After being swept against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Baltimore Orioles have fallen to a season low 8 games under .500 at 35-43. The O’s are 10-18 against the American League East, 25-25 against everyone else. I think most of us are frustrated by what we saw in June. Matusz made his first start of the year June 1st, and the O’s won that day to improve to 25-29. As I looked at the schedule for the remainder of the Month, I saw opportunity for the Orioles to string together some wins. After sweeping Oakland, and beating Tampa Bay Friday June 10th - the O's pulled to within 1 game of .500 at 30-31.
Despite winning that first game against the Rays, they would lose that home series. That was followed by losing 2 of 3 in Toronto. Okay, that is disheartening, but that was against the East I told myself. With series remaining against the Nationals, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, my expectation was 7 or 8 O’s wins to end the Month. Unfortunately, the O’s managed to win just 4 of those 12 games, and lost 3 of the 4 series against the National League.
This has been an unacceptable level of play, of which has severely damaged the O’s aspirations of a non-losing season. As such, goals have to be adjusted, and changes have to be made.
The first change came last night with Matusz’s demotion to AAA. It was absolutely the right decision for the O’s to make, as disappointing as it is to see. Matsuz made 6 starts during the Month, and the results were not improving. My guess is that Matusz is healthy, but there is something within his mechanics which has been altered, which is impacting his velocity. That is just a guess though. The O’s owe it to Matusz, and the organization itself to give Matusz every physical review possible and determine if there is anything going on structurally. If Matusz is healthy, I fully expect that he will eventually correct whatever is going on and again ascend to the Majors. While it looks like a lost year for the lefty, it is important for everyone in the organization (and their fans) to see something positive out of Matusz before this year ends. Anything this organization is trying to build, is lost if the Southpaw can not reclaim his spot as a legitimate front-end starter.
When we talk about goals adjusting, those ‘goals’ will be illustrated in this series starting tonight in Atlanta. While I projected the O’s to finish 83-79, my rationale of why that could be obtained – was primarily tied up in the growth I expected from that younger core. On the other-hand, I thought some of the older players on the roster (Guerrero, Lee, Uehara, Gregg, Guthrie, Scott, and Roberts) could be expected to do enough to help. At 8 games under .500 entering July, the thinking has to change slightly. A .500 season was (and maybe still is) a worthy goal for this year, but it is no longer acceptable to support the place of each of those older players on the roster, to augment the younger core. Many reached that conclusion prior to Spring Training when it was pretty clear the Orioles would not be able to contend this year. I’ve reached that conclusion (perhaps late) when it is clear the O’s will struggle to remain competitive at all. You are not going to be able to move each of those older players, but the ones that have the most current value - Guthrie, Uehara – (also Johnson, but he is not ‘older.’) need to be shopped, and moved if the value back is fair.
I’ve stated it before, but I think Guerrero needs to be released. If Scott is going to avoid the DL, I would be doing it now. If Scott is going to be placed on the DL, I would give Guerrero the opportunity to stay on the roster (and get going) until Scott came back. Guerrero has a .691 OPS. Dating back to last Summer, Guerrero has posted the following OPS’ by Month since last July:
July 2010: .622
August 2010: .719
September 2010: .880
April 2011: .673
May 2011: .755
June 2011: .620
At this point, it is pretty clear that last September was the aberration. While I would not be totally shocked to see Guerrero hit at his May ’11 level the remainder of the year, that is really not the point. The O’s are not going to move Scott this year, because his value is down. Scott can be part of the ’12 O’s, and Guerrero obviously will not. If you get Scott out of LF, and back to DH, I think he has a better chance of getting his offense going. You also get the added benefit of getting everyday at-bats for Reimold (and additional ab’s for Pie) with the release of Guerrero. Again, some O’s fans wanted this from the beginning, and were opposed to the signing of Guerrero for this reason. To me, it was fine for the O’s to sign Guerrero and give the future Hall of Famer a couple of hundred ab’s to see if he could approximate his overall 2010 numbers. Three months of regular ab’s is enough. If Scott is not going on the DL, it is time to cut ties. Keeping him with the idea of trading him does not make a lot of sense. You are not going to be able to move Guerrero to the National League, and no American League team is going to provide anything of value for a DH that is not slugging.
