As Buck Showalter and the Orioles discuss the future of the Orioles behind closed doors, it is time to wonder what happened to the team that was supposed to compete this season and be a difference maker between the big three in the AL East.
In looking at this team, the Orioles are loaded with strong young talent, coming into the season, it was said that they had the best young outfield in baseball with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold. Jones started the season off cold, coming around recently, Markakis needs to have some of his doubles (25) turn into homers (4) to be a middle of the order threat and Reimold is hitting .212 at AAA Norfolk after a .205 start in the majors this season. The arrival of Jake Fox this week and Matt Wieters completes their core of young offensive talent. Looking at the Orioles reserves for the players at these positions, their fourth outfielder is Corey Patterson, Julio Lugo is their infield backup and Craig Tatum backs up Matt Wieters. While Patterson has had a nice season this year taking over for Reimold, he totes a career OBP of .292 and even with his .290 average this year, his OBP is just .335. In the new age of paying attention to OBP and OPS, Patterson does not fit for anything other than filling the hole that Reimold made.
On the pitching side, Baltimore is loaded with young talent. Brian Matusz has been the most impressive of the three young pitchers Baltimore has in the rotation now Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta have big futures, but both have ERA's over 5.00 through the first half. Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie lead the young pitchers and while Guthrie has been average and consistent, Millwood has been a terrible disappointment this season. His entire career has been seasons of up and down, and after a resurgence last season, Millwood is having the worst season of his career this year. I like the theory of having a veteran pitcher atop the rotation to lead the young group, but Millwood has proven to be the wrong guy. Guthrie is an average starter, he definitely belongs in the big leagues and I would be very interested to see what he would do with a NL team. While he allows a lot of homers, he does not walk many batters. New York could make sense, though he is not the big impact arm that they have been seeking.
Very little good can be said about the Baltimore bullpen, as has been the case in recent years. Alfredo Simon has settled into the closers role and has done a good job, but he can be wild and that is not the sign of a premiere closer, he makes sense as a 7-8th inning guy in an elite bullpen. Jason Berken and Will Ohman have been good for the Orioles, but Ohman is likely going to be a trade target for teams looking to add a lefty reliever. Mike Gonzalez is set to return from the DL soon and re-assume the closers role which will bump Simon and Berken down and make the late inning a little easier for the Orioles. After returning from arm surgery, Gonzalez has not been the same pitcher and it is very obvious when he does not have his good stuff. Cla Meredith can be good at times as well, but has not been great this season. They are at least two solid pitchers away from having a good bullpen.
Baltimore is going to be a seller at the trade deadline this season, which will set their new manager up to prepare for 2011. Going for youth talent is the usual prize for a team that is selling at the trade deadline, however this summer they could benefit from bringing in some veteran leadership to their bench to support their younger players as well as going after some young talent. The pieces are in place for this team to grow for the second half of the season, adding a backup catcher to spell Wieters and improving their bullpen are keys to making this team succeed long term.