Recently I had the chance to sit down with the writers from Bluebird Banter, DRays Bay, Pinstripe Alley and Over the Monster to discuss the AL East. This is part one.
Marc Normandin (Beyond the Box Score): First question: Which transaction from the offseason (loss or gain) will have the most impact on the Orioles in 2006? Cheat sheet: Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine, Kris Benson, Ramon Hernandez, Corey Patterson and Latroy Hawkins all came in. Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, B.J. Ryan, Steve Kline, Sidney Ponson, John Maine, and Jorge Julio all departed.
Mark Willis-O'Connor (Bluebird Banter): Well, unlike with other teams, the O's most important move this offseason was the acquisition of Leo Mazzone. It'll be awfully interesting to see if he can match the success he enjoyed with the Braves. He has plenty of young arms (i.e. Cabrera and Bedard) with which to work.
Randy Booth (Over the Monster): Though I'm sure people will want me to say Kevin Millar, it isn't Millar. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Corey Patterson. Low risk, high reward outfielder. Maybe he'll show his true potential in an atmosphere where there won't be so much pressure on him from the media or fans. Unless, of course, he continues to disappoint.
John Amato (Pinstripe Alley): The loss of BJ Ryan was devastating. They'll score a lot of runs in their park, but if they count on Hawkins to close games they'll hurt in that department. Also keeping Tejada was key if they are going to have any success.
Jacob Larsen (DRays Bay): BJ Ryan, most definitely, will be a huge loss to Baltimore. They are now forced to throw Chris Ray, a very young and inexperienced pitcher, into the closers role. He basically went from Double A to the majors....he's bound to falter a bit in his first FULL year.
Scott Christ (Camden Chat): There are a few right answers here, probably. Mazzone hopefully can help Cabrera and Bedard reach their potential, and possibly get something out guys like Benson and Rodrigo Lopez. Ramon Hernandez was a very nice, quiet addition if his health holds up and his rep as a catcher proves true. But I think maybe the best thing is being completely done with Rafael Palmeiro, and to a lesser extent, Sammy Sosa. Moving on is something the O's need to do badly, and it's a good start. Hawkins won't close, Ray will for now anyway.
Bluebird Banter: Is Patterson the favourite to start the season in CF? What's the backup plan in case he doesn't improve upon last season's performance?
Camden Chat: Patterson is the backup plan I think. Or he could start in left.
Pinstripe Alley: I like Gibbons myself, is he still in their plans?
Camden Chat: Gibbons killed New York and Boston last year so I understand if fans of those teams think highly of him. (Editor's Note: Gibbons hit .345/.377/.638 against Boston in 58 AB, and .345/.373/.655 against NY in 55 AB).
Bluebird Banter: What's the outlook on Markakis?
Camden Chat: I like Markakis more than I've liked any Oriole prospect in a dog's age. I think Markakis really might end up on the team toward the break if he hits like he did last year; Angelos is infatuated with him. I think the last time I was really excited about an O's prospect was Rocky Coppinger.
Marc: What does everyone expect from Brian Roberts in 2006, considering his excellent 2005 and his subsequent less than excellent elbow injury?
Pinstripe Alley: I expect him to rebound well. What an amazing season he had until the injury. He could be that hot again. Seasons like the one he had really can build a player's confidence and that's a huge battle in of itself.
Bluebird Banter: From what I've read, he should be fine in terms of health. I expect some regression from him in '06, considering how he performed after his hot start. He's still a very good second baseman, who should have an OPS of about .850 (according to PrOPS).
Over the Monster: I was a doubter of Roberts last year. He started the season well, and I was one of those guys that really thought he'd drop off after the All-Star break. I was wrong, and my foot is in my mouth now. Where he finished (.314, 18, 73) seems to be accurate for next season, but I don't think he'll be as hot as he was when he started '05. He won't hit .379 in April. I think he'll hover around the .300 mark, but still be one of the better second basemen in the league...until Dustin Pedroia makes his debut, of course.
DRays Bay: A total fall-off...he won't hit much more than 12 HRs in all of 2006. I believe that last year was a bit of an aberration.
Camden Chat: Well, he did drop off after the break and in a big way. But I think Roberts will be fine. I don't think he's about to become Craig Biggio or anything, but he should have a nice prime and be one of the better second basemen in the league for a while. Pairing him with Tejada should give the O's one of the best double play combos in baseball.
Marc: Will Erik Bedard fulfill his potential and become the ace pitcher he looked like in the first half of 2005?
Camden Chat: He'll be more consistent, but he won't be a legitimate ace. Bedard is (reportedly) extremely stubborn, and I worry that he might clash a little with Mazzone. There's also his health to consider, but -- and I say this a lot - lefties with Bedard's K-rate don't fall off of trees. He's very talented. If he and Mazzone can hit it off and Erik stays healthy, Bedard could be a frontline starter as soon as this season. Stranger things have happened.
Bluebird Banter: He's shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential. If he can stay healthy, he could become a solid #2 pitcher. His strikeout rate bodes well for future success.
Over the Monster: Bedard will be good, but I don't think he'll turn into Johan Santana. Over the years, the O's would be very lucky if Bedard lives up to potential and Daniel Cabrera continues to light people up in the batter's box. Bedard will be a good pitcher, I just don't think he'll become a national star.
DRays Bay: Ace, probably not. #2 or #3...probably. The only breakout candidate on the Orioles roster will be Daniel Cabrera. Bedard will have awesome outings, but he will have very bad outings as well. I'd like for him to prove me wrong, though.
Pinstripe Alley: I don't know much about Bedard, He seemed tough, but he got hurt and I didn't see him pitch often, but lefties are a valuable commodity.