(NOTE FROM GREY: Last week I sent out feelers to the top baseball team blogs to see if they would be generous enough to write a quick preview for their favorite team. So over the course of the next two weeks, mixed in with your daily fantasy info, you will get some of the most astute, in-depth coverage of teams around the major leagues for the upcoming 2008 season from the people that know these teams best. Each post will include a link to their site, please take time to visit these bloggers’ sites, because these posts are truly the tip of the iceberg for their team knowledge. Now enjoy the 2008 Baltimore Orioles preview.)
In the offseason, Orioles’ VP and defacto GM Andy MacPhail finally started a rebuilding process that has been needed for the last decade. The off-season tone was much different. No over the hill stopgap players were signed. Trades were made. No false assurances were made by Peter Angelos that this team can win some games. The 2008 Baltimore Orioles will not be a good team, they could easily lose 100 games. With rebuilding though, a 100 lose team with future potential will be better than a 80 lose team with aging downside vets. Stars Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada were traded for prospects as the build for the future philosophy has been embraced. Brian Roberts could be traded aaannnnyyyy time now.
The trade of Erik Bedard to the Mariners has left a gapping hole at the start of the rotation. There were nasty rumors that Steve Trachsel would get the nod on opening day, but instead Jeremy Guthrie will. Guthrie had a great first half of the 2007 season. Before the All-Star Break he went 4-2 with a 2.74 ERA, after the break he went 3-3 with a 5.03 ERA before getting shut down for the season. This season will show whether Guthrie will be a viable major league pitcher or a flash in the pan. Daniel Cabrera is being looked at as the number two pitcher. For his career, he’s been looked at as a diamond in the rough. He has electric stuff but hasn’t been able to harness it. Last season’s 9-18 debacle pushed me to my limit with Cabrera. Amazing arm, but anything that goes wrong goes to his head and the floodgates open. He had his second consecutive 100 walk season last year with 108. His ERA ballooned to a robust 5.55 for 2007. Cabrera’s last two pitching coaches have been Ray Miller and Leo Mazzone, if new pitching coach Rick Krantiz can turn Cabrera around, a statue of him should be erected at the Yard. Adam Loewen missed most of last season with shoulder surgery. A screw was put in there and hope is he’ll rebound. The spring has not been kind to him with short outings and control issues. I hope he’s getting the rust off, but I worry about him. Steve Trachsel will have the four spot. Trachsel is a stopgap, preventing the O’s to do what they’ve done so much over the years. They rush a young pitching up to big club with not enough time in the minors because the rotation stinks. The young pitcher gets shelled and after a few times out, he’s sent back down and forgotten. Trachsel will eat innings, put us to sleep, be mediocre, and hold a spot until one of the young arms is truly ready to go. Matt Albers and Brian Burres are competing for the five spot. Albers, who came via the Tejada trade to Houston, seems to be the favorite. Burres started some last season but seems, in my opinion, to be better suited as long relief. The rotation doesn’t look pretty now, but with the likes of Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, Hayden Penn, Brandon Erbe, Pedro Beato, the injured Troy Patton, Tim Bascom, Radhames Liz, Garret Olson, and Chorye Spoone in the minors, the rotation can only get better over time, we hope.
The Baltimore bullpen has been brutally bad over the past few seasons. Retreads come and go, quality arms get overworked and rendered useless. The pen this year could be ok. Danys Baez and his horrible contract will be out for the season. Chris Ray will be out for the better part of the season. George Sherrill, acquired in the Bedard deal, will be the closer. Sherrill could be a nice surprise for O’s fans, but the question is ‘how many save opportunites will he get?” Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford were stellar last season. Walker was the most dependable arm in the pen. Bradford was mostly reliable but at times his outings were hellish tightrope acts. Dennis Sarfate, acquired through the Tejada trade, is a power arm added to the pen. The loser of the Burres/Albers battle for the rotation spot will be a long reliever. Randor Bierd, a rule 5er from Detroit, and Greg Acquino seem locked into spots in the pen. Rocky Cherry has had a nice spring, but looks to be the odd man out (to Norfolk) due to option issues with everyone else.
