Philly Sports Post provided its 2009 MLB Team Preview of the Orioles on Friday with local thoughts offered by yours truly and Scott Christ of Camden Chat. My thoughts are below.
• Letter Grade for Offseason Moves: I’d give the O’s a solid B.
The offseason was a steady step in the right direction. The team didn’t make a big splash on the free-agent market, but their time will come. They need to continue making incremental steps toward being a competitive outfit and then they can overspend on a big bat to complete the puzzle. It would’ve been a mistake to overpay for pitching, especially a guy like A.J. Burnett. Andy MacPhail set out a rebuilding model when he got to town, fans are buying into it – especially after the Bedard trade and Markakis extension – and even Peter Angelos seems to be among the converted.
You can’t overstate the importance of signing Nick Markakis this offseason. The Markakis signing proves that the team actually learned something from losing Mike Mussina to the Yankees years ago when they had a chance to lock him up before he hit the market. Signing Cesar Izturis was a good, underrated move, and it’s nice to have the Brian Roberts situation resolved. Add in the fact that the O’s signed their recent top draft picks, Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz (granted, not offseason moves), and the team is sending a real message that this is a brave, new Andy MacPhail world that Baltimore fans live in.
• Most Essential: Jeremy Guthrie. O’s fans are going to have a lot of fun watching some exciting position players this season. It’ll be fun to track Adam Jones’ development, there’s hope that Felix Pie can finally make good on his promise given a full-time role and less pressure to produce, Cesar Izturis will provide a much-needed steady hand at shortstop, not to mention the anticipated production of Nick Markakis, the debut of Matt Wieters, etc. But with all that said, the starting rotation is a real Achilles heel.
Guthrie is a solid, underappreciated pitcher, who will have to provide reliable production out of the No. 1 spot and serve as a model for a shaky rotation if the O’s are going to have any chance of avoiding a disappointing record that doesn’t match their promise on other parts of the diamond. His time away from the team for WBC duties and less-than-stellar return to camp is an early cause for concern.
• Breakout Potential: The good news for O’s fans is that there are a multiple players to be excited about in regard to the potential for a breakout season. No one expected the production the Birds got from Aubrey Huff last season, but this year it’s more about the young talent. There’s much anticipation – perhaps even too much – surrounding Matt Wieters’ debut in Orange and Black, but given that Wieters won’t start the season in the big leagues, Adam Jones is the guy to watch over the long haul. By all accounts, Jones put in a lot of work in the offseason. Hopefully he reaps the rewards of that effort.
• Prediction for 2009: It’s still not going to be pretty when the final numbers are posted. There will be multiple noteworthy individual performances, but the team will have to fight to get out of the cellar in the AL East. Regular fans of the team will see the improvement, outside observers will say, “Same old Orioles.”
This is a team that has won more than 74 games just once since the 2000 season. I’m anticipating a run at the Blue Jays for fourth place and a win total in the low- to mid-70s. We’re more Kansas City than Tampa Bay at this point. If the Royals could win 75 games and outlast Detroit for fourth place in the Central last season, we can win 75 and outlast Toronto this year. Then, in a couple of more years, we can talk about a Rays-like season.