The Baltimore Orioles went into every season with weathered expectations. For years, they've mostly been in the cellar while the Yankees, Red Sox, and sometimes Rays, have dominated it. The Yankees and Red Sox have often times had more economic resources as well as better front office brains. The Rays also overtook the Orioles due to their ability to draft and develop players, as has happened over and over and continues to. However, it wasn’t always this way. Through 1996, the Orioles were a mostly successful franchise, with three World Series championships and six pennants. From 1960 to 1985, they only had two losing seasons. Following a division title in 1997 in which they won 97 games, they entered a period of ineptitude. From 1998 to 2011, a total of 14 years of baseball, the O's didn't have a single winning season. From 2001 to 2011, when at their worst, they were 759-1023, with a .425 winning percentage. They never finished higher than third, and that was third in which they finished 23 games behind the leader (New York).
Why were they so bad? A combination of things that most Orioles fans don't like to discuss these days. During the 'glory days', as they call them, the O's had a great manager in Earl Weaver, always had a tremendous pitching staff, played great defense, were always able to hit, had speed, and knew how to win big games. However, that doesn't always begin and end on the field; another reason the O's of those days were so good was their ability to draft and develop the guys who put together an excellent staff, or put great defenders at every position, and built great lineups. It seemed as though the Orioles got away from that. Not only were they not developing guys correctly, they were spending money on the wrong people and making extremely bad trades and front office moves. The best move the Orioles made was hiring Buck Showalter and Duquette.
Showalter, formerly a manager with New York (1992-95), Arizona (1998-00), and Texas (2003-06). In 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, and 2004, he finished in the top four in Manager of The Year voting, had appeared in one All Star Game (1995), and compiled an 882-733 record. Noticeable that each team he went to got better with him. When he went to New York in 1992, they were coming off a 71-win season. In his last season there, 1995, he was 79-65 in a strike-shortened season, in the All Star Game, and the next year, they won a World Series with Joe Torre at the helm.The year before he got to Texas, they were 72-90. Two years later, with Buck, they won 89 games. Same story in Arizona. He goes there to manage an expansion team, and within two years, they have a 100-win season, and the year after he leaves, they win their lone World Series crown.
After his tenure with Texas, Buck became an ESPN analyst on Baseball Tonight. He was appointed the Orioles job in July of 2010. He wasn't the first O's manager to walk through the door. Since 2002, they had five different managers. When he stepped in, the O's had been already managed by Dave Trembley, who started the year 2-16 and got to 15-39 before getting fired. Juan Samuel took over on an interim basis, and went 10-12 before the O's officially hired Showalter. In a lost year in which the O's were expected to at least be respectable but to this point had a .305 winning percentage, Showalter led the O's to a 34-23 record in the final 57 games. He's led them to two more winning seasons, with 93 and 85 wins.
However, even before Buck, the O's had been building this team. In 2007, they traded Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada separately and got a total of ten players. Most of them were prospects who never amounted to much, but they got Adam Jones, who remains the centerpiece of the trade, and Chris Tillman, who has been a consistent starter for the last three years (34-15 record, 3.56) and has become a dependable MLB starter with much more polished stuff and better command than when he was a raw young prospect with Seattle before the trade. In the draft, over the years, the O's have selected players like Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, Billy Rowell, Matt Hobgood, Nolan Reimold and Manny Machado who they deemed essential to future success. While some of those guys were disappointments with the O's (Arrieta/Hobgood/Rowell), and some of them ended up going elsewhere (Arrieta/Reimold), guys like Wieters, Machado, Britton, and Bundy are forming the foundation of a very bright future - and in everybody’s case but Bundy - a present just as promising.
And the draft is a crapshoot. I shouldn't say that. The NFL draft is a crapshoot. The MLB draft is like using the remote control cranes at Wal-Mart's and Target's to catch stuffed bears. You're gonna come up short 99 percent of the time, but if you play enough times, eventually you might get something good. In a given MLB draft, for a team, I would say drafting two, maybe even three or four solid contributors to your team is a wild success. You just can't know how a guy's skill set is going to carry over from college - or god forbid high school. The NFL draft isn't an exact science, and the MLB draft is even less of one. You can't assume anything based on numbers or scouting reports. First of all, you don't even know these kids are going to sign with you, and then they have to play, and play well at, every level of the minors before even reaching the big leagues.
