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Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 97-65 Manager: Buck Showalter

The Orioles seemed to stall in the driveway last year with their young guns starting pitchers struggling out of the gate and disappointing performances across the board. Only Matt Wieters and Adam Jones seemed to develop in the way this club expected coming out of spring training. They’ll need a lot more development of their young talent this season if they are to get the locals excited in the Inner Harbor.

Player in the spotlight: Adam Jones CF

Adam Jones has gone from a tremendous defensive centerfielder to one who can hit as well. Jones is now a solid 25 HR type of hitter with an average around .280. If he’s able to continue to improve and the Orioles get some production ahead of him, Jones could become a 30 HR and 100 RBI producer in the next year or two.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Brian Roberts 2B

Roberts is suffering from post-concussion syndrome and his return is unknown. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009 and at $10M per season through 2013, the Orioles have some valuable resources being tied up in a player who is a huge unknown. If Roberts is able to get healthy and regain his pre-injuries form, the Orioles will have a great leadoff hitter who can help the young pitching staff gain an early lead in games.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Tommy Hunter

Hunter was acquired from the Rangers last year where he was unable to crack the rotation after a very solid 2010 season. He’s only 25, but he’ll be asked to provide veteran stability to a staff that traded away mainstay Jeremy Guthrie in the offseason. If Hunter is able to revert to his 2010 level of performance, the O’s will get closer to lining up a respectable staff this year.

Biggest pitching question mark: Zach Britton

Britton starts the season on the DL with some shoulder trouble. He’s expected to return but the date is unknown. Britton had a solid rookie campaign in 2011, winning 11 games and looked poised to take over the role as staff ace. If he’s unable to pitch or pitch well this season, the O’s face another huge uphill climb to respectability. That puts a lot more pressure on the rest of the young pitchers led by Jake Arrieta, who got the opening day start.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Joe Mahoney 1B

The O’s lack top level prospects with a chance at breaking in over the next season and a half, but Mahoney is probably the one who could make it up. Mahoney will start in AAA Norfolk and could get the call up if he does well and the Orioles start slipping out of contention (a cynic might say they will never be in contention).

Prediction: 5th in AL East

The Orioles need their young pitchers to develop at the major league level. Then they can go out in the offseason and find some solid starters to hold the fort until their top prospects can arrive in 2014. It’s always an uphill battle in the AL East, but it’s even more so when seemingly all of the O’s prospects turn into journeymen type players. Unless Jones and Wieters become superstars, the O’s next hope comes with SS Manny Machado in September of 2013.

The Giants Lose Buster Posey, How Do They Replace His Production?

Posey is probably done for the season

Buster Posey’s home plate collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins on Wednesday knocked the 2010 NL rookie of the year out; probably for the season. The Giants offense has been mediocre, at best, and bordering on atrocious even with Posey. Only the Twins have scored fewer runs than the defending champions in all of baseball. The Giants needed to upgrade their offense before the injury; now that HAVE to upgrade it soon to remain a viable contender in the NL West.

Offense is down across the board in baseball and the Giants won’t be the only contender searching for an upgrade to their lineup. As the calendar turns to June, trade talk will be heating up and it’s probably prudent to be the team that strikes first. There aren’t going to be more than a few impact bats available this summer and the Giants have to ensure that they acquire at least one of them.

So who’s going to available and who should the Giants target?

Jose Reyes’ name continues to pop up as player that the Giants would want to trade for and they have a need to upgrade shortstop. Reyes is heading to free agency after the season and the Mets have been unwilling to extend his contract and will probably look to move him eventually. The problem for the Giants is that they need offense now. But even if the Mets don’t deal Reyes now, the Giants should still have interest, if, and when they deal him in July.

Carlos Beltran is also in his last season with the Mets. There’s probably no chance that he returns to Queens and he might be the best hitter available this summer. While Beltran can still play center field occasionally, he probably more suited to a corner now. But that’s fine since the Giants could use production anywhere in the outfield, especially in right field where Cody Ross has struggled so far this season. Beltran probably wouldn’t cost the Giants a top prospect, especially if they were to take on the remainder of Beltran’s $20 million salary for this season.

