As baseball fans, all we truly ever want to see is our beloved team enter a new season with a fighting chance. A chance to see our team compete, and a chance to dream that maybe, if everything goes right, we could one day celebrate the ultimate success.
After the 2017 season ended with a terribly bad taste in the mouths of Orioles fans worldwide – even in Australia – there was a genuine fear heading into the 2018 season as to how the roster would stack up, and how much pain could await throughout the summer months. The roster, as it stood, had more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese.
The winter was miserable. There were no major free agent signings and extension talks with soon-to-be free agents Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and co. were non-existent. Further, it was widely rumoured that Machado may not even start the 2018 season wearing orange. Dan Duquette, Peter Angelos, and anyone else holding a position of importance within the front office were copping a beating on social media platforms, at the pub, and around the office water cooler. Everyone had an opinion and all of them predicted doom and gloom – myself included.
Soon enough spring arrived, and with it came an unprecedented amount of quality players remaining unsigned as a truly tumultuous free agency period continued. This would potentially work in the Orioles’ favour, however only if they were prepared to spend some money and capitalize on a market far more aligned to the ballclubs than it was the players.
Pleasingly, the Orioles did just that.
The additions of Alex Cobb (4 years, $60 million), Andrew Cashner (2 years, $16 million), and the return of Chris Tillman (1 year, $3 million) significantly improve a starting rotation which last year was nothing short of laughable in its historically poor performance. Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez are out, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner are in. They are huge upgrades. Tillman meanwhile looks healthy and his last spring outing was impressive. Finally unrestricted by injury, his mechanics look to have improved and his control has returned. It’s encouraging. Add to this trio the younger arms of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who are each hoping to find some consistency and deliver upon their undoubted potential this season, and the Orioles have a very stable rotation – arguably its best in decades.
Offensively, some depth has been added with the experienced trio of Pedro Alvarez, Danny Valencia, and Colby Rasmus all being signed to Minor League deals. With Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo each experiencing some injury concerns throughout spring, and in Trumbo’s case the start of the regular season, these signings have only grown in importance and value as the weeks have progressed. As it currently stands, aided by Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, and Davis, the Orioles offense is still one of the most potent in the Major Leagues and will likely slug more than 200 home runs again. It’s well complemented by the likes of a rejuvenated Tim Beckham and what’s hoped is a consistently performing duo of Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco sharing the catching duties. Anthony Santander has also shown his tremendous potential at the plate this spring.
As with any team Buck Showalter pens onto a lineup card, the defense will take care of itself and will remain a strength. Lead by Machado patrolling the infield and Jones marshalling his troops out deep, the improved rotation can take the mound knowing full well it’s backed by one of MLB’s most consistently high-performing defensive outfits.
And finally, despite the loss of Zach Britton for the first part of the season through injury, the bullpen also appears to have been strengthened following the additions of impressive Rule 5 picks – Pedro Araujo, Jose Mesa Jr., and Nestor Cortes Jr. All three have shown signs this spring that they can add value to a relief team already consisting of proven big league performers in Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, and Richard Bleier.
All in all, the Orioles front office ought to be commended for its efforts this offseason in building what appears to be a very competitive roster. While it may not be filled with the often over-hyped big names seen in New York and Boston, the team will be competitive and I believe, has a strong chance to reach the postseason – albeit more likely via a wildcard.
For now though, there’s hope – and that’s a lot more than can be said about the situation facing Orioles fans just a few months ago.