But the emphasis on drafting - the DIY GM attitude if you will - is a good sign for the Orioles. The reluctance to spend money on marquee free agents like they've done in the past (Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez) is also a good sign. It shows they are getting back to the Oriole Way, a practice they've been preaching about since, oh, 2007 or so. It started with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who pulled off both aforementioned trades, and preached that the "Oriole Way was coming." While he wasn’t active or good in free agency, he assisted in building the foundation by drafting and trading. On November 8th, 2011, Dan Duquette took over as the executive vice president, and has since helped even more to turn the team into the division leader they are today, which completed a GM/manager combo of Duquette/Showalter that has brought and will continue to bring Baltimore success.
Duquette, 56, previously had experience with Montreal and Boston. He first got hired in 1980 by Milwaukee, but didn’t come into a real position of power until 1987, where he was the director of player development for Montreal. Those Expos teams, I’ll add, drafted guys like Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, and signed highly successful international players like Vladimir Guerrero, Javier Vazquez, Orlando Cabrera. Under the wing of GM Dave Dombrowski (now currently the Detroit Tigers GM), Duquette got the job in 1991.
Under Duquette, the Expos got Pedro Martinez at 23 from the Dodgers. In four years with Montreal, he went 55-33 with a 3.06 mark. Duquette also traded for righty Ken Hill, at the time 29, for first baseman Andres Galaragga. With the Expos, he was 41-21 in three seasons. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Expos (74-40) had the best record in the league.
In 1995, Duquette became the GM of Boston, where he would stay until 2002, when John Henry bought the team from the HRY Trust. In Boston, he drafted guys like Adam Everett, Hanley Ramirez, David Eckstein, and Freddy Sanchez. The Red Sox were 656-574 in his time there, and he is credited for many acquisitions that helped them break their 86-year World Series curse. In 1995, he acquired Tim Wakefield, two years later got Pedro Martinez (again), of course he was the master behind the 1997 trade that got them both Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, as well as Manny Ramirez three years later, and Johnny Damon.
So, really, he had a huge hand in the foundation of that team. After leaving Boston, he started a sports academy for younger children trying to learn baseball, and tried to start an Israel Baseball League, but the league folded after a year due to financial troubles. He took over the O’s in 2011, fresh off a 69-93 season, their 14th losing season in a row.
As of Tuesday, August 12th, the Orioles are 68-50, at first place in the AL East. They have the biggest division lead in baseball at six games, and are the third best team in the league (only half a game behind the Angels for second). To an outside observer, this would appear to be a sudden turnaround or the 'surprise' team of 2014. However, anyone with any kind of attention span shouldn't be taken aback by the season they're having. Last year, at 85-77, they were a respectable unit with a powerhouse lineup, but didn't quite have the pitching staff and had too many issues at closer to be a true contender. However, the year before that, they were 93-69, the best year for them since 1997.
Going into last offseason, they had a strong lineup, with set starters at catcher (Wieters), first base (Chris Davis), shortstop (JJ Hardy), third base (Machado), center field (Adam Jones), and right field (Nick Markakis). They bolstered their outfield, by signing Delmon Young to a minor league contract, trading utility infielder Danny Valenicia for Royals speedster left fielder David Lough, and taking possibly the finest bat off the free agent market at the time in former Ranger Nelson Cruz. Young has been fine off the bench for the Orioles, with a .309 average and five homers. Lough started the season slow at the plate, but has improved over the course of the season. As a starter most of the first month and a half, the 28-year-old was hitting .143 with three RBI in 24 starts. However, since June, mostly off the bench, he has a couple homers, seven RBI, and a .276 average; not bad for a guy who hardly plays. Cruz has come down the earth over the last month or so, but still has 31 homers, second in the majors, and 81 RBI. It wouldn't be surprising if the O's tried to lock him down for a three or four-year extension this offseason; he's been a great boost to an already great lineup. Not to mention they already had Steve Pearce, who has had a breakout year of sorts, with 11 homers, 31 RBI, and a .282 average. It's clear in the offseason they wanted to shore up their outfield.