The Twins are probably going to be sellers this summer. The question then leads to which players are going to be made available? Jason Kubel and Mike Cuddyer are both free agents following this season and should be made available. The Twins biggest need is high end starting pitching and the Giants have that with Madison Bumgarner and potentially Zach Wheeler in the minors. Both might be available in the right package. The Twins would probably have to trade both of these players and pay most of their remaining 2011 salary for the Giants to part with either young pitcher.

But, what about Justin Morneau? Morneau isn’t a free agent but is owed two more years at $14 million per season plus the remainder of his $14M for 2011. While Brandon Belt is seen as the first baseman of the future for the Giants, he’s played both corner outfield positions and could probably play left field until Morneau’s contract expires after the 2013 season. The 2007 AL MVP has struggled to start the season since coming back from the concussion that ended his 2010 season. But if Morneau can start hitting well, the Giants could have an interest. The Twins would be interested in moving Morneau if they can get quality pitching in return and it would open up first base for Joe Mauer. It would also give them some financial flexibility going forward.

Derrek Lee is another first base option should the Giants pursue him. Lee is on a one-year deal with the Orioles for just over $7 million and has been a gold glove fielder in the past. Lee’s currently on the DL with an oblique strain, but could be a good option when he gets healthy.

Juan Rivera is in the final year of his contract with the Blue Jays and might be a cheap option if the Giants were to deem him an upgrade over their current outfielders.

Out of this group, Reyes is the best player, but the price will be steep to obtain him. They have to know that they can re-sign him if they are to give up the top prospects that the Mets would want. If the Giants wanted to really make a big move, they would try to get both Reyes and Beltran in the same deal, with Bumgarner/Wheeler headlining it and two other quality prospects. The Giants ability to take on salary would be a huge advantage when dealing with the Mets.

Unfortunately for the Giants and others, there won’t be that much offense that’s going to be available. That means the price for decent hitters could be at a premium. The key will be to strike quickly and aggressively upgrade sooner to avoid engaging in a bidding war.

If the Giants wait until July to pull the trigger on a big deal, more teams will be dealing with injuries and looking for last minute offensive upgrades. Most teams can’t take on salary, especially this early in the season. But the Giants have sold out every game so far this year and should have the extra money to invest in reinforcements.  The time to make a deal is the next ten days when other contenders are willing or haven’t decided who to target in a deal.

Where Does Prince Fielder Go From Milwaukee?

The price will be high for the 27-yr old slugger

A few weeks ago, Ryan Braun signed a long-term deal with the Brewers that will keep him in Milwaukee through at least the 2020 season. Braun expressed a desire to finish his career where he started and declared his love for Milwaukee.

Prince Fielder hasn’t signed a new contract and has not professed his desire to remain with the Brewers. Reading the baseball tea leaves, that isn’t going to change, either. Fielder is highly unlikely to remain with the Brewers for two related reasons. First, he hired Scott Boras to represent him and Boras ALWAYS takes his clients into free agency. Second, every Boras client goes on the auction block and signs with the highest bidder, period. The only player that Boras has recently negotiated a contract for without being a free agent was Carlos Gonzalez last winter. But CarGo only gave up three free agent years to get his $80M guaranteed and he wasn’t scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2014 season.

Boras’ history is to negotiate landmark contracts both in terms of length and money. Notable contracts negotiated by Boras include both of Alex Rodriguez’ free agent contracts, Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, every JD Drew contract since he was drafted, and most recently, Jayson Werth’s contract with the Nationals. In addition, Boras has represented the past two #1 picks in the draft, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper of the Nationals.

Boras makes no bones about his negotiating style and teams know exactly what his stance will be with his clients. Unless the Brewers are willing to outbid the entire market for Fielder, they will be looking for a new first baseman during the winter.

