Going into the off-season it was clear the Orioles had a pretty extensive list of needs and quite a bit of money to find what they needed. On the list:
- First Baseman (Garrett Atkins experiment: FAIL)
- Shortstop (Although we will miss Cesar Izturis and his .545 OPS)
- Third Baseman (Josh Bell: Not ready for prime time)
- Relief Pitching (which...whatever. They say they need it)
- Cliff Lee
They're still looking for a first baseman and Cliff Lee won't sign with the Orioles for another week or so (for any newbies reading, yes this is snark), but in the last week the Orioles have made some moves to improve the on-field team in 2011.
Third Base: You can argue against the long term benefits of trading David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio for Mark Reynolds, and you'd have a point (although I'd argue the value the Orioles would get out of Hernandez and Mickolio would be negligible at best). But there is no denying that this makes the Orioles better in 2011. The 2010 third basemen for the O's had an OBP of .290, a BB% of 3.1 and an ISO of .098. They hit a combined 12 HR. In short, they were vomit worthy. In 2010 Mark Reynolds had an OBP of .320, a BB% of 13.9 and an ISO of .234. He hit 32 HR. And while the O's 3B turned in a 0.0 WAR (and check the link to see which individual 3B was highest), Reynolds racked up a respectable 2.4 WAR.
Relief Pitching: Andy MacPhail once again proved that he knows more than us by not offering Koji Uehara arbitration. Koji made $5M for the O's in 2010 and if the Orioles had offered him arbitration and he'd accepted, we'd be looking at Koji making at least $6M in 2011. By not going that route, MacPhail was able to re-sign Koji to a one year, $3M year with incentives and a vesting option for 2012 based on how many games he finishes. This is great for the Orioles. Not only are they saving money, but if Koji has injury issues in 2011 they won't be on the hook for 2012.
The Orioles have also reportedly offered a two year contract to Kevin Gregg, which I'm not crazy about. But I've seen worse (I'm looking at you, Danys Baez). Despite the earlier scare of the Orioles reportedly being interested in several Type A relievers, there hasn't been anything of note in that department lately.
Shortstop: It is expected to be announced at noon that the Orioles have acquired J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins in return for minor league relief pitchers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Again, feel free to argue the long term benefits given that Hardy is a free agent after 2011, but don't argue that it's not an upgrade over Cesar Izturis. Izturis was abysmal last year and J.J. Hardy had a higher OPS than Derek Jeter (which isn't saying much, but I still enjoy saying it). In 2010, Orioles' shortstops hit .239/.285/.284 and put up a combined WAR of -0.7. Hardy hit .263/.320/.394 and had a WAR of 2.4. Hardy has twice hit more than 20 HR in a season (although I wouldn't go expecting that from him next year) and he's still relatively young at 28. And given what the team gave up for him, it's practically a steal.
It looks like the only thing left on the Orioles off-season shopping list is a first baseman. Word on the street is that the Orioles are meeting with Adam LaRoche's agent and could make an offer today. That'd be another boost from last year where the Orioles were completely miserable in 2010. The team has also shown some interest in another starting pitcher, but no valid names (Cliff Lee) have been mentioned of late.
In a vacuum, these moves look great. They're definitely an improvement over the 2010 cast of characters and it'll hopefully make the 2011 season more fun to watch. But all it takes to be discouraged is a glance at what the Red Sox have done. Reyolds and Hardy sound great until you compare them to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. It's been said before but any meaningful improvement by this team will come from the young core of pitchers as well as Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and whoever ends up playing left field. And the moves made this year do not address the Orioles' health beyond 2011 (although Reynolds belongs to the O's in 2012 and 2013 if they want him), and as our friend James F said to me via email when I tried to talk up J.J. Hardy, "Say it with me: we are not a contender and there are no awards for fourth place."