Tuesday, February 3, 2009

After Sluggish Start, O's Offseason Surprisingly Successful

Congratulations Orioles fans, after a frustrating start to the offseason, things have certainly picked up. The long quiet after the Hernandez trade left many O’s fans feeling frustrated, as though Andy MacPhail was done and standing pat on a farm system that looked to have way too many young players pulled up before they were ready (particularly with Jeremy Guthrie being the only starting pitcher we were assured of having a starting role). Once again however, with the acquisitions since, Baltimoreans have been left surprised and should be very happy with what they see.

Despite having nothing of value to trade, the O’s managed to bring in former Cubs star prospect Rich Hill, who until recently was projected to become one of the better young pitchers in baseball. He will rejoin former coaches Rick Kranitz and Alan Dunn in attempting to regain his command, which had dropped to Daniel Cabrera-esque levels over last season and into the winter league. However, we at ATH won’t waste your time on stuff you can read on the Sun. We are here for analysis. This is a win-win situation. The Orioles, with the acquisitions of Hill, Dave Pauley, and Koji Uehara and the return of a healthy Matt Albers, Hayden Penn, and even Troy Patton (possibly), now have a glut of pitchers to take up those last starting spots. In fact, so many of them are in their last chance to make the major league roster before having to pass through waivers that this should be one incredible competition in Spring Training. The competition is wide open, and these arms will be fighting for all three spots. Who could have seen this coming back in December? These small moves might not seem like much at the moment, but taken together it looks as though MacPhail has made a series of low-risk, high reward chances on pitchers that might form out into a halfway decent rotation of young arms.

The situation amongst position players should be even more reassuring. No, they don’t have many star hitters, but what they lack in production they make up for in depth. The acquisition of Ty Wiggington and Felix Pie, along with Cesar Izturis and Ryan Freel earlier in the offseason, leaves the Orioles with a stacked bench of veteran talent and young potential. I don’t know where Wiggington will play, or if he will come off the bench and play a utility role, but I can see that Andy is taking the same approach with his position players as he is with his pitchers. He is trying to put as many decent players as he can in spring training to compete and see how it all shakes out. If Aubrey Huff struggles defensively at 1st, or if Melvin Mora’s age starts to show at 3rd, Wiggington will be able to take over there. In fact, even if Brian Roberts is traded (increasingly unlikely but possible), Wiggington could act as a short-term replacement there as well- and not as though the Orioles needed more outfielders, but he could go there too.

But this move could cause some anxiety in the club house, with Luke Scott wanting to start in left despite the acquisition of the talented former top prospect Felix Pie, and Aubrey Huff determined to start at 1st and respond to questions of his defensive capabilities. The Warehouse has put perhaps too many bodies in this competition, and it is possible that in this traditionally positive clubhouse, we could have some disgruntled players come April 1st. Luckily for Andy MacPhail, this will be Dave Trembley’s job to sort out. Hopefully Trembley will have the tools to forge a somewhat respectable club out of the pieces he’s been given.

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