ERA), no real bounceback from Nick Markakis (.284/.351/.406), and a bombing of pretty much every off-season acquisition other than Hardy (Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero couldn’t hit, while Mark Reynolds hit but couldn’t field). Bad team is bad, as they say.
Hardy tying for the major league lead in homers for a shortstop (while missing about a month of the season) was certainly surprising given that he hit 17 home runs combined in 2009-10. I was a big fan of the trade that brought him to Baltimore, but even as one of his biggest boosters I definitely did not see that level of power production coming. All the bad stuff wasn’t really surprising on an individual basis (maybe Matusz coming off the DL and being so awful), but collectively maybe it was a little bit that the organization still isn’t really making any progress.
Brian Matusz was expected to be the team’s best starter, and now with his 10.69 ERA and lowered velocity it’s possible he might never even be a major league caliber pitcher again. Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta didn’t inspire a ton of confidence for the future either. Markakis looks like he’s just a solid player instead of a star (2008 seems like quite a long time ago now). Brian Roberts’ career might be over. Also, Buck Showalter is apparently not made of magic (and isn’t even that great of a manager either).
#1 is going to be a new GM, if the team can actually find someone who wants the job. Some fans want Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson (and probably others), but that’s probably not happening. A few veterans will be gone (Vlad, maybe Scott), though others of similar quality might be brought in in their place to fill out the roster.
Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds have first and third (and maybe DH) between them, but it’s not unlikely that a third player will be brought into that mix. Nolan Reimold might get a chance to play full-time in left-field. Then, of course, there will be the usual job of finding people to put on the mound to throw the ball. Most of the positions are set though.