The Baltimore Orioles had a little bit of a down 2013 season after setting the bar so high a year before. The team won 93 games in 2012 in a season that was a surprise to most. Manager Buck Showalter has done an outstanding job since he took over the club in 2010. In fact, he even led the club to a winning record in his 57 games at the helm in 2010 (34-23). I think the Orioles have done a very good job in putting together a young core of players led by Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and of course, Chris Davis. I was getting a little concerned that the Orioles were not going to make any adjustments to their 2014 team. They made the early trade of RHP Jim Johnson to the Athletics for 2B Jemile Weeks.
All of the sudden, the Orioles made a series of moves that could put them in a better position. The signing of RHP Suk-Min Yoon gives the team a pitcher who can be a top 3 starter on their staff. The only question is whether he is ready to be part of the staff opening day. If not, hopes are Yoon will be in the rotation sooner rather than later. The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez gives the team a number one as he is coming off a very good season with Cleveland. Nelson Cruz taking a 1 year contract from the Orioles was the biggest bargain of the entire offseason for any team.
Offensively, it is difficult to expect 1B Chris Davis to duplicate his 2013 season (.286, 53, 138, 42 2Bs, 1.004 OPS), but he should still be able to hit a lot of HRs in Camden Yards. The same can be hoped for with Cruz (.266, 27, 76 in 109 games), who is hoping to parlay a big HR season at Camden Yards to a bigger free agent contract after the season.
To me, Manny Machado will be a key to this team's offensive production. Machado is injured and is hoping to be ready for the start of the season. I feel Machado has an ability to take his game to another level (.281, 14, 71 with 51 2Bs), though he already has as a defensive 3B. In my opinion, only Adrian Beltre is in the same league as him defensively.
CF Adam Jones (.285, 33, 108) should be expected to be steady and the rest of the lineup will center around Matt Wieters (.235, 22, 79), JJ Hardy (.263, 25, 76) and Nick Markakis (.271, 10, 59). Markakis is interesting since he played in 160 games last season and saw his OPS dip to .685. I would expect him to improve, otherwise his presence in the lineup should be brought into question. Perhaps Cruz goes into the OF if Markakis is traded, but it needs to be understood that the Orioles will have to take less than they could have expected to get back a year ago. Nolan Reimold (.195, 5, 12) will get a chance to take the LF job replacing Nate McLouth, who signed as a free agent with the Nationals. I think Reimold can take his game to another level; he was much more highly touted before his injury that almost ended his career. 2B is going to be interesting. 2B Brian Roberts signed as a free agent with the Yankees. Ryan Flaherty projects to be the starter (.224, 10, 27) with Weeks getting a shot (hit .271, 4, 40 in 130 games in AAA Sacramento and 1-9 with the Athletics last season). I'd line the Orioles up like this: Markakis RF, Machado 3B, Jones CF, Davis 1B, Cruz DH, Wieters C, Hardy SS, Reimold LF, Flaherty 2B. Top bench options include OF David Lough, Alexi Casilla, Steve Pearce and backup catcher Steve Clevenger.
The starting pitching will be led by Jimenez (13-9, 3.30 in 32 starts for Cleveland). I think Yoon could be the number two starter followed by by a combination of Miguel Gonzalez (11-8, 3.78, 30 games, 28 starts), Chris Tillman (16-7, 3.71 in 33 starts, 206 2/3 IP), Bud Norris (10-12, 4.18, 32 games, 30 starts for Houston and Baltimore) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 4.07, 24 starts). Tillman and Gonzalez are locks for the rotation, with Norris and Chen an option for the bullpen assuming Yoon is ready. RHP Kevin Gausman, the team's first round draft pick in 2011 and Dylan Bundy, the 1st round selection of 2012, could have an impact this season, with Bundy coming back from an injury.
The bullpen could still be good without a proven closer. Johnson, of course, is now in Oakland. But lets not forget that Johnson was inserted into the role before the 2012 season similarly to the way Tommy Hunter is likely to be this year. The former starting pitcher has gotten comfortable in the relief role (6-5, 2.81 in 68 games). The team should be good getting him the ball, with Darren O'Day (5-3, 2.18 in 68 games) and Brian Matusz (2-1, 3.53 in 65 games). LHP Troy Patton (2-0, 3.70 in 56 games) is suspended for the first 25 games of the 2014 season after testing positive for adderall. RHP Ryan Webb comes over from the Marlins (2-6, 2.91 in 66 games) as a free agent with guys like Gausman, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton all options as well.
Of course, the Orioles signed LHP Johan Santana, who can help either as a starter or as a reliever. I think there is enough depth in the rotation, so unless Santana seems like he is back to 2003-2006 form, he is unlikely to make the rotation. I wish him the best.
I like the Orioles, but it is tough to put them in the same class with Tampa Bay, Boston and New York in the AL East division. I think they can build confidence similar to the way they did in 2012. That would be the best way for them to turn 2014 into a success. Vegas has the team at 80.5 wins for the 2014 season. I think they are right on. If I had the choice, I'd take the under and go at 79-83. Similar to some other teams in the same situation, I think the Orioles can be in the race to the last week or two of the season.