30 Days for 30 Teams: Baltimore Orioles

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 85-77 (t3rd Place AL East, 12 GB)

To everyone’s surprise, the Fighting Showalters of Baltimore couldn’t follow up their outstanding 2012 season that saw them go 29-9 in one-run contests — they finished a yucky 20-31 in those games this year.

The team played well through its first 100 games and held a wild card berth as late as August 2.

The second half of the season didn’t go so well for the Birds. They dropped eight games in the standings over the last two months of the season and coughed up their postseason chances.

Key Acquisitions

SP Ubaldo Jimenez  (4yr/$50 mil)

OF Nelson Cruz  (1yr/$8 mil)

SP Suk-Min Yoon (3yr/$5.75 mil)

2B Jemile Weeks  (Acquired in trade from Oakland)

Just after Spring Training began, the Orioles inked Jimenez to a deal that some say over-rewards the 30-year-old, who is just 36-46 with a 4.45 ERA since his unbelievable first 15-1 half in 2010. This contract is easily described in four words: high-risk, high-reward. If he can return to his All-Star form, great. If not, the O’s sunk $50 million into the wrong guy.

Cruz was well on the way to his first 40-homer, 100-RBI season until, well, he was suspended 50 games for PED use. He returned to the Rangers just in time to go 0-4 in a losing effort in Game 163 and end their bid for a playoff spot. The Orioles signed him to a relatively cheap deal among PED-busted players (seriously, why did this  happen?). If his boomstick can handle being off the juice, he should provide some nice pop for the team that hit the most homers in baseball last season.

Yoon comes over from South Korea and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. He may join the team a bit later in the season.

Weeks batted .221 in his last full season with Oakland (surprisingly just 9 points worse than big brother Rickie) and only made it into the lineup 9 times last year in the A’s crowded infield. He’ll replace longtime Oriole Brian Roberts and hopefully inject some speed into the offense.

The team also took a low-risk, high-reward flyer on Johan Santana, who’s coming off shoulder surgery. It’s a minor league deal, but if he breaks camp it could be worth as much as $3 million. It’s unlikely that he’ll pitch much, let alone start, but he could see a long relief role if he makes the team.

Key Losses

SP Jason Hammel: The right-hander started 23 games last season and while he didn’t pitch very well, he was the best the team could offer — 10 pitchers started at least 5  games last season — in a merry-go-round back end of the rotation.

OF Nate McLouth: Perhaps his great defense just wasn’t enough to cover his lacking offensive numbers (36 RBI in 531 AB last year). Maybe that’s why the team went after Cruz to replace him.

2B Brian Roberts: Before he signed with the Yankees, he was the longest-tenured Oriole by five seasons over former teammate Nick Markakis. Despite missing at least half of the last four seasons, he left his mark on the franchise as a consistent doubles and steals specialist — he racked up over 275 of each in what equates to eight seasons worth of games over a 13-year stretch with Baltimore.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Chris Davis and Manny Machado. After an out-of-nowhere power surge (see Brady Anderson’s ’96, Adrian Beltre’s ‘04 Jose Bautista’s ’10, et al.), the obvious question is: was it a fluke; or can he keep it up? Not much is different about Davis’ 2014 season. He’ll be on a mission to prove wrong any nay-sayers that say his 53-homer outburst last year was a one-time thing. With Adam Jones giving him lineup protection again, he’ll see no shortage of pitches to Crush.

It’s looking like Manny Machado isn’t going to begin the season with the Orioles — he’s rehabbing an injury suffered late last season  — so it’ll be interesting how effective he can be at the hot corner. His Gold-Glove defense and 68 extra-base hits in his age-20 season give O’s fans a lot to look forward to if his surgically-repaired knee holds up.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

orioles opening day

Baltimore’s got a formidable outfield, and their infield, once Machado returns, should provide plenty of offense to make the O’s one of the most homer-happy teams for a second straight year.

Their rotation remains one of the biggest questions, as they’ve got at least eight starters with one or more seasons of big-league experience under their respective belts.

The addition of Cruz and Jimenez coupled with the Chris Davis show will make this team more fun to watch in 2014, but I don’t think they’re quite ready to overtake the Red Sox, Rays, or even the new-look Yankees.

Yep. Shameless self-plug. I had to write about the Orioles, the least you loyal readers could do is humor me.

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