My take on the O's first half: Majorly disappointing, but not quite disastrous - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

My take on the O’s first half: Majorly disappointing, but not quite disastrous

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Let’s start by saying 42-46 at the All-Star Break is not acceptable.

Not for a team that made the playoffs last season. Not for an organization with MLB’s 10th highest payroll.

Not for a club that was 22-10 on May 9, owning the best record in the bigs leagues at the time.

Not for a club whose window of competitiveness appears to be closing rapidly.

A 42-46 record at the break is a major, major disappointment for these Orioles.

Yet I have to stop short of labeling the season up to this point a disaster.

Because the reality of Major League Baseball in 2017 is just about every team is flawed, and the presence of two Wild Card spots makes nearly every team a potential contender in July.

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As bad as the Orioles have been in the past two months – 20-36 (a .357 winning percentage since the 22-10 start) – very few teams have separated from the pack.

The Houston Astros (60-29) are on another planet and the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox finally look to be the class of their divisions after slow starts.

I don’t claim to be a baseball soothsayer here, but that’s how I predicted the divisions to go in April. Those three looked like the class of the AL – everyone else was a step below.

Now, I expected the Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays to be better than they are. And I didn’t imagine the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays would be tied for the two Wild Card spots.

I’m still not sure how the AL East shakes out this season – besides Boston clearly looking like the best team. I honestly don’t buy the Yankees, not yet anyway, or the Rays as slam-dunk Wild Card clubs. Frankly, I don’t believe either is significantly better than the Orioles, and the head-to-head matchups bear that out. The Orioles have won five of nine against the Rays and five of 12 against the Yankees.

Both clubs are four games ahead of the Orioles at the break, concerning but not insurmountable. The problem is there are five other teams between the Orioles and the AL Wild Card leaders. Yet none of those – the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners – is particularly good, either. And none of those is more than three games ahead of the Orioles.

That’s the big picture here: Plenty of baseball remaining. The more focused lens, however, tells us that the Orioles’ starting pitching is abysmal – only the Cincinnati Reds have a worst starters’ ERA or total ERA – and that starting pitching wins championships.

I don’t think anyone can look at this team and think it can be a champion in 2017.

However, when I was being interviewed on 105.7 The Fan on Friday, shortly after I was railing on how bad the Orioles’ rotation has been this year, I was asked a simple question: Can you say with certainty this team won’t make the playoffs?

And I hesitated. I don’t think the Orioles can overcome such troubling pitching to be a postseason team – something I thought they were in April. But I misjudged the rotation then, thinking it would be serviceable not horrendous.

The offense is still way too streaky and disappears too much, and the vaunted defense isn’t as sharp as it was, partially due to injuries to first baseman Chris Davis and shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Still, with all of that, I couldn’t say with absolute certainty that the Orioles won’t make the playoffs. Do I think it will happen? Nope. Could it? Well, maybe.

Because the AL – outside of the division leaders — is weak. And the Orioles showed plenty of ability early. And the return of closer Zach Britton and the impending return of Davis makes this club more competitive. And one has to believe that Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman will be better in the second half.

That’s why things are so precarious for the Orioles right now.

A large chunk of the fan base wants the club to be sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline. It’s hard to argue with the concept. The Orioles haven’t played well, their farm system is void of highly touted prospects, there are too many “ifs” in the rotation and several of their best players could walk after the 2018 season.

Selling makes sense.

Except that the only way for the Orioles to truly improve their farm system is to deal away Manny Machado, Britton and Brad Brach – free agents after 2018 – and/or lone All-Star Jonathan Schoop, a free agent after 2019.

No one else, whether it’s because of contractual reasons, performance reasons or a combination, will you get you much of anything in return. I appreciate the Facebook GMs who declare the Orioles need to trade Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Chris Davis, Welington Castillo, Mark Trumbo, Tillman, Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim for quality pitching prospects.

I respectfully retort, “that ain’t gettin it done.” Maybe, just maybe, one of those gets you a minor leaguer that, on a wing and a prayer, becomes a competent, back-end starter. Nothing more.

So, if you really want a rebuild, it has to come at the expense of Machado and Britton, and maybe Brach.

