O's aim to be deep enough to compete in '12
After an offseason of change, Baltimore asks pitching to step up
BALTIMORE -- The 2012 season is already slated to hold a place in Baltimore Orioles history, as the organization has rolled out extensive plans, including ballpark upgrades and a new website, to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Whether there will be anything to memorialize on the field is tougher to predict, a task that -- like last season -- will depend almost exclusively on how the Orioles' pitching can hold up. Coming off their 14th consecutive losing season in a 2011 campaign in which their young arms all struggled, the O's made sweeping changes this winter, most notably the hiring of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. In addition to revamping the front office, Duquette has turned attention to the international market, signing multiple players from outside the United States in an attempt to supplement a farm system with a lack of depth.
Depth, in fact, can characterize the very nature of the Orioles' offseason, with the club adding a wealth of arms -- although no frontline starters -- to help foster competition this spring. External skepticism still abounds as to whether Baltimore is ready to compete in the American League East, but Duquette has gone on record several times to say this year's club will be .500 or better.
The O's offense is virtually the same as last season, although second baseman Brian Roberts' health continues to be a major question. The biggest concern is that manager Buck Showalter has no true cleanup hitter. The continued maturation of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters -- who both figure to be in the heart of the lineup -- coupled with Mark Reynolds' power numbers and a solid J.J. Hardy campaign should ensure that Baltimore can score. The addition of Wilson Betemit at designated hitter and a full year of Nolan Reimold, who will get every chance to prove he can be the club's starting left fielder, will be an interesting mix at the bottom of the order.
The ninth inning will be handled by Jim Johnson, who will take over the closer job given Kevin Gregg's struggles, although the bridge to Johnson is shaky and up for grabs among newcomers Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala. Given the large number of starter options, the Orioles' bullpen will depend largely on who makes the Opening Day rotation. The team's 40-man roster, which Showalter estimates has been upgraded in about a dozen spots, is full of players without options, leaving the organization in a tough spot when it comes to who will break camp.
When it all shakes out, the O's hope to be in a position in which they can consistently compete and finish above the .500 mark for the first time in a decade and a half. Here's an early look at some projections for the 2012 season:
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
March 5, at Tampa Bay Rays (ss) 1:05 p.m. ET; vs. Pittsburgh Pirates 7:05 p.m.
Home vs. Twins, April 6, 3:05 p.m.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who makes the starting rotation?
While the Orioles' lack frontline starting candidates, there's no shortage of candidates for the rotation. Innings-eaters Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel figure to be a part of the starting five, and new pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada will also get a long look. Zach Britton took his lumps, but he is coming off a productive rookie campaign, and right-hander Jake Arrieta could also get a spot, assuming he stays on track with his recovery from season-ending elbow surgery.
Young lefty Brian Matusz, coming off a disastrous 2011 season, is a wild card. Other arms to take under consideration include Dana Eveland and Alfredo Simon -- who could also be a bullpen candidate -- as well as Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen, who are still trying to establish themselves at the Major League level.2. Will Roberts be healthy?
The question that dominated this offseason lingers, perhaps even more given Roberts' silence. The second baseman missed the annual FanFest for health reasons, and there have been few updates on his progress in returning from a concussion. What isn't up for debate is that the Orioles need Roberts, a dynamic leadoff hitter who strengthens the team at second base, allowing for super-utility player Robert Andino to strengthen the bench. Roberts has missed the majority of the past few seasons, and while there's not a lot of optimism surrounding his health, all the team can do at this point is wait and see. 3. How will the bullpen be constructed?
All signs point to last year's closer, Gregg, returning in a setup role, with Johnson the new ninth-inning man. Lindstrom will ideally be in control of the seventh inning, with the eighth still to be determined.
The Orioles have several options, including veteran Ayala, who is coming off a nice season with the Yankees.2011 record
69-93, fifth in the American League East Projected batting order
1. 2B Brian Roberts:
.221 BA, .273 OBP, .331 SLG, 3 HR, 19 RBIs in 2011
2. SS J.J. Hardy:
.269 BA, .310 OBP, .491 SLG, 30 HR, 80 RBIs in 2011
3. RF Nick Markakis:
.284 BA, .351 OBP, .401 SLG, 15 HR, 73 RBIs in 2011
4. CF Adam Jones:
.280 BA, .319 OBP, .466 SLG, 25 HR, 83 RBIs in 2011
5. C Matt Wieters:
.262 BA, .328 OBP, .450 SLG, 22 HR, 68 RBIs in 2011
6. 3B Mark Reynolds:
.221 BA, .323 OBP, .483 SLG, 37 HR, 86 RBIs in 2011
7. DH Wilson Betemit:
.285 BA, .343 OBP, .452 SLG, 8 HR, 46 RBIs in 2011
8. 1B Chris Davis:
.276 BA, .310 OBP, .398 SLG, 2 HR, 13 RBIs in 2011
9. LF Nolan Reimold:
.247 BA, .328 OBP, .453 SLG, 13 HR, 45 RBIs in 2011
The exact rotation order is nearly impossible to predict, given the Orioles' current state, but here's an educated guess at who will be in the top five:
1. LHP Zach Britton, 11-11, 4.61 ERA in 2011
2. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, n/a (spent past four seasons in Japan playing with the Central Chunichi Dragons).
