“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~Rogers Hornsby
Amen to that Rog, not only do you have an unnecessary S in your first name, but you have captured the feelings of most baseball fans in the DMV. We love football and basketball here at The Battle of the Beltway Enterprises, but our true love is baseball. Tyler and I played college ball together, and collectively we watch close to 300 Orioles and Nationals games every season. While we love writing about the Redskins and the Wizards, we know the most about baseball and that is where we can really drive it home; pun very much intended. Being the Director of Orioles Operations here at the Battle of the Beltway, it is my role to update you on a relatively pedestrian offseason by the Birds and attempt to get you as fired up for 2012 as I am.
First and foremost let me start by saying the Orioles’ offseason has been relatively uninspiring, but there have been some changes at Camden Yards. The offseason started with a disheartening General Manager search, new uniforms and caps, and news that the right field scoreboard would be lowered to provide better standing room only views for the fans. The roster is not all that much different from last year, which is as unsettling as the news that Kim Jong Il’s embalmed body will be Leninized i.e. on permanent display in North Korea.
After four years at the helm of the Orioles Front Office, Andy MacPhail did us all a favor and stepped down. This was met with a lot of optimism by the fans because a new GM would mean another fresh start and a new philosophy in the front office. Many of us O’s fans were clamoring for one of these young Harvard stat-nerds, or anyone who had been an assistant for a franchise who was successful in player development. And for once, the Orioles did just that by interviewing Jerry DiPoto of the Arizona Diamondacks, De Jon Watson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tony LaCava of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Thad Levine of the Texas Rangers. DiPoto appeared close to becoming the Orioles next GM only to find out he had been using the Birds as leverage in negotiations with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of who gives a crap. Then it was on to De Jon Watson who decided that he would rather stay as an assistant with the Dodgers rather than becoming the headman in Baltimore. That was a sure fire kick in the groin because he would rather stay with a franchise split by a divorce whose money was all tied up in an ugly marital squabble. Apparently the Orioles are a less pleasing destination than that! But I think the Orioles dodged a bullet there, because how much can you really trust a guy with a first name like De Jon?
Thad Levine refused to even interview with the Orioles, so they set their sights on Tony LaCava who has been instrumental in developing the young nucleus in Toronto, who I feel will take a leap in the very near future and contend in the A.L. East. LaCava interviewed extensively, but decided he would rather remain in Toronto.
Apparently the idea of working for Peter Angelos is more toxic than living in a house riddled with asbestos, which is rather ironic if you think about it. It is hard to blame the Orioles for how the GM search played out because they really made a concentrated effort on getting the right guy for the job, but were turned down more times than a drunken Ben Roethlisberger. Rather than kicking down the bathroom door, the Orioles had no choice, but to turn to Dan Duquette who has not been employed by a Major League team since the Boston Red Sox fired him in 2002. That is the last time we will refer to the Orioles’ GM by his full name, he is now “The Duke”, got it? The Orioles brass cannot be blamed for having to turn to the The Duke, the blame falls squarely on Peter Angelos for making the Baltimore Orioles an undesirable destination for General Managers, Managers, Free Agents, fans, and beer vendors. Thanks Pete.
Nonetheless, The Duke is our new GM and he has been entrusted to lead the Orioles out of this DARK chapter in the franchise’s history and therefore it is time to give him chance. He has gutted the player development department (easily our biggest hole) and brought in fresh blood dead set on scowering the earth for young talent, especially international talent. The Duke and his staff have been running through Asia like an American Soldier on weekend leave in Vietnam in the 1960’s.
When I was in college I spent a summer in Boise, Idaho playing in a wood bat league. For those of you who do not know, many college ball players spend their summers scattered across the country in small towns playing in wood bat leagues, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play out west in Boise. Correction, my team was based out of Nampa, which is a suburb of Boise. That’s right folks Boise has suburbs.