In Fielder’s first five full seasons before 2011, he averaged 38 HR, 105 RBI, and 95 R along with 32 doubles. His percentages are .279/.386/.536. There aren’t many better hitters in baseball over the past five seasons than Fielder and he just turned 27 earlier in May. That kind of production and the potential for even more improvement is what Boras will be selling to all 30 teams in the winter.

Fielder is going to command a contract in the 8-year, $200 million or more area. If Boras can entice a second team into the bidding, either real or imagined, the contract could approach $250M and be worth over $30M annually. Those aren’t numbers that the Brewers or most teams are going to be willing to spend. But some team will step up. With Boras, that’s always the case.

So who might spend that kind of money on a superstar with prime years remaining?

1. Washington Nationals

Don’t laugh. Historically, Boras deals with a small handful of teams and he’s developed a very nice relationship with the Nationals over the past few years. As mentioned earlier, Strasburg, Harper, and Werth are all Boras clients and while Werth’s signing seemed to come out of nowhere, observers should have seen it coming due to Boras’ recent relationship with GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals owners. That budding relationship will enable the Nationals to be ”in the loop” on Fielder and they could either drive up his price or become his eventual destination.

The Nationals will be looking to make a big splash in the offseason with Strasburg expected to return from Tommy John surgery next season. In addition to a big bat like Fielder, expect the Nationals to target a free agent pitcher, like Edwin Jackson, to bolster their chances for success in 2012. Jackson, coincidentally, happens to be represented by Scott Boras. Jackson and Fielder to the Nats could become a package deal.

 

2. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs currently have a Boras client, Carlos Pena, manning first base on a one-year deal. The Cubs are also the team most-rumored to likely pursue Albert Pujols when the season ends, but it might make more sense to target the first baseman on their NL Central rivals to the north.

The Pujols/Fielder choice for the Cubs, if they have a choice is intriguing. Fielder will most likely be a few million a year cheaper and he’s four years younger. Pujols isn’t a slam dunk to leave St. Louis either and could just use a team like the Cubs to drive up his price.

So if you’re the Cubs, why not drive up his price? One of the biggest reasons why Pujols hasn’t re-signed with the Cardinals is because they don’t want to allocate such a large portion of their payroll to one player; at least not before they have to.

The Cubs could help Pujols get the $30M annually that he’s seeking, help to hamstring the Cardinals payroll, and then come in and get Fielder for $26-$27M over 7 or 8 years. They have the money available as they can use Kosuke Fukodome’s $14M and Carlos Pena’s $10M to pay for most of the salary. That would be a win-win-win for the Cubs as they would hurt two division rivals and add one of the best bats in baseball. Unfortunately, as Cubs fans know, out-strategizing other teams is not a Cubs trademark.

 

3. St. Louis Cardinals

This only becomes a possibility for Fielder if Albert Pujols leaves the Cardinals. But if he does, the Cards could go after Fielder and they already have a pair of high priced Boras’ clients on their roster with Matt Holliday and Kyle Lohse. They know his style and have been willing to play ball with him in the past and might determine that Fielder fits their payroll better than Pujols will four or five years down the road.

The Cards have money available, just not the $30M that Pujols reportedly wants. But if the bidding for Fielder doesn’t go above $25M and Pujols gets a $30M+ offer, wouldn’t it make more sense to go with the younger, cheaper option?

While the speculation regarding Fielder replacing Pujols can be fun, the only realistic way that could happen would be if the Cubs completely outbid everybody on Pujols and gave him over $300M for at least 10 years. That could be too much for the Cardinals to stomach and redirect them to Fielder. Otherwise, the Cards will most likely re-sign Pujols after both sides compromise a bit.

 

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers possibility is contingent on them getting new ownership before free agency begins. If they do, they have Rafael Furcal’s $13M coming off the books along with a few others and would be able to move James Loney and the $5M or so that he would probably get.

The Dodgers are a far cry from the Lasorda and Alston days when they would always have rookie of the year candidates and compete for the NL West titles and NL pennants. It’s been 23 years since their last NL pennant and they’ve only been to the playoffs six times since that 1988 World Series championship.

