I’ve been a Baltimore Orioles fan since 1989. I’ve suffered through watching 14 losing seasons in a row. I’ve sat back and watched Peter Angelos allow the team to waste away, not caring about the quality of his product. As long as he can fill the seats of Camden Yards with enough Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies fans to make a profit, he could care less about pleasing loyal Orioles fans.
Here are my 13 keys to the success or failure of the Baltimore Orioles 2012 season:
1. Stop Rebuilding- After 14 losing seasons in a row, the Orioles’ front office is still making “rebuilding” type moves, trading away established players like Jeremy Guthrie for unknown commodities. This has been an all too familiar occurrence since the Tejada and Bedard deals. Most of the prospects received in those trades have also been traded away. When someone gains trade value, that value is exploited. You can’t move forward when you keep moving backwards.
2. Brian Roberts- This season has to be “do or die” time for Brian Roberts. He’s hurt more often than an Orioles fan’s pride. If he can’t get healthy enough by the regular season, and play the majority of the season, his days as an everyday player are over, and the O’s need to move on, and embrace J. J. Hardy as their leadoff man.
3. Young Pitching- This year also has to be “do or die” for the squad of young starting pitchers. Either they can make it in the Big Leagues or they can’t. At some point, for better or for worse, they have to cease being “prospects”. And how are they going to get innings this season, with how many starting rotation candidates are headed to camp? Either you let them be “the guys” or you get rid of them, but squeezing them out and squandering them at Norfolk is not the answer. You rushed them up, so for better or worse, they’re Big Leaguers, and they need to prove it. Sticking them in the bullpen, while you start stopgaps like Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, and Dana Eveland is not the answer either. Arrieta has proven himself, but he needs to bounce back physically and stay healthy. Matusz and Britton are young enough to still have growing pains. Bergesen and Tillman are definitely in do or die territory. The real problem is that Norfolk has a pitcher’s park while Camden Yards is a hitters park, so the young guys look great at AAA, then get shelled in Baltimore. They need a AAA ballpark that’s more like the Big League park.
4. Nolan Reimold- Another “do or die” candidate. Either he can stay healthy and consistent in the Big Leagues or he can’t. Either he’s a power hitter or he’s not. Either he’s an everyday player or a pinch hitter. Either he’s an outfielder or an infielder. This guy needs to make a splash or get out of the pool.
5. Jim Johnson- Is finally moving Jim Johnson into the closers role the right move? He’s always flourished as a setup man, but not as much when having to be “the guy”. He also needs to prove he can stay healthy through an entire season, so the team doesn’t have to shuffle a bunch of setup men through a revolving 9th inning door when Johnson goes down for the season as he is known to do.
6. Bullpen- The bullpen actually might be a highlight this season. Ayala, Berken, Lindstrom, Simon, Hammel, Gregg, and whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation will form a solid bridge to Johnson.
7. Alfredo Simon- What do you do with Alfredo Simon? When he’s healthy and out of jail, he’s the Orioles most consistent pitcher. The problem is, he’s never going to give you more than 5 innings per game. Because of that, he’ll probably be used as a long reliever, but I’d rather have him pitch 5 quality innings and then let one of the other rotation candidates take over for 2 or 3 innings than the other way around.
8. Pitching Consistency- A team isn’t likely to win when every year they overhaul their bullpen, have a new closer, and patch together a starting rotation from their own rushed prospects and other team’s discarded garbage.
9. Cleanup Bat- I can’t even remember when the Orioles last had a legitimate cleanup hitter. Tejada, Palmiero, Jones and Scott are #3’s at their best. Vlad is not much of a deep threat anymore. Mark Reynolds strikes out too often and has a horrible on-base percentage. Nick Markakis was even batting cleanup for a while!
10. Offseason moves- This was an offseason of illogical goodbyes and even more confusing hellos. Long gone are sole consistent starter Guthrie and clutch hitting Scott, although I’m sure we’ll still be seeing Luke hitting plenty of homers at Camden Yards this year.
And then there’s all the huge signings…
The front office claims Wilson Betemit (who?) was brought in to be the power-hitting DH. What?! He’s never had more than 18 homers in a season, and that was back in 2007. He only has a total of 63 homeruns in his 9 seasons. That’s an average of 7! He’s had 3 seasons with 0 homers. This is the type of player they bring in.
They’ve also brought in plenty of players to compete for bench spots: Taylor Teagarden, Matt Antonelli, Endy Chavez, Jai Miller. A veritable who’s who of who is that’s?
11. Asian Pitchers- One of the Orioles biggest question marks this season is the unknown commodities they have in several Asian pitchers that have never pitched in the US before. No one is quite sure what we’re going to get out of Wada or Chen, or whether they will make the rotation, which further makes the situation for Baltimore’s young pitching staff even more crowded and murky. There’s also 17 year-old Kim, who the club is in trouble with Korean Baseball officials for signing.
12. Prospects- Most of the Orioles former hot prospects have now been to the Major Leagues and underachieved, with the exception of Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta. Matusz, Britton, Josh Bell, Ryan Adams, Nolan Reimold, etc.
For those scanning the horizon for hope, I hate to have to tell you, no one of note is even close to being ready. Manny Machado is only 19, starting the year in AA, and isn’t even coming to Big League camp. Dylan Bundy is also only 19, and is only in camp because of signing a Major League contract. We probably won’t be seeing Joe Mahoney until fall callups.
13. Manny Rumors- The last thing the Orioles need to do is to bring in a cancer like Manny Ramirez. He’d just be a distraction, a publicity stunt by an owner only interested in ticket sales. He’d be another in a long line of past their prime bats brought in, despite no longer being a legitimate cleanup bat: Glen Davis, Sosa, Tejada, Vlad, etc. Angelos must love history, but the AL East is no place for re-enactments. They never bring in any players who are still relevant.
Projected Batting Order:
1. SS-J.J. Hardy
2. RF-Nick Markakis
3. CF-Adam Jones
4. 3B-Mark Reynolds
5. C-Matt Wieters
6. LF-Nolan Reimold
7. DH-Wilson Betemit
8. 1B-Chris Davis
9. 2B-Robert Andino
1. Wei-Yin Chen
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Tommy Hunter
4. Brian Matusz
5. Zach Britton
Do I think the Orioles will turn the corner this season, finish .500 or better and above last place? No. I won’t be holding my breath. I’ll be watching, cheering, and hoping, but I’m bracing for similar results.
©2012 Denim McDemus