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;

So
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.

Jacob deGrom open to extension with Mets

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom talks during media day for the Major League Baseball World Series against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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The Mets are currently enjoying the spoils of the best young rotation in the game, but the big question is whether this is just a brief window or the start of sustained success. Given the huge prices on the free agent market, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep the band together, but at least one member of the rotation is open to sticking around for the long-term.

While there haven’t been any talks yet, All-Star right-hander Jacob deGrom told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he could see himself discussing an extension with the Mets.

“I’m a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that,’’ deGrom told The Post at Mets pre-camp. “You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It’s something I’d have to look into and make sure I agree with it.’’

It makes sense from deGrom’s perspective. He broke into the majors later than most prospects, so he’ll be 28 this June. Depending on whether he qualifies as a Super Two, he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after either 2016 or 2017. Either way, he’s under team control through 2020, which means that he’s currently on track to hit free agency after his age-32 season. The market might not be kind to him even if he manages to stay healthy, so it could behoove him to get as much guaranteed money as possible right now. The Mets could always decide to play things year-to-year, but perhaps deGrom would be willing to settle for a discount in order to get them to buy out a free agent year or two. It’s a really interesting situation to think about, but odds are the two sides will wait on contract talks until he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time.

DeGrom owns a 2.61 ERA in 52 starts over his first two seasons in the majors. Among starters, only Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA since the start of 2014.

Royals, Mike Moustakas avoid arbitration with two-year deal

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Seriesagainst the Toronto Blue Jays  on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Royals and third baseman Mike Moustakas have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $14.3 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The deal, which was initially discussed last month, buys out Moustakas’ final two years of arbitration. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that it’s believed he’ll make $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017.

The 27-year-old Moustakas posted an underwhelming .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, but he enjoyed a big postseason in 2014 before breaking out last season by batting .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
AP Photo/J Pat Carter
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.