Can we turn the 2012 Orioles into a contender? Well, stranger things have happened.*
Let’s start by looking at who’s already here. The Orioles’ bullpen wasn’t half bad last September, partly because there were about 50 relievers on the roster and Buck Showalter could pick and choose the best spots to use each of them, but also because of late-season trades that brought in fresh young arms. Assuming the Birds open 2012 with a seven-man bullpen, a few guys should be locks: Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, and unfortunately Kevin Gregg, who is still under contract for $5.8 million. I’ll stash Gregg in middle relief or mop-up duty or something.
Then there’s Jim Johnson. The Orioles seem pretty committed to giving him a shot in the starting rotation. I’m not thrilled by the idea, but hey, it’s worth a shot. It’s not like the O’s are overrun with great candidates for the starting staff. In fact, I’d say they have more depth in the bullpen right now than they do for the rotation. So, sure, see what Johnson can do. Maybe he’ll be able to make a surprisingly good transition and turn into a decent starter. If not, you can just slide him back into the bullpen after a month or two.
Even without Johnson, the Orioles’ bullpen can survive with Strop, Patton, and some combination of Zach Phillips, Jason Berken, Darren O’Day, Alfredo Simon, Willie Eyre, Clay Rapada, Brad Bergesen, etc. Phillips looked pretty good in September, and O’Day has a good major-league track record, so I’ll include those two. I’ll send Berken, Bergesen, Eyre, and Rapada to AAA Norfolk where they’ll be a phone call away. I’ll assume for the sake of argument that Chong Tae-Hyon will decide to stay in Korea instead of signing with the Orioles.
That leaves one bullpen spot, and you know who the man to take it is: Koji! The O’s will swing their fortieth consecutive trade with the Rangers, giving up two low-level prospects in the Randy Henry mold, to re-acquire Koji Uehara. He never seemed comfortable in Texas and would surely love to return to Baltimore. And we’d love to have ol’ Koji and his epic sideburns back on board. We’ll slot him into the closer’s role.
Now, for the starting rotation. Zach Britton clearly has a spot, and Jake Arrieta, back from injury, will take one as well. I’m also giving Jim Johnson a chance, as mentioned. Tommy Hunter is a possibility. Personally I think Hunter belongs in the bullpen, but Buck Showalter seems to like his bulldog mentality and might want him to start. In that case, swap him with Johnson. Brian Matusz won’t be handed a spot after his debacle of a 2011. Start him in Norfolk and make him prove that he’s bounced back.
Here’s a name to throw out there: Gavin Floyd. The guy is a Maryland native, having graduated from Mt. St. Joseph, just like a douchey Yankees first baseman who shall not be named. White Sox GM Kenny Williams has put Floyd on the trading block and always loves to wheel and deal. The Orioles should offer Nolan Reimold, Chris Tillman, and L.J. Hoes for Floyd and see if Williams bites. That might not be enough from the Orioles’ side. Or maybe it is. What am I, a mind reader? For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say that trade works. Floyd gives the Orioles a solid, 29-year-old starter who can eat innings for $7 million. He also has a club option for 2013.
Floyd and Jeremy Guthrie would give the Orioles a good 1-2 punch....except that I’m going to trade Jeremy Guthrie. Ha! Pulled the rug out from under you, didn’t I? Guthrie will be 33 in April and is a year away from free agency, and seemingly every team under the sun has inquired about him, so it’s time to deal him while the getting is good. The O’s have recently had trade talks with the Angels about Guthrie, so let’s pursue that. It would be a coup if the O’s could get slick-fielding center fielder Peter Bourjos. The Angels have the majors’ top prospect, Mike Trout, ready to take over full time, so Bourjos may be available. And while we’re at it, let’s see if the Angels will give us Kendrys Morales, who hasn’t played baseball in a year and a half after injuring himself celebrating a homerun. Morales is a major question mark for the Angels (and has lost his first base job to Mark Trumbo), but would be worth the risk for the Orioles and could potentially reap a huge reward. It would take more than Guthrie to land both Bourjos and Morales, so let’s give the Angels pitching prospect Dan Klein as well as Chris Davis for their bench. Aw heck, we’ll throw in Alfredo Simon as well. Don’t say we never did anything for you, Angels.
Now let’s replace Guthrie with a free-agent starter. C.J. Wilson will be out of the Orioles’ price range. Mark Buehrle is a horse, but there are about 15 teams going after him right now, and the O’s won’t win that race. So how about...Roy Oswalt? There’s been surprisingly little buzz about him this winter. People seem to assume he wants to pitch in or near his home state of Texas, but c’mon Roy, expand your horizons a little! It’ll do you good! What will also do you good is the three-year, $36 million contract the Orioles will give you to serve as staff ace.
Our pitching staff is set. Now let’s turn to the offense. We’ll have Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis at their usual positions. We’ll pencil in Brian Roberts at second base, but realistically he might not play much, in which case Matt Antonelli and Robert Andino will split the duties. The newly acquired Morales will DH. Bourjos and his tremendous range will claim center field. That means that Adam Jones will have to shift to left field, which is really a better fit for him. Oh, sure, Adam might complain about it and fire off some angry tweets, but hopefully he’ll see that it’s for the best of the team.
Speaking of tweets, I’d love to get Logan Morrison from the Marlins. The Marlins might be inclined to give him a change of scenery after his kerfuffle with ownership and his demotion last season. They’ll want promising young players, though. The Orioles won’t give up Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, but they’ll reluctantly part ways with their #3 prospect, Jonathan Schoop. They’ll also send promising pitching prospect Parker Bridwell to the Marlins, plus Xavier Avery. It’s tough to give up that many prospects, but Morrison is worth it. A 24-year-old who can really mash and is only going to get better. After being stashed in the outfield with the Marlins, Morrison will return to his natural position of first base for the Birds.
With Morrison at first and Morales DHing, I’m reluctantly going to give Mark Reynolds another shot to play third base. Yes, I know, he was a complete butcher there last season. But until last season, he’d always been about average defensively or slightly below. Could it have been a one-year defensive slump? Let’s hope so, and let’s give him a chance to redeem himself. Andino and Antonelli will be on call for late-inning defensive duty if Reynolds continues to struggle.
Finally, we’ll cut loose Luke Scott, who’s eligible for arbitration. Matt Angle, with his speed and defensive abilities, will be the fourth outfielder.
To sum up:
Nolan Reimold, Chris Tillman, L.J. Hoes for Gavin Floyd
Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Davis, Alfredo Simon, Dan Klein for Peter Bourjos, Kendrys Morales
Jonathon Schoop, Parker Bridwell, Xavier Avery for Logan Morrison
2B Brian Roberts ($10 million)
SS J.J. Hardy ($7 million)
RF Nick Markakis ($12 million)
1B Logan Morrison ($480,000)
LF Adam Jones ($7 million)
DH Kendrys Morales ($3 million)
3B Mark Reynolds ($7.5 million)
C Matt Wieters ($480,000)
CF Peter Bourjos ($480,000)
BENCH: C Taylor Teagarden ($480,000), IF Robert Andino ($480,000), IF Matt Antonelli ($480,000), OF Matt Angle ($480,000)
RHP Roy Oswalt ($12 million)
RHP Gavin Floyd ($7 million)
RHP Jake Arrieta ($480,000)
LHP Zach Britton ($480,000)
RHP Jim Johnson ($1.5 million)
RHP Kevin Gregg ($5.8 million)
RHP Tommy Hunter ($480,000)
RHP Darren O’Day ($1.5 million)
LHP Troy Patton ($480,000)
LHP Zach Phillips ($480,000)
RHP Pedro Strop ($480,000)
RHP Koji Uehara ($4 million)
That payroll tallies up to a little under $90 million for 2012, plus whatever marginal amounts are being paid to minor-league depth such as Matusz, Eyre, Rapada, Berken, Bergesen, Ryan Adams, Brandon Snyder, etc.
As for the non-roster-related stuff...hire Rick Peterson as the minor-league pitching coordinator and have him install a consistent pitching philosophy throughout the system. And of course, the O’s need to greatly improve their international scouting efforts. They at least need to upgrade from their current philosophy of “do absolutely nothing.”
And there you have it. Is this a team that will topple the Yankees, Rays, or Red Sox? Maybe not. But it could be one of the most entertaining Orioles teams in a long time.