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Playing Pepper 2012: Baltimore Orioles

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Baltimore Orioles | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Baltimore Orioles
69-93, fifth in the AL East

It's a tough time to be an Orioles fan.  Perhaps the toughest since the weak sister of St. Louis rolled into Charm City and turned into a juggernaut.  I'm reading a book (to review for the site) about the 1970 squad that won the World Series and those kind of days seem to be long gone for the team in orange.

Baltimore has struggled on the field and off.  The most notable story about the team in the offseason was the fact that no one wanted to interview for their vacant GM job, a job that ultimately went to Dan Duquette, who had been out of baseball for quite some time.

However tough it is, there are still the loyal faithful that cover and cheer for their team and I've rounded up a couple of them to shed some light on what to expect in 2012.

Chris Stoner covers all things Baltimore, not just the Orioles, at Baltimore Sports and Life.  (That could be considered a little redundant--aren't baseball and life interchangable?)  If you have other sporting interests in that region, checking out his blog and following him on Twitter at Bmoresportslife would be in your best interest.

Daniel Moroz has been head of the Baltimore BBA chapter for some time now.  He pens his thoughts over at Camden Crazies and can be found on Twitter as well, using the handle camdencrazies.

After the jump, these guys will let us know about who will be in the rotation and their expectations for 2012.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

BSL: The major news of the off-season was the hiring of Dan Duquette. It was reported Nationally, (and locally) that the O's struggled to find someone even interested in the position, and had to settle for Duquette. I personally spoke to four highly qualified Executives who were interested in the position. Even after Tony LaCava turned down the O's and returned to the Toronto Front Office, I was still contacted by Executives who touted their interest. None of those four were contacted by Baltimore. 

I was fine with the Duquette hire though. Had Baltimore hired LaCava, they would have been hiring a 50 yr old first time GM. Even with Duquette being out of MLB for the past decade, he is still just 53 and has twice previously been in charge of an organization. Overall, I been pleased by the organizational moves Duquette has made since being introduced to the Baltimore media November 8th. Some of the moves made include: 

1) Amateur Scouting Director Joe Jordan has been replaced by Gary Rajsich (formerly the National Cross-checker for Toronto). 

2) Under Rajsich, the existing Professional Scouts have been resigned to the Amateur side, and the O's will rely more video and statistical analysis while evaluating players on other teams. 

3) Boston's Southeast Cross-checker Danny Haas has been hired as the National Cross-checker for Baltimore. 

4) Fred Ferreira has come on-board as the Executive Director of International Recruiting. Ferreira has helped bring in 10 new international scouts, working in the Dominican, Venezuela, Curacao, Guatemala, Holland, and Costa Rica. Ferreira has stated the O's are looking into adding a Venezuelan academy. 

5) Ray Poitevint has also joined the International Department, as Executive Director International Baseball. 

6) Former Phillies General Manager Lee Thomas has been added as an assistant to Duquette. 

7) Rick Peterson has been hired as Director of Pitching Development. 

8) Stephen Walters has been hired as an Economic Advisor. 

Between the lines, Duquette has incrementally improved the 40 man roster, but there has been little (none?) difference making talent added. The major draw-back of the off-season has been a failure to either commit to a deeper rebuilding or add significant talent to the existing core of players.

CC: It was OK. They didn't do anything too stupid, which is a plus. Investing in the international market is good to see, but the real important longer-term moves are probably those going on within the organization as opposed to on the field.

C70: Who will be the Opening Day starter and what do you make of the rotation behind him?

BSL: With the trade of Jeremy Guthrie, the Opening Day starter is in doubt. I am currently projecting a rotation of Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter (order to be determined), with Tsuyoshi Wada (and perhaps Dana Eveland) in the bullpen, and Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Brad Bergesen back to AAA. My sense is that Hunter might get the Opening Day nod. 

