Baltimore Orioles Worry of the Year – Replacing Departed Offense


Oct 3, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pinch hitter Delmon Young (27) hits a three RBI double against the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning of game two of the 2014 ALDS playoff baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

It seems that each offseason brings its own major worry for followers of the Baltimore Orioles. Each year the problem looks unsolvable, given the constraints placed upon the organization. There is an apparent annual vacuum of talent that displays an obvious hole.

The solution appears to be nearby, if only the Orioles would, or could, take advantage of it. It is free agency – players with statistical records that present the capacity to fill the vacuum and take the team where it needs to go. But yearly, the Orioles either won’t (because they are too cheap) or can’t (because they truly do not have the resources) spend to fill the holes that way.

Coming off a powerful pair of offensive seasons in 2012 and 2013, the cry a year ago was to get top-of-the-rotation pitching. The daily mantra was “we will only go so far as our starting pitching will take us.” And the (not always) unsaid part of that was the additional clause “… and we do not have a pitching staff that can take us anywhere above mediocrity, at best.”

So the Baltimore Orioles overspent on a starting pitcher. When the season was all said and done, the Orioles also were in the very first handful of starting pitching staffs, even with that free agent and his rough numbers that banished him to the bullpen. Without him, the Orioles may have vied for the very best spot or two of AL statistics for starters.

This year, the annual worry is related to the other half of each inning. It is the offense. The question is “How are the Orioles going to replace all of the departed offensive production?”  With Delmon Young re-signed, that hole is now defined by how the O’s are going to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

The winter holidays week is sort of the “hump week” of the offseason. We’ve fully gotten over and recovered from the season past, and the flip of the calendar reveals the soon arrival of FanFest and the early arrivals to spring training of pitchers and catchers.

Let me try to put a logical face on the current situation of the Orioles roster, though I’m sure it could be argued to rather be putting a pretty face on the issue of the lost production.

Someone was going to spend more aggressively than the O’s – In a perfect baseball world of available resources and logic that prevailed around the sport, it would have been great to see Cruz and Markakis be able to remain with the Orioles. But the dollars are not equal, with the Orioles possessing only slightly above average resources in even the most optimistic analysis. And logic certainly does not prevail, not given the historic uncertainties surrounding the production of free agent players. There really was no chance that Cruz was coming back to the Orioles, and while the loss of Markakis is a surprise, someone spending aggressively on him is not.

The lost “production” might be a bit overstated – Hitting 40 home runs is overstated? Hey, I’m thankful for them – especially those in the first two months that kept the Orioles alive long enough for the starting pitching to “take us as far as we would go.” Cruz was solid through the month of September, but as I often seem to be the only writer to point out, he hit .213 over the three summer months. In games lost by the Orioles, he batted .211, and in RISP situations it was .259 – not terrible, but neither is it unique. And with Markakis, while it was great to see him smash the critics with a good season in 2014, there are some disturbing splits. He hit .294 in the first half (first three months) but only .254 after July 1st, and .234 in September.

The continued contributions of the lost players are not guaranteed – Along with the numbers stated immediately above, Markakis will be coming off a neck surgery. While that surgery will surely prove successful, it does preclude Nick’s aggressive offseason conditioning program which has seemed to have a one-to-one correspondence with his seasonal successes. And while Cruz had a career season that built upon a good 2013 campaign, he is age 35 and was insistent upon a four-year deal. I hate the following phrase, but don’t know what else to say at this point; only time will tell.

The corner outfield free agent options were not that great this year – Unless one has a craving for very uncertain statistics like those of Michael Morse or Kendrys Morales, or perhaps enjoys seeing a 33% strikeout ratio to place in the order next to Chris Davis (speaking of Colby Rasmus), there were not many choices. Yes, Melky Cabrera would have been a nice addition at a reasonable cost; but understand that he would only bring about 15 home runs and an OBP similar to Markakis. An argument could still be made for Nori Aoki, and maybe it will in the end. But those are the options that don’t involve trading a piece of the future like Dylan Bundy.

The “Birds in hand” look better than given credit – This very point was made by Duquette who, in so many words around the time of the Winter Meetings said something like, “The more I see what is out there, the more I like what we have in hand.” Alejandro De Aza can play the game, and seemed to come alive in the new Orioles environment. David Lough had a good second half and represents some talent. Alex Hassan may well put it together, as his minor league numbers would indicate he should. One, or both, of the Cuban outfielders – Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia – could make their final breakthrough. There are others. Yes, I know it is easy to mock putting hopes to replace Cruz and Markakis in this kettle of fish, but it is not unreasonable to believe that at least one of them will have a breakout season. And Delmon Young is in the house now also.

More from Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore is a proven place of opportunity – This is really the point being made in the immediately preceding couple of sentences. “Showalter and Company” has made Baltimore a place of redemption and reconstruction. There is an intangible atmosphere to it all that has a record of producing tangible results. I would not predict a 40-home run season out of anyone, not even a redeemed and revived Chris Davis. But there are enough human resources on this team to have reasonable competitive hopes for 2015, and the offseason is not completely over.