When Buck Showalter was named manager of the Baltimore Orioles in August of 2010, he stated that his goal was to uncover enough nuggets to make the Orioles into a contender. Now, with one full season in Baltimore under his belt, it’s clear that Buck has not unearthed enough nuggets. With the looming departure of President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail and the subsequent General Manager search about to begin, it seems like a good time to assess the Orioles current inventory of nuggets.
One thing MacPhail accomplished during his tenure in Baltimore was a drastic improvement in the club’s everyday lineup. There is still much work to be done, but the Orioles are now at least competent in five positions. I know that sounds pathetic to a non-Oriole follower, but at least the days of Deivi Cruz and Marty Cordova seem to be behind us.
- Mark Reynolds was a clueless butcher at third base, but he settled in nicely at first base after moving across the diamond. He’ll never hit for average and he will always strike out a ton, but he does provide serious power and steady defense at a position that has long been a black hole.
- Shortstop J.J. Hardy was acquired for two minor-league relievers prior to the 2011 season. The Hardy trade was arguably the best move MacPhail made in his four years in Baltimore. Hardy clubbed 30 homers despite missing extensive time in April. He signed a three-year extension and clearly loves hitting in Camden Yards. Hardy has seemingly solidified the shortstop position for the Birds.
- Adam Jones was acquired after the 2007 season from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade. He came to Baltimore with a bag of tools and top-prospect ranking. Jones has improved in each of his four seasons with the Orioles and now ranks alongside Hardy as the team’s best player. Jones is two years removed from free agency, so now is the time for the club to either make a long-term commitment or deal him for a package of prospects.
- Nick Markakis probably has underperformed, given his long-term contract and salary, but it’s not his fault the Orioles overpaid him. Markakis is a solid contributor at the plate and a gold-glove quality right fielder.
- Matt Wieters came to Baltimore with extremely high expectations. He was considered by many to be the savior of the franchise and was dubbed the “Switch-hitting Jesus” by former teammate Aubrey Huff. Wieters earned his first All-Star selection in 2011 and is arguably the American League’s best defensive catcher. He found his power stroke in August and September and logged his first 20-home-run season.
Wieters, Hardy and Jones give the Orioles three excellent up-the-middle players. All three can contribute with the glove as well as the bat. Reynolds and Markakis are solid major-league regulars.
After the top five, the Orioles collection of nuggets gets a little murky. Robert Andino played admirably filling in for the oft-injured Brian Roberts. Andino’s ceiling is as a versatile utility man, but every good club needs one of those. I’m counting Andino as a nugget. Nolan Reimold really found his power stroke in September and made a strong push to be the Orioles full-time left fielder in 2012. Reimold remains a streaky hitter and below-average defender. He didn’t make the nugget cut.
On the pitching staff, there are really only two nuggets in my estimation, and one of them should be on his way out the door. Jeremy Guthrie has been the Orioles best starting pitcher for years but, he is over 30 and a year removed from free agency. The Orioles should deal Guthrie during the offseason and let his next team wrestle with the decision to give the aging right-hander a long-term deal. Jim Johnson has been Baltimore’s best reliever for years. After admirably filling the setup role, he was moved to closer during September and posted excellent results. Johnson is no doubt one of Buck’s nuggets, but his role is in limbo. With Kevin Gregg signed for big money in 2012, it is likely that he’ll return to his customary role as closer, pushing Johnson back to the 8th inning.
Youngsters Pedro Strop and Zach Britton both showed promise in 2011. Britton recovered from two disastrous mid-season starts to post a solid rookie season. He looks like a keeper and will be penciled into the Orioles rotation in the the spring. Strop pitched well after being acquired from Texas, but the sample size was very limited and he has a history of control issues. He’s an intriguing name to watch, but he shouldn’t be counted on next season. Other young pitchers like Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta are all huge question marks at this point due to non-performance and injury.
By my count, the Orioles have about 7.5 nuggets. I’m counting Andino as a .5, as he should be a role player on a good team. Given that there are 25 men on a Major League roster it is clear that Buck and the Birds still have a long way to go.