Is it likely that Britton, Matusz, Arrieta, Hunter, Chen, and Hammel each pitch towards their ceilings? Obviously it is not. Britton's shoulder is a bit of a question. Matusz was a mess last year. Arrieta is coming off surgery. Chen will be adjusting to a new culture, and higher talent. Hammel will be adjusting back to the AL. That said, is it completely implausible to you that the makings of a decent staff exist? Would it shock you if any of those 6 starters pitched like a league average 3rd starter? Am I alone in believing that Britton and Matusz still have the upside of being a league average 2nd starter?

CC: The starting rotation is still very much in flux, though in any event it isn't likely to be too good. The team has a number of #4/5 type starters, but anyone you takes a step up and becomes even a league average pitcher is going to probably be the team's "ace", if only be default. A healthy Zach Britton might take that spot, though right now it isn't clear if that's what we'll get. 

C70: Matt Wieters took a positive step last year.  Can he build on that or is that about the level you expect from him?

BSL: Wieters did take a nice step last year, finishing with 50xbh's (.450 Slugging) and being lauded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. If you were starting a team - he should be one of the first 5 catchers taken. I believe he should be the O's everyday cleanup hitter. After the All-Star break, Wieters posted a .840 OPS. I agree with those that would be disappointed if he is not over .800 for the coming year. You would think this would be the season (if it is going to happen) where a large offensive leap could occur. 

I'm also interested in watching his splits this year. In '11, he had a 1.124 OPS vs. LHP, and a .665 OPS vs. RHP. In '10, he had a .564 OPS vs. LHP, and a .741 OPS vs. RHP. In '09, he had a .671 OPS vs. LPH, and a .804 OPS vs. RHP.

CC: Wieters certainly is capable of taking a step forward, though it's probably not fair to expect that - plus hitting from a Gold Glove catcher is already pretty darn good. If he can maintain (or improve!) his power production and get better with the plate discipline, Wieters could establish himself as one of the game's best players.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

BSL: It is unlikely to see a true prospect make an impact this year, unless you are counting Chen. The bigger question is if the young talent who has ascended to the Majors in the previous two seasons or so, will make a jump in their level of production.  

Chris Tillman has made 36 Major League starts, so I don't initially think of him as a 'prospect.' However, he is still young (24 in April) and he seemed to show some velocity and movement gains late in '11. As mentioned above, I anticipate he will start '12 back in AAA, but I remain interested in watching him. 

Two dark-horse prospects are Dan Klein and Clayton Schrader. Both are power arms that could factor at some point during the year (after June) by forcing their way into the O's bullpen.

CC: None of the team's best prospects are likely to be up this year, though Dylan Bundy may move through the minors relatively quickly. Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada aren't exactly prospects, but they'll be making their major league debuts and could have a hand in improving the starting rotation if their transition to the US goes well.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

BSL: Going into '11, we polled 19 writers and analysts on their projected record for the O's. The average pick was 78 wins. The O's failed to reach those expectations, winning just 69 games. Baltimore has not reached the 70 win plateau since '06, nor been at or above .500 since '97. In 2012, the safe bet is probably no more than 72-73 wins. With 72 games against the AL East powers, it is hard to imagine the O's finishing anywhere but last within their division. 

I'm somewhat optimistic about Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, and Wilson Betemit representing improvements (albeit slight) at 1st, LF, and DH. If that happens, the O's should again have a league average offense. I'm also interested in seeing how Chen and Wada translate. Seeing if Jones receives an extension or is traded will be something to watch. 

My primary interest, and the primary question, is how will we end 2012 thinking about the arms the O's wanted to build around?

CC: Last place is, while maybe not guaranteed, very, very likely. What excitement will be found should come from seeing individual players' improvements more than the team's win-loss record. Or, maybe the O's can knock the Red Sox out of the play-offs again. That was pretty exciting.

My thanks to both Chris and Daniel for their enlightening comments.  We don't see much of the Orioles here in St. Louis, but that historic link between the two clubs should be enough to have us keep an occasional eye on that squad and root for better days ahead for them.

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