A few fun facts about America’s littlest slice of heaven known as Nampa, Idaho:
1) Nampa is the 2nd most populated city in Idaho (2nd only to Boise).
2) You buy your beer at the Wal-Mart.
3) Bill Buckner attends the games. No seriously he does, and he is a helluva guy.
4) Nampa leads all of Idaho in cleat chasers.
“Cleat Chasers” is a term for a certain brand of girls who love baseball players, and will stop at nothing to bag them. This was just fine for us college-aged horndogs…just fine. As friendly as the women of Nampa were to us, they were not exactly super models. Being in Nampa for three months, you begin to accept the status quo for women so we created a rating system just to keep ourselves in check. We were all familiar with the 1 to 10 scale of rating members of the opposite sex, so we created a system to rate the slam-pieces, err, I mean ladies of Nampa:
1) Rate the girl on a scale from 1 to 10.
2) Divide that number by 2, then add 1.
That is how you come up with their real rating compared to other women in the United States. For example if you think that Boise State student spending her summer on roller skates serving tots at the Sonic is an 8, you would divide it by 2, equaling 4, then add 1. Thus making her a 5 in reality. Are you following?
You may be asking yourself why in the world I am telling you all of this, and that is very valid. But this is the exact same way of judging Asian pitchers when they come over to the Major Leagues. The Duke and his staff have spent the offseason on a mission to sign as many Japanese/Taiwanese pitchers as they possibly could. The “biggest” splash has been the signing of Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who is penciled in as the 5th starter in the Orioles rotation. Being the fifth starter for the Orioles is like being the guy who works the fry machine at Taco Bell.
HOWEVA, Chen had a 36-30 record with a 2.48 ERA in 117 games, including 88 starts during his career in Taiwan. Therefore on a scale form 1-10 I would rate him at 7-8. So divide that in half and add one and you get a 5. As an Orioles fan, you can’t really ask for much more out of our 5th starter, so I am interested to watch this guy pitch. Chen is 26 years old and is a lefty, so we may have something here folks. Let’s just hope he adopts American training programs by icing his arm after starts, and running in between said starts. Somewhere Daisuke Matsuzaka is shaking is head in disagreement, but still can’t lift his right arm.
As far as the rest of the rotation goes, Jeremy Guthrie is still the ace, Tommy Hunter will probably get a rotation spot because he is a workhorse and will eat innings like David Wells eats food at the post game spread. So there are 2 maybe 3 other spots in the rotation up for grabs between Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and even Chris Tillman. The Orioles are rumored to be interested in Edwin Jackson, which I would love, but Jackson is represented by Scott Boras and they are asking for a 5-year deal worth $15 million per. NO CHANCE!
The Orioles have a staunch policy of not signing pitchers to anything longer than a 3-year deal, which has hurt the franchise, but it is also somewhat wise in regards to arm injuries and the ineffectiveness of pitchers when they sign with the Orioles. If Jackson can lower his demands to a 3-year deal worth $11-12 million I think the Orioles should pounce. However, the O’s probably will not sign him and the young bucks will duke it out in spring training for rotational spots. The sky is the limit for the young arms, but last season was startling. The 2011 season can be referred to as the “Regression Session” as all of the top pitching prospects -- Zach Britton gets a pass because he was a rookie and was not considered to be ready coming out of Spring Training-- regressed right before our eyes. We have talked ad nauseam about this heartbreaking phenomenon so rather than beating a dead horse, I will just list their ages and hope that the 2012 season can be the “Redemption Session.”
Brian Matusz: 24
Jake Arrieta: 25
Chris Tillman: 23
Zach Britton: 24
My plan was to write one post about the Orioles offseason, but since I am already at 1500 words and lost about 90% of you after the 2nd paragraph, I will wrap this puppy up and turn this into a multi-parter. Stay tuned for an exciting in depth look at the Orioles bullpen, which, SPOLIER ALERT, includes another Japanese signing…