I have been an Orioles fan since the 20th century. This means my baseball fanhood has been largely filled with frustration, endless negativity, and expectations lower than Jose Altuve . However, the miraculous run of 2012, as well as watching Chris Davis morph into the Greek god of Mashing, have raised my expectations for my favorite team in all of sports. And while the franchise finally fielding a competitve bunch is nice, it also leads to a more intense letdown when they, well, let the fans down. Letting the fans down by losing on the field is tough, but hey, 29 of the 30 teams are losers by the end of each season. That’s something I can handle.
What I CAN’T handle, however, is losing in the free agent market. Owner Peter Angelos, seen here, has the assets to go out and nab some solid free agents. I understand that management may want to save their money to lock up Davis, Manny Machado, and maybe even Matt Wieters in the future. But that by no means excuses what has been the Orioles’ most dreadful offseason in recent memory.
The Orioles’ biggest weakness last year, just like every year since
Mike Mussina left Jim Palmer retired, has been starting pitching. Of the seven O’s pitchers who made at least nine starts last year, only Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez had a sub-4.00 ERA. 2012 ace Jason Hammel was the biggest disappointment, racking up a 4.97 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. The O’s ranked 24th in the majors with only 78 quality starts. Do you get the picture? The starters stunk. So, what have Angelos, GM Dan Duquette and the gang upstairs done to fix that problem? They signed Alfredo Aceves. Alfredo Aceves, who last year with the Red Sox had a WHIP so high even Javale McGee was impressed – 1.73!!! But hey, he had one good season 3 years ago, so by 2012-luckiest-team-ever logic, he’ll be our next ace. Makes me want to heave.
Then, there’s the bullpen. The O’s pen was one of the best of all-time in 2012, a huge part of the team’s otherworldy 29-9 record in one-run games. But they crashed back down to Earth in 2013. The Orioles were below .500 in one-run games last season, and despite his major-league leading 50 saves, closer Jim Johnson struggled throughout the year. Baltimore traded Johnson to Oakland earlier in the winter for fringe second baseman Jemile Weeks. The O’s could and should have gotten a much better return than Weeks, but I was willing to overlook losing the trade because I had a feeling they were actually going to make a free agent splash by signing Oakland’s previous closer, Grant Balfour. Sure enough, the O’s and Balfour agreed to a deal shortly after Johnson was dealt.
And then Balfour failed his physical exam, and the deal was off. One would think that the O’s would try to find a different closer. Alas, you would be mistaken! Apparently they are content with handing the closer role to Tommy Hunter. Which would be fine, if you disregard the fact that Tommy Hunter sucks. Yeah, he had a great year in 2013, but other than last season, he has been terrible for the majority of his career. There’s no doubting that he throws a mean fastball. The problem is that he leaves it in the middle of the plate too often, as evidenced by the 93 home runs he has allowed in 555.2 career innings. That’s 1.67 home runs per nine innings. That’s not good. At all. Especially for a closer. The Orioles management may not want to hear it, but Tommy Hunter is going to regress from his fantastic 2013 campaign. They really need to find a better option, and with multiple closers still on the market, they should act quickly.
Finally, let’s discuss the cestpool in left field. Baltimore let Nate McLouth walk in free agency, as he signed down the beltway with the Nationals. McLouth was a huge part of the 2012 playoff run, played well for the first half of 2013, and was our best stolen base threat. However, he struggles against left-handed pitching, and his batting average steadily declined down the stretch last year. So I wasn’t too worried about his departure, as long as we replaced him with someone with speed and a decent average. Surprisingly enough, I actually like the signings of Quintin Berry and Xavier Paul, who both fit the speedster left field mold. And I guess signing Tyler Colvin isn’t a horrible move… can’t have too much depth…apparently they are interested in Jack Cust…who hasn’t played in a major league game since 2011…
…Aaaaaaaaand they signed Delmon Young. The Delmon Young who once threw his bat at an umpire in the minor leagues and was suspended 50 games. The Delmon Young who wasted away his once elite talent. The Delmon Young who last year was released by a Phillies team desperate for outfielders. The Delmon Young who was arrested after drunkenly yelling anti-Semitic slurs at Jewish people, and then tackling one of them. THAT Delmon Young. Look, I love the Orioles with all my heart. I am desperately hoping that Nolan Reimold stays healthy for once, and one of the Berry/Paul/Colvin/Cust?!?! options can fill in at DH or platoon in left field – because I am NOT rooting for Delmon Young. Hell. NO.
To sum things up, the Orioles are trying to be the Rays or the A’s and turn garbage into gold. The problem is that Dan Duquette is no Billy Beane or Andrew Friedman, which was somewhat evidenced by the failed Scott Feldman and Bud Norris trades last season. This strategy is even more frustrating when realizing that the Orioles, unlike Tampa Bay and Oakland, actually HAVE MONEY to sign better players than they are. This team has a great offense, superb defense, an average bullpen, and subpar starting pitching. Hopefully after the Yankees or Dodgers or Donald Trump sign Masahiro Tanaka, the market for pitchers will be cleared up, and the O’s will go out and sign a Bronson Arroyo, or Ervin Santana – someone who can just put up innings at the very least. But until then, this is a team that will have to rely on its offense and defense to keep pace in the brutal AL East.