The Angels now draw more fans and much more successful than the Dodgers. Signing Fielder would at least help them win the offseason in Los Angeles. With all of the PR problems that the club is having under the current ownership, a new owner can begin to earn the trust of the fans with a big signing like Fielder.

 

5. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles? Yes, the Orioles are getting better with some very good young pitching and have Derrick Lee playing first base on a one-year contract. The Orioles have close to $30M coming off of their payroll going into the winter and they will have a need for a big bat in the middle of the order.

The Orioles have a chance in the Fielder sweepstakes because their division rivals, Boston and New York, don’t have room for Fielder as a first baseman. Unless the 27-year old Fielder is interested in becoming a full-time DH, then he’s not going to those two teams, Detroit, or the Chicago White Sox.

The Orioles have couple of very good young everyday players with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and also have a shortstop prospect that’s being compared to Alex Rodriguez, Manny Machado. Their young pitching is showing signs of becoming really good and adding Fielder would make them a winning team immediately and give them a chance to contend in the AL East.

Owner Peter Angelos has been quiet in recent years, but has a history of spending money on big name free agents. Perhaps a chance at a stud hitter in his prime will entice him to pull out his checkbook for Fielder.

 

Others

Fielder’s biggest problem will be the lack of the Red Sox and Yankees in the bidding process. It’s highly unlikely that those two teams will be involved. Also, ownership issues with the Dodgers and Mets could eliminate both of those potential big market teams. The Phillies already have a huge bat at first base and the White Sox have two players who can play there.

Even though the market will be limited, Scott Boras’ history has shown that he can create a bidding war for anybody. If he can get Jayson Werth $18M annually, he should be able to get the prolific hitting Fielder at least 30-40% more than Werth. Now he just needs to find the right owner.

AL East Weekly Overview April 12

AL East Weekly Overview April 12

As of April 11      
AL East W L PCT
Baltimore 6 3 0.667
New York 5 4 0.556
Toronto 5 5 0.500
Tampa Bay 2 8 0.200
Boston 2 8 0.200

 

Baltimore Orioles

Pitching

The O’s can thank their starting pitching for their fast start to the season. Both Mark Guthrie and Zach Britton have ERAs under 0.70 and are 3-1 combined. The staff as a whole has an ERA of 3.33. In fact, taking out their 13-1 loss to Texas last weekend, the O’s pitchers have surrendered 19 runs in 8 games. It’s early, but if the pitchers can continue to pitch well, the Orioles are going to be a contender to win the AL East. The O’s have another chance for quality pitching when Brian Matusz returns in May.

Lineup

The Orioles offense was expected to be pretty good as long as they stayed healthy and they have won despite the lineup’s struggling so far. Vlad Guerrero is the only regular hitting over .250 and he’s only at .270. The power hasn’t been that evident as they only have 8 HRs in 9 games. The biggest difference in their offense will be when leadoff hitter Brian Roberts finally gets going as he’s only hitting .189 with a .211 OBP.

Overview

The Orioles are going to be around all season long if their pitching remains solid. Their hitting is too good to keep down for an extended period of time and they might have just run into too many good pitchers so far. Considering that they are 6-3 after playing the Rays, Tigers, and Rangers, the Orioles have to feel good about their start. The schedule continues to throw challenges at the O’s as they are at Yankee Stadium for a mid-week series and then head to Cleveland for a three game weekend series. Both teams are playing well and a split might be a positive here.

New York Yankees

Pitching

The Yankees pitching was shaky coming into the season and they haven’t done anything to change that perception yet. Outside of ace CC Sabathia, no Yankees starter has an ERA under 4.00. AJ Burnett is just over 4.00 and is 2-0, but he’s only lasted 11 innings in his two starts. Phil Hughes has been so bad that there have been whispers about the possibility of a trip to AAA. Freddy Garcia hasn’t been used as a starter yet and if he struggles, the Yanks are going to be in trouble. On that note, they just signed recently released former Cub Carlos Silva to a minor league deal.