In Jones and Markakis, they already have two of the most consistent players of the last five years. Jones is hitting .288 with 22 homers and 72 RBI, and in the last six, has 150 homers, four All Star Game appearances, and a pair of Gold Gloves. Markakis continues to climb up the Orioles all time hit list (1,514), and has had a great year out of the leadoff spot this year, with ten homers, 144 hits in 118 games, a .358 on base mark, and ten homers. Not to mention, between Markakis and Jones, you have 15 outfield assists. That alone makes it a very good outfield, but considering the depth in left, it’s a great one. There's Cruz (who usually DH's), Lough, Young, Pearce, all viable starters, not to mention guys like Francisco Peguero, Henry Urrutia, Julio Borbon, and Quentin Berry in Triple A whom the O's would feel comfortable calling up most years. If anything, the problem now is that they can't find enough playing time for guys like Young and Pearce who have had solid years, but limited playing time. Second base remains the weak link, but they're developing homegrown talent Jonathan Schoop, who at 22, is in his first full season. I'm sure the O's would like to see better defense (six errors) and a higher average (.216), but he's managed to hit ten homers, and he's usually the ninth batter in the lineup.
The big problem in 2013 that held them back was lack pitching consistency. Tillman went 16-7, and Miguel Gonzalez went 11-8, but behind that there was so much instability. Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta combined for 28 starts, with only eight victories, and Arrieta got traded while Hammel had one of the worst years of his career.
The O’s replaced those guys, by getting Scott Feldman and Bud Norris, who combined to go 9-9 with the O's. There were other guys with starts, like top prospect Kevin Gausman (5), Freddy Garcia (10), Zach Britton (7), and other guys with one outing, like TJ McFarland, Josh Stinson, Steve Johnson, and Jair Jurrjens. Going into last offseason, they had a rotation with Tillman, Wei Yin Chen, Gonzalez and Norris. While it hasn't been a model for stability this year it certainly has been better, and for most of the last month or so, it’s been the most consistent staff in the league. With over a month and a half left, they already have the same amount of double digit winners (two), and guys like Tillman (9), Gonzalez (6), Gausman (6) are right on that edge.
In the offseason, the O's went out and signed former Rockie and Indian pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Jimenez has been a complete disappointment as of now, with a 4-8 record and 4.51 ERA. He's shown flashes of the ace that won 19 games with a 2.88 ERA In 2010, but those flashes have been very limited. Mostly, it's been a year plagued by inconsistency, in particular with his command; he leads the league in walks with 63. Even without the addition of Jimenez, it's a rotation that was naturally going to develop. Without Jimenez, you have Tillman, 26, who has become one of the team's most consistent pitchers.
2012: 9-3, 2.93 ERA, 15 starts, 86 IP, 28 ER, 24 BB, 12 HR
2013: 16-7 3.71 ERA, 33 starts, 206.1 IP, 85 ER, 68 BB, 33 HR
2014: 9-5, 3.73 ERA, 25 starts, 149.2 IP, 62 ER, 52 BB, 15 HR
Then there's Chen (12-4 3.90), Miguel Gonzalez (6-6 3.80 this year, 26-18 3.64 first 3 years as an Oriole), Kevin Gausman (6-4, 3.90), and Bud Norris (10-7, 3.75). I would say rotation-wise, there isn't a true ace and there hasn't been for a long time. There's no Adam Wainwright or Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw or David Price or even Corey Kluber. There are however, six solid pitchers, which is better than most teams can say. One of them has future ace written all over him (Gausman), and one has proven himself as an ace but hasn't pitched like one this year (Jimenez). They don't need an Oakland Athletics or Detroit Tigers type rotation. Jimenez was not a needed acquisition, but with the moves the Yankees were making, it almost seemed like it was. Given the development and steady improvement of the other five guys, it's a solid rotation without him.
When you have 150 homers (first in the AL), 513 runs (sixth), 1,066 hits (fourth), hit .260 (fourth), slug .420 (third), with a .734 OPS (third), all you need is a rotation filled with solid pitchers who can give you six or seven innings a night - and that's exactly what they have. However, as a staff, their consistency allows them to stay in the top in ERA (sixth), innings (fourth), hits (sixth) and runs (fifth). It also doesn't hurt that they have one of the most, if not the most, well rounded bullpens in the league.
This was a problem last year as well. First of all, with the instability in the rotation as previously documented, the bullpen was extremely overworked by the time September rolled around. Jim Johnson, who ended up getting shipped to Oakland, was the primary closer, and had a solid 2.94 ERA but he had eight losses, even more blown saves, 70 innings. and 74 appearances - a career high. The O's beefed up everything this offseason - their outfield, infield, catching depth, rotation, and bullpen. They traded minor leaguer Devin Jones to the Padres for a righty reliever named Brad Brach, who has been primarily a long man. In addition to him, they got Preston Guilmet, Ryan Webb, and Evan Meek, and more recently, they traded for Red Sox strikeout machine Andrew Miller (76 strikeouts in 47 1/3 IP). Guilmet and Meek never brought much to the O's, but Webb was 3-2 with a 3.80 before being demoted, and Brach is 4-0 with a 2.78 and has eight appearances of two innings or more, including one four inning, two-hit, no-run outing in a 9-8 loss to Pittsburgh.
It was already a good - overworked - but good - bullpen. But when you throw in the fact that Zach Britton has put together a really special season out of the closer spot, guys like Brian Matusz, Darren O'Day, TJ McFarland, Tommy Hunter, and Andrew Miller holding down the fort in the 7th-8th innings, you have a great 'pen. New acquisition Miller has a 1.80 since joining Baltimore, McFarland sits at 2.78, O'Day at 1.03, Britton at 1.56, Matusz at 3.92, and Hunter at 3.53. I should also point out that since Hunter was stripped of closer duties early in the season, he's posted a 1.91 ERA as a set up man, more reminiscent of last year's Hunter than the Hunter that was 1-1 with a 6.60 and two blown saves through May 13th.
It's not surprising, and the team has continued to get better under the vision and guidance of Duquette/Showalter. Not to mention, in the minors, they have prospects with high expectations, like pitchers Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, Tim Berry, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Zach Davies, and hitters Chance Sisco, Mike Yastrzemski, and Christian Walker. Obviously, everyone has prospects, and most of the guys in the minor leagues are either career minor leaguers or have a limited ceiling - sadly, it's the reality of the situation of minor league baseball - most of them don't become big leaguers, an even smaller percentage of those last, and an extremely small amount of those are effective starters or even all stars.
However, it shows the Orioles are stressing building up their team and staying out of the news, as they have been for the last seven years or so, which has manifested itself onto the team now. Wieters, Schoop, Machado, and Markakis are the guys in the lineup that they developed, while Davis, Hardy, Pearce, and Jones were acquired through trade, and Cruz was a free agent signee. Off the bench, Lough was acquired via trade as previously mentioned, as was Nick Hundley. Delmon Young was a free agent acquisition, Ryan Flaherty was a Rule 5 pick, and Caleb Joseph was developed as a prospect who never saw the field thanks to Matt Wieters. Wieters' injury has opened up a spot for him, and he's played admirably. In the rotation, Jimenez was signed this offseason, Gonzalez and Chen were also free agents, Norris and Tillman were through trades, and Gausman being the only homegrown product.
It's a good mix of guys who they've developed and also made active moves to get, but they have not won any games with their checkbooks or by making blockbuster trades. The moves they have made have been relatively small - or at least seemed that way. Duquette’s moves have really paved the way for how the team is shaped now.
12/1/11: Traded minor league RHP Randy Henry and 2B Greg Miclat to Texas Rangers for C Taylor Teagarden.
12/8/11: Traded minor league LHP Jarret Martin and OF Tyler Henson to Los Angeles Dodgers for LHP Dana Eveland.
2/6/2012: Traded RHP Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado Rockies for RHP Matt Lindstrom and RHP Jason Hammel.
4/21/2012: Traded 3B Josh Bell to Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Mike Belfiore.
8/26/2012: Traded RHP Matt Lindstrom to Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Joe Saunders.
11/20/2012: Traded 2B Robert Andino to Seattle Mariners for OF Trayvon Robinson.
4/10/2013: Traded RHP Luis Ayala to Atlanta Braves for LHP Chris Jones.
4/28/2013: Traded RHP Rob Delaney to Los Angeles Angels for C Chris Snyder.
6/30/2013: Traded PTBNL to Seattle Mariners for OF Eric Thames.
7/2/2013: Traded RHP Jake Arrieta and RHP Pedro Strop to Chicago Cubs for RHP Scott Feldman and C Steve Clevenger.
7/12/2013: Traded OF Russ Canzler to Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Tim Alderson.
7/12/2013: Traded 2B/OF LJ Hoes and RHP Josh Hader to Houston Astros for RHP Bud Norris.
7/23/2013: Traded 3B Nick Delmonico to Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Francisco Rodriguez.
8/30/2013: Traded OF Xavier Avery to Seattle Mariners for OF Mike Morse.
11/25/2013: Traded RHP Devin Jones to San Diego Padres for RHP Brad Brach.
12/2/2013: Traded RHP Jim Johnson to Oakland Athletics for 2B Jemile Weeks and 1B David Freitas.
12/18/2013: Traded 3B Danny Valencia to Kansas City Royals for LF David Lough.
3/24/2014: Traded SS Alex Gonzalez to Detroit Tigers for 2B Steve Lombardozzi.
4/7/2014: Traded 2B Torsten Boss to Cleveland Indians for RHP Preston Guilmet.
5/24/2014: Traded LHP Troy Patton to San Diego Padres for C Nick Hundley.
7/31/2014: Traded LHP Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston Red Sox for LHP Andrew Miller.
11/2/2011: Selected RHP Darren O’Day off waivers from Texas Rangers.
1/3/2012: Purchased OF Jai Miller from Oakland Athletics.
6/2/2012: Purchased OF Steve Pearce from New York Yankees.
11/2/2012: Selected 2B Alexi Casilla off waivers from Minnesota Twins.
11/28/2012: Purchased 3B Danny Valencia from Boston Red Sox.
3/29/2013: Purchased RHP Scott Proctor from San Francisco Giants.
4/4/2013: Selected RHP Josh Stinson off waivers from Oakland Athletics.
7/6/2013: Purchased 2B Alex Liddi from Seattle Mariners.
11/25/2013: Selected 2B Cord Phelps off waivers from Cleveland Indians.
11/30/2013: Purchased C Johnny Monell from San Francisco Giants.
12/23/2013: Selected RHP Liam Hendriks off waivers from Chicago Cubs.
2/15/2014: Selected 3B Jimmy Paredes off waivers from Kansas City Royals.
11/21/2011: Signed 3B Steve Tolleson.
12/4/2011: Signed RHP Tsuyoshi Wada.
12/20/2011: Signed LF Endy Chavez.
1/4/2012: Signed RHP Willie Eyre.
1/10/2012: Signed LHP Wei-Yin Chen.
1/24/2012: Signed 3B Wilson Betemit.
2/3/2012: Signed RHP Stu Pomeranz.
3/4/2012: Signed RHP Miguel Gonzalez.
3/10/2012: Signed RHP Luis Ayala.
4/25/2012: Signed 3B Bill Hall.
5/8/2012: Signed SS Miguel Tejada.
5/17/2012: Signed OF Lew Ford.
6/5/2012: Signed OF Nate McLouth
3/27/2013: Signed RHP Freddy Garcia.
11/20/2013: Signed RHP Edgmer Escalona.
12/7/2013: Signed OF Francisco Peguero.
12/10/2013: Signed RHP Ryan Webb.
12/19/2013: Signed OF Xavier Paul.
1/3/2014: Signed OF Quintin Berry.
1/14/2014: Signed OF Delmon Young.
1/15/2014: Signed RHP Alfredo Aceves.
2/6/2014: Signed RHP Evan Meek.
2/19/2014: Signed RHP Ubaldo Jimenez.
3/4/2014: Signed OF Nelson Cruz.
5/18/2014: Signed RHP Heath Bell.
8/5/2014: Signed LHP Joe Saunders.
12/8/2011: Drafted 2B Ryan Flaherty.
12/6/2012: Drafted LHP TJ McFarland.
As you can see, there aren’t any Masahiro Tanaka-style, 7-year, $155 million contracts or any three team, nine player trades. Thanks to impressive depth in the majors and minors, the O’s are able to fill needs by trading guys they don’t always have a spot for, and there are always guys that can be moved. After trading Arrieta, Strop, and Johnson, they filled those holes almost immediately by moving Britton to closer, moving Matusz to the bullpen full-time and trading for both Norris and Feldman. Norris, Brach, Lough, O’Day, Pearce, Gonzalez, Jimenez and Cruz are key parts of the team but the O’s gave up essentially nothing to get those guys.
It, it being the O’s farm system in combination with the big league club, is very much a well-oiled machine, and one that is constantly being tinkered with, and maybe those adjustments aren’t seen in the public eye, but it all contributes to this well-maintained monster that has resulted in what the Orioles are now. By far the biggest - and worst - acquisition the Orioles have made is whipping out the checkbook for Jimenez, which is of course the move everyone applauded at the time. It’s the small moves that have formed this team into a deep squad that are solid at every position.
Nobody notices the O’s signing Miguel Gonzalez to a minor league contract, but after going 26-18 his first three years, it looks brilliant. Chen signing a three-year, $11.3M contract in 2012 didn’t impress that many people either, but since, he’s 31-22 with a 4.00 ERA - solid numbers for a middle of the pack AL starter. Nobody notices McFarland being picked up in the Rule 5 draft either, but since being picked up, he’s 8-3 with a 3.84. Pearce and O’Day were huge waiver wire pickups as well - O’Day has a 1.88 in three seasons, and Pearce has 15 home runs in 400 at bats over the last two years in a bench role.
And as the Orioles have improved, the other teams in the AL East have gotten worse.
I don’t suppose I need to remind you that the Yankees have been eliminated before the World Series in ten of their last 11 playoff trips, and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2012, where they were swept in the ALCS by Detroit. I should also point out that besides third baseman Yangervis Solarte, their youngest regular offensive player is 30, and they have five guys over 34. Not to mention, three of the five starting pitchers they started the year with (Tanaka, David Phelps, CC Sabathia) are injured and their ace, Hiroki Kuroda, is 7-8. Even after an offseason like this past one, they are seven games out of first. They got Ellsbury (10 HR, 52 RBI, .278, 31 SB), Beltran (14 HR, 45 RBI, .243), McCann (13 HR, 49 RBI, .238), and Tanaka (12-4, 2.51), and between them, invested a total of 454 million, yet they’re a very pedestrian team. That also doesn’t include the 16 million contract they threw at Kuroda to keep him around.
Boston is nowhere close to the dominant team that won the World Series last year. At 52-65, they’re in last place, and gutted their rotation, trading John Lackey (Cardinals), Jon Lester (Athletics), Jake Peavy (Giants), and Felix Doubront (Cubs). The ace of their rotation, Clay Buchholz, is 5-7 with a sub-six ERA. The lineup isn’t producing anywhere near the type of pop they usually do, either. And like the Yankees, they’re old. Six of their regular nine are over 30, and the under-30s aren’t producing either - Jackie Bradley is hitting .211, Boegarts is hitting .230, and Holt is hitting .295 with three homers. You have to figure they won’t go out and spend even more money, but the Red Sox are very much a work in progress. Building them up is going to take more than a couple years. They have great depth in the minors, but it’s going to take time. The O’s even traded one of their own top prospects, Eduardo Rodriguez, to Boston; but he’s at least a couple years from being a consistent contributor.
Tampa, at 58-60, have played a lot better over the course of the season, but started so poorly, and just don’t have the offense to keep up. They have easily the best rotation in the division - even after sending David Price to Detroit - but their leading home run hitter, Longoria, has only 14 and is hitting .250.
Toronto started the season very well thanks to hot starts from guys like Buehrle and Encarnacion, but naturally wore off and have become less and less relevant as the season progressed. They’ve been exposed due to lack of pitching depth behind Buehrle. Dickey, Hutchinson, and Happ combine for 25 wins, 27 losses, and a 4.23 ERA. Also, Brandon Morrow has been injured, as well as Encarnacion and Adam Lind. However, I believe the injury bug to be nothing more is easy to work around - if you have the depth to either replace him or trade for his replacement, you can work around it. For the first month or so, the O’s didn’t have Manny Machado, I would argue their most valuable player, and he was replaced by Ryan Flaherty, who obviously wasn’t Machado-level, but if the O’s don’t have good depth and trade for a Jemile Weeks or have a Jonathan Schoop developing, there’s a problem. They also lost Matt Wieters early on, for the entire season. Soon after, the O’s traded reliever Troy Patton for Padres catcher Nick Hundley and called up prospect Caleb Joseph. The two have combined to play good defense (Joseph in particular), and Joseph has 8 homers in his time so far.
That’s a perfect example of an injury that could kill a team not killing a team. Maybe even two injuries. Is it a bit of a break that the AL East has softened up as the Orioles have pieced together a really solid team? Perhaps. But if other front offices and managers had the foresight that Showalter and Duquette have, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Duquette and Showalter executed moves in anticipation of problems that can and will arise in a 162-game season - the other teams should’ve been doing it too. And injuries aren’t always a matter of tough luck - sometimes a team is foolish for trusting that a guy will stay healthy and not preparing for him to fall in a hole in the parking lot.
Is it surprising that Tanaka got injured in his rookie year? No. Is it surprising that CC Sabathia, a declining 34-year-old pitcher, has struggled with staying healthy? It shouldn’t be. What’s surprising is the Yankees don’t have the immediate surplus to then plug in names to fill those spots. Obviously, it’s never going to be a seamless transition replacing one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last ten years or so, but it hasn’t even resembled a clean one either. And it’s their fault for not building a better rotation behind him, not having guys in the minors who can step in, not building a younger, more steady offense, and not having a stronger bullpen. That’s why they’re seven games out. Not because of the injury bug. It’s because they weren’t prepared for it. And why is that? Poor depth, aging at every position, and extremely dependent on a few guys. And why is that? Too focused on writing the over-the-hill power hitter the fat check, but not focused enough on filling their actual needs throughout the organization, simple as that.
However, the Orioles are prepared for every scenario. Each of their relievers except maybe O’Day can step in and start on the off chance that a starter gets hurt. With Flaherty and Pearce and even Weeks, they have depth in the infield, and that doesn’t include Lombardozzi. At catcher, they have Joseph and Hundley, who have done a fine job filling in for Wieters.
They have probably the best lineup in the league, and while they’ve made more errors this year than previously, they have an outstanding defense. They have a very deep bullpen with guys who can close, start, long relieve, and guys who they can find to do it in all levels of the minors. They have a GM who is willing to spend the big bucks but very reluctant to do so and willing to go anywhere to better his team.
While the depth they have in the minors isn’t as good as, say, Boston, or Houston, it’s up there. And that’s merely because the O’s surplus has been raided over the last few years. Wieters, Arrieta, Rodriguez, Machado, Gausman, Tillman, Bundy, Schoop have been the top prospects and are mostly on the O’s or on some other team, in Arrieta and Rodriguez’s case.
However, there’s solid depth throughout that is continuing to build itself again and within a few years it’ll very likely be a packed system, much like it was in 2009 before guys like Tillman and Gausman broke into the bigs. They have veterans who can get you the big hit now, like Cruz, Jones, Markakis, Davis, guys with superstar potential, like Machado and Gausman, solid starting pitchers, a deep bullpen, great defense, good coaching, and solid scouts shown in the minor league depth they’ve developed over the last eight-to-ten years.
With small moves, development, and proper care of the people they hold in high esteem, they’ve gone from the worst team of the early 2000s to, right now, one of the best. It’s grounded in the small moves they’ve made whether it be from picking up TJ McFarland in the Rule 5 draft or trading a prospect for Brad Brach. And as they continue to improve, they will catch the eye of impending free agents, and that’s when they can really make a splash.
But they’re building the right way, while New York has built the wrong way, Boston is starting from scratch, Tampa doesn’t have enough resources (money, player/fan attraction), and Toronto isn’t deep enough. The Orioles have done a lot of things right over the last seven years or so, and now, they’re reaping the benefits. And given inevitable future moves as well as solid depth throughout the organization, from the Gulf Coast League to the AL East, and a great foundation already in place that isn’t going anywhere, there’s every reason to believe they will continue to improve and be the team to beat in the AL East.