What did the O’s unwrap this morning?


‘Tis the season, right? So now that all of the wrapping paper has been thrown away and you’re on your second helping of pie and Christmas cookies, the question is what did the Orioles get under the tree this morning? Survey says: not Prince Fielder (yet). However if the Birds had to ask for one thing for Christmas, I think it would be for their starting pitchers to blossom come April.

We thought this would happen last season. In fact, we thought the entire team would blossom with a young core of starting pitchers, and youth on the field. In some senses that did in fact happen; let’s not lose sight of the fact that Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis both won gold gloves, with J.J. Hardy being nominated for one. However for each of those stories it seemed that there was also a Kevin Gregg or Vladimir Guerrero (who’s stats differed from what they did before when they got to Baltimore).

This all goes hand-in-hand with injuries. Brian Matusz must be one of the only players in big league history who was put in the DL literally on opening day, although he wasn’t even in the game. Matusz returned in June, but to be blunt he was horrible. Brad Bergesen had been coming off of injuries the year prior, as had Chris Tilman. Jake Arrieta had to hang it up early as well with elbow problems, and Zach Britton ended up on the DL as well. And let’s not even get started on Brian Roberts (that’s a whole column in itself). Those are probably the most noteworthy of the injuries. To add further insult to those, Luke Scott’s season ended when he aggravated a shoulder injury leaping over the left field fence to save a home run. So let me get this straight; a player literally gives everything he’s got to do the right thing to help the team, and he’s done for the year…had he done the “wrong thing,” that wouldn’t have happened. Yeah, that’s fair.

The injuries are something that I’ll touch on in much more detail moving forward. However I think that the greatest gift that the Orioles could have unwrapped this morning would have potentially been the ability to catch the lightning of September in a bottle moving into a new year. Going back to 2010, Buck Showalter came on the scene in early August. The O’s won 60% of their games for the remainder of the season. While injuries and constant roster turnover might attest as to why that wasn’t possible for much of 2011, they finally seemed to get it together in September. And they did so with the likes of Robert Andino and Nolan Reimold leading the way. So regardless of who’s playing where and who’s on the team, if the Orioles can catch that lightning in a bottle starting in spring training, that might be the best gift of all.

I say this at a time when many fans are questioning what exactly is going on in the warehouse as other teams are making moves and the Orioles appear to be stagnating. First off I would remind people that Dan Duquette didn’t start on the job until early November. He had holes to fill in the front office when he got here, but then people started leaving which made for other holes. Furthermore, in the past we’ve seen the Orioles be very active in the free agent/trade market early in the new year. Adam Jones was traded to the O’s in February, and they signed the likes of Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero in January. As I’ve said before, let us not judge this off season until the smoke has cleared.

Moving onto the fans, the one gift that they would like to have unwrapped this morning would be respectability. Notice I didn’t say a contending team; you have to build from out of the ashes. Certainly there’s always a chance that you could pull off a miracle season and catapolt yourself into the playoff chase, but I think you also have to be reasonable in your expectations. If the Orioles could have a respectable season (and by that I mean improving more than one or two games year-over-year), it would go a long way towards telling the fans that they’re serious about winning in the future. To all of Birdland and beyond, I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala