Saturday, February 5, 2011

2011 Orioles -- The Hot Stove Report

Let's not get silly and try to project how the Orioles will wind up at the end of the 2011 season, Realistically, they could finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th place. The Boston Red Sox look much improved capable of dominating the division. The Tampa Bay Rays are the most depleted team losing key stars including Carl Crawford to the Red Sox, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. Vernon Wells with his 44 2B's and 31 HR's leaves Toronto for the LA Angels.  The Yankees look suddenly older after collapsing in the playoffs and playing weak down the stretch. Andy Petitte is gone. A.J. Burnett looked awful last year especially down the stretch. Could a slumping Derek Jeter be a sign of old age. How much does Mariano Rivera have left? Jorge Posada is no kid anymore too, and when will father time start imposing on Alex Rodriguez? The Yankees 2011 season could have gone up in smoke when Cliff Lee signed with Philadelphia. The Yankees had no plan B. Who do they have rising up in the farm system or who could be traded for what they need?

Of all the AL East teams except perhaps the Red Sox,  the Orioles could be the most improved, but the Orioles also had the most ground to make up. With this in mind, let's look at their hot stove season and see what the 2011 team will look like.

The 2011 Orioles will take on quite a different look from the 2010 team which played horribly until the hiring of Buck Showalter as manager leading the division in wins the last two months of the season. The infield will be all new with free agents: Derrek Lee at first, J.H Hardy at Shortstop, and Mark Reynolds at third leaving Brian Roberts at second as the only veteran returning to the starting lineup. Sure-fielding Cesar Itzturis will be the Orioles first pick as utility infielder. Vladmir Guerrero a powerful right handed hitter will take the DH spot moving Luke Scott back to Left Field where he’ll join Adam Jones in Center and Nick Markakis in Right while Matt Wieters will continue to grow at Catcher. Felix Pie and/or Nolan Reimold will fill out the outfield.

There are no blockbuster moves to enhance the pitching staff putting the young starters clearly in charge of their destiny as the team’s future rotation. Justin Duchscherer joins as a free agent after missing all of 2009 and much of 2010 after an impressive 10=8, 2.54 record in 2008 with Oakland. Jeremy Accardo and Kevin Gregg beef up the bullpen as two proven right handed relief pitchers. While Mark Henderickson and Koji Uehera return.

Notable departures include starter Kevin Millwood, the versatile Ty Wigginton who primarily played 1st base in 2010, Julio Lugo – a utility infielder, Corey Patterson from the outfield, and Matt Albers from the bullpen.

In balance, the Orioles gain defensively at 1st and 3rd base which should be of tremendous benefit, but the real boost will be in the power hitters added to the lineup. Vladmir Guerrero adds 27 homers and 115 RBI’s based on last years numbers, while Derrek Lee ads 34 doubles, 19 homers, and 80 RBI’s, and Mark Reynolds adds 32 homers and 85 RBI’s. Considering last year’s top power hitters were Luke Scott with 27 homers buy only 72 RBI’s and Adams Jones with 19 homers and 69 RBI’s, immediate improvement should be forthcoming. Certainly, better numbers should be easy for Nick Markakis with an impressive 45 doubles but only 12 homers and 12 RBI’s. Having Brian Roberts health with his on base skills and knack for doubles and stone bases should set the table well for the bigger bats to come. J.J. Hardy returns Shortstop to an offensive position while certainly Matt Wieters having more support around him in the lineup should start moving toward the awesome potential he showed as he ripped through the minors on his way to Baltimore. Jake Fox looks as a likely strong bench member as a backup catcher who can play first and third base. Craig Tatum could return as third catcher. Clearly, the team’s depth is a huge improvement unlike anything the team has had since 1997.

The greatest question mark is obviously the starting rotation. Jeremy Guthrie will surely be starting as the team’s number one starter while Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen return expected to show continued progress to full major league form. The fifth spot right now appears to be up for grabs between Justin Duchesherer and Chris Tilman. Kevin Gregg is the likely closer with Michael Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson, Jason Berken and Jeremy Accardo as the most likely bullpen pitchers on opening

Certainly, this team looks capable of winning 82 games and breaking the Orioles dreaded history of 13 consecutive losing sesons having not succeeded since 1997. Here's a team that might be lights out powerful in just about any other division, but this is the American League East, but it's doubtful there will be a three team race for the top this year or perhaps even a team destined for the Wild Card.

It's time for the Orioles to show their fans they are now on their way. They are still nothing until there are other teams behind them in the division's standings.


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