Playing Pepper 2015: Baltimore Orioles

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Baltimore Orioles
96-66, first in the AL East, lost in the ALCS

In 2014, the Orioles were able to add another gem to their already illustrious history.  While it may not completely stack up with some of the others in their division, Baltimore has a lot of great baseball in its past and they prove that it wasn’t just something for the past generation but for the present as well.  Baltimore was just a step away from its first World Series since they won it in 1983.  They ran into the October buzzsaw that was the Kansas City Royals, but that shouldn’t take too much of a shine off of what they accomplished.

Of course, the offseason has been a different story.  To talk about that and the season to come, we’ve got three great Oriole bloggers lined up for you this afternoon.  Domenic writes over at Birds Watcher, the Fansided Baltimore blog.  He’s on Twitter @DomenicVadala.  In the middle of our lineup is Matt from Camden Depot, who has taken over the bulk of the duties since the founder is now writing mainly for Baseball Prospectus.  (That should give you some idea of the quality of the blog.)  You can find Matt on Twitter @mattkremnitzer.  Finally, we’ve got a Pepper vet in Derek from Eutaw Street Report.  Derek tweets @BMoreBirdsNest.  I’d suggest giving each of these guys a follow if you want to find out more about that old St. Louis team.

C7o: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

BW: The Orioles had a bit of a tumultuous off season. For the better part of two months, GM Dan Duquette was targeted by division-rival Toronto for a similar position in their front office. While that appears to be over and the situation resolved, that has brought forth lots of questions about how much Duquette was able to do in terms of adding to the team.

The Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller, and longtime Oriole Nick Markakis to free agency. Replacing all of them will be challenging, however the Orioles will also get the likes of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado back from injury. However ultimately, if Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter are happy with the net result of the off season, the fact is that they’ve earned the right for fans to have patience with them.

CD: It’s never fun when talented players leave the team you cheer for, especially after such an enjoyable season. The Orioles will miss the overall talent of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but in each case, I understand the reasons for letting them go. I rarely fall in the “just do something” camp, but I also felt like the Orioles needed to at least make a move for an outfielder instead of just relying on Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, and David Lough to share innings. The trade for Travis Snider makes sense, and although he’s far from a star, he should provide Buck Showalter with a useful OF/DH bat.

Regardless of the few minor offseason moves, the O’s are clearly counting on healthy and productive seasons from Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis. And considering the number of impending free agents and the way the roster could look in 2016, it’s reasonable for the O’s to not panic and sign a couple of players to lucrative long-term deals. Whether or not that leads to winning in an improved AL East is another question.

ESR: You can’t talk about the Orioles offseason without discussing the Dan Duquette situation. I see that we are going to address that in #3, so here I’ll just say that it was a huge dark cloud hanging over the entire winter.

As for making moves, the best moves the Orioles made were the ones they didn’t make. They resisted the temptation to spend with their hearts and the Atlanta Braves ended up giving Nick Markakis the 4-year, $44M deal that many were afraid the Orioles were going to give him. Markakis is on the down side, and ended up having neck surgery basically as soon as he signed with Atlanta. The Orioles were wise to let somebody else pay for past performance.

They were similarly shrewd in allowing Nelson Cruz to walk. He signed a 4-year, $57M deal with Seattle, and he’ll be 35 in July. He was obviously a huge asset in 2014, but he was a bargain and had a resurgent contract year. He bet on himself, and won, and the O’s got a great deal out of him. Giving him a big contract would have been foolish.

Many O’s fans look at these two players walking as an example of the team being cheap, but their payroll is actually going to increase in 2015 from 2014, even with those two walking. They had a lot of arbitration-eligible players who all got raises.

Overall, I’m not dissatisfied with the personnel moves they made this winter. What they had to do was give themselves options to replace Markakis and Cruz, and they’ve done that by trading for Travis Snider, retaining Delmon Young, and crossing their fingers and hoping for a resurgence from Chris Davis and a repeat of 2014 by Steve Pearce.

C70: What are your expectations of Dylan Bundy this season?

BW: I think that Bundy can be a force for the Orioles at the big league level – in the bullpen. That appears to be the Orioles’ plan for the moment, however that could certainly change. I think he’ll start the season in the minors (unless he blows people away in ST), and then join the Birds as a reliever at some point along the way. However a wild card could be Ubaldo Jimenez; if he struggles again in the rotation, perhaps Bundy will have a shot.

CD: I expect Bundy to pitch well if he’s able to stay healthy. He won’t be rushed to join the major league club, and he shouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to get some innings late in the season, and he could be a fine addition as a power arm, if needed. It’s worth noting that because Bundy signed a major league deal when he was drafted, 2015 is his last option year. So he will be on the major league club starting in 2016, barring a trade or another injury.

