StrategyMarch 10, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

By Drew Szczerba

The 2009 Baltimore Orioles are hoping to follow in the footsteps of division rival Tampa Bay. In 2008, the Rays went from worst to first in a loaded American League East and rode that momentum all the way to the World Series. Can Baltimore do the same thing in 2009? The good news: The Orioles nailed the first part of the worst-to-first-to-fall classic trifecta by finishing a distant 28.5 games behind the Rays last year. The bad news: The American League East is still loaded. The Orioles still aren’t.

For a closer look at the Baltimore Orioles and the rest of the AL East, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn AL East Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Gregg Zaun.237.339.359296302245w/Tor
1B Aubrey Huff.304.361.55296321084598 
2B Brian Roberts.296.380.45010795740611 
SS Cesar Izturis.263.312.3095012424414w/StL
3B Melvin Mora.285.333.48377231043513 
LF Felix Pie.241.300.3259110383w/ChN
CF Adam Jones.270.304.4006195710477 
RF Nick Markakis.306.405.491106208710595 
DH Luke Scott.257.331.4726723652475 

Unsettled: Matt Wieters. Wieters will almost assuredly be in the “Target” section of this article in 2010. For this year, he remains “Unsettled” primarily because of the Gregg Zaun signing and the possibility that Baltimore could keep him in the minors long enough to delay arbitration eligibility. Still, it’s hard not to get excited about Wieters right now. He crushed the ball across two minor league levels and actually improved as he moved up. It’s only a matter of time.

Target: Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts. Markakis recently agreed to terms on a six year, $66.1 million extension with an option for a seventh year. The Orioles did well for themselves here as Markakis is quickly becoming one of best all-around outfielders in the game. Consider the positives:

• He’s just beginning to enter his prime.
• He showed a much improved eye last year, drawing 38 more walks than in 2007.
• He is one of the few players who can contribute in every category without hurting in any.

I’d start think about Markakis in the latter half of the second round and be thrilled to land him in the third.

Brian Roberts will likely be the fourth or fifth second baseman off the board in most drafts. He’s a consistent performer with very good speed. He also represents the last reliable source of solid production for second basemen in 2009. After the top five, this position has plenty of question marks making Roberts an attractive fourth round pick.

The Rotation

Jeremy Guthrie (R)10-123.631.2312058190.2 
Koji Uehara (R)6-53.811.18721689.2in Jpn
Mark Hendrickson (L)7-85.451.478148133.2w/Fla
Rich Hill (L)1-04.121.58151819.2w/ChN
Troy Patton (L)0-23.551.118412.2w/Hou (07)

Unsettled: Anyone not named Jeremy Guthrie. Koji Uehara will likely occupy the number two slot in the rotation. He doesn’t have great stuff, but he’s a veteran arm with excellent control. Uehara rarely walks a batter and his acquisition proves that even though Daniel Cabrera is gone, he is not forgotten in Baltimore. Another acquisition was that of Rich Hill. Hill was acquired from the Cubs and could potentially join the rotation. To do so, he’ll have to regain at least some of his 2007 form. The upside is certainly there, but the chances of Hill realizing that upside and helping fantasy teams this year are not very good.

Target: Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie is the default ace of the Orioles staff. He won’t provide many strikeouts, but his ratios have been around 3.70 and 1.25 in each of the past two seasons and there may even be some room for improvement. Last year, Guthrie has his ERA down to a tidy 3.15 as late as mid-August before he began to experience shoulder pain. From that point, he only started three more games and all of those outings were quite forgettable. If it’s true that Guthrie’s injury masked his full potential in 2008 then he could provide real late-round value in 2009.

The 8th and 9th Innings

George Sherrill (L)314.731.50583353.1 
Chris Ray (R)164.431.24441842.2in 2007

Chasing Saves: George Sherrill is the favorite to begin the season as the Orioles closer. The former lefty specialist took over full time closing duties last year with mixed success. He started off well, but faded badly and finished the year with an alarming 1.50 WHIP. Chris Ray is next in line and his opportunity may come sooner rather than later. Ray is reportedly fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, but the Orioles have stated that they are not going to rush him. Considering how well Ray closed out games in 2006, I expect Sherrill to be on a very short leash.

Final Thoughts

Markakis and Roberts are by far the best fantasy options this team has to offer. Aubrey Huff will provide mid-round production and multi-position eligibility. If Felix Pie can win a starting job, he’s worth a look mainly due to his exceptional speed. Melvin Mora had an OPS of 1.073 after the All-Star break last year. Had it been anyone other than Melvin Mora, I would have mentioned it much earlier. He’s not finished at the age of 37, but count me among those who are skeptical about his ability to pick up where he left off. Guthrie is probably the only Orioles pitcher you want to target. The rest of the starters are either unproven or undetermined, and the ninth inning responsibilities might end up being split.

Yesterday, we finished up the National League by previewing the San Francisco Giants. Check back tomorrow for our look at the Boston Red Sox in the next edition of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Drew is a born Yankees fan who, not surprisingly, doesn't particularly care for the Red Sox or Mets. He does, however, have a soft spot in his heart for most small market franchises. He gets an uneasy feeling every time the Yankees overpay for latest big name, and fears they may someday begin to acquire whole teams. Drew has been playing both fantasy baseball and football for 10 years. You can catch up with Drew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name Case Ace.
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