Looking ahead – Birdland 2014

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The Baltimore Orioles have five games left in their 2013 season. Five games that don’t mean anything, other than getting that ever-elusive 82nd victory to officially put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1996-1997. On Tuesday night, the O’s came from ahead to lose their sixth game in a row while the Cleveland Indians celebrated a walk-off victory on the ageless Jason Giambi’s two-run homer, ending the Birds’ playoff chances, and effectively, their season.

With the 2013-14 offseason a mere five days away, the Orioles have a lot of questions to answer if they hope to get back to the playoffs in 2014.  I’ve decided to try to help answer those questions.

1.What are they going to do about the starting rotation?

The Orioles were the last team in baseball to record a seven-inning start this season. For much of the season, the starters routinely failed to get out of the sixth inning, thus taxing a bullpen that the year before was exceptionally good.

What I think should happen:

Chris Tillman is the ace of this staff. He leads the team in starts (32), wins (16), innings pitched (201.1), strikeouts (174), and is second behind Scott Feldman in WHIP (1.15 to 1.21) and ERA (3.57 to 3.62). He will start on Opening Day barring any injuries. Behind him Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen will be penciled in. That leaves two spots up for grabs. In my opinion, Scott Feldman has earned himself a contract with the club for at least 2014, though I would also like to see them go out and sign Matt Garza or Bronson Arroyo. I think Kevin Gausman will earn a spot in the rotation in Spring Training.

What will likely happen:

The Orioles will more than likely sign a free agent pitcher. My guess is they bring Feldman back on a one or two year deal. Tillman, Feldman, Chen, Norris and Gausman will make up the rotation and Miguel Gonzalez will be the odd man out, perhaps being relegated to the bullpen. I don’t think Jason Hammel is back with the ball club.

Wild Card:

Brian Matusz wins a spot in the rotation in Spring Training while Gausman is assigned to Triple-A and Gausman will replace somebody in the rotation by July.

2. Who plays second base next season?

The Orioles actually have some options at second even though it wasn’t exactly a position of strength this season. Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty, and Jonathon Schoop are all candidates to start on Opening Day.

What I think should happen:

I think the Orioles should offer Brian Roberts a make-good, incentive-based one-year contract with an option for a second year. Incentives should kick-in if he plays more than 130 games, steals 20 bases, hits .275 or higher, etc. The contract shouldn’t be more than $4-5 million after incentives. Roberts would likely take this offer given his age and injury history. I think you make the job his to lose and let Flaherty and Schoop fight it out for the backup spot.

What will likely happen:

The Orioles will probably let Roberts test the open market and then sign him to a contract similar to what I proposed above. I think Roberts starts on Opening Day with Flaherty as the backup and Schoop starting every day in Norfolk. Schoop will make his debut sometime in June with Flaherty struggling.

Wild Card:

Roberts signs with another team and Schoop wins the starting job in Spring Training with Flaherty as the backup.

3. What will the Orioles do about their lack of production in the corner outfield spots?

It’s no secret that Nick Markakis, statistically, had the worst season of his career in 2013. With just 10 HR and 57 RBI to go along with his career-worst .269 average, the Gold Glove right fielder would like to put 2013 behind him quickly. Add to that Nate McLouth’s .260 BA, 12 HR and 34 RBI and the Orioles certainly did not get the production they were looking for from their corner outfielders.

What I think should happen:

While McLouth certainly has gotten his career back on track, I just don’t think he is the Orioles’ answer in left field. Markakis is a mainstay and will have a bounce-back year in 2014. I think McLouth should be gone and replaced with Hunter Pence. Perhaps even Jacoby Ellsbury, but I doubt the Red Sox fail to offer him a contract.

What will likely happen:

The Orioles will probably offer McLouth another contract for 1-2 years and he will start in left field on Opening Day. Markakis will be back in right and the Orioles will just hope for more production this time around.

Wild Card:

Nick Markakis is traded for a starting pitcher and Michael Morse is re-signed to see if he can rediscover his swing and play right field. I doubt this happens, but stranger things have happened.

4. How do we get production from the DH spot?

As everybody knows, the DH spot was a huge headache for the Orioles for most of the season. Danny Valencia was a nice addition in August and September, but can he sustain that for an entire season?

What I think should happen:

This is a spot where I think the Orioles really can help themselves take that next step. There is a Cuban player who recently defected by the name of Jose Abreu.  He is considered one of the best hitters in the history of Cuban baseball and would likely command a contract similar to that of Oakland A’s star Yoenis Cespedes (4 yrs, $36m). There are a multitude of teams interested in the first baseman, including the Red Sox. The Orioles have been scouting him for months and covet his big bat which would play nicely in Camden Yards. He could spell Davis at first every now and again and also DH. The O’s would get the right handed power bat they been searching for and get tons of production out of the DH spot for a change. They need to outbid the other teams and make this guy an Oriole.

What will likely happen:

The Orioles will turn to a platoon of Danny Valencia and Henry Urrutia in the DH spot and hope that Urrutia has added some size to his frame in the offseason and that Valencia can pick up where he left off, especially against left-handed pitching.

Wild Card:

Jonathon Schoop makes the team as the starting second basemen and Brian Roberts becomes the everyday DH, occasionally spelling Schoop at second.

5. What do the O’s do with Jim Johnson, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis?

Johnson, Wieters and Davis are all due big raises this offseason in arbitration after the trio put up big years. Johnson, despite his nine blown saves, still managed to rack up close to 50 saves this season while Wieters is tied for the MLB lead in home runs amongst catchers and is third in RBI despite his .233 BA. Davis, meanwhile, will finish the season first in home runs and first or second in RBI.

What I think should happen:

The Orioles need to sign all three players. Some think that after Johnson’s nine blown saves he should be non-tendered and sign elsewhere to become someone else’s problem. I disagree. He will still likely finish the season with a sub-3 ERA and nearly 50 saves. Anybody that has those numbers two years in a row is worth hanging on to. And Johnson has shown he can bounce back, as evidenced by his 2009-2010 seasons. Wieters and Davis should be top priorities this offseason and both be signed to lengthy, lucrative deals.

What will likely happen:

I just don’t think the Orioles can afford to not sign Davis and Wieters and therefore will sign both to deals this offseason. As for Johnson, I think the O’s don’t want to see him sign with another AL East team and will get something done, whether it be through arbitration or a multi-year deal.

Wild Card:

Johnson is non-tendered and given his walking papers while Davis and Wieters are offered arbitration, have big years and price themselves out of the Orioles pay range, ending up going to other teams in the next couple of seasons.

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About Paul Valle

Paul Valle
Paul Valle is a Baltimore native who has always had a passion for sports. But his passion goes beyond the average spectator. Paul has been studying sports (specifically baseball and football) since his youth. He not only appreciates the on field play, but the strategy and statistics behind it. While...more

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