Winter Report Card: Baltimore Orioles
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
2013 results: 85-77 (.525), 3rd place in AL East (Hot Stove Preview)
The Orioles entered the offseason with emerging holes at second base, leftfield and designated hitter -- due to the pending free agency of Brian Roberts, Nate McLouth and Mike Morse, respectively -- and the need for an upgrade in their rotation, particularly with Scott Feldman also reaching free agency. With barely more than three weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers report to camp, the O's have scraped together underwhelming solutions for the three lineup spots, done nothing to help their rotation and opened up an additional hole by trading closer Jim Johnson to the A's in what amounted to a salary dump in advance of his final year of arbitration (Johnson settled with Oakland on a one-year, $10 million deal).
The Johnson trade brought back former first-round pick Jemile Weeks, who could be part of the solution at second base, but he will be 27 on Sunday, hit just .221/.305/.304 in 2012 and, despite his .376 on-base percentage in Triple A, received just nine plate appearances from an A's team that needed help at second base last year. Weeks will battle incumbents Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla, waiver claim Cord Phelps and prospect Jonathan Schoop for the starting job. Flaherty is a career .211/.279/.378 hitter who made 59 starts at second for Baltimore in 2013; Casilla, who made 31 starts at second in 2013, is back as a non-roster player on a minor league deal; Phelps played only four games in the majors last year with Cleveland; and Schoop is the organization's top non-pitching prospect. The latter is just 22 and could use another year at Triple-A after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2013 season at that level.
One could argue that the Orioles did well replacing McLouth with David Lough at least. Lough was acquired from the Royals for Danny Valencia, won't be arbitration eligible for two more years and is a superior fielder to McLouth, who landed a $10.75-million, two-year deal from the Nationals. Lough should be able to match McLouth's production at the plate. Over the last three seasons, the latter has hit .246/.329/.378 (92 OPS+). In 2013, the average major league left fielder hit .259/.323/.412. Lough, as a 27-year-old rookie last season, hit .286/.311/.413 (96 OPS+).
Valencia was the Orioles' primary designated hitter in 2013 largely by default (Morse was acquired from the Mariners in August and didn't hit a lick). While he was very productive (.304/.335/.553 in 170 plate appearances), Baltimore was right to sell-high on a 29-year-old coming off a small-sample spike. Its plan to fill DH, however, seems to be finding a lefthanded platoon partner for lefty-killer Delmon Young, who was signed to a minor league deal last week. The O's options there include Cuban Henry Urrutia, who will be 27 in February and struggled in a brief major league look last year, Tyler Colvin, and non-roster invitees Xavier Paul and Quintin Berry.
Stop me when I get to a name that inspires any kind of confidence.
As for the pitching, Baltimore followed the trade of Johnson by signing former A's closer Grant Balfour to a two-year $15 million contract, but concerns raised about his wrist and knee in his physical led to the team voiding the deal. Doing so, rather than simply restructuring the deal as the Red Sox did with Mike Napoli a year ago after his physical revealed a degenerative condition in his hips, could give future free agents pause about dealing with the Orioles, though it's worth noting that Balfour remains unsigned.
The O's did replace Johnson's innings by signing righthanded groundballer Ryan Webb, a surprise non-tender by the Marlins in early December, to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. Webb, who has a career ERA+ of 118, could battle Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter for the closer's job, though O'Day, who out-pitched Johnson over the last two years, would be the best choice there.
Unfinished business: Starting pitching
With Weeks, Lough and Young their top options at second base, leftfield and designated hitter, respectively, one could argue that the Orioles didn't really finish the business of adequately filling those positions either. Still, the only starting pitcher they have added to their 40-man roster thus far this offseason has been former Twin Liam Hendriks, who has a 6.01 ERA in 28 career major league starts. General manager Dan Duquette has made no secret of his desire to sign a starter from among the remaining free agents, and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported last week that Baltimore was one of three teams that "recently requested medical reports" on Ervin Santana.
Preliminary grade: D The Orioles avoid an F because the few moves of significance they have made have been smart ones, but they add up to very little for a team that needed to make a splash to continue to run with the big boys in their division.