Outside of one shaky outing by Rafael Soriano, the back end of the bullpen has been solid for the Yanks. Mariano Rivera is his usual self and Soriano, along with David Robertson have done well. Joba Chamberlain has been a mix of good and bad with three solid outings and two bad ones resulting in a 4.76 ERA.

Lineup

The Yankees are going to hit and they better considering their pitching. But so far, they are only hitting .236 but lead the AL with 18 HRs. Their .471 slugging is good for second in the AL.

The biggest concern with the lineup is with The Captain, Derek Jeter, who has struggled with his .206 average and hasn’t looked good. But he’s not the only one as Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, and Jorge Posada are all hitting worse than Jeter and Nick Swisher is barely ahead of him.

Despite the slow starts, the Yanks have some surprises, especially Russell Martin who is hitting .300 with 3 HRs. Martin hit leadoff early in his career with the Dodgers and might get another look there if he continues to hit well and Jeter and Gardner continue to struggle.

Overview

The only thing to be nervous about for the Yankees is their starting pitching. After CC, it’s a major question mark and there’s no guarantee that Burnett will continue to pitch this “well”. If Hughes can’t get straightened out, this could get ugly in the Bronx unless their cast of over-the-hill starters (Garcia, Silva, Kevin Millwood, and Bartolo Colon) can pull it together.

The slow start out of the hitters is to be expected by some as the Yankees have played all of their games in cold weather conditions. Teixeira started poorly last season and turned it around and the other players are proven performers over the course of a long season. As long as there aren’t multiple players still struggling when June arrives, then the Yankees offense will continue to be one of the best in the AL.  The Yanks face the Orioles this week and then the Rangers this weekend. It could be difficult if their pitching doesn’t fare well.

Toronto Blue Jays

Pitching

The Jays young pitching has been pretty good so far as they have put up a 3.15 ERA and it would be even better if their bullpen didn’t melt down against the Mariners on Monday night. Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, and Ricky Romero are all 1-0 with ERAs under 2.40 so far. None of them have given up a HR yet. Jo Jo Reyes and Brett Cecil haven’t been that good, struggling to ERAs over 5.00. Both of them are candidates to sit once Brendon Morrow returns.

The bullpen hadn’t been that bad until Monday night’s disaster at Safeco. Interim closer Jon Rauch is 2 for 2 in save opportunities and the pen has surrendered 12 runs in 36 innings. They’ll take that all season long and they’re doing it without Frank Francisco.

Lineup

The lineup has hit as well with a .266 average and 51 runs to rank fourth in scoring so far. They are doing that despite poor production from half of their lineup. Juan Rivera, Travis Snider, Rajai Davis, and Aaron Hill are all hitting below .200. Davis is now on the DL and will miss a few weeks with an ankle injury.

Jose Bautista is trying to prove last season wasn’t a fluke and he’s done well in his 7 games with 2 HRs and a .400 average. Yunel Escobar has also started well after struggling last season. He’s got a homer and two triples as his averages are .458/.531/.750.  

Overview

The Jays didn’t know what to expect out of their young starting pitching or their bullpen. So far, so good as the Jays have done well and still have plenty of room for improvement. The top three pitchers have a chance at 13-15 wins if they continue to pitch well with their lineup. While they are only at 5-5, the Jays have played potential playoff teams with the Twins, A’s, and Angels. Only the Mariners loss was a bad one.

As long as they continue to pitch well, the Jays will be in the AL East race. They have a couple more with the Mariners before heading to Boston to play the Red Sox for four. They have a chance to maintain their record at .500 going into next week.

Tampa Bay Rays

Pitching

The Rays haven’t pitched well and they need good pitching if they are to repeat last season’s success. Their ERA is a Yankee-like 4.66 and ace David Price’s ERA was at 4.85 coming into Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox. None of their starters have an ERA of under 4.00 and that’s the biggest reason the Rays are 2-8.

The bullpen is a major question mark coming into the season and Kyle Farnsworth has been solid so far, saving both opportunities. Adam Russell picked up a win and has pitched well also. The rest of the bullpen has been slightly better than the starters, which is not good.

