With a 7-6 win over the Boston Red Sox, the 2013 is officially over for the Baltimore Orioles. While the Orioles aren’t headed for the playoffs this season, I would be hardpressed to say this year has been a total disappointment. For Part II of “Musings of a Misplaced Marylander,” I thought I would touch on a few prominent storylines from this season.
The Rise of Chris Davis: Before the season, a lot was made about the team’s decision not to re-sign Mark Reynolds. Reynolds had made it clear he did want to come back to Baltimore, but first base was officially turned over to Chris Davis, who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the right call. Davis broke just about every Orioles offensive record and played underrated defense at 1st base. At just 27 years old, he’s three years younger than fellow slugger Miguel Cabrera and should continue to mature (cutting down on the strikeouts) as a hitter. While it’s impossible to tell right now if he’ll repeat his 2013 numbers in 2014, the arrow is pointing up for Chris Davis.
The Search for a DH/Bench: This is a search that will go on into the offseason. The Orioles played musical designated hitters this season, and nobody really made a game changing impact. Steve Pearce battled injuries (but showed he has pop when he’s healthy), Danny Valencia was really hot, then really cold when Showalter batted him cleanup, and Michael Morse could never get going (though it was revealed later that he was dealing with an undisclosed wrist injury). Additionally, pesky (in a good way) Ryan Flaherty‘s ability to play just about every position should keep him in the bench rotation for 2014.
What’s Up with the Bullpen?: While it may have been idealistic to think that the bullpen would duplicate the unbelievable numbers they put up last season, few could have predicted Jim Johnson would blow 9 saves and the Orioles would go from being 1st in baseball in 1-run games/extra inning games to near the bottom. General Manager Dan Duquette has announced that Jim Johnson will be tendered a contract for 2014, but Troy Patton & Francisco Rodriguez are free agents. Additionally, Tommy Hunter & Brian Matusz have expressed desires to get a shot at starting.
The Redemption of Brian Roberts: When Roberts came to the plate for the 1st time at Camden Yards this season, the ovation from the crowd gave me my first baseball goosebumps of the year. The team had missed his infield leadership and he provided a spark in the 70-odd games he was able to play in this season. That being said, he is 36 years old, and the team does have Jonathan Schoop quickly rising through the ranks. Roberts has made it clear he would like to finish his career in Baltimore, but understands if the team feels they need to go in a different direction. Some sort of one-year deal for a “hometown discount” may be the only way that Roberts is back in orange & black in 2014.
The Path for Manny Machado: The image of Manny Machado crumpling in pain at first base in Tampa Bay is seared into the brains of Orioles fans for the foreseeable future, so the news that the damage in his knee wasn’t as severe as originally thought brought a collective sigh of relief.
While it is clear Machado is a gigantic part of the team’s future (along with Davis/Jones/Markakis/Wieters), he still went through some growing pains this season (13 errors). It will be interesting to see how Showalter tinkers with 3rd base next season, possibly giving Machado the occasional day off to keep him fresh. The rise of Danny Valencia & Ryan Flaherty, both of whom can play 3rd base, gives Showalter options.
Is Chris Tillman “Ace” Material?: Ending 2013 with a record of 16-7, it seems that Chris Tillman has turned the corner towards becoming the player the Orioles envisioned when they traded for him (along with Adam Jones) back in 2008. At the age of 25 and not eligible for arbitration until 2015, Tillman has a chance to make an even bigger leap in 2014, taking the reigns of the Orioles rotation. Key for Tillman in 2014 will be cutting down on the foul balls, many of Tillman’s shorter outings looked to be because of high pitch counts more than inconsistency.
The Curious Case of Kevin Gausman: When the Orioles called up 2012 1st round pick Kevin Gausman in May, many people felt it was too soon. Though the 22 year old can consistently throw in the upper 90s, he hadn’t pitched many games in the minors. His first call-up was inconsistent, as expected, but his 2nd call-up gave everyone a glimpse of Gausman’s sky high potential.
Pitching strictly out of the bullpen, Gausman showed an impressive fearlessness, even when facing tough, experienced batters (2 of his 3 wins this year came against the Yankees). He still had some hiccups and needs to gain better command and confidence in his breaking/off-speed pitches, but Gausman should go into 2014 with a legitimate shot at a spot in the rotation.
This off season, the team will have to address questions about the offense of Nick Markakis (was this year a fluke?) as he is owed $15 million next season as well as make tough other tough financial decisions. Jason Hammel, Scott Feldman, Nate McLouth, and Alexi Casilla are all free agents, while Danny Valencia, Tommy Hunter, and Steve Pearce are eligible for arbitration. Zach Britton is out of minor league options. What about Nolan Reimold? While Adam Jones is signed through 2018, Chris Davis and Manny Machado will command major money in their upcoming contracts (Davis is a client of Scott Boras, as are Rodriguez, Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen & Britton).
While the lights have gone out at Camden Yards until next year, the lights will be on late into the winter nights as management works to put together the pieces of the 2014 Baltimore Orioles.