Tuesday, March 24, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Baltimore Orioles


I wasn't planning on writing my baseball preview articles this season.  I didn't think I was going to have the time (and I didn't).  Then the whole world shut down with a pandemic, and the baseball season was indefinitely postponed.  Needless to say, I all of a sudden have some time on my hands.  So to celebrate the week the baseball season was supposed to start, I am instead starting my slightly delayed look at the season that will be ... whenever we get around to it ... if we get around to it.  (My money is on Opening Day being the 4th of July.)

It is so disappointing to see this season delayed because there were so many fascinating storylines to follow.  Two of the biggest brands and best teams in baseball got even better by each adding one of the best players in the game.  Speaking of the best players in the game, the undisputed #1 of that list finally got a formidable right hand man.  Then there are the teams mired in controversy after a cheating scandal that led to year-long suspensions and references to Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe.  There are a couple superteams and a handful that are in the middle of a full rebuild, but you also have over 20 teams you could legitimately argue are serious playoff contenders.  No wonder rumors are flying to expand the playoffs (a plan which I love, but I don't think it will actually happen until baseball expands to 32 teams).  Even the rebuilding teams are starting to have some reasons to be excited as the stockpiling of prospects are starting to hit the big league field, however this delayed and most likely truncated season will hold back the development of a lot of young talen.  It is going to be an exciting season ... whenever it gets started.

With all that said, we are starting at the bottom and looking at the teams that really have the least to be excited about.  The Baltimore Orioles have been in full rebuild mode for several years now, finishing in the cellar three straight years and bottoming out in 2018 when they lost 115 games.  Last season saw a new GM and manager, but it also saw another 100 loss season.  Will 2020 bring a noticeable improvement or more of the same?

#30 - 5th in AL East
MIH: Chris Davis
MIP: Alex Cobb
PTW: Dillon Tate
FP: The Orioles will pick in the top 5 in the MLB Draft for five straight seasons.

2019 Results
#29 - 54-108, 5th in AL East

The Orioles waited way too long to start their rebuild which almost guaranteed they were facing some ridiculously lean years for quite some time.  The players I predicted their success would be dependent on failed miserably.  Chris Davis followed up the historically bad 2018 with a slightly better but still really bad 2019.  The pure power hitter hit below .180 for the second straight year while also failing to top the 20 home run mark, finishing with a -1.2 WAR.  Entering his age 34 season with three years left on a historically bad 7 year, $161 million deal, he is untradeable and probably uncuttable.  As far their Most Important Pitcher, Alex Cobb only pitched in three games before the rest of the season was lost to a hip injury.  He is also entering his age 34 season and signed through 2022, although on a slightly more bearable deal.  Even my pick for their Prospect to Watch floundered as Dillon Tate, once a highly-touted prospect, could only get 21 innings in.  He is barely staying in the top 30 of Baltimore's prospect list.  There was very little to be excited about in 2019 for the Orioles.

Additions / Subtractions

The Orioles also did not do much over the offseason to excite their fan base.  Their best hitter in 2019, Jonathan Villar, was traded to Miami for a minor leaguer.  The pitcher who had been touted as their ace of the future (although never fully living up to the hype), Dylan Bundy, was traded to the Angels.  Coming in were only veteran placeholders like shortstop Jose Iglesias and starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc.

Most Important Hitter
Hanser Alberto

Last year, I said the Orioles' most important players were the guys that could build trade stock so they could bring back some value.  They don't really have any of those anymore like I already said.  It is now time for the Orioles to take a true step forward, and that means players like Hanser Alberto need to continue to develop into potential stars.  Alberto's success last season allowed for the Orioles to trade Jonathan Villar and make Alberto their everyday second baseman.  He was definitely a bright spot in 2019, hitting over .300 with 12 homers and 51 RBI's.  If the Orioles are going to be better this year, players like Hanser Alberto, Austin Hays, and Anthony Santander need to prove they are ready to be daily contributors and possible stars.

Most Important Pitcher
John Means

If Alberto was a bright spot among the hitters, John Means was definitely the bright spot in the pitching staff.  The Orioles' lone All Star in 2019, Means had a great season, posting an ERA+ of 131 and finishing 2nd in the Rookie of the Year vote behind only Yordan Alvarez of the Astros.  Now with Dylan Bundy gone and Alex Cobb coming off injury, Means will be looked at as the ace heading into the season.  If he continues to develop, he is up to the task and could be the anchor a young team like this needs to move forward.

Prospect to Watch
Ryan Mountcastle

The Orioles have four prospects in the top 100, with last year's #1 overall pick Adley Rutschman topping out at #4.  However, Ryan Mountcastle is the one closest to the big leagues.  A former first round pick in 2015, this first baseman has hit at every level, even winning the AAA MVP last season and the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year award.  At some point in 2020, the Orioles will give up on Chris Davis, either by permanently benching him or cutting him and eating the money.  Either way, he will not block Ryan Mountcastle from making the big leagues for long.  He is a future cornerstone the Orioles will try and build on.

2020 Prediction
5th in AL East

This year will be another year of disappointment for the Orioles.  They seem to be on the trajectory the Astros took at the beginning of the 2010's.  Be really bad for 3-5 years and build up draft picks and prospects that will hopefully lead the team to the promised land at some point in the next 10 years.  The Orioles have already bottomed out, but they aren't ready to get better yet.  Look for this to be the third year in a row they earn a top five draft pick.

Fearless Prediction
The Orioles will cut more payroll than is earned by the rest of their 25 man roster.

Chris Davis is set to make $23 million this year and still has $69 million on his contract.  If he gets cut, those numbers very easily could be greater than the rest of the roster.  If Alex Cobb gets cut too (which is possible if he doesn't bounce back from his injury), then the Orioles will definitely be paying more money to players not in uniform than they will for players that are.  It is never a good thing, but it is sometimes necessary to take the steps forward a franchise needs.

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