Lineup

The lineup took a major hit when Manny Ramirez batted for them this season and it’s sure to have a negative effect going forth as Manny was expected to provide much of the power lost by Carlos Pena. Sam Fuld looks to benefit the most from Manny’s retirement as Johnny Damon will DH much more now. Fuld brings a lot of speed and grittiness that actually might play better in this lineup. He already has five steals and might be able to replace Carl Crawford’s baserunning exploits.  

With Evan Longoria out, the rest of the lineup has struggled as five regulars are batting less than .200. The good news so far is that BJ Upton is hitting .282 and has 2 HRs. Upton is going to have to be a major presence in their lineup if they are to repeat as AL East champions.

Overview

The Rays are off to a poor start but are sitting with the AL East favorites and get a chance to pass them this week. The pitching has to come along as they have too much talent in their rotation to continue to struggle. Their bullpen is the biggest concern and that could be what keeps them from getting any true momentum this season.

The lineup should get better once Longoria returns in a week or two. His presence is sorely missed and there’s too much reliance and dink hits for offense. With Ramirez gone, the DH position opens up more and Damon will play their primarily but he can still go out to left field if somebody else needs a break from the field or if the Rays can acquire another big bat.

The Rays are fortunate that nobody is sitting at 8 or 9 wins so far and they are only a few games out. With the Red Sox this week and the Twins for four this weekend at home, the Rays have to stay afloat as they try to survive this slow start, Manny, and the injuries.

Boston Red Sox

Pitching

The Sox pitching has been abysmal so far as their 7.18 ERA indicates. They’ve already given up 21 HRs and both John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have ERAs in the double digits. Josh Beckett is the only starter with an ERA under 3.50. Beckett’s great start against the Yankees was huge as the Red Sox are searching for a third solid starting pitcher to go along with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, bad two starts notwithstanding.

The bullpen hasn’t been a stabilizing force either. Only closer Jonathan Papelbon and former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks have ERAs of 3.00 or lower. Last year’s fan favorite, Daniel Bard, has an ERA of over 9.00 and Tim Wakefield has an ERA of close to 6.00. How bad are Lackey and Matsuzaka? Wakefield has more innings pitched in relief than they have as starters.

Lineup

 Carl Crawford’s struggles have gotten national attention but their two catchers, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury all have sub .200 averages. The only saving grace for Youkilis is a ridiculous early season walk total.

The lineup has relied on Dustin Pedroia, who might have to win another MVP and David Ortiz for most of their offense so far. Like the Yankees who are struggling, these guys are too good to stay down for long and should return to the top of the AL in runs scored soon.

Overview

The Red Sox reconfigured the top offense in the majors from last season and it’s taking a little bit of time for the new lineup to produce. That shouldn’t be a problem for too long. The major issue for the Red Sox is their pitching. More specifically is their starting pitching. Beckett has shown early that he might be able to regain his form of a few years ago and be a reliable starter throughout the season. Both Lackey and Dice-K were question marks coming into the season and haven’t come close to erasing them. But if the Sox are to win the AL East, as their winter coronation implied, then they need those two starters or a young pitcher like Felix Doubrant to step in and pitch to a low 4.00 ERA.

The Sox have played a difficult schedule so far as they got swept by the AL champs, then lost to surprising Cleveland before coming home and beating the Yankees 2 of 3. The Rays are giving them trouble and they’ll need to take one from them and then find a way to take 3 of 4 from the Blue Jays this weekend to get this turned around.

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Manager: Buck Showalter            GM: Andy MacPhail

  Lineup:
1 2B Brian Roberts
2 RF Nick Markakis
3 1B Derrek Lee
4 DH Vladimir Guerrero
5 LF Luke Scott
6 CF Adam Jones
7 3B Mark Reynolds
8 C Matt Wieters
9 SS JJ Hardy

 

Roberts suffered from a myriad of injuries last season and was limited to 59 games. When he did play, his power suffered as his slugging dropped from .451 to .391 last year. Always a steady OBP guy(.355 career), Roberts will need to be healthy for this potentially high powered O’s offense to reach its potential. The O’s are hoping for 150 games and for Roberts to maintain his career averages (.283 AVG, .355 OBP, and .419 SLG). Anything more would be gravy for the 33 year old.

