MANAGER SAMPERLOZZO third season with Orioles
ABANDONING THEIR usual off-season M.O. of falling for the biggest brand namesin free agency (even if they're past their prime), the Orioles insteadaggressively went after players who could fill actual needs. And this winter,as has been the case for the better part of a decade, they had more than a fewof those.
When Baltimorewas done spending, it had committed a reasonable $79 million to eight playerswho will give the Orioles a decent return on their investment--even if, for theeighth time in the last nine years, the club doesn't escape the bottom half ofthe division. The front office fared so well, in fact, that its biggest critic,cranky shortstop Miguel Tejada, not only happily announced that he wanted toremain with the Orioles for the foreseeable future but also promised to show upfor work on time from now on.
The club'sbaseball people must have finally been able to talk sense into meddling ownerPeter Angelos, because there were no Javy Lopez-- or Sammy Sosa--type signings.And the players appreciate the new approach. "We're all excited about whatwas done in the off-season and the moves that were made," second basemanBrian Roberts says. "You can go out and bring in the biggest names, and itmight not do any good."
Baltimore entersthis season with a more well-rounded roster--or, in Tejada's case, a slimmeddown one. He showed up in Fort Lauderdale this spring with far less body fat onhis 5'9" frame and much improved range. "I'm happy to be with theOrioles," he says. That's a far cry from last summer, when Tejada, upsetabout the direction of the franchise, was nearly traded to the Angels forpitcher Ervin Santana and well-regarded minor league shortstop Erick Aybar,until Angelos nixed the deal. There were members of the Baltimore organizationwho privately blamed the pitching staff's 5.35 ERA (second-worst in the majors)in part on Tejada's diminishing range, which was particularly evident in thefirst half of '06.
March 25, 2007
The most tellingstat, however, was the league-worst 216 home runs surrendered by Oriolespitchers. That explains the signings of free-agent righthanders Chad Bradford(one home run allowed in 62 innings with the Mets last year) and Danys Baez(three homers in 592/3 innings with the Dodgers and Braves) to shore up abullpen that was about as poor at holding a lead as any in the majors (box,below). Lefthanded newcomer Jamie Walker is prone to the long ball, but will beinvaluable against the lefty-leaning lineups of the Red Sox and the Yankees.The fourth reliever signed in the off-season, righty Scott Williamson, isinjury-prone, but when he's healthy he has closer's stuff.
As enthusiasticas the Orioles are about their overhauled bullpen, they have even higher hopesfor a young, homegrown front end of the rotation that showed signs ofexcellence toward the end of last season. Lefty Erik Bedard, 28, became thefirst Baltimore starter to win 15 games and have an ERA below 4.00 since MikeMussina in 1999. Hulking Adam Loewen, who will turn 23 in April, struck out 7.9batters per nine innings and beat the Yankees twice in an 11-day stretch inAugust. Flamethrowing Daniel Cabrera, 25, who's grown three inches and added 55pounds since the end of the '05 season, has shown signs of harnessing hisexceptional stuff, but the jury's still out.
The developmentof the young players--which also includes pure-hitting, star-in-the-makingoutfielder Nick Markakis--has been a big factor in the Orioles' suddenlysensible spending. If not for the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays the Baltimorefront office would be able to more fully enjoy its fine winter work. Still,says vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette, "If you don'tthink this team is vastly different and vastly improved, you're crazy."
Last year theOrioles allowed 321 runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, a totalexceeded by only the Royals. The bullpen's failures prompted the front officeto sign four free-agent relievers over the winter, most notably specialistsChad Bradford and Jamie Walker, which gives manager Sam Perlozzo tacticaloptions he didn't have in 2006. The sidearming Bradford limited righthandedhitters to a .274 on-base percentage over the last three years but struggledagainst lefty batters (.402 OBP). Southpaw Walker (left), who held lefties to a.266 OBP over the same period, will be useful against the Red Sox and Yankeeslineups, which tear up righthanders and which Baltimore will face a combined 38times. Perlozzo would do well to consider using Walker for more than justone-batter matchups; since the start of the '04 season he also held righties toa respectable .321 OBP.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|RH||Steve Trachsel *||264||15||8||79||1.60||4.97|
|RH||Jaret Wright *||249||11||7||84||1.52||4.49|
|RH||Chad Bradford *||209||4||2||2||1.16||2.90|
|LH||Jamie Walker *||236||0||1||0||1.15||2.81|
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
GO TO mySI
Instant accessto the latest and best Orioles stories from across the Web, handpicked by SI'seditors
SI.comrecommends these media sites
Which blog orfan site has the best Orioles info? Vote now at SI.com/oriolesvote. These siteswill be featured at SI.com's new Orioles team page.
• Roch Aroundthe Clock
• The OriolesWarehouse
Wins by SteveTrachsel with the Mets last season, when no pitcher in the NL won more than 16.However, the deliberate righthander walked (78) nearly as many he struck out(79), allowed opponents to hit .288 and had an ERA just under five (4.97).Don't bank on Trachsel receiving the same run support that he did in '06 (5.46per game).