Like we did last year, some of the contributors to SBN's AL East blogs (along with Beyond the Boxscore and Baseball Prospectus' Marc Normandin) got together to share opinions on the AL East teams. Here's the O's section.
Pinstripe Alley (Anaconda)
Over The Monster (Randy Booth)
Bluebird Banter (Mark Willis-O'Connor)
Camden Chat (Scott Christ)
DRays Bay (Patrick Kennedy)
Beyond The Boxscore (Marc Normandin)
1. The consensus among intelligent front offices around baseball seems to be that teams need to build through the draft and strong player development in order to stock their clubs with affordable, impact talent in the short term and franchise/superstar types in the long term. Why, then, did the Orioles sign three Type A and two Type B free agents, the best of which is probably Aubrey Huff?
Pinstripe Alley: Unless you are the Marlins, most teams need to sign veterans to fill up some holes (ie: DET w/ Rogers and I-Rod, among others). However, the O's aren't even close to contending with the big boys yet -- so the point is moot.
Over The Monster: buzzzz What is ... desperate? The Orioles seem to be living in the past. They're signing players who have had a good couple of seasons but their stock certainly isn't on the rise. Aubrey Huff could pound out 20 home runs for the club, but he's certainly not in his prime. Huff's contract isn't too outrageous - 3 yr/$20 million - but we've got to remember that they're giving up a draft pick at the same time. With the draft pick included, the Orioles overspent.
If the Orioles can get AHEAD of the curve and start signing players BEFORE they break out, they could contend in the AL East. Unfortunately, they like to sign the Huffs and Kevin Millars of the world.
Bluebird Banter: The Orioles appear to be caught in the middle: Incapable of spending like the Yankees and Red Sox, but unwilling to dismantle their roster like the Marlins. As a result, they approach free agency in a similar manner: Incapable of spending enough to woo the top free agents, but unwilling to invest in the draft or in the acquisition of high risk, high reward players. That's why, this season and in the forseeable future, they'll likely be stuck in the middle of the standings, with a roster full of middle-of-the-road players.
Camden Chat: The Orioles can't build through the draft and strong player development because they don't draft very well - including a complete and utter whiff in 1999 that is still affecting the system - and their development through the system is subpar at best. It's not a full reason, though, as you also have to factor in that this is a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1997, and the fans are sick of it. With the Nationals across the way now, the Orioles are in serious danger of continuing to lose fans, even to another losing team. At least the hat's a different color, you know? The diehard fans will always be around, but they're not coming to the park anymore because no one wants to pay to see a losing team. Thus, you get things like $43 million for a bullpen upgrade, and signings like Aubrey Huff, a decent player who won't ultimately make this much better of a team. There is no difference between 65 and 80 wins, especially for a team that operates the way this one does. It's all another lost summer for O's fans. To answer the question, though: The Orioles did this because they aren't good at what they do for a living.
DRays Bay: Since when have rational thinking and long term planning taken up residence in Baltimore's front office? In all fairness though, they did upgrade their bullpen a lot. That tends to be a byproduct of signing every pitcher available on the market. But seriously, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Jamie Walker should all be pretty good, if overpaid, pieces of the O's bullpen this year, and coupled with Chris Ray in the ninth inning, the O's could have one of the better bullpens in the league. That is strictly looking at it from a talent perspective. Once you factor in the salaries and draft pick compensation that comes with signing those pitchers, as well as the signings of Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton, the curtain is pulled back and you can see that it is the same old Orioles brain trust.
Marc Normandin: Because they can't lure any impact free agents to the team, and the one time they did they ended up with a shortstop who sulks his way through the season. The Orioles need everything to break right for their prospects and young players in order to work their way up to the cusp of contention, and then they need to make an impact signing from there. The farm system is not strong at present, and the major league team is in the same boat. It seems as if the Orioles are waiting for 2009 to be their year, as many of their best players (or most expensive players) contracts run out that year, which would give them some serious financial flexibility. Of course, how they spend the money is another question entirely...
2. Is this the year Daniel Cabrera finally breaks out? He was widely believed to be a breakout candidate last year, especially with Leo Mazzone coming aboard, but he struggled right off the bat. He did improve towards the end of the season, though. Is Mazzone finally getting through to him?
Pinstripe Alley: Mazzone has resurrected the careers of Jaret Wright, Mike Hampton, and a host of others who had no business taking the mound. Mazzone is perfectly capable of getting through any pitcher -- youngsters and veterans alike.
Over The Monster: Daniel Cabrera is scary. That's a double meaning because A) he can chuck the ball wicked fast and B) he can hit you in the head if you are within 20 feet of the plate. He's got enormous talent and can be a great pitcher some day, but I don't think this year will be his `breakout' year. He'll do better than last for sure, but no one will be giving him any awards come October. We will look back at some point and say, "Wow, Cabrera is so close." When that point comes, we'll see a great pitcher emerge; one of the best in the American League - if the O's can put up with him for long enough.
Bluebird Banter: Like most people, I recognize the incredible amount of talent that Cabrera possesses. Of course, his inability stems from not being able to harness that talent, thus making him more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point. As he continues to age, and as his production continues to stagnate, more doubts begin to creep into my mind about his ability to break out. Nobody knows quite how his development will play out - including Cabrera himself - which is part of what makes him such an interesting and frequently discussed player.
