The last day of March is (nearly) upon us, and that means the MLB season is ready to being once again. For the Baltimore Orioles, the offseason was a quiet one. Well, it was quiet, anyway, before two big names signed contracts to greatly improve Charm City’s 2014 outlook. With 25-man rosters now complete, let’s examine the Orioles’ depth chart to look for potential weaknesses and strengths.
It seems as though this is Baltimore’s annual Achilles’ heel, and it might be again in 2014. But, the late addition of Ubaldo Jimenez certainly helps. While Chris Tillman will take the hill on Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox, Jimenez will slot in at number two in the rotation, with the potential of putting up ace-caliber performances. He brings to Baltimore a career 3.92 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, and also a 21.5% strikeout rate. If he can come close to putting up the numbers he did for the second half of 2013, he’ll be a fantastic signing for the O’s. Tillman himself is also coming off a good year (3.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). If he can keep home runs to a minimum, he should find success once again.
Wei-Yin Chen had surgery to remove bone chips from his knees after last season, but all indications are that he will he ready to go. The 3rd-year Taiwanese pitcher finished the year with a 4.07 ERA, but that’s not indicative of how well he pitched from April through (most of) August.
Miguel Gonzalez (career 3.78 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) will stake claim to the fourth spot. The 29-year-old has been very consistent for Baltimore, and they’ll need him to be once again.
Bud Norris will open the season in the last rotation spot. After coming over from Houston at the trade deadline last season, Norris made 11 appearances for the O’s (9 starts) and has an ERA of 4.80 in those contests, with a WHIP of 1.68. If Norris struggles early on in 2014 like he did in 2013, look for highly-regarded prospect Kevin Gausman to replace him in the rotation.
This was a surprisingly strong unit for the Birds last season, and with the cast of characters remaining largely the same, it has a very good chance of remaining a strength.
RHP Tommy Hunter will take over the closer role from the departed Jim Johnson. Hunter had great success coming out of the bullpen in 2013, his first full season doing so after being acquired from Texas in 2011 (alongside some guy nicknamed “Crush”). He has a closer-type style and should easily fill Johnson’s shoes.
RHP Darren O’Day has been simply phenomenal in the set-up role during his time in Birdland. There is no reason to believe the 36-year-old won’t be in 2014.
Converted starting pitchers Brian Matusz and Zach Britton (both LHP) will be given bullpen spots as well. The Orioles hope that they can latch onto a spot there, since neither one showed enough consistency to merit a rotation slot. Matusz pitched in this role exclusively in 2013, and fairly successfully (3.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). Britton has only made two career appearances out of the ‘pen.
The rest of the bullpen will be made up of the newly acquired RHPs Ryan Webb (from Miami) and Evan Meek (from Pittsburgh), as well as returning long man Josh Stinson. A solid if unspectacular group of arms, but they have experience and can provide valuable innings to give the others some rest.
The Opening Day collection of infielders on Baltimore’s roster will almost certainly look different in the (very near) future, but for now, it appears that the only locks are Chris Davis at first base and J.J. Hardy at shortstop.
Davis, as everyone reading this knows, had an absolutely monstrous season in 2013, and although he likely will not duplicate that kind of success, Crush should still be in line for a big year. Hardy, perhaps the most underrated shortstop in the American League, once again put up great numbers for the shortstop position. At this point, he’s like clockwork: he’ll give you between 20-25 home runs a year while playing Gold Glove defense, and hit around a .260 average. Not bad for a guy everyone though was finished in 2010.
Third base will be Manny Machado’s domain once he recovers from knee surgery (he’s currently on the 15-day DL), but until then, the hot corner will see a platoon of Steve Lombardozzi (vs. LHP) and Ryan Flaherty (vs. RHP). Second base will also see a platoon used between Jonathan Scoop and Lombardozzi, though skipper Buck Showalter said he wants highly-ranked prospect Schoop to get as much playing time as possible.
Oh, and Matt Wieters will be behind the plate once again. The big man may not ever live up to the lofty expectation laid on him as a prospect, but he’s one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and at this point, if you run on him and get caught (you will), it’s your own fault. Don’t run on Wieters, ever. He’ll be given a rest every few days by Steve Clevenger, who impressed in Spring Training.
There were some changes in the outfield during the offseason, but don’t worry, the fan-favorite 2110 portion is still in-tact.
Yes, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis will still be manning center and right field, respectively. Jones won his second consecutive Gold Glove last season while smashing 33 home runs and posting a 4.4 WAR, the highest of his career. Markakis had less success, hitting only 10 dingers while having a negative WAR (-.01) for the first time ever. Hopefully, last season was just an aberration and not the sign of a career on the decline.
The Orioles saw left fielder Nate McLouth leave to go to their Beltway rivals in Washington, so they replaced him twofold, bringing in Nelson Cruz and David Lough to fill the void. Cruz, coming back from his Biogenesis suspension, should take advantage of Camden Yards’ dimensions and provide great power in the middle of the lineup. He will be available as a DH when the Orioles want Lough in the lineup. Lough brings a very similar style to McLouth, and plays even better defense (he had a perfect fielding percentage in LF last season, and 98.9 percent overall, according to FanGraphs).
The Orioles roster, on the whole, is solid. The biggest question mark is the pitching staff, but if they can provide above-average outings, this team can find success, and lots of it.
How do you see the 2014 season playing out for Baltimore? Post your thoughts in the comments below.