The Orioles are at a crossroads here. They’ve done nothing in the past two months that makes you think they can reach the playoffs. They have too many deficiencies to seemingly make a deep run in the postseason, if they somehow get there, after a disappointing first half.

But they are not dead, yet. And they are getting healthier. And that complicates things.

Which may mean the Orioles do nothing for the future, and little to improve this club, at the deadline. And it ends up at or below .500. That would be the certifiable disaster of 2017.

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. LenSakata

    July 10, 2017 at 7:58 am

    This makes one wonder if it pays to be an Orioles fan. They most likely will not make the playoffs and if they do they won’t go far with poor pitching and unreliable hitting.
    They have no future because their lack of talent in the farm system and their unwillingness to go after free agent pitching (or the lack of funds to do so as they mortgaged their future on Davis).
    They have only 3 trading chips and perhaps worth the gamble to trade and get some prospects but will that really give the club a future? Enough talent to win a series?
    I am not writing this to bash the team or front office – just trying to get a perspective here. What do we Orioles fans have to hope for?

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:16 am

      I’m not particularly comfortable as the optimistic one. But the Orioles do have some talent and there’s been a willingness to increase payroll to keep some stars. So there’s that.

  2. DauerPower

    July 10, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Why wouldn’t O’s fans have hope. As Dan rightly points out, when you look around the league there are many teams with deficiencies. Just check out those vaunted Chicago Cubs.
    I have hope because history says Tillman and Gausman are better than they have shown and we are getting healthier.
    So should O’s fans have hope…Why NOT?

    • LenSakata

      July 10, 2017 at 9:02 am

      Hope to make it to the wild card is one thing. I am thinking about being a World Series contender.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:18 am

      By definition, if you make the playoffs you are a World Series contender. I get what you are saying. But get to the playoffs first.

  3. TxBirdFan

    July 10, 2017 at 8:32 am

    There’s always hope, although that’s not much of a plan.

    • Osfan73

      July 10, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I’m hoping for consistent 6 inning appearances and era-s closer to 4.00.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:20 am

      If they get that, they are in the discussion for the playoffs. I’m just skeptical that happens given the first half collective performance from the rotation.

  4. woody

    July 10, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Winning those last 2 games must have made things very complicated for those who choose whether to buy/sell.

    By all means, if a good offer comes along, you have to take it. An outside chance of a wildcard spot for a team without an ace starter – I don’t fancy our chances and I fear that sitting on the fence on the buy/sell does nothing but guarantee a long drought ahead.

    On the shelf: Castillo. Trumbo, Smith, Kim, Tillman, Ubaldo, Miley, Brach, Britton. I doubt that we’d get that much for anyone there other than ZB, but at least we’d cut some salary.

    Is there anyone I would hate to see sold? Plenty, but those are the ones we probably need to sell to get a competitive team in 2019. I’d hate to see Bundy winning Cy Young’s down the line pitching for someone else – then again, in 2 years he could be on the scrapheap – you just can’t predict these things with certainty. Trey Mancini? Yeah that would be sad, but he’s expendable due to the Chris Davis contract.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:23 am

      I’m not sure Mancini gets a lot in return either. Plenty of teams would want him. But to give something up? Most contenders that need offense at the deadline would like something a little more established if they are going to give up a stud prospect. I don’t see Mancini being dealt, but if he were, it’d more likely be an offseason deal.

  5. Osfan73

    July 10, 2017 at 9:04 am

    I just myself don’t see the Os in the playoffs this year and as such wouldn’t be upset if we decided to “sell” this year. What would be upsetting and just plain pointless would be to as you say do nothing for the future IMO.
    The offense is just too ‘on’ and ‘off’, the starting pitching even if it improves just isn’t enough to make serious headway in the playoffs.
    This has been a very uneven group this year, too few of them hitting or pitching well at the same time, it’s like a team full of elevators that never stops on the same floor.
    At some point DD and company have to realize that winning seasons and playoff appearances are nice but ultimately not enough and that at some point you have to make the next step. Since the window of oppurtunity is closing on this group then I say try and go assemble another group as it were. This Os team isn’t horrible and may only need a few very specific very targeted pieces as opposed to a total rebuild.

    • woody

      July 10, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Osfan I think it’s too much to say that winning seasons and playoff appearances are not enough. We play in the AL East, the toughest league, and we are perennial underdogs due to the spending power of the Red Sox and Yankees. I’d hate to be a fan of a team that decides the way to win is to spend 6 years tanking 100 games a year to build up enough resources to be great once. I for one, would not enjoy it and would not watch it (other than the year we are good, obv!). I just don’t think MLB should be that way. The National League is a joke – 2 teams in each division every year not playing to win. I’d far prefer to be competitive as much as possible and enjoy the romance of having a shot.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:26 am

      Both good points here and the crux of the issue. You deal stars like Machado and Britton, you better get true reinforcements in return. Or it will be sustained mediocrity.

  6. karks

    July 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I don’t see, even if they decide to be “buyers”, how the O’s are going to get anything of significance to improve the team. They can ill afford to give up what prospects they have. And, even if they land a decent starter, they still have plenty of other holes in that rotation. I guess the hope would be that Tillman and Gausman rebound in the second half. But adding one good pitcher most likely isn’t going to make a major difference.

    I hate to even say it, but maybe trading at least one of those big names is what is best for the long term. I just don’t think it should be during the season. As much as I’d love to see them lock Manny in for the next 10 years, I just don’t see how in the world that’s going to happen. I’m sure DD is trying to figure out what the best plan is.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Yep. It’s a tough spot to be in I didn’t address the prospects of being buyers. But you are right. They don’t have the farm system for a major purchase.

      • JCO

        July 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm

        One thing I really really don’t want them to do is trade even decent prospects for mediocrity. And they just don’t have the big splash trade bait in their lousy farm system. TBH I’d be fine with them standing pat and trying to retool over the offseason.

  7. Bancells Moustache

    July 10, 2017 at 9:51 am

    The Wild Card is fools gold. It’s a participation trophy meant to bolster television revenue. If it was 2012 I could understand the Orioles and their fanbase wanting to make a run at the last postseason spot, but not now. Anything less than the Series is unacceptable. And they aren’t good enough to win it this year. They can’t beat Houston or whoever comes out of the central division. So punt. Put Machado and Britton on the block, get the best return possible and reload for 2019 and beyond.

    • JCO

      July 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

      There has been six wild card teams that won the World Series, but those teams had something the Orioles don’t have, and that’s good starting pitching.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 10:32 am

      Jco beat me to it. But with one added caveat: the recent run by the KC Royals shows you don’t have to have good starting pitching. BUT, every other part of your game has to be excellent to make up for that.

      • JCO

        July 10, 2017 at 4:57 pm

        That’s right, KC’s pitching wasn’t all that hot.

  8. HOF19

    July 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    My biggest concern is what if Tillman….Bundy………and Gausman NEVER get their ERA’s lower than 4.00 the rest of their careers…..and DO NOT kid yourself that it can’t happen my fellow O’s fans !

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      My guess is Tillman is gone at year’s end anyway. But, frankly, even with some reinforcements from trades, if Gausman and Bundy aren’t sub-4.00 pitchers, this club is in real trouble.

  9. Raymo

    July 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I’d be all in on trading Manny, Britton and Brach if I had any confidence that we’d get the right pieces in return. But I don’t. We’ve been through the multiple losing seasons in the past and emerged with not a lot to show for it.

    Most of the improvement was under Andy McPhail, and even then we demonstrated that we are not good at player development. So many prospects ended up either hurt, or disappointing, or excelled only after being traded out of this organization.

    So I’m not optimistic that we could get it right this time either.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Two things: One, Duquette’s trades have been mixed. His deadline trades have not worked out for the most part. But he did pick up Brad Brach, Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith for basically loose change during other parts of the year. Secondly, I’m a little hesitant to agree with the common perception that “many O’s prospects” … excel after being traded. I see you, Jake Arrieta. But I’m not buying many. Some have been serviceable. A lot have been busts. But I dont see a list of ex-Os prospects who have “excelled.” I think Hader will be on that list, but that was a tough pill to swallow when it happened.

