If you like the Orioles and want to hear intelligent discussion about them on Baltimore sports radio, you're often going to be out of luck. It seems like most of the time the airwaves are dominated by discussion of the Ravens, and when those football-interested hosts get around to noticing baseball, they often spout out tired hack opinions about the state of the Orioles that reveal they don't know much of anything at all about the team.
Still, there is at least one person in the sphere of Baltimore sports radio who knows his stuff when it comes to the Orioles. Though WBAL Radio is no longer the flagship station, that hasn't dampened the ability of Brett Hollander, host of the nightly Sportsline show, to put together an informative and entertaining Orioles-focused show. Not only does he have solid insights about the team, but you can really feel that he just plain likes baseball.
Sportsline kicked off the Orioles offseason with an O's-focused show on Tuesday night. Hollander was joined at different points by Baltimore Sun writers Eduardo Encina and Peter Schmuck, as well as Orioles director of player development Brian Graham. He was also armed with soundbites from the players in the closing days of the season, plus quotes from Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette from their media exit interview on Monday afternoon.
By the nature of running this blog, I breathe the Orioles daily. Even for somebody like me, there was no shortage of interesting discussion and insight. Some highlights from the show in no particular order:
On Chris Davis
The pending free agency of Davis had Hollander fired up from the beginning of the show. He feels that Davis should have some loyalty towards Baltimore, who traded for him when Davis was struggling, played him every day to give him the chance to become a top-flight player, and stood by him even after a suspension that may well have cost the Orioles in last year's playoffs. He thinks if the Orioles offer Davis $120-130 million - a real, competitive offer - Davis should take that, even if another team offers a little more.
On the idea of the organization standing behind Davis after his suspension, Encina said that there were those within the Warehouse who questioned whether Davis should even be tendered a contract for 2015. He made $12 million, which, as we now know, was a good bargain. Teammates were also disappointed in Davis for a while - Encina specifically named Adam Jones and Darren O'Day as people who felt last year that Davis let down the team.
On next year's payroll
Encina commented that the arbitration players heading into 2015 were essentially "rubber stamped" and the O's just brought everybody back without putting too much thought into it. That didn't work out so well for them with Alejandro De Aza, among others. He feels that the team will much more closely examine this year's crop of arbitration-eligible salaries before tendering contracts, singling out Miguel Gonzalez and Brian Matusz as players whose status may be in doubt.
How much can the team spend next year? There are always those fans who want the Orioles to spend more, but Hollander as well as his Sun guests pointed out that, since Dan Duquette has arrived, the Orioles have increased payroll beyond their relative market size, and have done so while maintaining ticket prices that keep Oriole Park at Camden Yards as one of the most affordable fan experiences in the league.
All that said, Schmuck was very strong in believing that "this is the year to loosen up the purse-strings." He pointed out that they need to add real pitching help to the existing core of players, otherwise they're likely to fall back down into the muck and have another multi-year climb, which, after they emerge from that, might see them without players like Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Jones - to say nothing of Showalter and Duquette.
On a Machado contract extension
For everyone out there who thinks the Orioles need to get a Machado extension done as soon as possible, it seems like that may not be what happens. Hollander played a clip from Duquette from Monday where Duquette, in response to a question about a Machado extension, said in effect that the team has a lot of other stuff to do and "it doesn't mean (a Machado extension) is a backburner item" but it doesn't seem to be priority #1. That would be retaining Davis, and upgrading the pitching staff.
Encina offered an opinion that the O's might look to a Machado extension almost as a sort of consolation prize if they do not retain Davis as a free agent. I have a tough time accepting the notion that a Machado extension and a Davis contract should be an either/or proposition. A Machado extension won't have a huge impact on the payroll the next 2-3 years anyway, the time in which the bulk of the contracts signed by this year's crop of free agents will be paid out.
Of course, we should always take Duquette's public statements with a grain of salt in any case.
On the farm system
Just about every publication out there hates the Orioles farm system at present, largely because of its lack of any kind of pitching depth in the high minors, with only a couple of interesting position player prospects to add into the mix as well. Predictably, Graham, whose job is to oversee the Orioles system, thinks it's better than people say. Graham called in from Sarasota, where the team's instructional league is going on.
One highlight he shared from those instructs is that lefty Tanner Scott, the 2014 6th round pick, hit 101mph on their radar gun recently. That is a lot of miles per hour.
Graham also described the rehabbing Dylan Bundy as doing very well in his recovery. We'll see how that translates next year. Earlier in the show, Hollander discussed Bundy and noted that his roster status essentially would make him a Rule 5 pick next year - he has to make the team or be lost to someone else. What about Hunter Harvey? Graham said it's "good news" that Harvey doesn't have to rush into Tommy John surgery yet. I think if Harvey needs to get the surgery later anyway, waiting is not actually good news.
Christian Walker vs. Trey Mancini
Both of these players are right-handed hitting first basemen. Hollander asked Graham how he differentiates between the two. About Walker, Graham said that there's "length to his swing, staying in the hitting zone a long time, giving him a chance to drive balls."
The mini-scouting report for Mancini's hitting is that he has "the ability to use his hands to hit the ball to all fields." Graham thinks that ability will keep Mancini from slumping for long, as it will allow him to hit more singles and not be solely reliant on doubles or home runs to add value - though he can deliver some of those too, as he combined for 43 doubles and 21 home runs between Frederick and Bowie this year.
In summary, Graham said that he likes both players, "Now let's see who hits." If the Orioles don't re-sign Davis, they might decide to roll the dice with whichever of these guys has a better-looking spring training. What will they do with them if Davis does come back to Baltimore? Both seem to be mostly limited to first base. If either hits, surely the club will find a place for them somewhere.
You won't get three hours of Orioles on Sportsline every night, but if you follow Hollander on Twitter, he always tweets when O's-related guests and segments are coming along. You should follow him anyway for his Baltimore sports insights. I was glad to have tuned in on Tuesday night. For one night at least, the offseason was a bit less cold.