I’m ok with the O’s not moving Lee. I think he is showing some signs of life, and he is a strong 1st baseman. If some contender loses their 1st baseman to injury, maybe you can move him. Otherwise, playing him the remainder of this year is not an issue.
Gregg pitched well enough in June (11ip, 8 hits, 2 bb’s, 10 k’s) that I’m sure someone would be interested in him. However, he is owed enough money, that the O’s would likely have to eat part of his contract to get a deal done. While he is always going to have mediocre control, if you assume his control issues in May (13 bb’s in 11.1 ip) was somewhat of a fluke; there is no need to eat his contract to push him out the door.
Nothing has changed with Roberts since we last talked about him, aside from the fact he is starting to feel better. With 2 years $20M left on his contract, the O’s would not be able to move him anywhere even if he played every game after the All-Star break prior to the Non-Waiver deadline. The best thing that can happen to the O’s at this point, is that Roberts gets back into the lineup, and plays well enough (and regularly enough) during the 2nd half that the O's (and their fans) believe he can contribute going into next year. We know Roberts is a 33 year old guy (34 in October) that missed 100 games last year with his back. We saw him get past that, and play on a regular basis over the last two months of '10 before giving himself the initial concussion. We saw him overcome the back and the first concussion and play everyday during the first 39 games of this year. So, I do think there is a chance that Roberts can get back to the lineup and again play regularly. However, his offensive numbers were down during those last 2 months of '10, and those 39 games here in '11. Asking him to approximate his '07-'09 production is probably too much to ask. If he can get back to the lineup and match his numbers from '06, and last-year, that is a big help. Even if that occurs, you need to obtain another UTI MI player that can spell both Hardy and Roberts, and be capable of playing regularly if needed. I'm picturing another option similar to Andino, hopefully with a bit more upside. Zach Cozart of the Reds organization is as good of a potential option as we have heard mentioned.
Guthrie might be a true 3/4 starter on a playoff team, and only signed through just ‘12; but the O’s are not going to give away a competent 200 inning starter for anything less than a piece you could easily project occupying a spot in the everyday lineup. While we said above we are fine with giving everyday ab’s to Lee for the remainder of the season, obviously that is not ideal because Lee does not figure to be back in ’12. If Guthrie (plus other?) can bring back Cozart &Yonder Alonso that would be pretty ideal for the Birds.
Cozart and Alonso might never develop into strong Major League players, but both are performing at AAA, and would add positional depth to the O’s. Both would be under control cheaply for years, giving the Orioles further flexibility with the roster.
We all have a bitter taste in our mouths over the results of June, but what Reynolds and Hardy accomplished in June should not swept aside either. With a 1.112 OPS in June (12 xbh’s, 21 walks), Reynolds brought his season OPS up to .814, right about equal to his career average of .817. Reynolds defense has been poor, but just like his offense normalized this month, so should his defense. Under contract for next year, with a team option for ’13, Reynolds is becoming a piece you build around.
Hardy had a 1.094 OPS during June, with 9 homers, and 7 doubles. In Spring Training the O’s approached Hardy about going back to the approach he had in Milwaukee. Hardy agreed that he had changed his approach to be the player he thought Minnesota wanted him to be. In June, we saw what a healthy Hardy can do. Do I think he is quite this good? No, I do not. However, he just showed what his upside is, and what he is capable of. When you combine that ceiling with his age (29 in August), and his superb defense; you need to do everything you can to retain that player. His recent injury history (115 games in ’09, 101 games in ’10, the 25 games missed here in ’11) is a concern, but the O’s should absolutely be pushing extremely hard to get an extension done before the non-waiver deadline. I think 3 years $24-$27M is fair to both sides. If the O’s are not going to get a deal done, they have to consider trading Hardy (perhaps to Milwaukee) before the Month ends.
