Thursday, February 28, 2008
Rebuild = Better?
It's usually a foregone conclusion that a rebuilding team is going to be awful. Young players finding their way in the majors usually doesn't bode well for a team's record. The same can be said of the Orioles now that they've entered their first true rebuilding season of the last 10 years. But as I view things, I think the Orioles could actually be better than they were a year ago.
That's not saying much, since the Orioles only won 69 games last year, but I think it says a lot about where this team is headed. They've slashed payroll, gotten deeper and could be better in 2008 than they were in 2007.
As a matter of fact, I'd be somewhat shocked if they were worse than they were last year.
The Bullpen - the Orioles' 2007 bullpen was one of the worst bullpens in the history of modern baseball. Right off the bat the bullpen should be better in 2007 simply because it can't be much worse. They've lost Baez for at least a year (addition by subtraction) and gained another solid reliever in George Sherrill (from the Bedard trade) who'll likely fill in for the injured Chris Ray as closer. The Orioles also have some solid candidates to fill in a few more bullpen spots -- Rule 5 draftee Randor Bierd, veteran pitcher Greg Aquino, flame-thrower Fernando Cabrera, and returning bullpen arms such as James Hoey, Rocky Cherry, and Brian Burres. The only bright spots in last year's bullpen, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are also returning. What the O's lack in sure-fire talent in the bullpen they make up for in depth.
Upgrades - Luke Scott replacing Jay Payton in LF is like replacing a Pinto with a Toyota. The 30 year old Scott has never played an entire season in the majors, but has shown immense pop in his bat in his limited time. Although it's his first full season, it won't be hard for Adam Jones to improve offensively over Corey Patterson. And while Jones is supposedly a defensive specialist, much like Patterson, he's struggled in CF so far this spring training season. No one would dare say Luis Hernandez would be an overall upgrade over Miguel Tejada, but Luis is bound to be at least a defensive upgrade over Tejada, whose range was growing more limited each season. Luis will be little than an automatic out in the line-up, but his defense should help out the pitchers.
Deeper Rotation - Losing Bedard will hurt the team's record. But what they've lost in Bedard, they've made up with depth. Late last year, when most of the starting rotation was on the disabled list, the Orioles' rotation wouldn't have scared most high school teams. Not this year. When the inevitable injuries start to mount and pitchers become ineffective, the Orioles will have a deep pool of pitching prospects (Patton, Albers, Liz, Olson, Penn, etc...) to choose from when needed.
Bounce Back Years - Aubrey Huff has always been a slow-starter, but his first half last year was absolutely abysmal. From April to June he put up a Brandon Fahey-esque .686 OPS. In the second half, he returned to form with a .897 OPS. Huff strained his groin this offseason (painting nude strippers on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show is hard work) so expect him to struggle in the first half again. But as long as he doesn't repeat his terrible first half from last year, Huff should improve in 2008.
Jay Gibbons had a year to forget in 2007. He was noticeably smaller, left without a position, got injured, struggled when he was healthy (.620 OPS) and then was named in the Mitchell Report during the offseason. Now that Gibbons is off the juice, hence his smaller frame, his slugging percentage should go down a bit, but there's no way he's as bad as he was last year. If Gibbons can stay healthy (which is a feat in and of itself), he should return to his mid-.700 OPS self.
Ramon Hernandez had a down year in 2007 after coming off what what was a career year in 2006. He also battled injuries and attitude problems. Maybe that's what happens when you come into the season out of shape. However, reports are that Ramon is back in shape and has a positive attitude, so one must think that he will improve upon his lousy .382 slugging percentage in '08.
Improved Bench - to go along with the bullpen, last year's O's bench could have also been one of the worst benches ever assembled. It was littered with back-up catchers and slap-hitting utility men and was severely lacking in late-inning pinch hitters. This year's bench is also bound to be better than last year's, simply because it can't get any worse. For one, it looks to have an improved Jay Gibbons, a back-up catcher in former 1st-round pick Guillermo Quiroz, a utility man with some pop in his bat in Scott Moore and speedster Freddie Bynum, who surprisingly didn't suck in his limited playing time last year before being sidelined with an injury.
Rick Kranitz - it's hard to say that the Orioles have upgraded their pitching coach when their last one was Leo Mazzone, but I think it holds true. Mazzone clashed with many young pitchers and reportedly neglected others. Kranitz, who was with the Florida Marlins, knows young pitchers and will work to their strengths instead of making everyone work his way.
Basically, the Orioles can't be much worse in 2008 than they were in 2007 because there is no where to go but up.