Camden Chat: Despite my answer to the first question, I have some hope for this season, and a lot of it centers on the pitching. Hope from the Orioles pitching staff has become foreign, really, but it's there. And Daniel Cabrera is a big piece of that. Anyone that has seen Cabrera pitch on one of those evenings where the light is turned on can attest to Cabrera's potential. He's still an inexperienced baseball player that has held his own and occasionally dominated in the major leagues. That's nothing to ignore. He's very frustrating because any particular start he could walk nine batters while not getting hit, but there's ace starter stuff in that right arm of his. I don't think you can base all of his improvement after his recall from the minors last season on Mazzone influence, though. He started wearing Wild Thing Vaughn glasses and this offseason had surgery on his eyes, so that might play into it, too. I do think we'll see a more consistent Cabrera this season that has less disastrous starts. Whether that will make for a true breakout season or not, I don't know. He's got time for that to happen. But the odds don't look too shabby that it could be `07.
DRays Bay: I certainly think so; I like Daniel Cabrera a lot. He has got absolutely filthy stuff and hasn't pitched terribly the last two years in racking up 55 starts in the AL East. Don't underestimate that. I ultimately think that if Cabrera spends enough time under the tutelage of Leo Mazzone, he will continue to make improvements off of his progress towards the end of last year. But there is absolutely no reason someone with as good an arsenal as Cabrera should not be a top pitcher in this league, and the fact that it is something as frustrating as walks that are holding him back is ever the more hard to swallow. Nonetheless, I think that if given time Cabrera will still be a top of the line pitcher in this league.
Marc Normandin: I've watched Cabrera pitch brilliantly and incredibly poorly, but you can see that he has a lot of talent. He picked up on Mazzone's lessons a bit later in the year, and you could see he was a bit better of a pitcher than he had been earlier in the year, but he's not quite there yet. I still think he can turn into a serious pitcher-and hope he does, with all the ability he has-and along with Bedard, can form one of the best 1-2 combos in the majors. The Orioles are going to need that to happen, and it's certainly a possibility. I think the O's have more positives going for them than we give them credit for, but they're stuck in the AL East, and you can't luck your way into the playoffs there for the most part.
3. Will anyone contribute on offense besides Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada?
Pinstripe Alley: Sure, Cal Rip--- . Oh yeah, he retired. Brian Roberts is a pretty good hitter and run-producer too, but needs to stay healthy this season.
Over The Monster: Like I said prevously, Huff will probably chip in 20 home runs and Corey Patterson will be a threat on the basepaths, but Miguel Tejada is still the heart of the lineup. 162 regular season games from now we're still going to be talking about how good Tejada is. The question, though, becomes this: is he still going to be an Oriole come August?
Markakis will be a fun one to watch this season. He had decent numbers in `06; great numbers for a rookie. He's definitely going to improve, but by how much? Is 30 home runs too much for Markakis? Is that his power peak? Markakis and Tejada will prove to be the two-headed monster of the O's - until August, of course.
Bluebird Banter: Of course. The problem is that the other players aren't exceptional, especially relative to some of their peers in the AL East. The lineup doesn't really have too many weaknesses, but its potential is rather limited.
Camden Chat: Yeah, and it's not like they were the only two guys that contributed last year, either. Ramon Hernandez had a nice first season in Baltimore and established himself as one of the best catchers in the league. Corey Patterson was fine last year, and as long as he can hit something like that and play center field capably, he'll be a positive. The other shoe is always waiting to drop with Patterson, obviously, but it was a good season. Brian Roberts was one of the best second basemen in baseball last season despite the numbers not looking great. Huff and Payton are huge upgrades on some of the left fielders the Orioles trotted out last year, up to and including Brandon Fahey and Fernando Tatis. Mora and Millar are both aging, but Millar wasn't all bad - at least he got on base. Gibbons has some sock if he's healthy. There isn't an outright bad player among the ten guys meant to be regulars, the worst of which coming off of last season is Melvin Mora. It's a team of guys that on paper are going to do their jobs, with one superb hitter, in Tejada. The Detroit Tigers had that last year.
DRays Bay: Well, being a Devil Ray fan I know that Aubrey Huff will contribute greatly on offense...in the second half. In the first half, be prepared to mark down `4-3' many times on your scorecard when he comes to bat. Seriously though, I think the O's will be somewhat better on offense this year. Ramon Hernandez should be able to give you some decent production as the backstop, and I see Melvin Mora rebounding from a horribly disappointing year to put up some good numbers. Brian Roberts should rebound as well, not to his 2005 form but to a productive offensive second baseman nonetheless. Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar should be able to give you some pop as well. The Orioles' offense isn't really that bad, it was just a cocktail of letdown seasons last year that gave the impression that the unit was worse than it really was, and I can't see that continuing in 2007.
Marc Normandin: I like Brian Roberts; he's one of the best second basemen out there. Ramon Hernandez had a quality season behind the plate, better than his last year in San Diego. Maybe Jay Gibbons will have one of his random decent seasons at the plate, which would be a big boost. Really, the lineup is not all that bad, it could just use another serious threat in it, but there are no significant weak points outside of maybe Melvin Mora, who is quickly becoming less and less productive. Tejada and Markakis do seem to attract all the attention, but there are other productive players in the lineup. Filling out the rotation, improving the defense and having a quality bullpen were more significant problems.