There are 58 games on the schedule between now and the July 31st Non-Waiver Deadline. I guess a true best case scenario for Baltimore would have the O’s going undefeated during that stretch, and moving their overall record to 79-24 heading into August.
That is not what I am looking for here. What I’m looking at are questions facing individual parts of the roster, and the organization in-general - and giving what I think are the best possible (but realistic) outcomes.
Issue 1) Scott and Guthrie
Best Case) Both Scott, and Guthrie are under O’s control through the 2012 season. There is nothing stating that either player has to be moved at the Non-Waiver Deadline this year. However, I do believe both players should be shopped. Outside of all the players Baltimore would or could realistically move; these two would have the greatest value. Best case for the O’s is that they produce at or above their career averages during this stretch. With Scott particularly you’d like him to show that the labrum will not impact his ability to play LF.
Issue 2) Brian Matusz returns
Best Case) Matusz can probably get in 11 or so starts between now and the end of July. His numbers over his last 11 starts last year (August - October) were excellent. 7-1, 2.18 era, 62 ip, 48 hits, 5 hr’s, 16 bb’s, 52 k’s. I wouldn’t ask him to pick-up right at that level. If he can match the 3.63 era he had overall after ‘10 All-Star break, the O’s are going to get a significant boost to their staff.
Issue 3) Matusz returns, Tillman stays in the rotation
Best Case) For 2011, Tillman and Bergersen are basically the definition of 5th starters. You get Matusz back, replacing one of them - you are hopefully swapping a ‘5th’ for the production of a number 1 or 2 starter. My expectation is that it will (and should) be Tillman that remains in the rotation. There have been some signs of his development. If the rotation can stay healthy, Tillman would be poised to end July with roughly 20 starts under his belt. Since his first ML start in ‘09, Tillman has been up and down (figuratively with performance, and literally between AAA and the Bigs) and also dealt with being skipped in the rotation. I think part of the reason we have seen improvement from him this year (besides being older and more experienced) is that he is being handed the ball regularly. I think the best case for Tillman is that by staying in the rotation, his confidence is further increased, and you see him take another leap.
Issue 4) Matusz returns, Bergesen leaves the rotation
Best Case) If this happens as expected, it is not going to be easy for Bergesen. He has already talked about how difficult the start of ‘11 has been for him mentally. Between what he did in his last 12 starts of ‘09 prior to getting hurt, and over the 15 starts after the All-Star break last year; Bergesen has proven he can be a capable back of the rotation starter. I’m sure the O’s are leaning towards sending him back to Norfolk, so that he is kept on a regular starting routine and accumulating innings. I can understand that rationale, but the best case to me is that Bergesen is not sent back to AAA. He is one of the O’s 12 best pitchers, and he can help the Major League team out of the bullpen. You don’t have to use him just as long-relief. While you would have to retrain his arm to being used in back-to-back days, he should be able to be used 6 or 7 innings a week. He should be able to help the O’s 3 or 4 times a week. That is a tangible benefit that should not be ignored. ( I’d release Rapada, and use Gonzalez as the LOOGY. Bullpen would be Gregg, Uehara, Johnson, Gonzalez, Accardo, Simon, Bergesen.) With Berken going back to AAA to start, this should not even really be a question.
Issue 5) Derrek Lee and Brian Roberts come off the DL, when?
Best Case) The best case is that both players are able to rejoin the O’s at the beginning of June, and that neither issue (Lee’s oblique, or Roberts’ concussion) lingers. The hope would be that this ‘break’ from everyday action, helps allow both players to get through the season stronger. Both players were showing signs of starting to hit right before they were injured, hopefully that continues when they get back.
Issue 6) The June Amateur Draft
Best Case) In a perfect world to me, Rendon falls to the O’s with the 4th overall pick. As an advanced Collegiate prospect, Rendon would figure to advance through the system quickly. If he were to stay at 3rd as expected, he would team with Machado to give the O’s two very strong prospects from the left-side. If due to his shoulder, he had to move to 2nd; his offense could be superior at that position. (I like the idea of Rendon at 3rd, and Schoop moving to 2nd.)
If Rendon, Cole, and Hultzen are gone, I expect Bundy will be the selection. Based on his upside, and the family connection, I would not have a problem with that choice. I think I’d prefer Starling as the positional player though. I’d also consider taking Gray over Bundy, but I do not think Gray has the physicality the O’s are looking for.
Who ever the pick is, the choice has to hit, and be signed. Past the 1st round, the ‘11 draft is potentially the last draft without hard slotting. Baltimore absolutely needs to go overdraft and be prepared to spend significant money.
Issue 7) Mark Reynolds
Best Case) Quietly, Reynolds has raised his level of play in May. Going into tonight (5/24), Reynolds has a .813 OPS for the month. While he has had better years (.892 OPS in ‘09, .843 OPS in ‘07), his career OPS is .807. Any month he is above that career level is a good thing. If on a monthly basis he is matching his averages, the O’s can feel good about Reynolds remaining the 3rd baseman for ‘12, and possibly ‘13. That is the best case for the O’s, because he is already under contract. If over the next two months he regresses back to what we saw in April, there is going to be question if he can remain in the everyday lineup. Additionally, we need to see some defensive improvement. He shows good range (particularly towards SS), but has had trouble coming in on the ball.
