The Baltimore Orioles have accomplished what I believe to be their main objective this offseason. They turned over a good portion of the forty man roster. In addition, they extended invitations to numerous non-roster players including the free agents that they just signed to minor league contracts. Among those invitees, I'm sure, will come other roster additions and deletions. In all fairness, I'm not too sure that the O's are any better than at this time last year. But I do know that by the sheer numbers alone, especially at the pitcher position, that the possibilities of success is at the very least, marginally improved.
The 2008 version of the Orioles 40-man roster included 24 pitchers. Eleven of them (45.8%) are no longer on the 40-man roster. The following (with one exception) are no longer part of the O's organization at all. Greg Aquino (Indians), Randor Bierd (Red Sox), Chad Bradford (Rays), Brian Burres (Blue Jays), Daniel Cabrera (Nationals), Fernando Cabrera (Red Sox), Rocky Cherry (Mets), Fredy Deza (Orioles), Jon Leicester (Japan), Adam Loewen (Blue Jays), and Garrett Olson (Mariners).
The 2008 version of the Orioles 40-man roster included 16 non-pitchers. Eight of them (50.0%) are no longer on the 40-man roster. The following (with two exceptions) are no longer part of the O's organization. Ramon Hernandez (Reds), Guillermo Quiroz (Orioles), Brandon Fahey (Blue Jays), Luis A. Hernandez (Royals), Freddie Bynum (Nationals). Jay Gibbons (Brewers), Jay Payton (Unsigned) and Tike Redman (Orioles).
So, in total, 19 players (11 pitchers and 8 non-pitchers) from last year's 40-man roster are no longer on that roster (47.5%), and 16 of them (40.0%) are no longer with the Orioles at all. But what does it all mean? Is it like a game of poker, where you discard 4 cards and keep your ace in hopes of getting lucky by starting over? Are the pure pitching numbers just masking an unpleasant truth? Well, I think it's both. It creates a smokescreen to hide the lack of talent at the upper level currently, but also enhances the chances of finding the next diamond in the rough. And then, of course, O's fans know that whoever pitches now is only keeping the mound warm for the future young guns who are rapidly approaching prime time. Oh yes, those youngsters. The talented crop that includes first round pick Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. But another pitcher or two may actually steal the limelight. Bradley Bergesen, the O's minor league pitcher of the year, may be ready for the jump to the major league. His teammate, David Hernandez, had an equally good 2008 season and may also transcend into a quality big league pitcher. So, believe it or not, the next generation of Orioles starters (with just Chris Tillman being an exception), may actually be products of the farm system. Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, Bergesen and Hernandez along with holdover Jeremy Guthrie and Troy Patton, should give Baltimore a solid rotation for the next dozen years.
But what about the future of the everyday players? The Orioles have the best catching prospect in baseball, Matt Wieters, who is expected to make his pro debut sometime this season. Whether his future is behind the plate or at 1B, Wieters' contract will be controlled by the O's through 2015. Outfielders Adam Jones and Felix Pie are controlled through 2013 and Nick Markakis is also signed through 2014. The three outfield positions and catcher appear set for the long term. The infield, however, is a different story. Aubrey Huff, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Ryan P. Freel have expiring contracts after this season. Cesar Izturis, Gregg Zaun and Ty Wiggington were signed for just two years and those contracts expire iafter the 2010 season. Luke Scott has only two more arbitration years before he is eligible for free agency as well. That leaves a lot of holes to fill over the next season or so. The Orioles do have some prospects in the minor leagues, but none are taking the fast road at this point. The only catching prospect, Caleb Joseph, is at least 3 years away, and 1B is weakly represented by Brandon Snyder, Joe Mahoney and Elvin Polanco. The 2B prospects do offer some hope with ex-Reds Justin Turner leading the way. Others include Jerome Hoes and Ryan Adams. At 3B, there are very powerful but only average at best options in Scott Moore, Mike Costanzo and Brandon Waring. The real hope may lie in Tyler Henson or super prospect, 20 year old Billy Rowell. At SS, Blake Davis is below average to date and Greg Miclat is at least three or four years away.
The Orioles will need to determine this season if there is any infield help in the minor leagues. Once the assessment is clear, the club will need to find players via free agency or trades. If the organization wants to take advantage of the tremendous young arms they possess, then fielding a team that can support those arms with both their bats and gloves is imperative. Andy MacPhail has accomplished that already in the outfield. The O's will be able to boast having the fastest outfield in baseball and arguably the best defensive outfield with all three owning cannon arms and gold glove ability. Now it's time to shape the infield as well. With Wieters at catcher, the O's are off to a good start.