Looking at the Red Sox opposition – The Baltimore Orioles
Suppose the 2022 baseball season gets ugly for the Boston Red Sox, and I’m talking zombie apocalypse ugly. In that case, there is still A guarantee that the Red Sox will not finish last in the American League East. And that applies to the Yankees, Jays, and the Rays, as last place is the domain of the Baltimore Orioles.
Once a force in the AL, the O’s franchise has fallen on hard times. An old baseball axiom is no matter how awful a team is, they’ll win 50 games, and no matter how good, they will lose 50 games. It’s what a team does during the rest of the schedule that determines the season’s outcome. In the remaining games, the once-proud O’s could lose them all. In 2021 the Birds dropped 110 games as they were the division patsy.
There is good news, however, in Charm City. The Orioles have the lowest payroll in MLB; the bad news with payroll is that $23 MM is for long-gone Chris Davis. The O’s will still suffer on the payroll since the deferred for Davis, and Alex Cobb will kick in for 2023.
Then there is the good news, and it begins with prospects. The O’s have the top-ranked system in MLB and the number two prospect in catcher Adley Rutschman and the number sixth prospect, righty Grayson Rodriguez. Both are the tip of the prospect iceberg as the O’s system is loaded with talent with sharp drafting and a focus on Latin America.
The O’s could rush a few minor league players, but with a division loaded with powerhouses, caution may be the flag raised by player development. There is some other good/bad news – management has pushed back the fences 15 feet at Cozy Camden Yards, and the left and right center areas will no longer be as inviting a target as before. Good news for Baltimore’s staff and bad news for the bats – home or visitor.
Baltimore’s staff was beleaguered in 2021, allowing 258 home runs, posting a team 5.85 ERA, and a 4.91 xFIP. To top it off, an awful 39.7 GB%. Usually, I can cherry-pick a few stats – traditional or metric – to make a case, but that is impossible with the O’s staff.
The staff’s Ace is a lefty John Means (6-9, 3.62), who made 26 starts in 2021. Naturally, Means is now undergoing an MRI with a possible elbow issue. This offseason, the O’s signed 12-year veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles. Lyles is 54-80 and has a 5.23 ERA in that MLB career, so he is O’s pitching material.
Right-hander Tyler Wells has shifted from the ‘pen to the rotation. Wells has a four-pitch toolbox and can throw in the mid-90s. The former Twin tosses strikes (1.9 BB%) and will get a long look. Keegan Akin (2-10, 6.63), Bruce Zimmermann (4-5, 5.04), and Dean Kremer (0-7, 7.55) round out the possible rotation. Good grief!
Jorge Lopez is a seven-year vet and is the current closer for at least the next few weeks. Not much jumps out with the bullpen and grabs you with “Wow” talent. Dillon Tate, Bryan Baker, hard-throwing Felix Bautista, Mike Baumann, and a slew of others fall into the 26-28 age group with ‘Meh” results.
The O’s offense has a few solid pieces, all of which cause major headaches for Red Sox pitching, with Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, and Ryan Mountcastle. Mancini slashed 21/71/.255 in 2021 after missing 2020 and a cancer scare. Mullins – a switch hitter – was a 30/30 player – 30 home runs and 30 steals. Mountcastle blossomed in his second season with the O’s in 2021, slamming 33 home runs.
Remember Chris Owings? Briefly, with the Red Sox, Owings is now the utility knife for Baltimore. The DP combo is Jorge Mateo and Rougned Odor. Odor had some significant power numbers in his Rangers days and some equally significant K% numbers. Mateo hit a surprising .280 in 2021 and was enough to convince the O’s to trade Freddy Galvis.
Ramon Urias is the defacto third baseman after hitting .279 in 85 games. Expect Kelvin Gutierrez to pick up considerable time at third. Austin Hays and Anthony Santander are the corners to Mullins in the outfield. The right-hand hitting Hays could take it up a notch in 2021 after slashing 22/71/.256. Switch-hitting Santander likewise is on the cusp of taking his game to the next level.
The catching department is simply waiting for the arrival of Rutschman. This season, the O’s have 38-year-old Robinson Chirinos and lefty-hitting Anthony Bemboom, and they will get little offensive production from the duo.
Camden Yards was the first addition to the new generation of MLB parks, and it is still outstanding despite being one of the oldest parks in MLB. Great seats, great food, spectacular location, and reasonable prices. Now they need a viable product on the field to get back to the halcyon days that didn’t seem that far back.
What is in store for the Birds in 2022? It will be more of the same based on the division talent, the hitting in MLB, and the O’s staff that borders on historic negative numbers. Less than 100 losses will cause the diehard O’s fans to dance around the Power Plant in celebration.
The longer-range prognosis is that Baltimore will again become relevant. There is some quality regarding position players, and talent is on the way from the minors, which brings us to money. Peter Angelos is the titular head of the partnership group, and will they spend? I lean towards their payroll expansion, especially if they sniff out trades, salary dumps, or free agency opportunities.
GM Mike Elias has been on the job for four years, and it is a rebuilding effort. Elias has a background in scouting from his Astros days and is well versed in the necessity of analytics. Will the ownership group remain patient as the rebuilding continues? We’ll find out over the next few seasons.