In 2012, the Orioles surprised everyone by winning 93 games and making the playoffs. Expectations were high heading into 2013 and the Orioles were contenders for much of the season, but eventually fell short of expectations. There were several positives about the season: Chris Davis and Adam Jones had career high power numbers, Manny Machado showed he can be the hitter everyone wanted him to be, and Chris Tillman emerged as a front-line starting pitcher.
Despite all of those positives, the Orioles failed to win as many games as the previous season and they need to make some improvements if they want to make the playoffs in 2014. There are several free agents available who would help the Orioles improve and they should definitely be interested in pursuing them. Here is my offseason wish list:
An Upgrade in Left Field
I love Nate McClouth and believe he was a tremendous asset for the Orioles given the amount of money they paid him. That being said, there are better available alternatives who would be better in the field and an upgrade offensively.
In my opinion, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury should be extremely high on the Orioles wish list. Both are tremendous in the field, steal bases, have a high on-base percentage, and can also hit home runs. Ellsbury will probably be a very expensive option thus making it hard for the O’s to sign him, but Choo should definitely be attainable.
Just think how much more effective the offense would be if they have a leadoff hitter who has a .300+ average and walks a lot. All of the home runs that the Orioles hit did not mask their offensive struggles. They failed to manufacture runs and often hit solo home runs because the leadoff hitter struggled to get on base. The offense can definitely be upgraded and this would be a great way to help that happen.
A Designated Hitter
I know he played well for most of the time he was in the lineup but let’s not give Danny Valencia the starting role just yet. The Orioles should look to upgrade at DH and bring in a guy who can hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching.
Despite the steroid cloud surrounding him, Nelson Cruz would be a perfect fit for the Orioles, depending on the cost, obviously. Cruz could be relatively cheap given his injury history and the steroid suspension, so it might be worth a shot to bring him in.
There are other options like Ike Davis, Justin Morneau or aging power hitters, who can no longer play a position, but are they really going to be that much of an upgrade over the Orioles platoon DH situation? Probably not.
Every baseball pundit views pitching to be the biggest need for the Orioles, however, I do not think the pitching was as bad as people made it out to be. Both Bud Norris and Scott Feldman pitched to a sub 4.00 ERA after joining the Orioles. And, both Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez pitched the whole season for the Orioles and also had a sub 4.00 ERAs. The only starter with an ERA over 4.00 was Wei-Yin Chen who finished the season with a 4.07 ERA. This is a tremendous feat in the American League and something that should not be overlooked.
The starting pitching was poor at times, but how many times did the starters have a quality start and leave with a lead, only to see the bullpen blow it? Several.
The Orioles lack that CC Sabathia-type ace who you know will give you eight innings every game and shut down the opposing team. But, how many of those pitchers are available without having to pay a ton of money or give up elite position players and prospects? None. You want Felix Hernandez? It will cost you. You want Cliff Lee? Say goodbye to Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado.
There is no elite starter available and I don’t want the O’s to overpay for the likes of a Matt Garza or Ervin Santana who would not be a bigger upgrade than Chris Tillman. Would you have paid an aging Tim Hudson $23 million over two years? I wouldn’t.
I do want the Orioles to acquire pitching but make a smart, financially responsible move that helps the staff. Their best move to help the pitching staff may just be to put Kevin Gausman in the rotation permanently.
The Orioles definitely need to make a move to help the team, but really how far away from the playoffs were they? The O’s finished with 85 wins and had a winning record against the Red Sox. A few less blown saves and they make the playoffs.
I do not really think they need to be desperate and make a major splash and overpay a player just to make it look like they are “trying” to get better. Certainly I would love Robinson Cano and believe he makes the Orioles a World Series team, but if they acquire Cano it means they won’t be able to resign Davis and Wieters next season. Is gaining Cano really worth losing both of them? This team needs one or two solid hitters or starting pitcher/ bullpen arm to get back in the playoffs.
The worst thing a franchise can do is make a big splash in free agency and spend a ton of money on one player and have that player not live up to the contract. Case in point, how much money have the Angels spent in the last two seasons and how many playoff appearances do they have?
I believe the Orioles are committed to winning and I don’t think they need to break the bank to prove it.
Either way, I will probably get excited about every hot-stove rumor I hear involving the Orioles.