Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's a Wrap! The 2015 Baltimore Orioles

In a 162-game season it’s easy to pick 4 or 5 games that a team “should” have won.  For the 2015 Baltimore Orioles, who are on pace to lose more than they won for the first time since 2011, there are quite a few moments where it’s obviously that the bus went over the cliff.  However, there is definitely a moment to point to where the bus hit the ground and burst into flames.

On August 19th the O’s beat the Mets 5-4 to move games over .500. They were 5 games behind Yankees in the AL East and only 1 game behind the Angels for the second wild card spot.  They were heading on the road to face a Twins team that was struggling, a Royals team that they had motivation to beat and a Rangers team that was already looking to 2016.  It was an excellent time to make up some ground.

They did not.  On the 20th they got shellacked by the Twins 15-2. They would lose the next five and then stagger home with a 1-10 road trip. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs they were all but finished.

So what went wrong?  Pretty much everything.  Even in the off-season, when the pundits were picking them to win the AL East again, there was trouble. Pending free agents left, potential free agents never signed and General Manager Dan Duquette seemed to be doing his job with one foot out the door. For most of the brutal Maryland winter reports and rumors hounded the organization that Toronto was pursuing Duquette, who is under contract with Baltimore until 2018, with the intention of making him their club president.

A deal never materialized, mainly due to a high asking price from the Orioles, but you would have to wonder how it affected Duquette’s ability to negotiate with potential free agents.  Hoping that a full season of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters would offset the loss of Nelson Cruz Duquette merely tinkered with the roster as he traded for Travis Snider. Cruz has signed a one-year deal with O’s in hoping to boost his worth.  He did that.  Seattle signed him to a 4 year $57 million deal.  That isn’t an astronomical sum, especially for a Baltimore club that does actually have money to spend. His 44 homeruns would have looked nice next to Chris Davis’ 40+, wouldn’t they?

Duquette was probably a little more chuffed watching the Blue Jays celebrate their AL East title on Camden Yards’ grass on Wednesday. Not only did it keep the O’s from having a winning season it also closed a door for him.  With the success Toronto has had this season it‘s highly unlikely that they‘ll be courting him this winter.

As actual baseball got underway things didn’t get much better.  Players bounced around the disabled list and the team could never get a serious winning streak together. The off-season pickups didn’t work out (quick name one positive thing Everth Cabrera or Wesley Wright did for the team). One week Adam Jones would be hot and the next it would be Chris Davis.  Unfortunately the whole line up could never get on the same page and the team hovered around .500 for most of the year.

Photo proof that Cabrera played for the Orioles.

There was the debacle that was Bud Norris as a starting pitcher. The right-hander has won 15 games for the 2014 team and provided a steady innings eater from the back part of the rotation.  In 2015 he was a dumpster fire, posting a 1-9 record before being cut from the roster at the end of July.

Roughly 326 players played left-field. Even Brady Anderson got a start in left (he went 1-4 with a bunt single).  Actually, it was 10 different players occupied the spot through the season. Unfortunately no one was able to duplicate the offensive or even the defensive accomplishments of the departed Nelson Cruz.

Caught between being buyers and sellers at the trade deadline the team only made a couple of minor transactions adding Gerardo Parra (-1.1 WAR since the trade!). They also sent Big Game Tommy Hunter to the Cubs for Junior Lake (a younger, less angry Delmon Young!), Expect Hunter to win 20 games next season.

Speaking of O’s/ Cubs trades, another popular past time this summer has been bitching about Jake Arrieta. Look, I watched Jake Arrieta with the O’s and I know watch him in Chicago.  He is not the same pitcher.  I don’t know if it’s the coaching or if the trade was a wake up call, but Chicago Arrieta is a strike-throwing, WHIP-lowering, out machine. If he had stayed in Baltimore I don’t know if he would be putting up the numbers he is in the Windy City. Besides Steve Clevenger hit .303!

There was other good news despite the lost season.  Chris Davis regained his focus on hitting and hit 45 homeruns (and counting) while driving in 112 runs.  Manny Machado stayed healthy, hitting .284 with 30 homeruns and 30 doubles while playing his typical solid defense at 3rd (with a couple of guest spots at shortstop).

Chris Davis realizing how much dip he can buy with the contract he's going to sign.

Caleb Joseph filled in for the once again oft-injured Matt Wieters and played respectably. Joseph’s play opened up the possibility that re-signing Wieters might not be as high priority as it has been in the past.  For as much talent as Wieters possess, if he can’t stay on the field he isn’t worth a long-term, high money deal. Two years ago it would have been unfathomable that the O’s would let him walk, but now, as reality looms closer maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

How much would you pay for an oft-injured, .250 hitting catcher? 

Wieters, Davis, Wei-Yin Chen (Taiwanese for Solid Six Inning Start), Darren O’Day and Parra are the big pending free agents this off-season.  It will be interesting to see how many of them are back with the club next season.  Hopefully, a dedicated Duquette can focus on keeping the team together.  Should a majority leave, it will be a tough sell for 2016.

While the year will go down as a disappointment due to the pre-season hype, it’s still a year where the O’s were competitive (barely, but still) for most of the season.  They go into the last week of the season fighting for a .500 record and not to avoid 100 losses. So that’s a step up from the pre-2012 years.

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