It has been said many times, many ways that the 2012 season for the Baltimore Orioles was improbable at best. By going 29-9 in one-run games the Orioles accomplished something that no team in recent history has ever been able to pull off. This either meant that the O’s were supremely, irrationally, lucky or there was something else going on that the now stat-crazed MLB establishment just couldn’t put their fingers on. Whether it was luck or some kind of byzantine skill a team that was widely picked to lose 100 games last year won 93 and took the endless New York Yankees to game five of the ALCS.
Now, can they do it again?
Normally when a team wins 93 games there is a sense of certainty surrounding the club the following year. There is a sense that, all things being equal, similar results should come for the new season. That cannot be said for the Orioles. Given the unnatural progress they made last year the baseball elites are still looking at the Orioles with a sideways glance trying to find the mirrors through the smoke. The Orioles are sitting at a major turning point right now, do they stick with the formula that worked, buy the big free agents, or make the big trades?
General Manager Dan Duquette stated yesterday that he is “happy” with the current roster, though he is still looking to make deals and improve the team. For all intents and purposes it appears that manager Buck Showalter is fine standing pat as well. The Orioles did lose Mark Reynolds after the team decided to non-tender him. While Chris Davis would be able to return to his natural position at first, and Manny Machado would be the opening day third baseman, that does leave a rather large hole at DH. Reynolds definitely did not have his power-stroke for much of the 2012 campaign which is most likely the reason the Orioles let him go. But without his bat in the lineup what would a DH look like with the current roster?
The primary candidate would be Wilson Betemit. When Betemit was signed last year it was assumed that this would be his primary role but injuries and the ineffectiveness by others forced him into the field much more than I believe was originally intended. Betemit gets on base at an average clip, roughly the .330’s, but nothing astonishing. He still has some power, though coming off a surgically repaired wrist it will be interesting to see how he recovers. Betemit is not an ideal DH, frankly I always thought Mark Reynolds was a more prototypical DH but that ship seems to have sailed, but Betemit has the ability to fill the role in a respectable level.
The wild card in this is Nolan Reimold. Reimold is a fan favorite. The oft’ injured Reimold has shown flashes of dominance in parts of three seasons with Baltimore. Last season was, again, cut short with a season ending-neck injury. Reimold is primarily a left-fielder, but with the re-signing of Nate McLouth Reimold should logically be pushed into the DH role. He was off to an absolutely torrid start in 2012, but only played in 13 games all year. As much as everyone wants to see Reimold pick up right where he left off last year I don’t think the Orioles can rely on him in any tangible way.
The rest of the Orioles roster does not seem to have a real DH bat on it beyond those two. Needless to say, while standing pat might not be the worst option in the world, the Orioles will be missing a big bat in the middle of the lineup. That is unless Nolan Reimold can come back strong and stay healthy.
Spend the Big Money
The two biggest names on the market right now are Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke. Hamilton would fit in nicely in the LF/DH role in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. He is a more than legitimate bat, but the cost would seem to be too high for the Orioles. Many people may not want to hear that, but it is the truth. Moreover, Hamilton does have legitimate off-the0field issues that come into play. That might be unfair to cite when making a decision but it is the reality of this player. Hamilton genuinely looked as though he checked out on the Rangers over the last few weeks of the season, though his .833 OPS in Sept/Oct says something different, and for someone who wants a huge payday this offseason there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz around him.
Hamilton would no doubt be a boon to the Orioles, but can the Birds afford the risk involved in locking him up for five plus years paying him big money on the wrong side of 33?
Zack Greinke is another big money name out there that, frankly, the Orioles should avoid like the plague. Greinke is going to be a very rich man this offseason and he will be drastically overpaid. I would rather not see the Orioles be the team that forks over the type of money it will take to get Greinke.
Outside of those two there are not a lot of free agents out there that really seem like a fit for the Orioles. Edwin Jackson is back on the market this year. Jackson was pursued by the Orioles last year and I can easily see him sliding into the rotation as a nice solidifying force.
Making the trades
The Orioles could always make a trade for the bat they want, but the Orioles’ organizational depth will come into play again. Frankly, the Orioles’ system, while it looks better than it did this time last year, is not remarkably deep and any trade from the upper minors runs the risk of hurting the future in exchange for a chance at continuing present glory. Moreover, moving any pieces from the major league squad might be seen as outright heresy by the fanbase. Any significant trades made would have to be a clear win for the Orioles. Jonathan Schoop, the Orioles minor league infielder, is a name that will likely be dangled.
How do you recreate the seemingly impossible events of 2012? How do the Orioles prove that last year wasn’t a fluke? Is it even possible? Already, there are some who are falling back on their older beliefs that this team will crumble back to a sub.-500 level and all will be right with the world. I simply don’t see that happening. When teams start winning, they get used to it. Now that this young crew of players finally has gotten a taste of a winning season I don’t see them allowing themselves to fall back.
The Jays have arguably gotten stronger, the Rays have remained the same. The Yanks and Sox however seem to be taking steps back. The oncoming storm of the AL East is shaping up to be a hell of a battle – and it isn’t even Christmas yet.