2014 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Is there enough pitching here to get the O’s back to the playoffs?

The Orioles make their bones with the bat. They ranked fourth in the AL in runs last season, and they did it with power. Lots of  homers — first in the league — lots of doubles and the AL’s third highest slugging percentage. Adding Nelson Cruz to that lineup well only help things. While we’re many years removed from people making Chuck Norris jokes about Matt Weiters, there is still the potential there for him to have a breakout offensive season that turns him into an MVP candidate. Chris Davis is unlikely to match his otherworldly 2013, but he is still a force in the middle.

So, as almost always seems to be the case, Orioles fans are asking if there is enough pitching here. My gut feeling: it’s better, but it’s not quite enough.

Adding Ubaldo Jimenez is a gamble, but not a dumb one. He has been decent at limiting homers and that’s key in the AL East. Chris Tillman is solid. Bud Norris doesn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but Kevin Gausman and/or Dylan Bundy could contribute in Baltimore this year if the back end of the rotation falters. It’s not the best rotation in the AL East — it’s in a dogfight to even make it to third best in the division — but there are enough moving parts here where things could turn out better than expected.

But when you are in the toughest division in baseball, moving parts with upside aren’t all that comforting. if the O’s make the playoffs this year it will be because multiple guys in the rotation exceed expectations. That could easily happen. I just don’t think people get rich betting on things like that, and I won’t bet on it here.

What else is going on?

  • The bullpen is worth watching too, of course. A huge strength for the team’s 2012 playoff run, it took a step back last year and this year is in real flux. The departure of Jim Johnson and the aborted signing of Grant Balfour means that Tommy Hunter is likely to get most closing opportunities. That could work — I fail to believe that closing is some genetically-determined ability possessed by True Closers only — but it’s possible we see a lot of guys getting save chances this year.
  • Outfield defense might be interesting. Delmon Young made this team and Buck Showalter has made it clear that he and Nelson Cruz will play outfield, not just DH. Indeed, the presence of both pretty much means one will have to a lot of the time if they don’t wish to waste a roster slot. Balls to the gap should be fun. Hope Adam Jones has put in his time on the treadmill this spring.
  • With Brian Roberts gone, second base is going to be a fun position to watch in Baltimore. Last week’s trade to obtain Steve Lombardozzi could mean that he gets a lot of time there. The Nats learned last year that making Lombardozzi an everyday player is not the key to happiness, however. Ryan Flaherty will probably cover third base until Manny Machado comes back from injury, but once he does, he could see a lot of time there which, yuck. I’d love to see Showalter hand the job over to prospect Jonathan Schoop. The club will likely say he needs more seasoning in the minors, however. Which you should read as “needs less service time in the majors.”
  • This is, overall, a young team. Cruz may be an old man, but many key players on which the Orioles rely are on the rise, not the decline. Machado is 21, Schoop is 22, Kevin Gausman is 23, Chris Tillman will turn 26 next month, Dylan Bundy  in April), Britton (26), Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters are still only 28. Upside is there for many, and it makes 2014 just one of many chances to break through.

Prediction: I like what the Orioles have going here. And I think that they could surprise and challenge for the wild card. I just think that their pitching is too uncertain and their division too tough to predict that with confidence. They may make me look like a fool — and I know other HBT writers think they’ll be way better than I have them — but I have them neck-and-neck with the Yankees for third place, and quite possibly Fourth Place, AL East.

Court hears arguments for releasing 38 Studios records

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) The fight over whether to release secret grand jury records in the criminal investigation into Rhode Island’s $75 million deal with a video game company started by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling landed in a courtroom Wednesday before a judge who will decide whether to release them.

Gov. Gina Raimondo is pushing for the records in the 38 Studios investigation to be released, over the opposition of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The records include transcripts of witness grand jury testimony, which is given behind closed doors and is typically kept secret.

Schilling moved 38 Studios to Providence from Massachusetts in 2010 in exchange for a $75 million loan guarantee. It ran out of money and went bankrupt less than two years later. The legal wrangling since then has included a lawsuit against a number of parties that ultimately settled for a total of about $61 million, and a grand jury that concluded its work in 2015.

Kilmartin’s office did not ask it to return any criminal charges and has said prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence for any charges.

Assistant Attorney General Susan Urso argued to Superior Court Judge Alice Gibney on Wednesday that the public interest lies in maintaining grand jury secrecy.

“To grant the governor’s request would eviscerate the grand jury as we know it,” she said.

Future grand jury witnesses may see the release in this case and consider that their own testimony might eventually become public, she said. She argued that the request did not meet one of the narrow exceptions carved out in the law that allows disclosure of some grand jury material.

Raimondo’s lawyer, Jeremy Licht, argued that it was not a case where the records are being sought simply to satisfy curiosity about what happened.

“The 38 Studios saga really shook the public’s faith in their government,” he said. “This is a case where disclosure can restore public confidence.”

Jared Goldstein, a law professor at Roger Williams University, who was representing the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU, argued in favor of disclosure. He called it a rare case, and noted that it involves public policy and the highest levels of state government, all the way up to the governor’s office.

Then-Gov. Donald Cariceri, a Republican, shepherded the deal with Schilling through. The Democratic-controlled General Assembly approved the legislation that paved the way for it. Kilmartin was a Democratic member of the House at the time. The company ran out of money under the watch of then-independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who opposed the deal when it was struck.

“Sunshine, as the old saying goes, is the best disinfectant,” Goldstein said.

He also cast doubt on the risk of public embarrassment, saying the players in the matter are already well known.

The judge didn’t immediately rule or say when a ruling would come.

Blue Jays-Cardinals game postponed due to our minds being blown over Chris Coghlan

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The St. Louis Cardinals’ game against the Toronto Blue Jays for has been postponed because everyone is still trying to recover from Chris Coghlan jumping over Yadier Molina.

Wait, no, that’s not right. It’s been postponed due to rain.

The game has been rescheduled as part of a day-night doubleheader on Thursday.

Now, let’s go back and watch that again: