Let’s chalk it up to hangover. The delirious heights of unexpected playoff baseball clearly left the entire organization napping. Nursing a pounding playoff headache for a while after a dramatic run to the playoffs, the first such appearance in nearly 20 years, is natural. Understandable. Acceptable.
Unfortunately for the good people of Baltimore, while they lounged around waiting for someone to bring them a smoothie, the landscape in the American League East shifted dramatically. The Toronto Blue Jays went and turned themselves into a 93 win team, according to some projection systems. The Boston Red Sox began adding pieces for their inevitable turn around. The Rays added the Baseball America minor league player of the year and several more pitchers are poised to step off their number three starter conveyor belt and contribute right away.
The Orioles have done nothing. Well, not nothing. They re-signed Nate McLouth and traded Robert Andino for Trayvon Robinson. So they did next to nothing. Is it enough? Is there such a thing as “enough” for the Orioles to compete in 2013?
Let’s go ahead and assume “no.” There isn’t a single free agent on the market who will prevent the bum rush of regression currently hurtling towards Camden Yards. (Artist’s rendering of regression laying waste to coastal Baltimore).
Can a single free agent ensure a perfect record in extra inning games or one-run games or whatever manner of Buck Magic the Orioles used last year? Of course not. Which isn’t to say they cannot improve their team. The Orioles are reportedly hot and heavy for free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, fresh off a career year with the Washington Nationals.
Adam LaRoche hit 33 homers in 2012, posting his best numbers across the board since his breakout in 2006 with Atlanta. Signing LaRoche costs the Orioles a first round draft pick in addition to the money and years (probably three) he seeks. The former Brave and Diamondback can hit but is he a significant upgrade over their existing first base option Chris Davis?
Davis also comes off his best career season, in which he knocked 33 bombs of his own. Davis adds positional flexibility as he can play some third base and right field in a pinch. It doesn’t take much in the way of Arbitrary Endpoint Theatre to make these two players look very similar.
Adam Laroche 2008-2010: .269/.339/.485. .353 wOBA, 113 wRC+
Chris Davis 2011-2012: .269/.320/.473. .340 wOBA, 111 wRC+
Ignoring LaRoche’s big season isn’t especially fair but there is a lot more information suggesting LaRoche is slightly-above average offensive performer than there is saying he’s one of the ten best first basemen in the game.
The Orioles also prize LaRoche’s defense, thinking his ability with the glove gives them one of the best infield defenses in baseball. But is it worth giving up that draft pick? Deviating from the plan, far enough that they might consider trading one of their high ceiling prospects?
While Baltimore might not be quite as good in 2013, they won’t revert all the way back to terrible. They get a full season of Manny Machado – currently penciled in as their everyday third baseman. They might get more than a few cameo relief appearances from Dylan Bundy. Actual good player Nick Markakis will take over from whichever flash in the pan took his spot down the stretch and found it impossible to make an out.
The O’s have pieces in place. Their vaunted pitching depth took steps in 2012, can they further demonstrate their ability to lead the club to a new culture of winning? The Orioles have done well not to sellout their future and even present areas of strength pursuing the mythical success of 2012 – leaving them just as well situated to pounce on perceived weakness in their division as their more active also-ran competitors.
And the rest
Joe Posnanski with a novel idea for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He seems to do this a lot. [Sports on Earth]
How does the strikezone shift by count? (Awesome) [Fangraphs]
Game theory and pitching: when should a pitcher throw his best stuff? [Hardball Times]