Issue 8) JJ Hardy
Best Case) Manny Machado is going to advance through the system quickly, but it is hard to imagine him in an O’s uniform before September 2012. Even that is very aggressive. Getting Hardy to extend for 2 years by the Non-Waiver Deadline should be a priority for this Organization, and would be the best case. If you get to the Non-Waiver Deadline and have not reached an extension, Hardy might be a more valuable trade piece than either Scott, or Guthrie. If the O’s have visions of contention in ‘12, they should want to have their SS identified as soon as possible. If it took 3 years to extend Hardy, you could argue that Hardy would provide good depth to potentially replace Roberts at 2nd in ‘14. (Or prior, if Roberts was injured and not available.)
Issue 9) Britton and Arrieta
Best Case) We have talked about Guthrie, Matusz, and Tillman above. Britton has put himself into consideration for the AL Rookie of the Year. Arrieta has made 10 starts, and 7 times has pitched at-least 6 innings while allowing 3 er or less. While I think both players have further upside (not just long-term, but here in ‘11) the best case is that both maintain their current level of production. If they do that, with a returning Matusz, and what you’d expect from Guthrie - the O’s will have a terrific top 4 leading the rotation.
Issue 10) Wieters
Best Case) Wieters is doing enough at the plate and as a Catcher to now be under consideration as the O’s best overall player. In limited at-bats (33), he is showing improvement against LHP. That said, after a .826 OPS in April, he has a .670 OPS in May even though he has a .288 average in May vs. the .260 average he had in April. The OPS drop is based entirely on a drop in his slugging %. The best case is that the light stops flickering and goes all the way on for Wieters. The development of Wieters into a middle of the lineup force is something that absolutely needs to happen for the Birds.
Issue 11) Jones
Best Case) Even though Jones struggled offensively in April, we saw improvement in his defensive positioning and overall approach. At times you still question his plate discipline, but right now the 12 walks vs. 29 k’s is livable. Jones is having a monster May (.889 OPS), but a large part of that is being driven by his .367 average during the month. The best case is that when he cools down, his monthly numbers resemble his current overall numbers (.289 average, .777 OPS). In ‘10, Jones had 3 months with an OPS under .700, and 3 months with an OPS above .781. If he can limit the lows, he can potentially really break through.
Issue 12) Markakis
Best Case) Similar to Reynolds, Markakis has quietly rebounded in May. After a .561 OPS, and .204 average in April, Markakis has a .809 OPS, and .325 average in May. He is 27 all of his 2011 season. I fully believe in his abilities. There is nothing he has done in May, that he should not be expected to replicate going forward. After 40+ doubles each of the past 4 years, he has 4 doubles in his first 181 ab’s in ‘11. The best case with him is that his numbers really begin to spike as he starts finding the alleys.
Issue 13) Reimold
Best Case) Reimold showed strong plate discipline and power as a rookie in ‘09. Last year was derailed with the Achilles and off-field issues. He struggled when he went back to AAA, and was not lighting the world on fire at Norfolk this year. His promotion back to the bigs was an opportunity. If he hits during this audition, he can find a spot on this roster. Obviously becomes more difficult once Lee returns. At a minium, if Reimold hits now - it will plant a seed with Showalter and the Front Office. If Lee comes back June 1st, and struggles that month - the O’s might be more willing to cut Lee loose (moving Scott to 1st, and opening up LF.) If Lee and Scott are both producing, and Reimold has continued to hit (even back at AAA), that might give the O’s further incentive to move Scott. The best case for Reimold is that he gets hot and makes it hard to take him out of the lineup. When Lee gets back, Baltimore can go with a bench of Reimold, Pie, Andino, and Fox. I still think it would be in Reimold’s (and potentially Baltimore’s) best interest if he regularly took balls at 1st.
Issue 14) Record heading into August
Best Case) At 21-24, the O’s are 3 games under .500 and in last-place in the American League East. The flip-side is that Baltimore is also only 3.5 games out of 1st, and also the Wild Card. Considering the O's have gone through a difficult portion of their schedule, and have yet to play well, Baltimore has to feel good about where they are.
Their schedule between now and 7/31 is:
5/24 - 5/26: vs. KC
5/27 - 5/29: @ Oakland
5/30 - 6/1: @ Seattle
6/3 - 6/5: vs. Toronto
6/6 - 6/8: vs. Oakland
6/10 - 6/12: vs. Tampa
6/14 - 6/16: @ Toronto
6/17 - 6/19: @ DC
6/20 - 6/22: @ Pittsburgh
6/24 - 6/26: vs. Cincinnati
6/28 - 6/30: vs. St. Louis
7/1 - 7/3: @ Atlanta
7/4 - 7/6: @ Texas
7/7 - 7/10: @Boston
7/14 - 7/17: vs. Cleveland
7/18 - 7/20: vs. Boston
7/22 - 7/24: vs. LAA
7/26 - 7/28: @ Toronto
7/29 - 7/31: @ New York
The best case to me is probably 31-27 in the stretch, which would have the O’s a game over .500 heading into August. I kind of like the O’s to get those 31 wins, but it is hard to see them exceeding that. Baltimore will be facing a brutal stretch of games to begin July.
If the O’s are right around .500 at the end of July, they figure to have fallen back in both the Division and the Wild Card standings. That could make it easier for the Organization to try and move the players not regarded as part of the existing core.
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