      • JCO

        July 10, 2017 at 4:57 pm

        I agree with Raymo’s point about player development. The number of pitching busts is alarming. I’m generally not one to scream FIRE THEM FIRE THEM ALL!!!! but there’s a list of stuff over the last 4-5 years that I believe got us here and should change. The pitching prospect busts is one. The overall sorry state of their minor leagues is another. Even if the team were say the second wild card team at the break, the Big Splash Pitcher bait is meager down on the farm. A solid minor league system not only provides great future players but also trade bait to land a key piece for a World Series drive. I think they’ve made it a bit worse by trading away decent prospects for players like Wade Miley.

        The Chris Davis deal has become an albatross around the O’s neck. The structure of the deal was a good thing, deferring the money, but a power hitter getting paid $17 mil a year (with the deferments) really needs to have an OPS above .800. Two of the last three full seasons, he’s been below that and is below it this year. Right now, trading him is a pipe dream. No way a team will take on even part of his contract given his recent production.

        The thing I wonder is whether or not Buck has squeezed blood out of a turnip with this team the last several years, and has created complacency. It’s really looking like Buck’s magic is wearing thin. I’m not saying it’s time to fire him, but it seems like the last few months has revealed what kind of team this really is.

        And one final thing, yes, the O’s have won the most games since 2012. Yes, they started 22-10. But that was then and this is now, and I just don’t see this team turning it around. The 22-10 start is great, but in a significantly larger sample, they’re 20-36. We can look fondly in the rearview mirror all we want, but the reality is the view out the windshield ain’t good.

  10. GSISDANNO

    July 10, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Considering that Machado is hitting .220 and that Davis has underproduced and that Tillman has been awful and that Britton has been injured and that Gausman has been bad and that Hardy has been hurt, 42-46 isn’t too bad. Please avoid the temptation to try and get talent at the deadline. We need to build up the farm system. Maybe Jimenez will improve enough to bring some young talent. Plus, there is a team in Washington that would be very anxious to trade for Britton, ODay or Brach. We need a leadoff hitter who can run and get on base. We have a lot of holes moving forward.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      One quick comment on this: Jimenez will bring nothing but salary relief in a deal. Too much money; too little consistency. Any player attached would be a bad contract or minor league depth.

      • Alg0nqu1n

        July 11, 2017 at 3:11 am

        I think that it is acutely frustrating for so many Orioles fans that Gimenez is sharp, once in a while. Way too often, when the Os put up four or five runs in one inning, he promptly gives up most or all of the runs his team just scored.

  11. garyintheloo

    July 10, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    If the Orioles become this year’s version of the 1914 Miracle Braves I’ll be happy to dance naked with you down Charles Street but the real issue isn’t what they do or don’t at this trade deadline but what have you got for 2018. Let’s hope the defense gets better, Tillman, Miley and Ubaldo pitch to their potential, prospects (who still seem two years away) don’t become suspects, bla bla bla. What gives us a real chance in 2018 that did not happen in 2017? Our optimism is sounding more and more like excuses for a cheating wife. However I will practice my dance steps.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      I appreciate your comments Gary, but no matter what happens, my dance naked in public days are long over (if they ever were).

  12. Ben1

    July 10, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    I am expecting DD to do nothing at all in July but stand pat and pray. I’ve been with the Os since 1954 .. a loyal fan… but DD has been a disaster and Angelos has let him as no talented GM will work for him.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 10, 2017 at 11:33 pm

      Just for the record, Dan Duquette has one of the best win-loss percentages of any current GM in baseball, and that’s at three different stops. Gotta be talent there. Can’t be luck to have that kind of track record everywhere.

      • Mau

        July 14, 2017 at 8:18 pm

        I would counter that argument saying that Buck has made his deals look more reasonable than they are. He has kept a stable of marginal to horrible starters. His stewardship of the farm is abominable. He has been the mover of the pieces that Buck is stuck with. Buck rode the bullpen hard for a long time out of necessity when every starter has thrown 90 pitches entering the 5th inning. The bully is tired. The O’s enter every off-season with starting pitching as the obvious area to improve and they don’t improve. That’s tiresome. Buck is the chess player while Dan still sucks at checkers.

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