The Orioles and their fans find themselves in a different position this off season. They've reached a place where national writers are giving them some attention, saying they're well on their way to contention. Experts are placing a number of the team's young prospects in the top 50 or 100 of all baseball and raving about the younger players already on the team.
As an Oriole fan who has suffered through these dark times it's hard to know what to do with that information. On one hand I'm excited about the potential of the team. The talent we've seen brought to this club in the past few years and the glimpses of the future we got in 2009 were exciting even in the midst of another terrible season. But I just can't get too excited. I can't be too optimistic. We've been let down so many times over the years that hope is tough to come by. It's easier be a cynic. It's easier to assume it'll be another terrible season (and another one after that). If I actually let myself believe that the Orioles have the talent to compete and I actually put my faith in Andy MacPhail 100%, what happens when they fall apart again? I don't know that I can go through it.
Until the Orioles actually win again I'm not going to be able to actually believe it's ever going to happen, and I'm sure a lot of Orioles fans can relate. I go through this internal struggle when I start to feel too happy about the direction the team is taking or a player who's doing well. I think something good, then I think something bad to temper any enthusiasm.
For the upcoming season, those thoughts are generally something like what you'll find below the jump
Optimist: He's Matt freaking Wieters. He's one of the most talented players in the game and we all know he's going to put up monster numbers. He improved significantly over the last portion of 2009, hitting .333/.395/.486 over the final month and showing marked improvement throwing out runners.
Pessimist: It'd be just like the Orioles to draft a guy with such huge upside and then have him not pan out.
Optimist: Andy MacPhail has said repeatedly that he saw something in Atkins that makes him believe he can regain his form at the plate. He's still relatively young and put up great numbers just a few years ago. If it works out, great. If not, it's just a one year contract that will be easy to let go of if Brandon Snyder tears up AAA.
Pessimist: What to the Orioles have to do to get a decent first baseman up in this piece? I mean, honestly. First base is like, the easiest position. They let girls play first base on co-ed softball teams. But the Orioles just keep putting these crappy guys out there. Garrett Atkins is cooked. Look at his numbers, and that's WITH the Coors Field advantage.
Optimist: B-Rob hits a million doubles and can steal bases at will. We know what we're going to get from him and it's nice to have a position we just don't have to worry about.
Pessimist: Brian will be 32 years old in 2010 and has lost a step over the past few years. His speed won't last forever and beyond that, he's a lollygagger. Now that his buddy Miggi is back Brian will probably step up his loafing to a whole new level.
Optimist: Izturis was the best defensive SS in the American League last year and having a glove like his up the middle will be a tremendous asset to the young pitching staff. If the rest of the offense meets its potential then his bat won't be too much of a liability.
Pessimist: Izturis' OBP in 2009 was .294. That's unbelievabely ridiculous. That's only one point higer than Nick Markakis' 2009 batting average. Yeah he's good with the glove but how can the Orioles ever hope to compete in the AL East with a SS who walks less than 20 times in a year?
Optimist: Of the FA options for 3B this year, Miggi might actually make the most sense for the Orioles. Josh Bell shows promise in AAA and signing Figgins or Beltre would have just blocked him. Miggi's led the NL in doubles in 2009 and was 2nd in hits with 199. His bat will definitely improve the lineup and he'll be gone after just a year. Plus the guys sound excited to have him back.
Pessimist: Did everyone forget why the Orioles traded Tejada in the first place? Reports from the clubhouse were that he was a negative influence, some even called him a cancer. He sulked when the team was losing, which they'll do plenty of in 2010. Do we really want him around the young guys? Steroids, indictment, lying about his age, when does it stop?
Optimist: Nick is going into his 5th big league season and he'll be just 26 years old. He provides great defense in RF and has potential to be a real star. His numbers dipped a bit in 2009 but given his track record there is no reason to think that'll continue.
Pessimist: If Nick Markakis continues to play in the future the way he did in 2009 the Orioles are screwed. His walks dropped in half, taking his OBP and SLG with them. After three years of increasing production Nick looked just horrible at the plate for long stretches last year. What if this is Nick's future? How will the Orioles compete then?
Optimist: AJ spent the first part of the 2009 season giving us all a glimpse of the future. He really turned on the power and looked great. Yeah he struggled in the second half but he was dealing with injuries and possibly putting a lot of pressure on himself as the team slumped around him. He's still just 23 years old and is learning on the job. His gained experince combined with a healthy 2010 could help him really break out.
Pessimist: Is Adam Jones ever going to play a whole season without getting hurt? And would it kill him to stop swinging at those balls in the dirt? We hear about Jones' tools and see them on occasion, but it's possible he'll never put it together.
Optimist: Nolan Reimold finally got his chance and he took advantage of it in 2009. He led all rookies in HR and impressed us all with his patient batting eye, leading the team in OBP. Over a full season it's likely that Reimold can hit at least 25 home runs, and it'll be exciting to see what he can do now that he'll be playing healthy.
Pessimist: Plenty of guys have had one good year and don't pan out. He's no great shakes in the outfield and the best team is really in the field with Felix Pie out there, not Reimold. After years of "promising" outfielders like Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie, can we really expect that Markakis, Jones, AND Reimold will actually pan out?
Optimist: Luke led the O's in home runs and slugging percentage last year. Yes he was really streaky last year but 2009 was much more extreme than the rest of his career. He provides legitimate power to the lineup and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he hit over 30 home runs.
Pessimist: The 2nd half of last year was miserable. Scott was a black hole in the lineup after the all star break and I might actually go insane if I have to sit through that again.
Optimist: Millwood has a track record of pitching late into the game and his presence will help save a bullpen that gets completely burnt out every season. Having an older established guy in the rotation will take the pressure off of the young guys and while he won't win any awards, Millwood is a huge upgrade over Alredo Simon and Adam Eaton.
Pessimist: Millwood isn't good. His numbers looked good last year but a great deal of it appears to be the result of smoke and mirrors. He won't make that much of a difference and he's costing the Orioles $9 million. In the event that Jake Arrieta is pitching really well in AAA he'll probably have to remain in the minors because there's no way Millwood will get bumped from the rotation as long as he's healthy.
Optimist: Guthrie put together two solid seasons in 2007 and 2008. He's a smart guy and very athletic and possibly got messed up by the inconsistency of the World Baseball Classic. It's likely Guthrie will bounce back and be productive in 2010.
Pessimist: Guthrie looked like garbage last year and his peripheral stats were never anything to write home about. We were lucky to get what we did out of him but no doubt the Orioles will stick with him way too long.
Optimist: Bergesen was the O's best pitcher in 2009 and it was refreshing to see a pitcher who doesn't walk everyone in sight. As long as Bergy can keep the ball down and stay in the strike zone he can stick in the rotation a long time.
Pessimist: He can't keep it up. His K rate is too low and his contact rate is too high. He suffered a scary injury last season that he might not be completely over mentally.
Optimist: Matusz's minor league numbers were absolutely ridiculous and his last four starts of the season were tremendous. He has a 4 very good pitches and is ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball by every outlet in the business.
Pessimist: Pitching prospects bust all the time, especially when they are Orioles prospects. What's to keep Matusz from joining Matt Riley and Hayden Penn in the failed prospect graveyard?
Optimist: He held his own in the majors at the age of 21 and had flashes of brilliance. He's dominated at every level of the minors and is only going to get better.
Pessimist: He gave up a ton of HR in the majors last year and left the ball out over the plate more times than I could count. You have to figure some of these prospects are going to bust and Tillman could be the one.
I really, really hope the pessimist will take a back seat for most of this season, but I'm not holding my breath.