The Orioles currently hold the 17th pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Better to count down the days until pitchers and catchers report.
Welcome to Day One of the offseason. It’s going to be quiet for a while, with teams pretty much in shutdown mode during the playoffs.
It seems like only yesterday that reporters were staking out Luis Ayala’s locker in Sarasota, eagerly awaiting confirmation on whether he would pitch in the World Baseball Classic. We surrounded Conor Jackson in the media room and peppered him with questions about his comeback, hanging on his every word. We got to know Travis Ishikawa, the defense-first first baseman. We sensed Trayvon Robinson’s frustration over being squeezed out of the outfield picture, and we thoroughly enjoyed the stories about Chris Robinson’s role in the WBC brawl between Canada and Mexico.
We kept checking on Jair Jurrjens’ knee and the velocity on his fastball. We listened to manager Buck Showalter praise Russ Canzler for “getting it.” We tried to identify the guy who turned out to be Niuman Romero. We tried to figure out what caused Wilson Betemit to hit the dirt between first and second base, his face twisted in pain. We wondered why catcher Luis Martinez actually thought his strained oblique would heal in one day.
Adam Russell shared the heart-wrenching story of his sister’s and brother-in-law’s brave fights against cancer. He never made it to Baltimore. Neither did Mark Hendrickson, who lowered his arm slot but didn’t raise his game quite enough to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.
We’re talking six or seven months ago. Where does the time go?
So, what immediately comes to mind when you think about the season, which ended with the Orioles and Yankees tied for third place?
Chris Davis jumps to the top of my list. We witnessed history. Did anyone come close to predicting 53 homers and 138 RBIs? Sure, he also set the team record with 199 strikeouts, but it’s a fair trade-off. And don’t forget the .286 average and 42 doubles.
All that energy wasted over the winter and spring on blog entries, tweets and articles about his questionable defense at first base. He wielded a plus-mitt.
We also witnessed history with Manny Machado, and a horrific scene at Tropicana Field that I thought had produced a serious knee injury. Talk about dodging a bullet.
Chris Tillman deserved better than a 16-win season, but I’ll take it. He moves to the front of the rotation. I doubt that anyone will be brought into the organization who can wrestle the ball out of his hand on opening day. He’s the guy.
The defense was the worst in the majors for most of 2012. It was the all-time best in 2013 based on errorless games and fewest errors. When we think of the greatest defense in franchise history, do we now skip past Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Davey Johnson, Bobby Grich, Paul Blair, etc.?
Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia made a pretty big splash in his first week in the majors, but he didn’t create more than a ripple the rest of the way and ended up on the taxi squad in Sarasota. His power never surfaced with the Orioles. He wasn’t consistently hitting the ball to the opposite field by design.
Jim Johnson saved 50 games, one fewer than last season, making him the second pitcher in history - there’s that word again - to record consecutive seasons of 50 saves. Move over, Eric Gagne.
We can’t move past the elephant in the room. The nine blown saves had a big impact on the season. There’s no way around it.
It comes with the job. A hitter slumps - we’ll say 0-for-20 - and a team may not break stride. A closer fails on consecutive days, has a bad week, and games are lost.
The series in Arizona was a turning point for the Orioles. They were pointed in the wrong direction when it ended.
The four-game sweep at Tropicana Field in the final road series was the clincher - or non-clincher, if you will - but the Orioles never fully recovered from those three losses in Arizona.
The Orioles never won more than five games in a row this season, and they only had one such streak. They never went on a significant run, but somehow stayed in playoff contention until the final week.
A year after going 29-9 in one-run games, the Orioles were 20-31. And they needed three one-run victories over their last four games to improve their percentage.
Nick Markakis had 24 doubles and 10 home runs this season. That’s a down year and he knows it. But he also played in 160 games. Given what happened last year, that’s a significant achievement.
Six Orioles appeared in at least 146 games. Too many? Was fatigue a factor?
The bats went into another deep freeze as the season moved into September. The Orioles faced lots of good pitching, but they were challenged against everyone.
Matt Wieters hit 22 homers, drove in 79 runs and impacted games behind the plate on most nights. Scouts still view him as the Orioles’ most irreplaceable player. But he also batted .235 with a .287 on-base percentage, and that’s going to make him the target of fans who regard him as a bust and the worst thing to happen to catching since the knuckleball.
Brian Roberts made it through the last three months without a return trip to the disabled list, and he’s got a shot to stay in the organization beyond his expiring four-year contract. I would have placed the chances at less than zero on opening day, and again after his hamstring injury on April 4.
Nate McLouth? He’s gone if the market really is two years, $10 million, as MLBTradeRumors.com projected last week.