Staff Writers Lance Rinker and Alex Conway discussed the Orioles season over this past weekend in a back and forth discussion. Topics include the Orioles standing in the American League, the current construction of the roster, and the future of the team going forward in 2014 and beyond.
The majority of teams in baseball are all within a small handful of games within each other for the lead in their respective divisions, the Orioles included. However, while the Orioles are currently just 2 1/2 games back of Toronto for the A.L. East Division lead it feels like they’ve simply been treading water this first half of the season. Part of that reason is due to the fact that they have yet to sustain any real success on offense or in their rotation at the same time. Either the starting pitching goes on a stellar run or the offense does. How long do you think they stay in the playoff race playing this way and do you think they will eventually have success with both at the same time and go on a run?
This season has been very similar to last season thus far. Good enough to be frustrating. The 2013 Orioles never put together a winning streak longer than five games, it seems as if the 2014 version will have a similar fate. It is hard to determine if this is who the true Orioles are or are not. The question can be answered in one of two ways in my mind. One being that this is who the Orioles are, an inconsistent, talented, yet flawed team that is not going to turn in a long winning streak and build a nice buffer between themselves and .500. Or two, the offense and pitching have both shown they can put up good enough results to win and the by the sheer length of the baseball season the Orioles are bound to have both humming at the same time and make a real run at the playoffs. The answer to the question, as in most issues in life, probably rests between those two lines of thinking. I believe there are a couple of things the team could do right now to put themselves in a better position for the playoffs, but what are your thoughts?
I believe that without the team either going on a run of seven to 10 victories in a row, like the Royals have recently enjoyed, then they will have to rely on the slow and steady method. What I mean by that is winning three out of every four series they play the rest of the way. If they can’t do one or the other then we’re looking at an 82 to 84 win season most likely. The team has certainly had some surprising performances so far this year though. Nelson Cruz looks like he could bring back a quality prospect at the deadline if the team finds themselves farther back than they’d like and Nick Markakis is making a case for the Orioles to seriously consider bringing him back on a three or four year deal for around $12 million per year. We’ve also had some very disappointing performances. I’m convinced Chris Tillman is nursing some sort of minor injury or is dealing with some soreness in his shoulder.
What sticks out in your mind as far as individual performances go?
Yeah, winning series and maintaining a high quality of play (rather than banking on a win streak here and there) is going to be the path to the playoffs for the Orioles in all likelihood. I think an interesting side note thus far is how abysmal the offense has been at home, bottom five in most offensive statistical categories, and how great it has been on the road, number one in most areas. You would expect both to regress to the mean somewhat, especially the home offensive numbers because Camden Yards is a historically hitter friendly ball park. If they can maintain even 80% of the numbers of what they put up on the road and bring up their home numbers it should mean good things for the team’s overall record.
As far as individual performances go the ones you mentioned clearly stand out. I would also mention that Adam Jones has been great so far and is on his way to putting up his highest WAR season ever. The defensive numbers have been better for him to date this year (obligatory small sample size warning) and he has been raking since May 1st. He is on his way to another 30 home run season. For pitchers on the good side, how can people not be ecstatic with Zach Britton? He is pure filth right now, if a ball gets out of the infield it is shocking. On the bad side, I would say Manny Macahdo continues to disappoint. I know he is coming off of an injury, but he has been pretty bad at the plate since the second half of last season and he has yet to show an adjustment at the plate to return to his first half of 2013 level. Also, Chris Davis has been disappointing. He has put up decent numbers, but the shift is killing him and he seems to be unable or unwilling to hit the ball the other way, which he did with ferocity and frequency last season.
What do you think the Orioles should do with some of their bad performers and how, if at all, should they change up the roster to make the team better?
Zach Britton has been lights out and I’m happy that we didn’t sell low on him last season at the deadline. You’re right about Machado and even Davis to an extent. If Machado wasn’t so talented on defense then I’d say give him some time in Triple-A to clear his head, but that’s not going to happen unless he pulls a Chuck Knoblauch. With that said, part of Machado’s issue is BABIP related (.259 as of this writing) and the other part is the breaking pitches. Davis also has some BABIP issues, though not quite as much as Machado, and I also believe he’s trying to do too much to carry the offense.
As far as other bad performers. Other than ditching Flaherty for either Lombardozzi or Schoop it’s going to be difficult to do much at second base. There isn’t that top prospect at a key position waiting in the wings that is also ready. I was wildly in favor of the team signing Stephen Drew if he were willing to play second base, which he said late in the offseason he would be willing to do, but that ship has sailed. The Orioles are pretty much stuck with what they have at second base. As far as left field is concerned, they could upgrade there by trading for a guy like Seth Smith from the San Diego Padres or Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies – two players on non-contending teams that shouldn’t cost a whole lot to acquire. Without Bundy ready it’s also difficult to do much shuffling around with the rotation outside of keeping Gausman in and trying to figure out how to put Chris Tillman or Ubaldo Jimenez on the DL.
If the Orioles are still hovering around .500 once we near the trade deadline, do you think they should sell off pieces such as Cruz and Norris?
Yeah, Friday night withstanding, Britton has been a revelation in the bullpen. I think some of the options in AAA may actually benefit the Orioles rather than attempting to make a trade. Ivan De Jesus Jr. and/or Jemile Weeks could definitely provide more offense–both have around a .400 OBP at Norfolk–than the team is getting from second base currently. Neither of them are as good defensively as Schoop or Flaherty, but the holes at the bottom of the lineup kill the offensive production. Furthermore, Steve Clevenger should be with the big club and be the starting catcher. His arm is not great, but neither is Hundley’s or Joseph’s, and his ability with the bat far out classes both of them. Also, I think even someone like Brett Wallace and/or Quintin Berry could provide some left handed pop off the bench of which they have none right now. I am surprised by the lack of tinkering DD has done with the bottom end of the roster to date this year. There are some viable options at Norfolk and the offense runs a lot smoother when the 7-8-9 hitters aren’t automatic outs.
As far as selling goes, I have been pondering about that a lot lately. It has to be hard for a GM to decide that it is time to start peeling off pieces. Even if the Orioles do not make a run this season and make the playoffs, the 2015 team has a decent outlook with everyone able to return other than Hardy and Cruz, and probably Markakis. However, this team was pretty fortunate in 2012, spun its wheels in 2013, and looks to be doing much of the same thus far in 2014. I think a lot fans always like the idea of scrapping the team for prospects, but it is hard thing to commit to when so much can go wrong in the rebuilding process. I doubt they sell off any pieces, but the next month and half is going to decide a lot.
I’m a fan of Weeks. I think that his combination of speed and slap singles hitting could really benefit the bottom of the order offensively. Like you said, what good does it do having guys hitting 7-8-9 that are fairly easy outs. Weeks could certainly help change the complexion of the offense a bit and I feel that having Flaherty come off the bench and play that super-utility role is better suited for his particular skill set and talent level anyway. When it comes to catching, I agree – Clevenger should be up with the big league club and he certainly earned his place on the roster. I can’t help but wonder if Buck and Dan are waiting for Joseph’s power potential to come around. He’s been extremely unlucky with the bat so far, carrying a .170 BABIP, but he is walking at a nearly 9 percent clip. I’m not really sure Brett Wallace has a place on the big league roster while Steve Pearce and Delmon Young are here. If Young weren’t on the roster than I think Wallace would have gotten a shot by now, but other than a left-handed bat off the bench with some pop there’s really no place for him.
Do you think that Markakis wouldn’t be worth bringing back next season? I think he would be under a three-year deal for upwards of $12 million a year, but I wouldn’t go any higher. If he’s not back than who replaces him?
Yeah those are all good points which is probably why no move has been made. I guess I’m just anxious to see some new faces and at least have a little hope to not have some automatic outs at the bottom of the lineup every game. I’m still unsure why Delmon Young is on the roster, but yet here he is. Both Schoop and Joseph homered today, which is good for them and hopefully both of them can start a little hot streak and add a little threat to the bottom of the lineup.
Looking at any deal with Nick Markakis is a twofold proposition. First, you have to determine if the money is going to good use. A $12 million contract per annum is something like a 2 WAR player on the free agent market. Nick is now projected by most systems to be around a 2 WAR player this year and he has been great at racking up singles at the top of the lineup. I have wrote about his lack of power and I still believe that makes him a liability. I doubt going forward into his age 31 season Nick is going to be much better than he is this year. I think your deal parameters are probably something close to what he could fetch on the market and I also think he would really like to stay in Baltimore. It is a fair deal probably, but would not end up as a great deal for the Orioles. Second, you have to, as you point out, figure out who replaces him. That starts with internal candidates which my best guess would be Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez, or possibly even David Lough. Nothing stands out there. Next would be free agents to wit I don’t see the Orioles being able to grab and pay someone significantly better than Markakis. I thought this past off season the Orioles would go after Brian Roberts, but they did not, so I do not expect some sentimental contract negotiation from DD. I think the deal you outline would be an okay move for the Orioles, not great value, but a decent deal for a decent player.