Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oh no! We suck again! Or: Reasons for optimism with the 2009 Orioles

Ed. Note- I was going to do a story about the whole Alex Rodriguez steroid mess, but I’m taking a pass on that one for two reasons 1) It’s been beaten to death 2) Much more talented writers than myself has taken on this topic better than I could ever hope for. Ok, on with the post...

Spring training has started, which means one thing: the Baltimore Orioles have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

Is that fatalistic, negative and a set up for future bandwagoneering? You bet. But I think we can say with some certainty that the O’s will likely go without a postseason berth for the 12th straight year. The odds are probably about 95/5 that the lack of postseason berth will be accommodated by a losing season and finish in 5th place. Such is life for a rebuilding club in the American League East. Throw in the struggling economy, years of bad feelings between the club and the fan base and we will be sure to see plenty of empty seats again at Camden Yards, at least until ESPN (short for Entertainment Sox & Yanks Programming Network) favorites Boston and New York come to town. In that case we will have to deal with assholes like this…

…and this…

…invading Oriole Park in droves.

Nonetheless, GM Andy MacPhail, unlike GMs in the past, actually has a plan: rebuild the farm system, acquire a stable of young pitchers, have speed and defense up the middle, take fliers on talented, young, inexpensive guys who haven’t worked out in other places and lock up your homegrown players to long term deals. Owner Peter Angelos, the man on the receiving end of many an O’s fans wrath, seems to trust MacPhail more than GMs in the past. MacPhail has rewarded that trust by staying patient & pulling off heists like the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades. To make a long story short (too late), even though the O’s may stink yet again this year, there is reason for hope, provided MacPhail sticks to his vision and Angelos stays the hell out of the way. Here now are some reasons for optimism for your 2009 Baltimore Orioles.

-Andy MacPhail - Right guy at the right time for this organization. Even if his moves don’t end up working out, he’s already earned his stripes with the Bedard and Tejada trades. Shipping Tejada was a case of perfect timing, just before Miggy was fingered in the Mitchell Report, was accused of lying about his age and then pleading guilty to lying under oath. Consider the bullet dodged.
Bedard may end up being the new millenium Glenn Davis, at least if his first season in Seattle is any indication. Bedard wore out his welcome with the Seattle media in a hurry, got hurt and was lost for the season by July. Meanwhile, two of the guys the O’s got for him, Adam Jones and George Sherrill became contributors right away, while pitcher Chris Tillman looks like he has a bright future as well.

-Felix Pie - One of MacPhail’s quieter moves this season, Pie could end up being a steal. He’s got five-tool talent and at one point was considered untouchable by the Cubs. He had problems with strikeouts and bouncing back and fourth between Wrigley Field and AAA wrecked havoc with his confidence. Strange that the Cubs would sour on him as quickly as they did, given that they wouldn’t trade him for Brian Roberts last summer but were willing to dump him for Garrett Olson this off-season. Still, Pie is worth the gamble, especially since he will be seeing plenty of at-bats with this team. At best, he turns out to be a stud that gives the O’s one of the best outfields in the American League with him, Jones and Nick Markakis. At worst, he’s Corey Patterson and you can dump him in a year.

-Matt Wieters- He’s probably starting the year at AAA Norfolk but his legend is already growing. Wieters destroyed high level A ball and kept right on hitting at AA. If he’s not the O’s starting catcher by August, something’s wrong. The guy’s attributes jump off the page like Marisa Miller in a bikini: 6’5, switch-hitting catcher that hits for average and power with a Dave Snow-like laser rocket arm behind the plate. And yes, I made a Marisa Miller reference for no other reason than to show that picture.

-Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman & Brian Matusz- The history of O’s pitching prospects is grizzly. Names like Ben McDonald, Matt Riley and Adam Loewen bring sad resignation at what might have been. But there’s been a lot of buzz about Arrieta, Tillman and Matusz and the hopes that they can provide a foundation of solid pitching for the next decade. All three figure to be starting the year in the minors, and MacPhail is not going to rush them but after last season, it’s hard not to get excited about them.
Arrieta, ranked 36th in MLB’s top 50 prospects, led the Carolina League in ERA, finished fourth in strikeouts and had a 1.99 ERA. Before getting a call-up to AA Bowie last year, Arrieta was having a terrific year in A ball.
Tillman, ranked 16th on the same list, came over in the Bedard trade and looks like a solid top 3 starter. He won 11 games in Bowie and held opponents to a .227 average.
Matusz was the O’s first round pick last year and it will be interesting to see where MacPhail starts him this year. If the kid is being compared to Cole Hamels, that’s a good thing, and not just because of Hamels’ wife.

- Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts signing long term - Kake is becoming the face of the franchise and now the kid is going to be paid for it to the tune of $11 million a year. The guy has all it takes to become an icon in Baltmo - a likeable, humble, five-tool player who is just beginning to tap into his potential. His ceiling is limitless, especially as his power develops and he is surrounded with better players.
The signing of B-Rob was a bit of a surprise, considering he would possibly fetch a nice package in a trade. But its hard to complain about locking up a homegrown talent who can bat leadoff, steal bases and play great defense. It’s a good sign that a guy like B-Rob, who could have fetched a ransom in free agency, commit a bulk of his prime years to the O’s. Despite being one of the last links to the O’s own Steroid Era, Roberts is beloved by fans and the organization and he’s rewarded the team by staying.

-No more Daniel Cabrera - Yes, the erratic D-Cab is now the Nats problem. As usual, we’ll get a bunch of stories about how Cabrera has “turned a corner” in an attempt to harness the thunderbolt in his right arm and translate it into wins. Of course,

by August, he will have driven everyone crazy with his walks, hit batsmen, temper and negative mound demeanor. To paraphrase Bette Davis, “Buckle up Nats fans, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

- The competition - Let’s see, the Yankees will be a traveling circus all year with the A-Rod thing and, oh by the way, are coming up on a decade since their last championship. How quickly do Yankees fans turn on Mark Teixeira when he gets off to his customary slow starts? How quickly does A.J. Burnett get hurt? When does CC Sabathia eat his way out of town?

The Rays blossomed last year but they won’t be able to sneak up on anybody anymore.

The Red Sox have no more Manny and his 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Big Papi Ortiz is coming off a horrendous season (thanks for killing my fantasy season. Dick), just had wrist surgery and has now been linked to A-Rod’s trainer. Their fans have become the most insufferable in all of baseball and they are due for some steroid allegations (how have the Yanks and O’s had 20 players each and the Sawx haven’t had any?). It’s schadenfreude time for Red Sox Nation.

The Blue Jays are mired in a high level of mediocrity.

Oh, and by the way, this year is the 20th anniversary of the O's famous “Why Not?” season. For those who don't remember, the 1989 O's followed the historically bad 1988 team that started the season o-21.

Can I talk myself into a “Why Not Redux?” Hmm, ask me in September. By that point we’ll know if I’m a prophet or every bit the idiot I say I am.

1 comment:

  1. Love the graphics you used for this. Another classic O's season lies ahead. Chuuuuurccch!!!