The outfield could be one of the better ones in years. Nick Markakis had a great season with 23 HR and 112 RBI and only looks to be getting better. He appears to a cornerstone that the O’s can build around him. He’s been the pretty much the exception to the rule about the O’s farm over the past decade. Playing along side him now is newly acquired CF Adam Jones, the centerpiece of the Bedard trade. Jones has been said to be a Tori Hunter/Mike Cameron blend player. It’s going to be a year or two to see if Jones will be as good or better than those players, but getting him is a big win for the O’s. Luke Scott will be the primary leftfielder. Scott has power, but had limited playing time in Houston. In Baltimore, he should have plenty of time in left and get some hits. Jay Payton, Tike Redman, Jay Gibbons, and Scott Moore will be vying for reserve time in the OF. Moore is going to be more of a super utility player. Payton’s a declining player (how can you decline if you’ve never really been good?) with a bad contract who the O’s will trade at their first chance. Gibbons was a horrible contract (If we’re lucky, the FO will release him and just eat the money left on the contract. I have nothing further about Gibbons to say that doesn’t involved expletives) from the previous regimes that the O’s would love to shed, but no other team is that foolish. Redman, if Payton gets traded, would be the 4th outfielder.
In the infield, Kevin Millar will anchor first base and sadly be the clean-up hitter. Millar can work a count and get some hits, but he’s in the twilight of his career. A player like him is good to have on a rebuilding team to be a rah-rah team guy, but to have him hitting clean-up shows you the state of the O’s. Brian Roberts, at the moment, is still an Oriole. The trade with the Chicago Cubs could happen tomorrow or never. If he stays with the O’s, they have one of the best speed guy and lead-off hitters in the game. Roberts can get on base and change game with his steals and speed. Smart money is that he’ll start the season as an O but will be traded at some point in the season. Melvin Mora will still be at third, with Scott Moore (hopefully) taking over at some point. Mora’s in the downside of his career and was unwisely given a nice contract mere moments before his decline. Scott Moore came from the Cubs and has had a nice spring and will hopefully make the team and getting playing time. Moore has a nice pop to his bat and could pan out to be a good third baseman. Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey are vying for the shortstop job. Both of these guys are the classic all glove and no hit guys, that’s the best that I can say about them. Aubrey Huff will see time at DH and 1st this season. He’ll go through his yearly slow start (1st half of the season) before hitting his midseason stride (hit for the cycle one day, strikeout four times the next game).
Ramon Hernandez is back at catcher. Ramon had an bad year last season and had a recurring oblique injury. Refreshed and in camp in better shape, he could return to form. This is probably his last season in Baltimore with Matt Wieters being the catcher of the future. A trade to Mets makes sense. Guillermo Quiroz appears to have won the backup catcher job with a solid spring.
Vets like Mora, Payton, Huff, Millar, and any other player over 30 could and probably will be dealt during the season to get more prospects and to open up positions for young players to man. I’ll cheer the day when the last of the Flannagan/Duquette regime’s troop of 1st base/DH only players are gone.
Fantasy Players must haves
Not really many on the O’s but here’s a few that are good ones
Nick Markakis– He had 23 HR and 112 RBI. He’s only getting better and you should expect something along the lines of this this season.
George Sherrill– Hasn’t closed in the majors before, but will have the job with the O’s this season. The only worry is lack of save chances.
Luke Scott– If you’re looking for a 4th outfielder to use, Scott could be a nice pickup. Scott has shown that he can hit in his limited time in Houston. In Camden, he could have some get production as long as deadweight like Payton and Gibbons don’t steal his playing time.
Brian Roberts– He doubtfully will be an Oriole all season, but he still is now. Roberts is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He can get on base and steal bases. Roberts one of my favorites, I’ve got his jersey. Something tells me I need to go ahead and get that Nick Markakis jersey.
So it’s probably going to be a long season. I don’t think we’ll lose 100 games, but I still have a little optimism left in me. The O’s could be slightly better than we think (or rather less worse) but it depends on the starting pitching. If the pitching fares poorly, well…I’ve been through ten losing seasons, an 11th wouldn’t kill me.
Ben runs Oriole Central.