February 23, 2012

Running down the rosters: Baltimore Orioles

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After sitting out the chase for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Orioles are staring down a fifth straight last-place finish and a seventh consecutive 90-loss season. Such is life in the AL East.

Rotation
Jason Hammel – R
Zach Britton – L
Jake Arrieta – R
Wei-Yin Chen – L
Tommy Hunter – R

Bullpen
Jim Johnson – R
Matt Lindstrom – R
Kevin Gregg – R
Luis Ayala – R
Tsuyoshi Wada – L
Pedro Strop – R
Alfredo Simon – R

SP next in line: Wada, Dana Eveland (L), Brad Bergesen (R), Brian Matusz (L), Chris Tillman (R), Armando Galarraga (R)
RP next in line: Troy Patton (L), Jason Berken (R), Darren O’Day (R), Willie Eyre (R), Pat Neshek (R), Dennys Reyes (L)

Dan Duquette shook up the pitching staff in his first offseason as Orioles GM, trading the team’s one reliable starter in Jeremy Guthrie for Hammel and Lindstrom and importing two Asian pitchers in Chen and Wada. His moves have given the Orioles a ton of pitching depth; in fact, their second five starting pitchers could go toe-to-toe with some of their starting rotations from the  mid-aughts. Still, whether the quality is there to go with the quantity is the big question. If Britton is healthy, if Chen recovers his stuff, if Matusz returns to 2010 form, if…

Unfortunately, many of the bullpen decisions will come down to option years: Strop, Simon and Patton are all out of options and thus may make the team over more deserving pitchers. The Orioles might end up just releasing Gregg if he fails to impress this spring, opening up a spot for someone like Patton or Berken. They could also put Wada in the rotation and send Hunter to Triple-A.

Lineup
LF Nolan Reimold – R
SS J.J. Hardy – R
RF Nick Markakis – L
CF Adam Jones – R
C Matt Wieters – S
3B Mark Reynolds – R
DH Wilson Betemit – S
1B Chris Davis – L
2B Robert Andino – R

Bench
C Taylor Teagarden – R
INF Matt Antonelli – R
INF Ryan Flaherty – L
OF Endy Chavez – L

Disabled list: Brian Roberts (S)
Next in line: C Ronny Paulino, 1B Nick Johnson (L), 1B Joseph Mahoney (L), 2B Ryan Adams (R), INF Steven Tolleson (R), OF Jai Miller (R), OF Xavier Avery (L)

Obviously, the lineup sets up much, much better if Roberts can pull off a successful return from post-concussion syndrome. If Roberts is out, as most expect, then the Orioles will have to try to cobble together their leadoff situation. I prefer Reimold, but Hardy, Andino, Chavez and Antonelli could also see time there. Markakis actually might be the best option of the bunch. It’s not like he’s been hitting for much power lately anyway.

Power is what the lineup has going for it; besides the second baseman, everyone in the lineup is a candidate to hit 20 homers. That won’t make it an elite offense on its own, but if a couple of guys have career years, the team would be capable of surprising.

Then again, things never seem to break quite right for the Orioles. Since winning 98 games 15 years ago, the franchise has finished under .500 every year. At least the team is younger these days, and while the farm system isn’t exactly awash with prospects, the team’s last two first-round picks (SS Manny Machado and RHP Dylan Bundy) appear very, very promising. With Wieters as a foundation, there is reason to hope the Orioles will be in a better position to compete come 2013 or ’14.