We all know that spring training stats and results are mostly meaningless. If you have any doubts, just ask Jake Fox. But nevertheless, it’d be hard to paint a rosy picture of how the Orioles 2016 spring season has begun. Chris Tillman has already received a cortisone shot for a core muscle injury. Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez were each torched in their first starts. And Hyun soo Kim is hitless thus far through 16 AB, and on top of that, booted a very makable play in LF Saturday on a sinking line drive.
Again, it’s early. Very early. But at the same time, the biggest question marks for this team are its starting rotation and corner outfield situation, and the initial returns have been anything but positive.
The bigger question will become if these trends were to continue. What if Tillman’s injury lingers? And Gonzalez and Jimenez continue to struggle? And Kim doesn’t start racking up some base hits? That’s where things could get interesting.
Let’s start with Kim. He’s currently projected as the starting left fielder, and the Orioles will surely give him every opportunity to win that job. But manager Buck Showalter has cautioned publicly that there’s a chance Kim doesn’t even make the team. And there’s an understanding between Kim and the club that he could easily go back to Korea at any time and make more money, much like how the Suk-min Yoon situation resolved itself last March. So his acclimation to major league pitching this spring — or lack thereof — is certainly worth watching. And if he still isn’t performing a week or two from now, does that put more pressure on Dan Duquette to ramp up his efforts to trade for Reds’ outfielder Jay Bruce? I guess we’ll find out.
The starting pitching situation could find itself in a similar place if the initial struggles and injuries continue. Ubaldo Jimenez and his $13 million 2016 salary all but guarantee him a spot in the rotation regardless of how poorly he pitches this spring. But Miguel Gonzalez could be another story. He’ll make $5.1 million this year as a second-year arbitration eligible, but you have to wonder whether his rotation spot is necessarily secure. After posting a 4.91 ERA and 5.01 FIP in 2016 (and a 4.89 FIP in 2014 despite his strong ERA), could someone like Vance Worley capture his rotation spot with a strong spring performance? Or if Tillman’s injury lingers on top of Gonzalez’s theoretical continued struggles, could a free agent like Kyle Lohse or Alfredo Simon or Aaron Harang be brought in for a late-spring look? While unlikely, none are out of the realm of possibility given the nature of the O’s starting pitching options.
The team’s Grapefruit League-worst 0-6-1 record doesn’t have me concerned in the slightest. And once again, individual performance stats are mostly meaningless during the spring season. But if the early indicators persist, one has to wonder if last year’s rotation and outfield struggles are inevitable to continue in 2016. On one hand, it’d be easy to expect after the club did little on paper to upgrade either area from last year’s disastrous performances (4.53 starting pitcher ERA, 14th in AL; 2.0 fWAR for outfielders, 15th in AL). But on another, we’ve all sold Dan Duquette short before when he eked out solid performances from the likes of Nate McLouth and Steve Pearce in the outfield and Wei-Yin Chen and Gonzalez in the starting rotation. Time will tell if similar diamonds in the rough are unearthed within the 2016 roster.