BALTIMORE ORIOLES: 85-77 (Tied for third in the division)
Projected Lineup/Batting Order:
RF Nick Markakis
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
C Matt Wieters
LF Nolan Reimold
SS J.J. Hardy
DH Steve Pearce
2B Jemile Weeks
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms
SP Bud Norris
SP Wei Yen Chen
SP Chris Tillman
SP Miguel Gonzalez
SP Kevin Gausman
RP Brian Matusz
RP Liam Hendricks
RP Darren O’Day
Things are going to look a lot different in Baltimore this year. For the first time in a long time, Brian Roberts won’t be in uniform. The one thing that stays the same…..Brian Roberts won’t be on the field. He hasn’t played a full season in about a decade, so there’s no real change for the Orioles there, it’s just in the clubhouse where their longest tenured player and one of their leaders is now gone. That role now goes to Nick Markakis or, perhaps, Adam Jones. Both are quality players on the field and in the clubhouse and will fill that void nicely. The Orioles will have a different batting order as well. The biggest question there is who will leadoff. Jemile Weeks has the skillset, but can’t seem to get his average up where it needs to be. Manny Machado could be a good idea, but they like his power and want to keep it lower in the lineup. They probably feel the same about Nick Markakis. However, after seeing the success of Jason Heyward leading off for Atlanta, maybe the Orioles will realize Markakis is a great option and take the chance. He’s got more experience than Machado, and can get on base pretty solidly. Adam Jones might be the best option, but they want his power lower in the lineup. I’d expect him to hit third, though there’s an outside chance the move him up to the top as well. No matter what is happening in front of him, I expect Davis to be the cleanup man. They hope whoever does lead off will be able to get on base and come around and score when Davis knocks the ball over the fence. The rest of the lineup is solid with Matt Wieters as a top 5 catcher in the league, J.J Hardy limited offensively but still wielding a fair amount of power, and Reimold and Pearce solid players filling out the bottom of the lineup. Watch out for battle at second base as Jonathan Schoop looks to beat out Jemile Weeks, not to mention Alexi Casilla who has gotten a minor league deal and spring training invitation. And stay tuned to see if the Orioles try to upgrade at DH. They did just sign Delmon Young to a minor league deal.
Defensively this team looks stout with Gold Glovers on the left in Hardy (2 wins for him) and Manny Machado (he got his first last year). Both are natural shortstops, so I don’t expect a lot of balls to get through over there. Also, Adam Jones pulled down his third Gold Glove in center, so the Orioles are in good shape up the middle. Markakis won a Gold Glove in right in 2011 and Matt Wieters took one home in 2012. I think this team will be one of the best with the leather, even if Chris Davis starts all 162 games at first (though he’s improved as well).
If there’s one area where the Orioles could really look to improve it’s on the mound. Chris Tillman was the team leader with 16 Wins, a 3.79 ERA and 179 Ks. After Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez (11-8, 3.78) was pretty good but the other starters struggled. They added Bud Norris at the trade deadline, but he was not as good in the AL East with a 4.97 ERA. After a solid rookie year, Wei Yen Chen digressed slightly, though put up similar numbers in fewer starts. Injury limited him to 23 starts, in which he went 7-7. His 4.07 ERA was close to his 4.02 ERA his rookie year, but his BAA jumped about 22 points. After 2 years, we feel comfortable calling him a solid middle of the rotation starter, which is what Baltimore sees him as. Kevin Gausman had a great debut, but struggled greatly after that (3-5, 5.56). Those are the guys currently penciled in to start in Baltimore. It’s not great, but maybe serviceable with this offense. They need depth, however and could use another power arm, perhaps to knock Gausman to the bullpen or back to the minors for more seasoning. Zach Britton is still around to challenge Gausman, but he’s been a disappointment with a career high 321 BAA last season. Perhaps the Orioles re-sign last year’s opening day starter Jason Hammel, who continues to wait, unsigned in the free agent pool. It makes sense for both parties, and is a nice consolation prize for the Orioles who likely won’t find the quality arm they lack (for a price they can afford) and for Hammel, who won’t get the money he seeks from anyone. If this happens, Britton and Gausman can move to a bullpen that lacks some confidence and a closer after Jim Johnson was traded to Oakland for Jemile Weeks. The O’s had a deal in place with Grant Balfour, but changed their minds after seeing the MRI from his physical. Balfour blasted GM Dan Duquette claiming the MRI is the same as it was 3 years ago and saying he’s the same All Star pitcher he was last year. Either way, there is a hole at the back end of the Orioles bullpen, and we can assume Balfour won’t be filling it. They likely won’t want to spend the money on Fernando Rodney, who is the highest ranked closer available. That means they may take a shot on an imperfect candidate. Francisco Rodriguez had a better season last year than he has in years, and he’s only 32. That’s the sort of low risk option that’s available on the free agent market. Not great. Perhaps they can explore a trade of some sort, but they need to do something because a mix of Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter won’t get it done.
The Orioles are in pretty good shape. The offense is very good and the defense is fantastic. The pitching is weaker, but not terrible with a lot of solid arms, though perhaps no ace. It won’t be the best rotation by any stretch of the imagination, but it will be solid, and could get better with an addition of another arm, perhaps Jason Hammel who was an Oriole last year.
The team’s budget is in good shape. They have money to spend, though not a ton, and only a few holes to fill. Chris Davis and Matt Wieters are going to get raises in arbitration, but they can afford it. They’ve shopped both, though they likely want to trade neither. If the Orioles struggle, look for them to flip Matt Wieters a year before he hits free agency. There’s been talk of shopping J.J. Hardy as well since Manny Machado is a natural shortstop. But they can afford to keep both, and in so doing will have the best left side of the infield defensively of any team. Plus moving Hardy to another team and Machado to short opens a hole at third. If anyone gets traded, it will be a bench player or prospects for bullpen help or another starter. But we aren’t talking huge names.
The biggest hole is at closer. They want a strong presence back there, but won’t spend the money. I expect them to fill it with a trade or with a low cost option, though Fernando Rodney in that spot immediately makes them a vastly better team. The Orioles will be better, but still play in the AL East with the defending champion Red Sox and the talented Rays.
They were 85-77 last year, 12 games back of the division. I expect a similar year with another 3rd place finish for the O’s. If they go to the playoffs, it will again be as a wildcard, likely the second one.