The Baltimore Orioles have been highly scrutinized, at least by fans and some national media, for their lack of offseason additions and improvement to their 2012 wild-card winning team. Don’t let the lack of free-agent signings or trades this offseason discourage you, however, as Baltimore is looking at health as their offseason improvement.
What exactly are we talking about? Well, let’s first see who Baltimore decided to let walk this offseason, which is headlined by first baseman Mark Reynolds. Reynolds, who struggled offensively most of last season with the exception of a few weeks where he lit the world on fire, did not have his option picked up by Baltimore and the Orioles showed no real interest in re-signing him believing that Chris Davis would take over the full time first base responsibilities. Reynolds hit .221 last season with 23 home runs, 69 RBI, and had a .335 OBP. The biggest thing Reynolds did for this Baltimore team was take a walk, which many players in the lineup do not do very often.
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Baltimore also let free-agent pitcher Joe Saunders leave town. Saunders was acquired via trade last August and pitched well during his time in Baltimore, including a win the wild card game against the Texas Rangers. Many felt the Orioles needed to re-sign Saunders for his veteran presence and as a pitcher known for eating innings and saving a bullpen, but Baltimore decided to go a different route.
Why let these guys walk? Well, Baltimore’s answer to that is health, and not in relation to Reynolds and Saunders, but in regards to players they have coming back. Nolan Reimold, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are all, at the moment, fully healthy heading into this season. Reimold, who is likely to split time between left field and DH, will be a huge improvement to this lineup if he remains healthy. In 16 games last season, before missing the remainder of the season due to a neck injury, hit .313 with five home runs and 10 RBI, and his career 162-game averages give him a line of .261 with 25 home runs and 75 RBI. If Reimold can stay healthy for an entire season, the Orioles immediately have an upgrade over Reynolds.
By not re-signing Saunders, the Orioles have an open competition in spring training for the fifth spot in the rotation, and health is going to present an improvement here as well. Last offseason, Zach Britton was dealing with a shoulder injury and could not perform his normal offseason workout plan or fully participate in spring training. When he finally joined the Orioles midseason, he was still in spring training mode and it showed. Britton struggled with his command and could not pitch consistently, but he is now fully healthy and looking to snag that last spot in the rotation. If Britton can stay healthy and pitch for Baltimore the entire season, his career numbers suggest a record of 14-12 with a mid-four ERA and around 185 innings pitched, which would be just about where Saunders’ career numbers stack up for an entire season average. So, instead of paying Saunders $5-$7 million, Baltimore pockets the money and depends on a healthy Britton.
In addition to Britton and Reimold, the Orioles also anticipate having a healthy Markakis and Roberts as well. The offensive lineup will be upgraded with their presence. It may be hard for Orioles fans to believe that Baltimore has improved this offseason, but with the gift of health, Baltimore may be primed for a run at the AL East division title in 2013.