The Baltimore Orioles shocked many baseball fans in 2012, when they not only won 93 games and nearly won the AL East, but also managed to secure a spot in the postseason. After all, it had been 15 years since the Orioles last had a winning season or made the playoffs. Despite eventually losing in five games to the Yankees in the ALDS, the 2012 season was obviously a success for Buck Showalter’s Orioles. Just as he promised he would when he joined Baltimore in 2010, Showalter has successfully given the team a new attitude and outlook. Though, many wonder if the O’s in 2013 can replicate their extraordinary 2012 season.
In terms of major transactions, the Orioles were relatively quiet over the offseason. The projected 2013 team looks amazingly similar to the team of last year, except for a few, subtle differences. Looking forward, those subtle differences – to the offense, at least – should stand to help rather than harm the Orioles.
At first glance, losing a 29-year-old that hit 60 home runs and 155 RBI in his two seasons with Baltimore does not seem to help the team all that much. However, when that player is Mark Reynolds, not re-signing him is a great move by the O’s. Yes, they are saying goodbye to his impressive power numbers – through six big-league seasons, he has hit 181 homers and over 500 RBI. But, more importantly, the Orioles are also ridding themselves of Reynolds’ unbelievably low batting average and staggering strikeout totals.
In case you forgot, Reynolds became the first player in history to record more strikeouts than batting average points (technically, because batting average is a percentage, he was the first player with a strikeout total 1,000 times his average, but you get the idea), when he finished the 2010 season with 211 strikeouts and a .198 average. Reynolds batted .221 in each of his two seasons in Baltimore, striking out a total of 355 times.
Following this “addition by subtraction” theme, the Orioles also got rid of second baseman Robert Andino. Although not as bad, strikeout-wise, as Reynolds, Andino still batted .211 with 100 strikeouts last year. Andino was dealt to the Mariners in November for switch-hitting outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who will likely start 2013 in the minors but could give the Orioles some outfield depth as the season progresses.
To add some depth to their infield, the Orioles signed infielder Alexi Casilla. Casilla is a solid defender who can play both second base and shortstop. He stole 21 bases in 106 games for the Twins last year and should be able to help out on the basepaths for an Orioles team that finished last in all of baseball last year with 58 stolen bases.
With Alexi Casilla being the biggest offensive name of the Orioles’ minor, non-flashy acquisitions, one can only wonder just how, exactly, they plan to compensate for the immense power that Mark Reynolds took with him to Cleveland. The answer lies in players that the Orioles already have on the team.
In addition to playing great defense at third base, Manny Machado served as somewhat of a sparkplug for the Orioles lineup after he was called up in August 2012. Playing only 51 games with the Orioles, Machado’s 2012 numbers are from a very small sample size, but he managed to hit seven homers and 26 RBI during that time. Prorate that over the course of a season, and you are left with about 21 home runs and 78 RBI. Even if you are a little more modest and give Machado 15-18 homers for the season, that is still a very good start to matching the power numbers of Mark Reynolds, who hit 23 home runs in 2012.
Whether you are more comfortable giving Machado 15 or 21 home runs, adding 13 more from another player will bring the combined total of home runs between he and Machado to 28 or 34, respectively – which not only surpasses Reynolds’ total from last year, but also inches closer toward (or ties) Reynolds’ career average of 34 homers per season. If you were wondering, 13 home runs is what second baseman Brian Roberts averaged from 2005 to 2009, when he was a healthy, consistent contributor to the Orioles.
Staying healthy has been difficult for Roberts over the last few years, as is evident by the total of 115 games he has played since 2010. Unfortunately, several injuries – most notably, a pair of concussions – have prevented Roberts from staying on the field. When he is healthy, Roberts is one of the top second basemen in Major League Baseball. The good news for the O’s is that Roberts has fully recovered from his most recent concussion and looks really good in Spring Training – through 20 at-bats, he is hitting .400 with a home run, an RBI, and five runs scored. At 35 years old, Roberts has aged a little since he was consistently putting up great numbers, but if he remains healthy for a full season, he can surely still produce.
Add the Machado-Roberts combination to notable Orioles that put up solid offensive numbers last year – Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy – and Baltimore’s offense looks as strong as ever, if not stronger. However, as seems to be the (unintentional) theme of “Across the AL,” the rotation presents several uncertainties that cannot be ignored. Unlike the slight changes to the offense, the offseason changes (or lack thereof) to the starting rotation will hurt rather than help the team’s chances in 2013.
Hammel was pretty effective last year, going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA over 20 starts. However, 2012 was the only season in his career which he finished with an ERA under 4.33. Also, he missed almost two months because of a lingering right knee injury and subsequent surgery.
Chen started 32 games for the O’s last year, going 12-11 with 17 quality starts and an ERA of 4.02. His 2012 campaign was very good, but it was his first and only season in Major League Baseball, so it is difficult to determine the true effectiveness of the 27-year-old lefty.
Tillman, 24, was called up in July and produced amazing numbers. In 15 starts, he went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA. However, he only has 51 games of major league experience, has never started more than 15 games in a season, and, other than 2012, has never finished a season with an ERA under 5.40.
Fighting for a fourth and fifth rotation spot are a slew of questionable starters. Being considered are Miguel Gonzalez (who was discovered while playing Mexican winter ball in 2011 and has only started 15 major league games, all of which coming last year), Brian Matusz (career ERA of 5.36), Jake Arrieta (career ERA of 5.33), Zach Britton (history of injuries; career ERA of 4.74), and Jair Jurrjens (who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness for over a year prior to the Orioles signing him to a minor league contract over the offseason).
While not expected to make the big league roster out of spring, two highly-touted prospects within the Orioles organization have a real chance of being called up in 2013 and making a meaningful impact on the rotation.
20-year-old Dylan Bundy has only 1 2/3 relief innings pitched at the major league level, but in 23 minor league starts in 2012, he went a combined 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and a 10.3 K/9. MLB.com has Bundy, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2011, ranked as the second-best prospect in all of Major League Baseball, as does Baseball America.
22-year-old Kevin Gausman, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2012, has no major league experience and has only started a total of five minor league games. The right-hander is ranked at No. 37 overall by MLB.com and No. 26 by Baseball America.
At this point, Bundy is obviously more developed than Gausman. If at all, Gausman will probably appear very late and in a limited role, but both starters have a legitimate shot at joining the big league club at some point this season. Still, for either of these two prospects to get called up, the rotation would have to be somewhat effective for a considerable portion of the season, which does not seem very likely. While Bundy and Gausman represent the promising future of the Orioles, the present rotation issues have the potential to cause serious trouble for the team in coming months.
It is safe to say that the Baltimore rotation collectively overachieved last year, producing numbers that, given the known history of an inexperienced staff, are going to be extremely difficult to reproduce in 2013. The Orioles lack a legitimate ace, a proven, stable anchor to solidify their group of young and unseasoned starters. Considering the weakness of the starting rotation, it is exceedingly difficult to envision a successful, 2012-like season for the Baltimore Orioles.