September 12, 2011
As the regular season winds down, 22 teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to detain their squads for the equivalent of a Saturday morning detention stay.
Up next in our series is Heath Bintliff, who leads the troops over at Dempsey's Army. We thank him for taking a break from listing his Brian Matusz bobbleheads on eBay in order to address his troubled birds.
Oh, O's. What a disappointment you've been. This may be the most disappointing season I've ever seen in my decades of fandom. Earlier this week, you secured your 14th straight losing season and you are all but assured of losing 90 or more games for the sixth straight season. That's not an easy thing to do. The worst part is that there's seemingly not much hope for the future. Can you really say that the young arms in your system are capable of reversing this trend anytime soon?
Unfortunately, a lot of this mess that is the 2011 season wasn't foreseen. Buck Showalter took over this club in August 2010 and the team experienced an immediate turnaround going 34-24 from Aug. 1 on. That probably unreasonably raised expectations for 2011, perhaps to the detriment of the team's future.
There was a lot of risk. And that didn't even include the risk of relying on young pitching for 4/5ths of the rotation. Yes, it was the right thing to do, but it was just one more thing that had the possibility of imploding. And implode it did. Nearly all of it.
The punishable offenses: You inserted Vladimir Guerrero(notes) as the opening day cleanup hitter and no amount of ineptitude could drive him from that role. His veteran status, his previous track record and his Hall of Fame credentials blinded Showalter to the fact that he just wasn't very good at hitting anymore. His power is gone. He was, for most of this season, one of the worst hitters on the team. But his name was penciled in at No. 4 in the lineup like clockwork. As a result, this might just be the worst production that you've gotten out of their cleanup hitters since the advent of the designated hitter.
Thing is, Derrek Lee(notes) may have been even worse. Sure, he could still field his position very well, but his bat and his health were suspect all year. If Vlad was one of the worst hitters, Lee was the worst when you consider the position he was playing.
Kevin Gregg(notes) has never been very good, but he has managed to rack up some saves during his career and the Orioles front office took the bait and signed him to a two-year deal for $10 million. He's blown seven saves, over a quarter of his opportunities and his 4.45 ERA is not exactly the stuff from which legends are made.
Brian Roberts(notes), predictably, got hurt. Second base was an offensive hole for Baltimore even when he was playing (.604 OPS for Roberts before his injury) and hasn't been much better in his absence (.638 OPS from all Oriole second basemen in 2011).
Right fielder Nick Markakis(notes), who was supposed to blossom with the added protection in the lineup, didn't. In fact, where Markakis once looked like a star in the making, he's now just another guy. Mr. Average.
And then there's the pitching. Coming into the season, a trio of starting pitching, the veteran and ever —steady Jerermy Guthrie, ace-in-the-making lefty Brian Matusz(notes) and top prospect and sinkerballer extraordinaire Zach Britton(notes) figured to be a decent, if not dominant, core of the Baltimore rotation. Fill in around them with some combination of Duchscherer, Jake Arrieta(notes), Chris Tillman(notes) and Brad Bergesen(notes) and the rotation looked like it could be much improved. Surely, some of these young guys would pan out.
But not enough of them as it turned out. Matusz got hurt early, never got his velocity back and has been shelled all year. Arrieta made some progress but got hurt and missed half of the season. Tillman and Bergesen are showing that they are major league long relievers at best. Britton has held his own as a rookie, but his 4.33 ERA isn't exactly the kind of performance that wins Rookie of the Year hardware.
In short, very, very little that the front office tried this offseason worked. And a lot of it can be chalked up to the fact that it misjudged how good the core of this team actually was.
Partners in crime: OK, so there were some things that were out of your control this season. Firstly, you play in the brutal AL East, where even modest gains could still be stomped into a losing record. The Yankees and Red Sox are goliaths and Tampa Bay is just way more talented and has a much better front office. You have to get much, much better in all areas to compete and expecting that change to come over one season was unrealistic to expect.
And you can't help the injuries, either. While you should have seen Guerrero and Lee's declines coming, I don't think anybody would have expected Roberts to play less than 40 games in 2011. Injuries robbed Matusz of playing time and velocity. Left fielder Luke Scott(notes), last year's best offensive weapon, was never really healthy this season, played only 64 games and didn't ever look like himself. The loss of Arrieta hurt, at least in terms of bulk innings from starters.
And then there was just bad luck. There is so much talent, in terms of starting pitching, that is coming through the Oriole farm system and it just hasn't panned out. Maybe that's the fault of your farm system in some manner, but we'll cut you some slack on that front … for now.
Something to build on: There is way less to build on than you might think or what you've been promising fans, actually. But there are a few things.
J.J. Hardy(notes). While Andy MacPhail's free-agent signings for Baltimore have been pretty terrible since he arrived, he has done a good job through trades. He traded a couple of minor league relievers for Hardy before the season and Hardy has responded with one of the best offensive seasons of his career. The front office signed him to an extension that was not unreasonable (three years, $22.5 million) and he can man shortstop until top prospect Manny Machado is ready to take over. Sure, Hardy carries some risk, but a shortstop that can swing the bat and play his position well is a scarce commodity these days.
Matt Wieters(notes). He's taken real steps forward at the plate this season. While he may never be "Mauer with power," he has turned a decent offensive season for a catcher. On top of this, he has unexpectedly become an elite defender behind the plate, arguably the best in baseball. He might not be the second coming of Mike Piazza, but he may be the second coming of Jason Varitek(notes). That's nothing to sneeze at.
Shape up or ship out: Andy MacPhail is likely out at the end of the season, probably to take a position in the office of MLB and getting groomed to take over as commissioner someday. Orioles, your assignment for this offseason is to hire a young, smart GM who is not afraid of being unconventional in finding and signing talent, at any level. This team needs change and it needs to be big.
Avoid signing aging free agents! This team is too far away from contention for that to do them any good. But find talent with upside. That is cheap. Your performance the last couple of seasons will scare away the top free agents anyway.
I expect better from you next season, if not in wins and losses, then at least in philosophy.
I know you can do it.
But I fear you won't.