Springtime Storylines: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  We’re out of the playoff contenders in the AL East and into the also-rans. First up is the faster of the also-rans, the Baltimore Orioles.

The big question: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

Well, sure, on some level the answer to this question is “no” because, as the old saying goes, you can never be too thin, too rich or have enough pitching.  So I guess the real question is whether the Orioles will have enough pitching to keep them competitive enough so that people don’t get totally discouraged that the O’s are hitting the cover off the ball with nothing to really show for it (that’s too long for the headline, however).

And it was bad last year. Indeed, the Orioles gave up more runs than any team in baseball. And their opponents came by those runs honestly, inasmuch as the O’s also led the league in earned runs and didn’t walk a ton of people (they were actually in the good half of the league in walks allowed).  They just got hit hard, being the only team that allowed over 10 hits a game while leading the league in dingers.

The addition of Kevin Millwood helps matters, as he’ll presumably eat a lot of those innings the Orioles starters upchucked last season.  He’ll be joined by last season’s “ace” Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and probably Chris Tillman. I say “probably” because, contrary to expectations, Dave Trembley has not simply named Tillman the fifth starter yet, saying there’s an open competition.  I suppose fifth starter competitions are all the rage this year, so why not?

Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman represent the future, however, and a pretty bright one at that.  How quickly they develop will determine how quickly the Orioles go from bad to frisky to genuine contenders.  But they’ll certainly be better this year.

So what else is going on?

  • Pitching is a source of alternating concern and hope, but the Baltimore offense is shaping up to be something special indeed. A middle-of-the-pack group in 2009, sure, but the lineup is chock full of rising stars like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott. There’s reason to worry in the form of Brian Roberts’ lingering injury, but this Orioles team should (a) score a lot of runs this year; and (b) be a lot of fun to watch;
  • Of more concern are the additions of Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. Tejada has never played third base in the majors. While one would assume the transition to third would work out OK, it’s not a lock that he’ll take to the position quickly or, even if he does, that he’ll be good at it.  Atkins may be a bigger question mark. After a nice run in Colorado he hit the wall last year. There’s not a ton of risk given that he’s in town on a one-year deal, but if he hits like he did last year there’s a big hole in the lineup;
  • The general optimism surrounding this club could actually work against manager Dave Trembley, who I was surprised the Orioles brought back for another year.  Young pitching takes a while to develop, and if it doesn’t develop fast enough to turn that optimism into wins Trembley could find himself out of a job;
  • The Orioles invested $12 million in closer Mike Gonzalez. The same thing I said about Rafael Soriano in the Rays’ preview applies here: he split the closer’s job in Atlanta last year, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, but threw in A LOT of games.  He still struck out over 10 per nine innings, however, so he should be OK if he stays healthy;

how are they gonna do?

I like this Orioles team. No, not to actually contend for the playoffs — the three teams ahead of them are just too loaded — but they have a bunch of players I like (and one player’s mother I kind of get a kick out of).  I’m a big fan of Adam Jones in particular and Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman are all guys I’ll make a point of watching on MLB.tv or Extra Innings or whatever watch-every-game solution I settle on in the next couple of days. Can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for young pitching.

Still, we must remember that this was a 98-loss team last year, and even dramatic improvement puts them only in the .500 range.  Feel free to exhibit some optimism, Bawlmer, but just temper it accordingly.  Your time will come.

Prediction: Fourth place, because that’s all The Man will allow in the AL East these days.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from MLB.com’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.


MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.