The Orioles have been sharply criticized this off-season because they have not gone head first into the free agent market. The radio waves and blogosphere have been hot with the vitriol of Oriole fans who wanted their team to give them something to be excited about. The big superstar with the enormous contract that rallies the fans for the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. I, for one, am relieved that there were no such big splashes this winter. Everytime the Orioles land a big name, either through trade or free agent signing, it never seems to pan out. I think back over past seasons and I recall names like Vladimir Guerro, Albert Belle, Sammy Sosa, and Scott Erickson. Not to mention Sid Fernandez. Dare I mention Glen Davis? all big names, and all busts. This past fall when the name Zach Greinke was being batted around, I often cringed when his name was brought up as a potential Oriole. You get burned enough times and you finally figure it out.
“I didn’t think it was a particularly good free agent market” Buck Showalter told The Norris and Davis Show Monday Morning. “They all have dents and warts like the rest of us.” Indeed. Buck went on to say that the priority of the team has been to get contracts done for the talent they have on hand today. Most of which they have built up from the ground floor. He also reiterated that the team is very deep with talent and players who struggle at the big league level would have the opportunity to work it out in Norfolk. Which proved to be Buck’s best tool in managing the Orioles to 93 wins last season.
Which brings us to the starting rotation. Last year, Buck used something like 12 different starters. It seemed as though there was a daily shuttle bus running between the Warehouse and Norfolk. He called a steady rotation of starters a “luxury” in one post game interview. He never misses a chance to publicly manage the pitching staff. Buck would often cite performance as the reason there was opportunity within the starting rotation.
If you assume a top 4 of Hammel, Chen, Tillman and Gonzalez as 1-4. That leaves one spot open in a standard starting 5. This spring, the battle for that spot will likely feature Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, and Jair Jurrjens.
Jake Arrieta. On Opening Day 2012, in the spring sunshine, in front of a standing room only crowd at Camden Yards, Jake turned in a stellar 2 hit performance that featured this gem. Jake looked invincible. Jake again showed a flash against the Yankees on May 6 when he shut them out for 8 innings of 5 hit ball. But it’s a long season, really long. Jake would soon find himself first struggling, then losing the confidence of his skipper, then being demoted to AAA. “He was going to stay out here, and I have a conversation that really disrupts his whole life,” Showalter said. “And it’s frustrating for me, I don’t want to do it. But I also have to do what’s best for Jake and the Orioles.” He got some spot relief work in September, and was invisible during the ALDS. Of everyone on the staff this year, Jake has the most to prove.
Zach Britton. An early favorite to make the starting 5. Zach has amassed a big league record of 16-14. Winning. Britton is a bit of an enigma, Streaks of greatness followed by ineptitude. Last season in Oakland, he was pulled in the third inning after the A’s batted around. That start came on the heels of a stretch in which he went 4-0 with an ERA of 0.95. Zach is also a bit fragile, having missed a good deal of 2012 on the DL. Zach shows signs that he could be a dominant lefty and he needs 2013 to be consistent.
Jair Jurrjens. He’s from here. Which is just a full snorkel from Aruba. Which conjures up memories of this guy. Kidding aside, Jurrjens is a winning pitcher. He’s 53-37 in the majors with a 3.62 ERA and WHIP of 1.32 career. He was non-tendered by the Braves after 2012. His nagging knee injury may just be the death knell for his big league career. But Dan Duquette is a bargain hunter if nothing else. He sees value where no one else does. He also trusts Buck Showalter to get performance out of players that they themselves did not know they possessed. This is a “fight in the dog” kind of team. It will be interesting to see what kind of fight this dog has in him. Remember when the skinny around town had the Warehouse considering a trade involving Jurrjens and Adam Jones? That would not have been good. Maybe the Orioles have gotten a bit of a rep around the league as a bit crazy and, a little desperate? Leaking a crazy idea like a Jones for Jurrjens trade to the press might have had some nefarious purpose. Who knows.