Markakis is a steady OBP guy but has receded with his power the past three seasons. With at least 43 doubles in the past 4 season and solid on base numbers, Markakis should set up the heart of the lineup nicely this season.

Lee’s last season with the Cubs ended with Atlanta as he had his worst full season since his rookie season in 1998. The O’s are betting $7.25M on Lee returning to around his career OPS of .865. If he does, this offense will be one of the best in the AL.

Guerrero signed a one year deal as well, for $8M. Vlad had a very good first half last season on the way to 29 HRs and 115 RBI while hitting .300 for the season. The O’s will DH him and hit him fourth while hoping for similar production out of the future hall of famer.

Scott had a career year last season at 32 and the O’s hope that he’ll do it again. But he’s going to be playing in left field and his glove isn’t exactly golden. If his production predictably falls off, then the O’s might look for a righty bat on the trade market to platoon with Scott. Although he’s not going to have another OPS over .900, the O’s would gladly take his career OPS of .857.

Jones improved his batting average but his OBP and SLG both went down. In over 100 more at bats, Jones only walked 23 times and his homers stayed at 19. If Jones is to reach his potential, Showalter needs to get him to develop a lot more patience at the plate, which should lead to better pitches to hit and more production. Keep an eye on his OBP, if he can increase it from .325 last season to over .350, then he’s improved his approach enough to really help this team in the middle of the order and could get moved up to the leadoff or second spot.

Reynolds has struck out 638 times in the past 3 seasons. Yes 3 seasons. Joe DiMaggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons. But we’re in a different era and Reynolds lack of contact didn’t hurt him until he only hit .198 last year. He’s got tremendous power as his 104 HRs over the past 3 seasons shows and he’ll take a walk. If he can get his batting average up over .250, he can be a similar batter to Adam Dunn with a high OPS.

Wieters took a step back after a solid partial 2009 season. He’s already got the patience thing down at the plate according to his pitches seen. The key now is to simply hit the ball safely more often. The O’s have to be hoping for a return to his rookie averages(.288 AVG, .340 OBP, and .412 SLG) and then some.

Hardy is on his third team in as many seasons. He bounced back after an atrocious 2009 season but failed to return to his 2007 and 2008 production. The O’s don’t need that, but would take it. The O’s are looking for an OPS of around .750, which is right near his career OPS.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Jeremy Guthrie
2 LHP Brian Matusz(DL)
3 LHP Zach Britton
4 RHP Jake Arrieta
5 RHP Chris Tillman/RHP Brad Bergeson

 

Guthrie came back from his down 2009 season and pitched over 200 innings again and a sub 4.00 ERA. The O’s need him to repeat that this season and lower his HR allowed. With the added offense, Guthrie could win as many as 15 games if he improves his ERA to around 3.50.

Matusz is on the DL after his opening weekend start was scratched due to a rib injury. When he gets back, the O’s will need him to improve his K-BB ratio from just over 2 to 1. Also, if he can reduce his HR rate to more than one per 10 innings, then Matusz should be able to lower his ERA under 4.00.

Britton pitched well in AA and AAA last season and Showalter’s got him in the opening rotation. He pitched a career high 153 innings last season and the O’s will likely limit his IP to 180 or so this season. If he’s able to keep his ERA at 3.80 or better, Britton could win 12-14 games.

Arrieta struggled a bit in his rookie season last year with a 4.66 ERA after posting a 1.85 at AAA. The O’s are looking for Arrieta to continue to improve his walk rate that needs to drop by a third. If he can do that, his ERA should drop as well and Arrieta could be a 13-15 game winner if he lowers his ERA to no higher than 3.60 and pitches at least 200 innings.

Tillman is another young pitcher for the O’s and he has struggled in parts of two seasons with the O’s. He breaks camp in the rotation and will need a K-BB ratio more in line with his minor league numbers(3 to 1) than his major league numbers(1.3 to 1). He also needs to cut his HR rate. He’s given up 24 HRs in 119 career IP. He isn’t likely to have a successful major league career if that continues.

Bergeson will fill in the rotation while Matusz is out. He was solid in 2009 but regressed last season due to a deterioration of his K-BB ratio from 2 to 1 in 2009 to about 1.5 to 1 last year. He also gave up 26 HRs in 170 innings. That has to come down or the Orioles are going to be shopping for starting pitching.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Kevin Gregg
SET RHP Kohi Uehara
  LHP Mike Gonzalez
  RHP Jim Johnson
  RHP Jeremy Accardo
  RHP Jason Berken
  RHP Josh Rupe

 

Gregg comes over from the Jays and will close. He isn’t an elite closer but is reliable enough for a team looking for a winning record this season. The O’s could be in the market for a closer like Heath Bell if they outperform expectations and are in the AL East race longer than expected..

Uehara significantly improved in his second season with the O’s since coming over from Japan. In 44 IP, Uehara struck out 55 batters and only walked 5. That kind of dominance will be utilized in the 8th innings, but Uehara could end up closing again if Gregg struggles.

Gonzalez was expected to close last season but blown saves early in the season combined with arm problems made his year difficult. He’s been a solid pitcher for most of his career and should be solid, if not spectacular in a lefty setup role.

Johnson has been up and down in his 3 seasons with the O’s and last year was about average and keeps him in middle relief. Accardo hasn’t been good since his very good 2007 season with the Jays. He’ll provide another righty arm for middle relief. Berken didn’t fare well as a starter in 2009 but pitched pretty well in relief last season. Rupe has bounced around with no success and gets a chance now with the O’s.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 3B Josh Bell
2 2B Ryan Adams
3 OF Matt Angle

 

Bell struggled with the O’s as the regular third baseman for less than two months and is back at AAA. With Mark Reynolds at third now, Bell could be used as trade bait to acquire a veteran arm. Adams is the heir apparent to Roberts at second and could be called up if Roberts’ injury issues flare up again. Angle can hit and has good speed and should be the first OF called up.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Buck Showalter magic continue in 2011?

  • The Orioles were 34-23 under Buck last year after he took over and that has carried over into this season. He’s impacted everything from the starting pitching to the everyday hitters and the optimism at Camden Yards is higher than it’s been in years. Buck’s track record is to get a team on the brink of playoff success and then his team replaces him. Will this be the team that Buck actually takes to the World Series while he’s manager? Probably not this season, but Buck could be the one taking the O’s to their first World Series since 1983 in the coming years.

2. How will the veteran hitting acquisitions impact the Orioles?

  • The O’s picked up more offensive firepower than anybody in the offseason. They added Vladimir Guerrero, Derrick Lee, and Mark Reynolds. These three hitters could account for over 100 HRs this season by themselves. Guerrero helped lead the Rangers to the World Series last year and Derrick Lee, until last year, was as steady a bat as there is at first base. Reynolds strikes out a lot but can really pound the ball when he connects. If should be fun at Camden this year.

3. Can the Orioles young pitching develop quickly enough to keep them in the AL East race all season?

  • The O’s young arms have a lot of potential, but none of them have broken out with a stellar season yet. If they can get a couple of their pitchers to step up with ERAs in the low 3’s and account for at least 200 IP, then the O’s might be close in late July when they can use their farm depth to add potential pieces to put them over the top.

 

Projection

The Orioles are intriguing and would be a nice sleeper pick in almost any other division. But with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all with playoff level talent and an up and coming team in Toronto, the O’s will face nightly battles in the AL East. If they can hang around the AL East race through the first half of the season, the O’s could be major players for pitching and do have the farm prospects to trade for them. Heath Bell, in particular, would be a great piece to add to the back of their bullpen which would add to their depth and if they could find a solid starter, this team should win in the mid 80’s and be within reach of first place until the end. But unless the top teams in the AL East completely implode, it’s probably going to take at least 90 wins to capture the division this year.