While wondering how many fans woke up this morning with their faces pressed against the cold bathroom floor tiles ...
I’ve never been one to compose a list of New Year’s resolutions, mainly because there’s little chance that I’d see them through. And they’re terribly clichéd as sports-related stories on Jan. 1. But who am I to judge? Or Aaron Judge?
If the Orioles are going to create team-wide resolutions, they should make certain to include the following:
Avoid breaking the club record for highest rotation ERA of 5.70 set during the previous season.
It’s a tall order considering that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are the only known starters and the Orioles won’t spend big for pitching. They’ll need to get creative if they’re going to remain true to their vow of staying “competitive.” In the meantime, Gausman needs to give them two strong halves, Bundy needs to build on his first season as a full-time starter, executive vice president Dan Duquette needs to find a trade partner and the in-house candidates need to make a spirited bid for the fifth spot. That’s about it.
Find ways to get on base and not live and die by the home run.
Hyun Soo Kim led the team with a .382 on-base percentage in 2016. He’s gone. Seth Smith led the team with a .340 OBP last season. He’s a free agent. The Orioles ranked 21st in the majors with a .317 OBP in 2016 and 27th with a .312 OBP last season. They registered a .307 OBP in 2015. It’s been an ongoing issue.
Play better in the field.
The defense wasn’t up to the club’s standards last year and improving it is deemed a priority. Enjoy the many camp drills. There aren’t many spots open for new players to be plugged in, which means certain returnees will need to do better if at all possible. Losing the reliable J.J. Hardy at shortstop and perhaps Manny Machado at third base would appear on the surface to be counterproductive, but I’m no expert. How about getting more strikeouts from the pitchers and fewer balls put in play? Crazy idea, right?
Steal more bases.
You can’t do it with players who don’t have the skill, but perhaps one of the left-handed hitters that Duquette is searching for also could swipe a few bags. The Orioles ranked last in the majors last season with 32 steals, though it was an improvement from the 19 they totaled in 2016, when they also were last. Their 44 stolen bases in 2014 and 2015 also put them at the bottom. Machado led the club last year with a grand total of nine, which happened to be nine more than he swiped in 2016. They’ve proven that they can make the playoffs with their current approach, but they go through extended stretches with an impotent offense and they haven’t won the World Series since 1983. Maybe a little change would do them good.
Reconsider their stance on international signings.
They don’t believe that the cost is worth the risk and would rather use the bonus slots as trade chips. Much of the return has been forgettable and they get crushed within the industry for their refusal to invest. Left-hander Chris Lee could become an exception if he gets back on track after a disappointing start to the 2017 season. Everything is a risk. Becoming more aggressive for some of the top international talent would make it a whole lot easier to compete in the American League East. So would increasing the number of scouts.
Make a legitimate effort to sign Jonathan Schoop to an extension.
Don’t create another Machado situation. Schoop may be tempted to hit the free agent market in 2020, but the Orioles need to move his contract status off the backburner. The cost figures to keep rising and Schoop is a keeper - on the field and in the clubhouse. No ego, no drama and lots of production at the plate. He’s doing just fine at second base, but he also has experience at shortstop and third base. Hold onto him.
Don’t waste a full season forcing third base on Ryan Mountcastle.
The Orioles promoted Mountcastle from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie after the break and moved him from shortstop to third base. They threw challenges at him as though he sat in a dunking booth. The debate rages over his future position. Some folks in the organization think he can handle third with more work. Others say he should be in left field or at first base. Everyone agrees that he will hit at any level. If giving up on the third base experiment gets him to the majors faster, walk away from it. The Orioles should be able to figure it out without going through an entire summer. And at last check, the American League still has a designated hitter.
Soften the perception of dysfunction between Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
The relationship between Duquette and Showalter gets placed under a media microscope every couple of months. They aren’t best friends. They aren’t always on the same page. They don’t have the same personality and all of the same ideas about how to build the team. We don’t need another remake of “The Odd Couple” because you can’t top the original, but they’d be solid choices for the lead roles. However, they’ve mostly been able to make it work and they seem to have the support of ownership moving forward. We’ll see how the summer months play out as they approach the end of their contracts. In the meantime, the same stories will be published about them. Perhaps they could issue a joint statement telling the world that they don’t need to vacation together or send out a joint Christmas card in order to win. Seems pretty obvious, but I’m running out of ideas.