3. RHP Tommy Hunter, 4-4, 4.68 ERA in 2011
4. RHP Jason Hammel, 7-13, 4.76 ERA in 2011
5. RHP Jake Arrieta, 10-8, 5.05 ERA in 2011
Closer: RHP Jim Johnson, 9 saves, 2.67 ERA in 2011
Setup man: RHP Matt Lindstrom, 3.00 ERA in 2011
Setup man: RHP Kevin Gregg, 4.37 ERA in 2011 The new guys
RHP Hammel: The 29-year-old Hammel, acquired from Colorado in a trade for Guthrie, figures to be one of the leading candidates for the Orioles' rotation. The right-hander has AL East experience, having started his career with Tampa Bay, and is no stranger to pitching in hitter-friendly parks. RHP Lindstrom: Expected to be part of the later innings, the addition of Lindstrom gives the O's a power arm to go along with expected closer Johnson. The second player in the Guthrie deal, Lindstrom's favorable walk-to-strikeout ratio was another selling point for Baltimore. RHP Ayala: Ayala had ERAs above 5.00 in 2008 and '09 -- a span in which he pitched for four teams -- and did not pitch in the big leagues in 2010. But Ayala's success with the Yankees last year prompted multiple clubs to show interest in him this winter, and he will compete for a back-end job in Baltimore's bullpen. LHP Wada: Signed to a two-year, $8.15 million contract, Wada is considered to be a pitcher who uses smarts over stuff. Despite a mid-80s fastball, the Japanese lefty's pinpoint control is what ultimately sold Baltimore on giving him a deal, and Duquette has likened Wada's style to former Oriole Scott McGregor. LHP Chen: The Taiwanese-born Chen was signed to a three-year deal and is considered a strong candidate for the starting rotation. The 26-year-old went 36-30 with a 2.48 ERA in 117 games, including 88 starts, over the past four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Central League. LHP Eveland: The Orioles traded a pair of Minor Leaguers for Eveland at this year's Winter Meetings, and the journeyman was considered a non-tender candidate for the Dodgers before the deal. He's out of options and will compete for a spot in both the rotation and bullpen. Eveland was 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five September starts for the Dodgers, with his only complete season as a Major League starting pitcher in 2008 with Oakland. DH Betemit: Betemit was signed to a two-year deal, with a vesting option for 2014. The 30-year-old switch-hitter, particularly effective against right-handed pitching with a career .817 OPS, comes with a history of high on-base percentage -- a statistic upon which Duquette and Showalter place heavy emphasis. OF Endy Chavez: The addition of Chavez, signed to a one-year deal, gives the the Orioles outfield depth. Chavez has experience at all three outfield positions and played 66 games in center field last season. INF Matt Antonelli: A former first-round Draft pick, Antonelli is expected to compete for a job in Spring Training, and the infielder will be used at second and third base. Prospects to watch
RHP Dylan Bundy: Blessed with a triple-digit fastball, Bundy ended his senior year in high school with a 0.25 ERA and an average of over two strikeouts per inning. The Orioles' top pick in the 2011 Draft, the young right-hander's presence at camp will draw significant buzz as he has yet to begin his professional career. SS Manny Machado: Machado won't be in Major League camp, but the prized young infielder is hardly forgotten in the organization. At 19, Machado figures to spend time at Double-A Bowie this season, and the former first-round pick could make a strong case -- if he has a solid 2012 campaign -- for a chance at the Majors League level in '13. On the rebound
LHP Matusz: What will 2012 look like for Matusz, a lefty who was expected to be one of the team's top starters last spring? Early indications are the 25-year-old Matusz is on the right track and ready to avenge a '11 season filled with injury and underperformance. RHP Arrieta: The young righty took a nosedive after a strong first half last season, and he was eventually shut down to get season-ending surgery on his elbow. Expected to be a full-go in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Arrieta will compete for a rotation spot, assuming his recovery stays on track. 1B Davis: Acquired in a midseason trade with Texas, Davis will get every opportunity to show the organization he can be the answer at first base in 2012. A former "can't-miss" prospect who got passed over in the Rangers' loaded system, Davis struggled with a shoulder injury upon coming to Baltimore. Fully healthy, he projects to a full season of at-bats, making this a pivotal season in his career. Long gone
RHP Guthrie: Traded to the Colorado Rockies in a surprising late-winter move, Guthrie's absence leaves a considerable hole atop the Orioles' rotation. The 32-year-old right-hander -- who had posted three consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings pitched -- was dealt just hours before he was scheduled to go to an arbitration hearing, which could have cost the O's more than $10 million in salary. OF/DH Luke Scott: The Orioles opted not to tender Scott a contract in order to avoid a potential arbitration hearing with the outfielder, who had season-ending surgery on his labrum in July. Scott signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, with an option for 2013.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.