ESR: Bundy is an interesting case. While it feels like he’s been in the farm system forever, folks tend to forget that he’s two years younger than Kevin Gausman. What hurts the prospects of Bundy’s future in Baltimore is that he’ll use up his final minor league option in 2015, so he’ll need to be on the Opening Day roster to start 2016. Because of that, he may have to have his return from Tommy John Surgery rushed a bit here this year. I’d like to see Bundy regain some control and velocity that he seemed to be struggling with last year immediately upon returning from TJS, and to dominate minor league hitters again out of the gate.

In a perfect world, he’s contributing to the big league club as a reliever by late Summer, but I’m not holding my breath. I hate it, but I’m afraid he’ll end up as trade bait. I hope I’m wrong.

C70: Has the drama surrounding Dan Duquette been much of a distraction or will it be going forward?

BW: As I said above, it dominated the news for the better part of two months. Whether it affected Duquette’s ability to add to the team is something only known to Duquette. However it’s been a distraction to a lot of people surrounding the team. Whether or not it remains a distraction is up to the Blue Jays. If they passive-aggressively continue to make their interest in Duquette known, then it will continue to be a distraction.

CD: Yes, it has been a big distraction. It hasn’t necessarily affected the team’s offseason plans — at least according to Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, whatever that’s worth — but it’s a story that wouldn’t go away. The Blue Jays announced in late January that Paul Beeston would be returning in 2015 and retiring after the season. So it’s possible the Duquette-to-Toronto rumors will start back up next offseason (or sooner).

I’m not sure the Duquette ordeal had much to do with the O’s sitting out the top free agent market, but it’s at least curious that the Travis Snider deal came together soon after Beeston announced that he would be back for another year. Still, it’s hard for fans not to overreact when a team isn’t doing much and there’s also the possibility of the general manager going to work not just for another team, but for a division rival. I hope the drama is over for good, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about the same thing next year.

ESR: Huge, gigantic, overwhelming distraction. On the heels of the team’s best season since 1997, and making the postseason twice in three years, it’s extremely disappointing to have beat writers quote sources within the organization describing the atmosphere as “toxic.” It’s like the dark years of 98-11 all over again, in that sense.

Duquette has had plenty of chances to put an end to the rumors, only to time and again go the route of the shady politician with a bunch of non-denial denials and evasive answers. I don’t know what the future holds for the front office, but it helps to know that Buck Showalter is highly involved. The organization is in good hands with Buck, even if Duquette’s future is highly uncertain.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

BW: If I had to pick one, it would be Jonathan Schoop. He surprised a lot of people by winning the starting second base position as a rookie out of spring training last year. He had a bit of a rocky rookie season, however he also showed signs of promise. Given where he was last year and where he’s expected to be when all’s said and done, he also has the biggest opportunity for improvement.

CD: Probably Manny Machado or Kevin Gausman. Machado’s main problem has been health, so if his knees hold up (not the best thing to be talking about for a 22 year old) he should post solid numbers and could take a step forward offensively. Gausman, meanwhile, should absolutely be in the Orioles’ crowded starting rotation to start the season and given every opportunity to succeed. He maybe hasn’t been as good as quickly as O’s fans would have envisioned, but he has the best pitching arsenal on the staff and clearly has the highest upside.

ESR: Gausman. I expect him to take the ball every fifth day and start to cement himself among the league’s best young arms. Though he’ll technically be the Birds “fourth” or “fifth” starter, he’ll be the one fans feel they can most rely on by the All-Star break.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

BW: The division has gotten stronger overall, with the exception of the Orioles and Tampa – on paper, that is. However the Orioles were light years ahead of everyone else last season. While I can’t predict a record or a finish right now, what I will predict is that the O’s will be competitive. While they’ve fallen off a bit, the division was that much worse than them in 2015 to where they’ll still be competitive this season. And it’s not as if they lost everyone – just a couple of players.

CD: 84-78, 3rd in the AL East

ESR: 92-70, second in the division.

C70: What do you like best about being an Orioles fan?

BW: The history is the best part. Baltimore is a smaller city by east coast standards, and that in and of itself brings the fans closer to their teams. But when you throw in the history behind this franchise, from the greatest third baseman of all time (Brooks Robinson) to the Iron Man (Cal Ripken Jr), and it all comes across as a pretty great fan experience.

CD: Camden Yards, because it’s an amazing ballpark.

ESR:

  • I have at least 81 opportunities a year to go to the most beautiful ballpark in MLB to watch the team with the best looking uniforms in the game.
  • Showalter’s press conferences. Seriously, if you’re a fan of another team, go look them up on youtube. “Buck-isms” keep us O’s fans in stitches every night.
  • The cartoon bird
  • Yelling “O” during the Star Spangled Banner. Some don’t like this, but you know what? Francis Scott Key was sitting a few long home runs away from Camden Yards when he wrote that poem, so we can make it our own if we please.
  • A team that most national analysts write off in February or March every year has been right there at the end for three straight seasons (and counting) now.

My thanks to Domenic, Matt and Derek for their time and opinions.  It should be fun to see if “The Oriole Way” leads to another title for these birds!

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