Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

A Guide to Contention: Part I

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005

11/04/05

Preface

This article has been written under the assumption that it is best for the Oriole’s to do whatever they can to contend in 2006. A whole other article could (and may…) address whether or not they should. However, for the purposes of this exercise, the Orioles are trying to contend for the AL East pennant in 2006, with only marginal concern for blocking prospects.

Part I: What We Have

Essential to any roster construction is the identification of a team’s weakest links. Following is a brief evaluation of various components of the roster.

Starting Pitching

Doesn’t it always start here? Earl Weaver would turn over in his grave (give it a few years), if he saw us running Sidney Ponson out there every fifth day. That’s without mentioning that he was our second highest paid player in 2005. What people fail to realize is that we have two of the three (Kazmir, Scott being the other) brightest young arms in the AL East already in our rotation. Our best shot at having a #1 starter next year is in continuing to develop Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera.

Erik Bedard was a big-time prospect before he went down to TJ surgery. Given it’s recent success rate, it is no surprise that he came back stronger than ever after being sidelined in 2003. In 2004, he had a much better year than the more heralded (I suspect because of their misleading W-L records) Daniel Cabrera. His main problems were control and concentration, both common among young pitchers. He is still only 26, and a young 26 if you factor in his Canadian background (fewer amateur games) and time lost to injuries. However, he is still prone to injuries, like many young hurlers, adding knee problems to the list in 2005. Despite losing steam after returning from the DL, he still improved his K/9 ratio to 7.7 (from 7.3) and his BB/9 ratio to 3.7 (from 4.4). A healthy Erik Bedard gives the Oriole’s a legitimate front-of-the-rotation guy in 2006.

Daniel Cabrera is the Oriole’s pitcher who is by far the most fun to watch. He may be 7 feet of ugly, but I like my fastballs hitting three digits. After an abysmal 2004 (which many very, very stupid Orioles fans mistook for a good season), Cabrera showed a lot of promise this past season. In 2004, his BB/9 rate was in the 2nd percentile among AL pitchers. If you watched him pitch this year, you know that he didn’t improve in this regard by that much. However, his strikeout rate went from 4.3/9 innings in 2004 to 8.4/9 innings. That’s a hell of a difference. That’s going from Joes Lima (circa 2006) to Jose Rijo (circa1990) in one season. Pitchers are weird that way. I suspect he will build upon his improvement and provide the Orioles with the second part of their one-two punch.

The rest of the rotation is filled with, well, nothing special. Bruce Chen has gone from the best prospect in baseball to perennial bust to a solid mid-rotation starter (He actually led Orioles pitchers with a 33.7 VORP; followed by Bedard at 25.7 and BJ Ryan at 25.2). A lot of soft-tossing lefties get this comparison, but Bruce Chen really is a poor man’s Jamie Moyer. He’s proof of how valuable a change-up can be. After him, we have Rodrigo Lopez, John Maine, Kurt Ainsworth’s remains, and the X-factor: our best pitching prospect, Hayden Penn (who should be contributing by July).

Bullpen

Bullpen construction is sweeter than sweet. I’d rather construct a bullpen than take a shower with an Olsen twin. Unfortunately, the Orioles seem less enthused with this task. They have hung on to and signed useless, overvalued parts like Jorge Julio, Steve Kline, and Jason Grimsley (for once I won’t mention Danny Bautista). Meanwhile, we have Aaron Rakers (pronounced Rockers), Sendy Rleal (pronunced Rail), and others wasting away in the minors. Rleal, in particular, just spent a second year in AA at the age of 25 after dominating it in 2004 and looks like he may spend the rest of the decade in AA with his 96 mph fastball and 2.00 ERA.
Of course, the darling of this bullpen is Chris Ray. He is a future star who won’t be overpaid (like most ace relievers) until he’s well into his twenties. He is quite capable of being our closer in 2006 and any talk of “clutch” or “closer’s mentality” or him being too young is more ridiculous than my favorite pajamas (feet attached). He is the number one reason we not only can, but should let BJ Ryan become a Yankee or Red Yankee (excuse me, Red Sox).
While I’m quite sure the Orioles will do something silly like overpay for Steve Kline redux, we have the parts within our system to build a very reliable pen.

2B, 3B, SS

We’re good. Mora’s plate discipline waned as he slumped and there is always the danger of someone fading fast when they seemingly come out of nowhere like he did, but I think he has at least one more above league-average season left.
B-Rob suffered the most ridiculous injury ever. I am not overstating this. I won’t make any assumptions about when he will or will not be able to play. Hopefully, Chris Gomez will forget he is Chris Gomez for however long he may be asked to fill in for him. At any rate, losing your best hitter from 2005 for any length of time is an uphill battle.

1B, DH, C

I’ve clumped these three together because between them, we have one capable player. Not only that, but we’re not sure how many games Javy Lopez will play at each position. Whichever two positions Javy does not occupy on a given day are offensive blackholes.
Outfield
Again, it seems everyone in our outfield was doing their best Neifi Perez impression. Jay Gibbons slugged over .500 and was a candidate for the comback player of the year award. However, it still took him a hot streak towards the end of the year to get his OBP over .300. Nevertheless, he is our only outfielder worthy of being a regular. Luis Matos is a capable fourth outfielder, but his glove is overrated and his work ethic is constantly challenged. Eric Byrnes is at the opposite end of the work ethic spectrum, but is also no better than a fourth outfielder.
Bench
This was supposed to be the year we finally assembled a decent bench. Then David Newhan hit like he was a 30 year old in AAA, BJ Surhoff hit like he was 41, and Geronimo Gil hit like he always has.
I still believe in Newhan and his track record indicates that while 2004 was a little flukey, 2005 was at least equally as flukey. His versatility in the field (even though he looks about as graceful in CF as Karim Garcia did) earns him a roster spot, in my opinion.

Minor Leagues

The most valuable commodity the Orioles have in their farm system is their outfield depth. 2006 will likely mark the arrival of the Nick Markakis era. However, we may see Val Majewski even earlier in the year. Majewski missed 2005 with a torn labrum after a breakout year in AA in 2004. He is now in the AFL. To his credit, if one of your top prospects is going to go down for a year to injury, you’d like him to have the unquestioned work ethic of Majewski.

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