There’s not too much to say about the Baltimore Orioles – their offseason activity was non-existent until late in the winter, when they made two of the best signings of any team by inking both Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez to below market deals. But adding that pair of players to a young core that includes Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and a currently injured Manny Machado might not make Baltimore a playoff team because of the strength of the AL East. It took an inordinate amount of luck in 2012 for Baltimore to crash the Postseason party, and when that luck faded in 2013, they were out of the chase and back to the middle of the pack.
Needless to say, the O’s are in a tough position. They really did all they could do to compete in 2014, and only time will tell if they can surpass the defending World Champion Red Sox, the deep-pocketed Yankees, and the smart, young Rays. Baltimore’s two biggest weaknesses this year appear to be their lack of infield depth and a rotation that seems like it may not be up to par.
Manny Machado’s terrifying-looking injury last September threw a monkey wrench into Baltimore’s plans for 2014. Machado isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day (despite him trying like hell to get there), and as a result, the Orioles are stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Baltimore looks like they’ll be starting Ryan Flaherty at third until Machado is ready. You know, the same Ryan Flaherty that has a career .221/.279/.378 line in 162 games. Maybe you think the sample size is too small, and that’s fine, I do too – but let’s not confuse Flaherty for Machado here. The downgrade is steep.
Furthermore, Machado’s injury is also pushing Jemile Weeks into the starting lineup at second base, where he was expected to battle Flaherty for playing time. Once a highly-touted A’s prospect, Weeks is now 27 and his stock has fallen so much that he spent nearly all of 2013 with AAA Sacramento instead of in the majors. He’s never been able to tap into his massive potential, and really has only provided value on the basepaths in his career, nabbing 38 bags at a 70% clip.
Past those two, the Orioles are left with journeyman infielder Alex Gonzalez, 22-year old prospect Jonathan Schoop (who missed half of the 2013 season), Alexi Casilla (somehow a worse hitter than any other option the O’s have), and career minor leaguer Steve Pearce as their “depth” in the infield. Is there really any reason for optimism here? The Orioles are already behind the eight-ball with Machado out of action, but what would happen if Hardy or Davis goes down? Baltimore’s offense would turn into a train wreck.
Speaking of train wrecks… the Orioles rotation. OK, that’s not fair, but it’s a fact that only three clubs had a worse cumulative ERA from their starters last year than Baltimore – the Twins, Astros, and Blue Jays. The Orioles used a whopping 14 starters last year, and of those 14, they bring back four of the top five in fWAR while also adding Ubaldo Jimenez, who produced more value than every Orioles starter a year ago. That’s all fine and dandy, but will it be good enough?
Wei-Yin Chen only made 23 starts in 2013, and was pretty awful after coming back from his DL stint. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez paced the staff with sub-4.00 ERAs, but both pitchers were incredibly homer-prone, flyball-happy, and had a lot of luck with balls in play. Then there’s Jimenez, who bounced back in 2013 after a pair of awful seasons and is a huge wild card going forth despite the way he pitched for Cleveland last year. Can that foursome, along with Bud Norris, be enough to break through the AL East logjam?
The Orioles do have some rotation depth, including Johan Santana, Suk-min Yoon, and Kevin Gausman, but how much production any of those three can provide this year is a question mark. After all, Santana’s arm has been destroyed for a year and a half, Yoon has never pitched in America, and Gausman is just 23 and had a shaky 2013 once he was promoted out of AA.
We’ll see what happens with the Orioles, but I’m not exactly confident in their success in 2014.