Markakis heads into July with an 18 game hitting streak, and his overall numbers are moving towards expected levels. After a poor April, Jones has put up back-to-back Months with an OPS over. 850. Wieters has been excellent behind the plate, and is improved against LHP. There are issues with each of them we have discussed, and can continue to discuss further; but they are certainly viable pieces.
As a whole, the O's enter July 10th overall (6th in the American League) in on-base %, and 11th overall (6th in the American League) in slugging %.
If you end this Month having extended Hardy, you can easily argue that you have quality options for '12 existing at RF, CF, C, SS, 3rd, and DH. If Roberts gets back into the lineup, and Reimold produces in LF; you can potentially add 2nd, and LF to that list.
Above, I stated that when we talk about goals adjusting, those ‘goals’ will be illustrated in this series starting tonight in Atlanta. Guthrie takes the mound tonight. If you are going to maximize a return for him, he has to be strong here in July. Tomorrow, and Sunday the O’s will be starting Arrieta, and Britton. Along with Matusz, Arrieta and Britton are the young arms you are building the rotation around. With Matusz’s current struggles, it is vitally important that Arrieta and Britton finish strong here in ’11. Arrieta has to be more pitch efficient, and that starts with fastball command. Still, I do think we have seen maturation from Arrieta this year. In 11 of Arietta’s 16 starts, he has pitched at-least 6 ip, and allowed 3 er or less. He says he has dealt with the bonespur for years, and is not concerned. He can alleviate the concern that some of us have, with a strong outing tomorrow. Britton was not horrible in June (1-3, 4.50 era, 28 ip, 29 hits, 10 bb’s, 21 k’s) but the league began to make adjustments to him. July has to be about Britton making adjustments back.
Thursday against the Cardinals, Bergesen pitched 3 scoreless innings of relief. I hope that he gets the opportunity to replace Matusz in the rotation. 2011 has been a struggle for Bergesen, and you’d certainly like to see things begin to turn around for him in July. I’ve always seen Bergesen as a back of the rotation starter, but that has value. We need to see more of the guy we saw during his last 12 starts of ’09, and the second half of ’10; and less of the guy we saw during the first half of ’10, and so far here in ’11.
After 5 poor/mediocre starts at AAA, Tillman had a promising outing this week for Norfolk. He needs to follow that up, and get back to the Major League rotation. I’ll give credit to Jakubauskas for exceeding my expectations being somewhat competent during his June starts. That said, the 32 year old is a guy that belongs in long-relief. Tillman needs to be doing enough at AAA, to force his way back to Baltimore. If you are going to have a 5th starter just going 5 innings every 5th day, it might as well be the guy that is a decade younger with greater upside.
Part of the reason it was important for the O’s to finish June strong, was because of the schedule the O’s are facing in July.
July 1st – 3rd @ Atlanta (Braves are 47-35, 2nd place in the NL East)
July 4th – 6th @ Texas (Rangers are 43-39, 1st place in the AL West)
July 7th – 10th @ Boston (Red Sox are 46-34, 2nd place in the AL East)
July 14th – 17th vs. Cleveland (Indians 42-37, 2nd place in the AL Central)
July 18th – 20th vs. Boston
July 22nd – 24th vs. LA (Angels are 42-40, 2nd place in the AL West)
July 26th – 28th @ Toronto (Blue Jays are 40-42, 4th place in the AL East)
July 29th – 31st @ New York (Yankees are 48-31, 1st place in the AL East)
Summation / What I want to see in July
1) O’s wasted opportunities in June.
2) Changes required, goals altered.
3) Preferably Hardy is extended, if not he needs to be traded.
4) Guerrero released, Scott to DH, Reimold to LF.
5) Guthrie + for Cozart and Alonso.
6) No where to run, no where to hide with the July schedule.
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